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A paradigm shift in Philippine politics?

12:09 AM July 27, 2016

Thomas Kuhn introduced in his book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” the important distinction between “normal” and “revolutionary” science. The central feature of his theory is the concept of “paradigm shifts.”

Kuhn describes a paradigm shift as the “abandonment of previously held beliefs and techniques.” Kuhn examined the history of science with respect to the novel discoveries and the theoretical developments advanced by scientists. Kuhn argues in the book that research in normal science is “a highly convergent activity that is based on shared beliefs.”

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Hilary Putnam describes a paradigm as the successful application of a theory. According to Kuhn, scientists work on problems on the basis of existing norms. Normal science for Kuhn is like puzzle-solving under the umbrella of a present theoretical model. Kuhn argues that shifts in scientific paradigms happen when an existing one is no longer adequate. An alternate theory will then emerge in order to replace the old one. For example, Ptolemy’s geocentric model proved to be successful until the arrival of the Copernican model. The heliocentric model provided a much simpler explanation in describing the orbit of heavenly bodies, thus, a paradigm shift.

Kuhn also tells us that scientists capitalize on the textbook knowledge in their field. Past scientific works are a source of background information. For example, Niels Bohr’s work on the internal structure of the atom is firmly grounded in the accuracy of Planck’s constant, discovered in 1900, which explained the basic relation between energy and frequency. It was known as the Planck-Einstein relation (E=hv). Bohr’s work served as the theoretical foundation in making the atom bomb, the development of nuclear medicine, and the birth of nanotechnology.

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Historically speaking, the most prominent example of a paradigm shift is that of Newton’s and Einstein’s. Newton’s theory of Universal Gravitation (UG) is said to explain all physical bodies in motion. All physical bodies that are at rest (inertia) move according to this theory when a force (mass) is applied on them. However, when UG is applied to particle physics, UG may no longer be able to correctly explain the forces at work in the very high velocities of quantum reality.

In fact, Einstein’s theory of special relativity tells us that all bodies are in perpetual or in constant motion. Hence, Newton’s theory is important in explaining the mechanics involved in moving objects, but it is useless in picturing out the complex behavior of subatomic particles.

Kuhn’s influential work, which has since been translated into two dozen languages, uses political revolutions as the means of comparison in describing the actual nature of scientific revolutions. For instance, he mentions how monarchies and theocracies have been abandoned in Europe after the French Revolution. Modern day monarchies are now merely symbolic or ceremonial in nature because the actual power to govern has been fully secularized. Political revolutions are so often the death sentence to an era. In the case of Europe, the pursuit of individual freedom has rendered old feudal systems absolutely defunct.

Obviously, the old ways of doing things must go if these cannot solve our problems. True enough, President Duterte is injecting political will in order to address many of our concerns—criminality in our streets, corruption and ineptitude in the bureaucracy, the Muslim rebellion in the south, and a Maoist insurgency. His style of governance, it can be said, is not just taxonomic in character. He is not playing with concepts. The President means what he says.

Yet, any actual paradigm shift, according to Kuhn, must be preceded by a sense of maturity on the part of the people. For this very reason, revolutionary shifts are only possible if people are mature enough to be able to adapt. A change of worldview is only realistic if people are willing to throw away their old habits. Without that sense of maturity, novelty in science, and real democratic progress, from a political end, may not advance.

The Filipino nation, indeed, is again in the midst of a political revolution. The status quo is being challenged by the new order of things. But change is a painful process and, sometimes, a very dangerous proposition. The present national leadership has taken bold steps that neither history nor the current Constitution can serve as a relevant guide. For this reason, civil society must not renege on its mandate to be that voice of dissent if the behaviors of those who are in positions of power no longer adhere to and transgresses the basic and moral requirements of the rule of law.

Political solutions cannot and must not be forced beyond the bounds of legitimate authority. To do so is to plunge this country into a cynical acceptance of the despairing political realism of our times.

Christopher Ryan B. Maboloc, assistant professor of Philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University, holds master’s degrees in philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University and in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.

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TAGS: paradigm shift, politics, Rodrigo Duterte
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