A Gadamerian critique of Kuhn's linguistic turn: Incommensurability revisited

In this article, I discuss Gadamer's hermeneutic account of understanding as an alternative to Kuhn's incommensurability thesis. After a brief account of Kuhn's aesthetic account and arguments against it, I argue that the linguistic account faces a paradox that results from Kuhn's objectivist account of understanding, and his lack of historical reflexivity. The statement 'Languages are incommensurable' is not a unique view of language, and is thus subject to contest by incommensurable readings. Resolving the paradox requires an account of incommensurability that is self-referentially consistent, open-ended, and historically reflexive whereby we recognize that our very interest in incommensurability is historically conditioned. By meeting these conditions, Gadamer's account of historical understanding offers a middle ground between two extremes: on the one side is the claim that understanding involves becoming a native of an incommensurable language, and on the other side is the rejection of the prospect of understanding a contextually removed language altogether. Gadamer is discussed as a mediator between Kuhn's epistemic and historical projects, and thus paves the way for a new hermeneutics of science. The notions of traditional horizon, historically effected consciousness, the universality of interpretation, alienation, dialogical openness, and the fusion of horizons are also discussed.
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DOI 10.1080/02698590600961000
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