Karl Popper (1902-94) and Thomas Kuhn (1922-96)
One interesting intellectual tradition that contributes to conflict work is the Philosophy of Science especially as developed by Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. I have wondered what they would have come up with if they had attempted to consense what advice they come up with on conflict handling:
- Set out to test and disprove your theory of reality
- Know that your existing paradigm may be wrong, but that you are probably going to operate within it unless and until a better theory comes along
- Crises for your theories are what drive improved understanding of reality along, so crisis is good in the long haul
- The critical first step in any conflict is the recognition that we have paradigms, rather than certain error free grip on reality, and we need to test them to get real about the conflict.
- Knowledge has a strong social character, which for Kuhn is inevitable and for Popper to be constantly challenged
- Kuhn sees the dominant paradigm as foundational, at least until it reaches a crisis
- Popper on the other hand, insists we hack away at the very plank we are standing on to see if it holds up. Neurathian analysis would apply Popperian hacking to the other planks until they were found to be at least for the time being resistant to falsifiability. We could then step onto one of them and hack at the original plank to try to falsify it.
- The synthesis of Kuhn/Popper might be to understand we are within a paradigm, with all the attendant risks of distortion on our grip on reality, but continually seek to improve it, test it and develop alternative paradigms in parallel.
- When faced with a deep and intractable conflict, we would do well to apply this approach to our own position and make sure it is the product of a realistic, meaningful and fully tested paradigm, without ever thinking that there is no room for doubt or further testing/questioning.
- Kuhn drew attention to the fact that there was a profound difficulty in the need to understand the world through two paradigms with radically different or incommensurable assumptions. Kuhn compares it to being bi-lingual and sees few scientists as being capable of this. Yet this skill is critical to conflict work. As is his idea of a gestalt shift, coming to see the world in a new way.I
OK so I am not sure they would agree on all the above.
So let me add: the mental capacity to see two paradigms simultaneously is essential to good conflict work and useful to mediation or any attempt to reach a higher level solution in the conflict between two world views, a clash of civilizations or whatever. Two world views are simultaneously held and neither accepted as rejected, but instead worked through and their implications and correspondence with the data in the situation established.
And I like the profoundly Popperian question: ‘what data would it take to change your mind?’
Popper’s approach: From http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2007/02/what_scientists_believe_and_wh.php