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Pergamon Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci., Vol. 28, No. 2, pp.

319-338, 1997
0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd
All rights reserved. Printed in Great Britain
0039-3681/97 $17.00+0.00

Kitchers Compromise: A Critical

Examination of the Compromise Model of
Scientific Closure, and its Implications for
the Relationship Between History and
Philosophy of Science

Timothy Shanahan*
In The Advancement of Science (1993) Philip Kitcher develops what he calls the
Compromise Model of the closure of scientific debates. The model is designed to
acknowledge significant elements from Rationalist and Antirationalist accounts
of science, without succumbing to the one-sidedness of either. As part of an
ambitious naturalistic account of scientific progress, Kitchers model succeeds to
the extent that transitions in the history of science satisfy its several conditions. 1
critically evaluate the Compromise Model by identifying its crucial assumptions
and by attempting to apply the model to a major transition in the history of
biology: the rejection of naive group selectionism in the 1960s. I argue that the
weaknesses and limitations of Kitchers model exemplify general problems facing
philosophical models of scientific change, and that recognition of these problems
supports a more modest vision of the relationship between historical and
philosophical accounts of science. 0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd.

1. Introduction

1.1. Lakatos Dictum

In the famous opening lines of a famous paper, Imre Lakatos declared:
Philosophy of science without history of science is empty; history of science
without philosophy of science is blind. He articulated, in a pithy and
memorable fashion, an extremely appealing vision of the relationship between
historical and philosophical inquiries into science. His own detailed account of
this relationship is well known. According to Lakatos, philosophy of science
provides normative methodologies in terms of which the historian of science
*Department of Philosophy, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA 90045-2699,
Received 20 August 1995; in revisedform 25 January 1996.

I. Lakatos, History of Science and its Rational Reconstructions, in R. Buck and R. Cohen
(eds), Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science VIII (1971), 91-136: p. 91.

PII: SOO39-3681(%)00023-4

320 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

constructs a rational explanation of the growth of objective knowledge.2

Historical inquiry into science, in turn, provides the data against which
philosophical conceptions of science are to be adjudicated. Lakatos own work
aspires to exemplify this mutual reliance between the history of science and the
philosophy of science.4 The overall tone of his writings is optimistic: history of
science and philosophy of science are mutually necessary--each contributes
essential guidance or data for the other. An approach that properly utilizes
both, therefore, promises to provide the most satisfying general account of
science of which we are capable.

1.2 Troubles fix Optimism

Despite its attractions, Lakatos optimistic conception of the relationship
between history of science and philosophy of science has not met with universal
acceptance. Some have questioned the value of history of science (as opposed to
science simpliciter) for the philosophy of science.5 Others have attacked
Lakatos attempt to demonstrate the correctness of his particular model of the
growth of scientific knowledge. His practice of rationally reconstructing
important episodes from the history of science has come under special
criticism.6 Although these critiques focus on Lakatos work, what is at
issue, ultimately, is the question of the relationship between historical and
philosophical accounts of science.

1.3. Aim and Plan of this Paper

This paper explores further the issues raised by these critiques. Rather than
(re-)examining the work of Lakatos, however, I wish to consider what is
perhaps the most ambitious recent attempt to use history of science to validate
a philosophical model of science. In The Advancement of Science (1993) Philip
Kitcher develops what he calls the Compromise Model of the closure of
scientific debates. The compromise in question is between Rationalist and
Antirationalist accounts of science. Rationalists view scientific agents as
moved solely by epistemic goals, and attribute the closure of scientific
*Lakatos, op. cit., note I, p. 91.
For his fullest account, including - applications
__ to some examples, see I. Lakatos, Falsification
and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, in I.-Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds),
Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press, 1970). nn. 91-196.
See, for example, I. Lakatos and E. Zahar, Why Did- Copernicus Research Programme
Supersede Ptolemys?, in R. Westman (ed.), The Copernican Achievement (Berkeley/Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1975) pp. 354383.
See, for example, R. Giere, History and Philosophy of Science: Intimate Relationship or
Marriage of Convenience?, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 24 (1973), 282-297.
The best example of this is N. Thomason, Could Lakatos, Even with Zahars Criterion for
Novel Fact, Evaluate the Copernican Research Programme?, British Journalfor the Philosophy of
Science 43 (I 992), 161-200. Thomason argues convincingly that Lakatos and Zahars analysis of
the success of Copernican astronomy in the 17th century must do significant violence to the
historical material in order to succeed.
Etchers Compromise 321

controversies to the triumph of the superior cognitive processes employed by

the winners. Antirationalists view scientific agents as significantly influenced
by non-epistemic goals, and attribute the closure of scientific controversies
to the exclusion from the community of one group (the losers) by a more
powerful rival. Kitchers Compromise Model is explicitly designed to
capture significant aspects of each of these views without succumbing to the
one-sidedness of either. It consists of five related theses:

(Cl) The community decision is reached when sufficiently many sufficiently

powerful subgroups within the community have arrived at decisions
(possibly independent, possibly coordinated) to modify their practices in
a particular way.
(C2) Scientists are typically moved by non-epistemic as well as epistemic goals.
(C3) There is significant cognitive variation within scientific communities, in
terms of individual practices, underlying propensities, and exposure to
(C4) During early phases of scientific debate, the processes undergone by the
ultimate victors are (usually) no more well designed for promoting
cognitive progress than those undergone by the ultimate losers.
(CV Scientific debates are closed when, as a result of conversations among
peers and encounters with nature that are partially produced by early
decisions to modify individual practices, there emerges in the community
a widely available argument, encapsulating a process for modifying
practice which... is markedly superior in promoting cognitive progress
than other processes undergone by protagonists in the debate; power
accrues to the victorious group principally in virtue of the integration
of this process into the thinking of members of the community and
recognition of its virtues.

Because the Compromise Model is presented as part of a naturalistic account

of scientific progress, it succeeds to the extent that major transitions in the
history of science satisfy its conditions. 8 Kitcher illustrates his model by
applying it to three episodes in the history of science: the triumph of Darwins
P. Kitcher, The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions
(Oxford University Press, 1993) p. 201.
More precisely, the Compromise Model succeeds to the extent that it captures the salient
features of major transitions in the history of science better than alternative models do. In his
discussion of historical cases, Kitcher is concerned to show how each case can be fitted to the theses
of his Compromise Model. Absent is a direct, point-by-point comparison of the relative merits of
the three models. But little is gained from showing that a given philosophical model is able to
plausibly represent selected details from a variety of historical episodes. The underdetermination
thesis, so celebrated in philosophy of science, must be applied reflexively to its own practices. Any
number of different philosophical (or sociological, etc.) models may be able to accommodate the
details of a range of historical episodes. In order to derive interesting conclusions, however, these
models must be critically compared and their relative merits assessed. This is to demand no more
of metascientific models than is demanded within science itself. For the specific claims of the
Rationalist and Antirationalist models, see Kitcher op cit., note 7, pp. 196200.
322 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

theory of evolution in the period 185967; the emergence of a consensus

concerning Copernican astronomy between 1543 and 1633; and the resolution
of the Great Devonian Controversy between 1834 and 1848. In each case he
tries to show that the conditions of the Compromise Model are satisfied.
Kitchers project stands squarely in the tradition of Kuhn, Lakatos, Laudan
and Shapere.g Like his predecessors, Kitcher uses historical case-studies of
science in order to validate a philosophical model of scientific change. Like
them he intends his model of scientific change to be generally applicable to cases
beyond those used to illustrate the model. Like Lakatos, especially, Kitchers
account is designed to show that scientific change is a rational process that
results in objective knowledge. By offering a thoroughly naturalized account
of scientific consensus formation, however, in terms of the acceptance of
cognitively progressive psychological processes, Kitcher intends to avoid the
difficulties facing Lakatos explicitly rationalistic account.
My aim in what follows is to show that Kitchers model repeats, rather than
evades, these difficulties. The fundamental problem facing his account is a
failure to take the (messy) details of history seriously enough, with the result
that what was intended as a naturalistic account of the dynamics of actual
historical episodes rapidly assumes the form of Lakatosian rational reconstruc-
tion. Rather than re-analyze the cases that Kitcher discusses, I will evaluate his
model by applying it to a major transition in the recent history of biology, one
that is well known, at least in outline, to most biologists, historians of biology
and philosophers of biology. 10 Prior to the 1960s explanations of biological
phenomena appealing to the good of the group or the preservation of the
species were common in the scientific literature. By the end of this decade such
explanations had become rare. A number of factors intersected to bring about
this development, but one especially salient event was the controversy sur-
rounding the claims of V. C. Wynne-Edwards. Critical reactions to his claims
marked the end of naive group selectionist theorizing, and paved the way for
the gene-centered approach common to much current explanatory practice in
In the next section I provide a very brief account of this development, an
account that is comparable in degree of historical detail to the historical
case-studies presented in The Advancement of Science. I then attempt to apply
Kitchers model to this account, drawing particular attention to the kinds of
requirements that must be satisfied in order to do so. I argue that in order to

The tradition in question is represented in the following texts: T. Kuhn, The Structure qf
Scientzjic Revolutions,-second edn (University of Chicago Press, 1970); I. Lakatos, op. cit., note j;
L. Laudan. Proaress and Ifs Problems (Berkelev: Universitv of California Press. 1977): and D.
Shapere, Reasonand the Growth of Knowledge (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1984).
See for example R. N. Brandon and R. M. Burian, Genes, Organisms, and Populalions
(Cambridge, MA: MiT Press, 1984); M. Ridley, Evoluzion (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993); Elliott
Sober, The Nature of Selection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984).
Kitehers Compromise 323

successfully instantiate the Compromise Model one must either have a level of
access to historical, psychological and social processes that is likely to remain
permanently beyond our cognitive grasp, or else one must be willing to forego
a genuinely naturalistic account of scientific change in favor of a rational
reconstruction of historical episodes. Fitting historical materials into the model
thus requires a compromise of historiographical standards no less radical than
that required by Lakatos model. The sense in which such philosophical models
enhance our understanding of the actual development of science, therefore,
remains unclear. The implications of this conclusion for the relationship
between historical and philosophical accounts of science are discussed in the
last section. I suggest that whereas philosophy of science can be useful in
discerning patterns of reasoning underlying the publicly-available arguments in
particular historical episodes, and may, to some extent, help us to see the
broader implications of highly focused historical investigations, history of
science is philosophically useful primarily because, in addition to providing
content for philosophical reflection, it reveals the severe limitations of idealized
philosophical models of science and thereby points us toward more realistic

2. Wynne-Edwards Theory of Population Regulation and Its Reception

2.1. The Theory of Animal Dispersion

A basic fact about nature, the importance of which had been recognized since
Darwin, is that although even relatively slow breeding animals are physiologi-
cally capable of increasing their numbers at a stupendous rate, under normal
circumstances their populations remain remarkably stable. Why? In 1962 V. C.
Wynne-Edwards, Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of
Aberdeen, published Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavi0ur.l In
over 600 smoothly flowing pages he amassed a large body of evidence intended
to show that animals actively regulate their population densities. Why such
population regulation is necessary is explained early on. Wynne-Edwards writes
that It is easy to appreciate that if each species maintains an optimum
population-density on its own account, not only will it be providing the most
favourable conditions for its own survival, but it will automatically offer the
best possible living to species higher up the chain that depend on it for food. 2
Such considerations led Wynne-Edwards to conclude that it must be highly
advantageous to survival, and thus strongly favoured by selection, for animal
species (1) to control their own population-densities, and (2) to keep them as
near as possible to the optimum level for each habitat they occupy.i3
'V C Wynne-Edwards, Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour (Edinburgh: Oliver &
Boyd; 1462).
Wynne-Edwards, op. cit., note 11, p. 9.
3Wynne-Edwards, op. cit., note 11, p. 9.
324 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Wynne-Edwards realized that natural selection operating at the level of

individual organisms would not be effective in bringing about the kinds of
social adaptations central to his theory, adaptations that benefit the group by
subordinating the reproductive interests of individuals. Selection operating on
individuals would favour organisms that maximize individual reproductive
success without regard for group welfare, leading to overexploitation of the
habitat and population crash. Because such occurrences are rare, another
evolutionary force must be operative. The mechanism for promoting the
evolution of density regulation is identified as group selection. Groups in
which social conventions are not honoured suffer from overcrowding, overex-
ploitation of resources, and eventually population crash and extinction. Groups
in which individual reproductive rates are sensitive to overall population
density will tend to persist longer, and may colonize areas left vacant by groups
not exhibiting such reproductive restraint. Wynne-Edwards thought such group
selection to be pervasive in nature, and indeed to lie at the base of all social

2.2. Critical Reactions to Animal Dispersion

In the Preface to Animal Dispersion Wynne-Edwards remarks that It has
turned out to be an agreeable and characteristic feature of the theory not to
keep butting against widely held, pre-existing generalisations, but to lead
instead into relatively undisturbed ground.14 This was a reasonable assessment
for someone situated in the explanatory tradition that then dominated ecology.
Wynne-Edwards emphasis on the subordination of individual advantage to
group benefit reflected a long-standing and widely accepted explanatory
tradition in ecology. Biologists in this tradition routinely assumed that selection
operates to insure the well-being of biological entities more inclusive than
individual organisms. A perusal of the biological literature of the 1950s and
early 1960s confirms that this approach was not uncommon and certainly not
considered theoretically controversial, at least within ecology.15
Wynne-Edwards complacency about the cogency of his approach reflects the
relative insulation of ecology from other biological disciplines. It was precisely
because it conflicted with widely held, pre-existing generalizations in the
tradition of mathematical, genetically-centred population biology that his book
had the impact it did. Whereas ecologists tended to talk about the adaptations
associated with whole organisms, groups and even multi-species ecological
Wynne-Edwards, op. cit., note 11, p. v.
Prominent examples include W. C. Allee et al., Principles of Animal Ecology (Philadelphia:
W. B. Saunders Co., 1949); M. J. Dunbar, The Evolution of Stability in Marine Environments:
Natural Selection at the Level of the Ecosystem, The American Naturalist 94 (1960), 129-136;
A. E. Emerson, The Evolution of Adaptation in Population Systems, in S. Tax (ed.), The Evolution
of Life (University of Chicago Press, 1960), pp. 307-348. On ecology at mid-century, and at the
University of Chicago in particular, see G. Mitman, The Sfnte of Nature (University of Chicago
Press, 1992).
Kitchers Compromise 325

communities, quantitatively-oriented population biologists focussed on the

precise numerical values of selection coefficients in single-locus genetic models.
For such biologists, selection acts at the level of individual organisms, no
higher, and is best represented by models depicting changes in gene frequencies
in idealized (e.g. infinite, banmictic) populations.16 Not surprisingly, the
strongest criticisms of Wynne-Edwards theory came from biologists influenced
by this tradition. The most important critiques, in terms of their lasting impact
on evolutionary biology, were those by John Maynard Smith, David Lack and
George C. Williams.
A basic problem with Wynne-Edwards scheme, Maynard Smith argued, is
that it postulates groups consisting entirely of individuals who abide by social
conventions and altruistically limit their own reproduction for the sake of
achieving population homeostasis. I7 But whenever a group of altruists is
infected by an individual (or gene) pursuing the anti-social (selfish) strategy of
seeking to maximize individual reproduction, such an individual will have an
advantage over its altruistic rivals and hence its strategy (by being passed on to
its more numerous offspring) will quickly spread through the group. Groups
consisting of altruists are thus always vulnerable to subversion from an
anti-social invader (a free-rider) who benefits from the social arrangement but
contributes nothing toward its maintenance. Social arrangements of the kind
required by Wynne-Edwards theory are inherently unstable, and are thus
unlikely to be realized very frequently in nature.
In criticizing Wynne-Edwards view that animals limit their reproductive
output in order to preserve food resources, David Lack drew heavily upon
results derived from his own research into the factors governing clutch-size in
birds.18 Individuals of each species lay a characteristic number of eggs in each
breeding cycle. For example, the species-specific clutch-size for swifts is three.
Because the reproductive rate would seem to be directly related to the number
of eggs in each clutch, it may be asked why the individuals of particular species
do not lay more eggs than they typically do. Lack argued that breeding pairs of
at least some species produce as many young as possible. His experiments
showed that even under very favourable conditions, swifts that laid clutches of
three eggs fledged more offspring than those who laid four eggs. Further
experiments showed that the upper limit of clutch-size is set by the fact that

16For a more detailed, and nuanced, discussion see W. Provine, The Role of Mathematical
Population Genetics in the Evolutionary Synthesis of the 1930s and 194Os, Studies in the History
of Biology 2 (1978) 167-192.
5 Maynard Smith, Group Selection and Kin Selection: A Rejoinder, Nature 201 (1964),
sD . Lack , Significance of Clutch-Size in Swift and Grouse, Nature 203 (1964) 98-99. Lack
continued the attack in his 1965 Presidential Address to the British Ecological Society-
Evolutionary Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology 34 (1965) 223-231-and finally, in more detail,
in a special appendix to his book Populution Studies of Birds (London: Oxford University Press,
326 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

when more young than this are produced, parents are unable to find enough
food for all, so that increased mortality reduces the total number of offspring
reaching maturity. Lack concluded that there is a sense in which animals limit
their own numbers, but they do so, not for the good of their group, as
Wynne-Edwards supposed, but rather to enhance their own individual fitness.
Population regulation, Lack argued, is simply an effect of organisms striving
to maximize their individual fitness in resource-limited environments.
Finally, George C. Williams delivered what many biologists consider to have
been the fatal coup de grace to Wynne-Edwards theory.9 He argued that the
sort of group adaptations Wynne-Edwards thought needed to be explained in
terms of group selection could be explained more parsimoniously as the
statistical effects of selection operating on individual organisms. Schooling in
fish, for example, should be explained, not as a means for fish to assess the
density of their population and to adjust their reproduction accordingly, as
Wynne-Edwards supposed, but rather simply as the cumulative effect of the
selfish behaviour of individual organisms, each of which uses the bodies of its
schoolmates to create a buffer between itself and any predatorsvlurking nearby.
Other supposed group adaptations could be disposed of in similar ways. But if
so, then group selection, which was introduced to explain group adaptations,
could be dismissed without further adieu.

2.3. Closure of Controversy

Although not the last critique of Animal L&persion to appear in the 1960s
Williams arguments convinced many biologists that group adaptations of the
sort that Wynne-Edwards considered pervasive in nature were chimerical, and
consequently that postulating group selection was unnecessary. As a result of
such criticisms, ecologists became more self-conscious about the evolutionary
mechanisms postulated for ecological phenomena, and ecology gradually
joined the ranks of the other (quantitative, genetically-informed) biological
disciplines. One casualty of this advance was the idea of group selection. At
the beginning of the 1960s group selectionist explanations of biological
phenomena were common. By the end of the decade, as one commentator
has noted, group selection rivaled Lamarckianism as the most thoroughly
repudiated idea in evolutionary theory.20 Animal Dispersion is widely
acknowledged as having been important in jolting biologists out of their vague,
George C. Williams, Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of Some Current Evolutionary
Thought (Princeton University Press, 1966). Although Wynne-Edwards theory receives more
explicit attention in the book than the views of other biologists, Williams book was begun as a
response to the views of A. E. Emerson. Williams reports that as a postdoctoral student in the
mid-1950s he heard a lecture by Emerson in Chicago and left convinced that something had to be
done about what seemed to him to be such misguided evolutionary thinking. Wynne-Edwards
book appeared as the writing of Adaptation and Natural Selection was already underway (Williams,
personal communication).
D. S. Wilson, The Group Selection Controversy: History and Current Status, Annual Review
of Ecology and System&es 14 (1983), 159.
Kitchers Compromise 321

group-selectionist slumbers, but is now cited by neo-Darwinists chiefly as a

shining example of how not to frame evolutionary explanations.21

3. Critical Evaluation of the Compromise Model

3. I. Kitehers Ladder
This brief historical sketch will allow us to begin probing Kitchers model.
The Compromise Model is clearly a highly idealized account of the structure of
consensus formation in science. In order to instantiate this model with a specific
historical episode, it is necessary to make a number of simplifying assumptions.
A process of purification must be undertaken in order to prepare a case-study
for use in confirming the model.2 Borrowing a metaphor that Kitcher himself
employs in another context, we might describe this process as climbing
Kitchers Ladder.23 For any scientific debate to be analyzed in terms of the
Compromise Model, a number of rungs must be negotiated. Among the steps
to be taken are the following:

(1) Select an episode (a debate) from the history of science, individuating it

from the larger context(s) in which it occurs.
(2) Partition the debate into early and late phases.
(3) Identify the key players and positions in the debate.
(4) By examining subsequent developments, identify the (eventual) winners
and losers.
(5) Identify the crucial argumentative moves in the debate.
(6) Assume that specific argumentative moves represent specific underlying
cognitive processes.
(7) Postulate specific underlying cognitive processes.
(8) Establish a metric for assessing the cognitive progress-promoting
properties of cognitive processes.
(9) Comparatively evaluate the relative cognitive progress-promoting
properties of the specific cognitive processes implicated in the debate.
(10) Make a link between the specific cognitive processes undergone by
participants in the debate and their expression in arguments, articles,
books, and other modes of communication available to the relevant
scientific communities.
See, e.g. R. Trivers, Social Evolution (Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings, 1985); R.
Dawkins, The Se&h Gene, revised edn (Oxford University Press, 1989); and H. Cronin, The Ant
and the Peacock (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
*The process of making historical materials suitable for use in a philosophical model bears a
striking resemblance to the operations that must be performed upon natural materials in order to
transform them into publishable scientific results. See B. Latour and S. Woolgar, Laboratory Life:
The Construction of Scientzjic Facts (Princeton University Press, 1986). In both cases the finished
products differ significantly from the raw materials from which they are constructed.
% the process of discrediting pop sociobiology, Kitcher describes. and systematically
demolishes, what he calls Wilsons Ladder. See P. Kitcher, Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and
the Quesrfor Human Nuture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), pp. 1618, 125-132.
328 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

(11) Through an examination of the trajectories of belief in the relevant

scientific communities, assess the relative influence of the various cognitive
processes undergone by participants in the debate with salient non-
epistemic factors in producing the emergence of consensus in the relevant
scientific communities.
(12) Show that the scientific debate in question reached closure in the particular
way that it did principally through the integration into the communitys
thinking of a process for modifying practice that is markedly superior
in promoting cognitive progress to other processes undergone by
protagonists in the debate.

3.2. Perils of the Climb

At each step of this ladder a number of relatively unconstrained decisions
must be made, each of which is likely to profoundly affect the final outcome of
the analysis. Which episode from the history of science one selects for analysis,
how one chooses to individuate this episode from the larger scientific and
cultural contexts of which it is a part, and how one partitions the debate
encompassed in this episode into early and late phases are all likely to have
major effects on the kinds of conclusions one reaches regarding the nature of
consensus formation in science .24 Likewise, although a number of individuals
are typically involved in any major scientific debate, it is practically impossible
to fully analyze the complex roles played by all (or even any) of them. So it is
necessary to restrict the analysis to just those individuals deemed to be most
important. How are these individuals to be identified? The most common
strategy is to focus on the most visible of the disputants, and to relegate other
participants to the shadowy periphery. Clearly, such a move may bias the
outcome of the analysis in important ways. Knowing, as we unavoidably
do, the identity of the eventual winners and losers makes an objective
identification of the key disputants in a historical episode even more

?t may be no accident that philosophers who prefer Rationalist accounts of science tend to
emphasize fairly uncontroversial historical examples embodying consensus positions that represent
established scientific knowledge, e.g. Copernican astronomy, Darwinian evolutionary theory,
Wegnerian plate tectonics, etc. In addition to Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, see R. Giere, Explaining
Science: A Cognitive Approach (University of Chicago Press, 1988); P. Thagard, Conceptual
Revolutions (Princeton University Press, 1992). Constructivists (i.e. Antirationalists) tend to
emphasize more controversial cases, e.g. recent theorizing about quarks, gravity waves, solar
neutrinos, etc. See, for example, A. Pickering, Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of
Particle Physics (Edinburgh University Press, 1984); H. Collins, Changing Order: Replication and
Induction in ScientiJic Practice (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1985); T. Pinch, Confronting Nature: The
Sociology qf Solar-Neutrino Detection (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1986). Different philosophical conclu-
sions are, evidently, more easily derived from some historical episodes than from others. Some
implications of this observation for the Rationalist-Constructivist debate are explored by A.
Nelson, How Could Scientific Facts be Socially Constructed?, Studies in History and Philosophy OJ
Science 25 (1994). 535-547.
Kitchers Compromise 329

In the recounting of a historical episode in order to illustrate a philosophical

model of scientific progress, the inclination to select the best arguments of the
eventual winners and the worst arguments of the eventual losers, in order to
highlight the differences between them, may be difficult. to resist. When this
requires postulating specific cognitive processes that are presumed to underlay
the specific arguments identified, with little or no independent checks on our
constructions, this danger is greatly increased. The situation becomes even
more perilous when one is faced with the task of evaluating the cognitive
progress-promoting properties of these postulated cognitive processes. Because
there is no readily accessible metric of cognitive progress against which
cognitive processes could be measured, one is forced to rely upon common-
sense generalizations derived from the history of science. Because the cognitive
processes to be assessed belong to this same history, this procedure risks
begging the question.
An additional difficulty arises in moving from the specific cognitive processes
undergone by the participants in the debate to the effect on their scientific
communities. A link must be made between these cognitive processes and their
publicly accessible forms. Because these cognitive processes, as such, are no
more accessible to the immediate scientific community than they are to
retrospective analysts, arguments as embodied in articles, books, lectures and
personal discussions must serve as proxies once again. Because the transference
of information in a scientific community requires that this information be
materially embodied, and scientific communities can be highly viscous media
for the flow of information, not all the arguments deployed during the course
of a scientific debate will be known equally well to all members of the relevant
scientific communities. Consequently, determining which arguments were
generally known and assessing the actual persuasive efficacy of each is likely to
be a very difficult undertaking requiring considerable sociological as well as
historical investigation. A convincing, well-established account is unlikely to
emerge in unambiguous form from a casually constructed historical case-study.
Finally, in order to reach the top rung of the ladder, we have to be able to
determine with confidence the relative importance of various causes in bringing
about the final community decision. Whereas Antirationalist accounts
maintain that scientific debates close when one group is forced from the
community by a competitor commanding more non-epistemic power, accord-
ing to the Compromise Model, scientific debates are ultimately closed through
the articulation and acceptance of decisive arguments.25 Although various
kinds of social factors may operate in the acquisition of power by the victorious
group, the model requires only that the argument emerging when the debate
crystallizes should be the principal source of power.26 In other words, in a
25Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 201.
Z6Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 201.
330 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

competition between the social factors and arguments leading in a contrary

direction, the acquisition of power should be more affected by the arguments.27
Establishing these claims requires that it be possible to: (i) clearly distinguish
epistemic (argumentative) and non-epistemic (social) factors in scientific
debates; (ii) assign values to the power possessed by epistemic and non-
epistemic factors, respectively; (iii) show that epistemic factors have greater
power than the non-epistemic factors; and (iv) demonstrate that in virtue of
their greater power epistemic factors constitute the principal cause of scientific
Each of these requirements is controversial. The sociology of scientific
knowledge is premised on the claim that epistemic and social factors are not (or
at least not always) easily distinguishable. 28 What is taken to be a significant
epistemic virtue for assessing a scientific theory, and how one ranks different
epistemic virtues in cases of conflict between theories displaying epistemic
virtues to different degrees, are sometimes inseparable from the social context(s)
in which these theories are being considered. Assuming that epistemic and
social factors can be distinguished in a given context, however, leaves un-
touched the difficulty associated with assigning power values to these different
factors. Carrying out such assignments successfully may presuppose a level of
access to them that surpasses our cognitive capacities. Finally, determining
which kind of factor was not only sufficient to constitute the principle cause of
scientific closure, but actually played this role in particular historical episodes,
may unwittingly embroil us in unresolvable counterfactual speculations about
what would have happened in a given scientific debate had various epistemic
and/or social factors been different. While it is true that counterfactual
historical claims can sometimes be made convincingly, doing so requires a much
more detailed historical investigation than the typical case-study approach to
the history of science is able to supply.

3.3. Unsteady Steps

These general concerns become acute problems when we attempt to apply the
Compromise Model to a particular historical episode such as the one sketched
earlier. There I described the debate over group selection as transpiring in
the 1960s giving the impression that the debate could be neatly bracketed
by the appearances of Wynne-Edwards (1962) and Williams (1966) books,

Kitcher. op. cit., note 7, pp. 201-202. In a footnote (p. 201, n. 27) Kitcher acknowledges that
these statements may be entirely congenial to Rationalists, and that the Compromise Model may
be viewed as making some rather obvious amendments to classical rationalism once the apsycholo-
gistic approach to rutionalism has been abandoned (emphasis in original). As I will argue shortly, it
is precisely because Kitcher fails to fully abandon the apsychologistic approach to science that his
model encounters the difficulties that it does.
*For the classic statement, see D. Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery (University of Chicago
Press, 1976; second edn, 1991).
Kitchers Compromise 331

respectively. A broader historical perspective reveals this to be a gross

oversimplification necessary in presenting a compact account of a particularly
interesting episode in a much longer ongoing controversy. Debates about
population regulation-including the issue of the cogency of treating popu-
lations as characterized by evolved self-regulating mechanisms-predate the
appearance of Wynne-Edwards book, and were by no means settled by
Williams book.29
Despite their eclipse at the end of the 1960s theories of group selection
reappeared in the early 1970s and have enjoyed a kind of renaissance in recent
years such that it is no longer considered naive to employ group selectionist
explanations of particular biological phenomena.3O There is presently a heated
debate amongst biologists about the proper application of group selectionist
explanations that shows little sign of abating any time soon.3l Interestingly,
Wynne-Edwards himself has continued to defend his theory to the present,
claiming that important evidence, the significance of which his critics fail to
appreciate, counts in its favour. 32 Some biologists have come to Wynne-
Edwards defence, contending that his critics have argued against the unten-
ability of a position never his own, and that Wynne-Edwards theory can be
rehabilitated by showing how the basic account of population dynamics
implicit in his theory can be made plausible in light of recent theories of
population structuring.33 None of this, of course, is intended to show that
Wynne-Edwards was right after all (although, in some respects, he may be).
Rather, it demonstrates the serious oversimplification involved in talking about
early and late phases of a scientific debate, and of winners and losers,
without a more thorough investigation into the shifting boundaries of dispute
which often involve later re-evaluations of earlier positions. Such simplification
may be essential for applying a philosophical model to historical materials, but
it may also mask significant subtleties and developments that a more detailed
historical investigation would uncover.

?See R. H Tamarin (ed.), Population Regulation (Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson &
Ross, 1978), for a collection of classic papers. For more recent discussions, see M. P. Hassell and
R. M. May (eds), Population Regulation and Dynamics (London: Royal Society, 1990).
30See, for example: M. E. Gilpin, Group Selection in Predator-Prey Communities (Princeton
University Press, 1975); M. J. Wade, Group Selection Among Laboratory Populations of
Tribolium, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S. A.) 113 (1976), 399417; D. S.
Wilson, A Theory of Group Selection, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.A.)
72 (1975). 1433146. For a critical evaluation of models of group selection, see T. Shanahan, Group
Selection and the Evolution of Myxomatosis, Evolutionary Theory 9 (1990), 239-254.
See the target article, along with the multiple responses that follow it, by D. S. Wilson and E.
Sober, Reintroducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioral Sciences, Behavioral and Brain
Sciences 17 (1994), 585-654.
V . C Wynne-Edwards, Evolution Through Group Selection (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); Ecology
Denies Neo-Darwinism, The Ecologist 21 (1991), 136141; A Rationale for Group Selection,
Journal of Theoretical Biology 162 (1993). l-22.
33G Pollock, Suspending Disbelief: Of Wynne-Edwards and His Critics, Journal of Evolution-
ary Biology 2 (1988), 205-221.
332 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

The foregoing difficulties might still be regarded as rather minor inasmuch as

they could, in principle, be resolved by undertaking more thorough historical
investigations and by more carefully qualifying claims about early and late
phases of the debate, winners and losers, and the like. More difficult
problems attend attempts to ascend to the higher rungs of the ladder, where we
are required to identify the relevant cognitive processes undergone by the
participants in a debate and to comparatively evaluate their cognitive progress-
promoting properties. The fundamental problem here is obvious: cognitive
processes, as such, are not available for direct inspection. Published arguments
are available for direct inspection, and so Kitcher takes them as representing
underlying cognitive processes, but it must be emphasized that this inference
requires considerable justification, an obligation that is nowhere discharged in
The Advancement of Science. Likewise, we are not told how to represent the
cognitive processes themselves. To a distressingly large extent, we are left to our
own devices.
Suppose, however, that we decide to take advantage of this interpretive
liberty by representing the cognitive processes of the participants in the debate
in question, as suggested by their argumentative moves, as cognitive directives
for guiding the collection and interpretation of evidence, the framing of
arguments, and the drawing of conclusions. For example, a detailed analysis of
Wynne-Edwards arguments in Animal Dispersion, as well as in papers pub-
lished before and after the eruption of the controversy,34 might justify
postulation of the following cognitive directives:
l Seek simple, unifying, synthetic explanations of complex biological
l Treat natural selection as an optimizing agent with vast resources of
biological variation and time at its disposal, with the consequence that
optimal solutions to biological problems are both possible and frequently
instantiated in biological phenomena.
l Adopt a hierarchical view of the operation of natural selection, according to
which selection is capable of producing adaptations among entities at any
level of the biological hierarchy exhibiting variation, differential fitness and
heritability of traits.

In similar fashion, detailed analysis of the published arguments of Wynne-

Edwards critics might yield the following cognitive directives:
l Employ game theoretic considerations when assessing the likelihood of
encountering various social organizations in nature, and require that
%ee for example, V. C. Wynne-Edwards, The Control of Population-Density Through Social
Beha&r: A Hypothesis, Ibis 101 (1959), 43-I; (Reply to Maynard Smith), Nature 201
(1964). 1147; (Reply to Perrins), Natufe 201 (1964), 1148; Reply to Lacks Significance of
Clutch-Size in Swift and Grouse , Nature 203 (1964), 99.
Kitchers Compromise 333

proposed accounts satisfy typically realized empirical conditions. (Maynard

l Insist on experimental confirmation of ecological hypotheses. (Lack)
l Recognize adaptation at no higher a level of organization than is demanded
by the evidence. Whenever possible explain group characteristics as the
statistical effects of the interactions of individual organisms. (Williams)

Suppose that the foregoing cognitive directives do undergird the explicit,

publicly-accessible arguments deployed by participants on both sides of the
debate. On what grounds are we to comparatively assess the cognitive
progress-promoting designs of these directives?
Clearly what we cannot do is to suppose (or argue) that the cognitive
processes of the (eventual) winners were superior to those of the (eventual)
losers because the former but not the latter eventuated in true (or at least
better) beliefs. To argue thus would be to beg the question about the
relationship between the cognitive progress-promoting properties of the cogni-
tive processes undergone by the disputants and the epistemic status of the
eventual outcome of the debate. This relationship is precisely what is at issue.
Instead what we must do is examine the cognitive processes themselves and ask
whether those employed by the winners are such that they promote cognitive
progress better than those employed by the losers.
This requirement raises some additional difficulties. All of the cognitive
directives listed above can boast the support of distinguished contemporary
biologists. All of these directives can be shown to underlie successful (i.e.
cognitively progressive) scientific practice. But if so, then one cannot appeal to
any record of superior cognitive-progressiveness in order to distinguish one set
of directives from the other. This problem is compounded by the fact that all of
the directives pertain to the broad context of theorizing or explaining in
evolutionary biology and ecology. As such, they are peculiar to just the kind of
issues at stake in the debate over group selection. They cannot, therefore, be
comparatively assessed in terms of their value for promoting cognitive progress
in the disciplines of evolutionary biology and ecology-or even, perhaps, in
biology-without begging the crucial question.
If we are to judge of the relative superiority of the cognitive progress-
promoting designs of the cognitive processes employed by participants in the
debate, we shall have to do so in terms of some standard of evaluation
independent of the particular issues at stake in this debate. Perhaps each of the
cognitive directives could be rendered more general and hence allow for
assessment within a broader cognitive domain. For example, Lacks insistence
on experimental confirmation of ecological hypotheses could be generalized as
a cognitive directive insisting on experimental confirmation of scientiJic hypoth-
eses. We could then assess the cognitive progress-promoting characteristics of
334 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

such a directive against a broad background of scientific practices, including

examples drawn from the history of science. But this strategy has serious (and
obvious) limitations. Scientists do not (typically) disagree on the importance of
bringing evidence to bear on scientific hypotheses. Rather, scientific debates are
typically characterized by disagreements about what is to count as relevant
evidence, disputes about the interpretation and significance of evidence, and
differences of opinion about how to weigh bodies of evidence that point in
different directions. A cognitive directive like Insist on experimental confirma-
tion of ecological hypotheses, therefore, will be virtually vacuous. The fact
that Wynne-Edwards, no less than Lack, insisted on experimental verification
for the scientific hypotheses being considered renders such a move doubly
vacuous. For the other cognitive directives listed, formulating them in more
general, non-biological form would amount to gutting them of all content, and
would further remove their comparative evaluation from the specific historical
context under consideration. We are still without an independent standard of
Is it possible to escape from this predicament? From whence are our
standards of cognitive progressiveness to be derived? As Kitcher notes, As we
think about design for cognitive progress it quickly becomes apparent that
there are a number of possible ways to construct standards.35 Kitchers
solution to this problem is to propose an External Standard (ES) that
embodies a rigourous criterion for defining cognitive progress:

(ES): The shift from one individual practice to another is rational if and only if the
process through which the shift was made has a success ratio at least as high as that
of any other process used by human beings (past, present, and future) across the set
of epistemic contexts that includes all possible combinations of possible initial
practices (for human beings) and possible stimuli (given the world as it is and the
characteristics of the human recipient).36

It (almost) goes without saying that (ES) presents an extremely demanding

standard. As Kitcher notes, For the study of the historical development of
science... (ES) may prove to be far too demanding.j Besides other problems,
(ES) makes no concessions to the fact that processes available to subjects at
some stages in the history of science may not have been available at others, and
it requires that only optimal processes count as rational.38 Nevertheless,
Kitcher believes that (ES) provides a valuable target for the methodologist:
pointing to a goal-optimal cognitive design-at which we aim.39 This may be
true, but treating (ES) as a valuable methodological ideal is quite different
from employing it as a standard of cognitive progressiveness for assessing the
35Kitcher. op. cit., note 7, p. 188.
3Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 189.
37Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 191.
Kitcher, op. cit.. note 7, p. 189.
Kitcher, op. fir., note 7, p. 190.
Kitchers Compromise 335

cognitive processes of participants in a concrete, historically specific scientific

debate. What we need is not a target at which to aim but rather a standard by
which we may make confident judgements about the relative importance of
various factors in explaining specific scientific transitions. (ES) is of little help
in this regard.

4. Idealization and Empirical Accuracy in History and Philosophy of Science

Kitcher notes that The rationalist model is an idealization, and it neglects
complications that are regarded as insignificant.40 Clearly the same is true for
the Compromise Model he champions, although he fails to appreciate the
implications of this point for his project. At one point Kitcher acknowledges
that the success of his model depends on whether the charms of simplicity and
historical accuracy can be combined.41 This is, of course, the crucial issue for
Kitchers project, and indeed for anyone who wishes to construct idealized
models of scientific change. Unfortunately, his explicit methodological reflec-
tions on this issue are ambiguous. On the one hand, he thinks that carefully
chosen historical examples can obviate the need for more precise philosophical
explications of key concepts of the sort that occupied us above, concepts like
cognitive progress-promoting processes. According to Kitcher, Simple claims
about rationality can avoid fine-grained resolutions by focusing on the
differences between the processes undergone by those whom we retrospectively
praise and the processes of their opponents.42 As an example he cites the case
of Galileo and his Aristotelian adversaries. Galileos modification of his
practice counts as rational because looking at the heavens rather than not
looking is, it seems, likely to have a high success ratio in modifying astronomical
practice.43 He concludes that The details of which (cognitive) processes are
available, the epistemic contexts we consider, the ways cognitive improvement
is measured seem insignificant beside the gross differences we expect to find.
However we do the accounting we think that we shall get the same result.44 On
the other hand, he recognizes that conducting a more fine-grained historical
analysis introduces complications that threaten to undermine the confident
assertions of his philosophical model: Of course, as the history becomes more
refined and it is understood why the telescope might have seemed an unreliable
instrument, confidence that we can ignore the vagueness begins to waver.4s
These remarks deserve closer scrutiny. If we restrict ourselves to making
simple claims about those whom we consider to be the eventual winners and
losers of scientific debates, then much of the vagueness in assessing the cognitive
4Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 197.
4Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 202.
42Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 190.
43Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 190; emphasis in original.
Kitcher, op. cit., note 7, p. 190.
45Kitcher, up. cit., note 7, p. 190.
336 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

processes employed by these participants does indeed disappear. As Kitcher

notes, however, as soon as we begin insisting on a more fine-grained historical
account, our confidence that we can ignore the historical details is shaken. This
is crucial. Looking or not looking at the heavens is unlikely to represent the
best historical account we can give of the cognitive options available to Galileo
and his intellectual adversaries. As the historical account becomes more refined,
its bearing on philosophical claims about the superiority of the cognitive
processes of the winners becomes increasingly problematic. Clearly what we
cannot do, if we wish to avoid circularity, is to construct our historical accounts
on the basis of what we expect to find, and to assume, at the outset, that
however we do the accounting... we shall get the same result. To proceed in
this fashion is to allow the requirements of a philosophical model to determine
the structure and depth of our historical inquiry. Under these conditions the
historical examples can at best serve to illustrate a philosophical model
constructed on the basis of non-historical considerations. As a consequence,
however, the historical material is rendered useless as a source of philosophical
insights. This is a rather high price to pay for the validation of a philosophical
It should be evident that this problem is not peculiar to Kitchers model. It
was precisely the same problem that some critics have focused upon in the work
of Lakatos.47 To put the problem in its most general form, there may be an
inverse relationship between the degree of historical detail provided in a
historical case-study, and the level of confirmation that case-study may provide
for a philosophically elegant model of science. That is, it may be the case that
we can have a simple, philosophically elegant model of scientific change, or a
rich, historically contextualized account, but we cannot combine both in the
same description. Such a conclusion, if correct, bears directly on the question of
the relationship between history of science and philosophy of science, and
challenges Lakatos (and Kitchers) optimistic view of the relationship between
the two disciplines.

4hKitchers attempt to support his model by appealing to episodes in the history of science is not
as lovingly done as it might be, making empirical evaluation of his model difficult. The historical
accounts he provides are insufficiently developed to allow us to assess the application of his model
properly. There is an irony in this, because in a previous book (op. cit., note 23) Kitcher takes
sociobiologist E. 0. Wilson to task precisely for his failure to meet appropriate standards for doing
behavioural ecology. While Kitcher has nothing but praise for Wilsons earlier work on social
insects, and on ants in particular, when it comes to the application of sociobiological principles to
Homo sapiens Kitcher argues that Wilson abandons his usual caution and begins to extend his
claims far beyond what his empirical base can properly support. In his most recent book Kitcher
is guilty of precisely the same sort of lapse that he accuses Wilson of. Kitchers earlier books are
exemplary, setting standards for others to emulate. In The Advuncement of Science the same caution
is not observed. The philosophy of science presented is brilliant. The history of science is less so. But
the philosophy of science is supposed to be assessed in terms of how well it captures the historical
development of science. The sum is therefore extremely interesting and provocative, but ultimately
only as compelling as its weakest part.
47See especially Thomason, op. cit., note 6.
Kitchers Compromise 337

Recall that whereas Lakatos was content to show how his model of scientific
change could be illustrated by rational reconstructions of episodes in the
history of science, Kitcher is aiming at a naturalistic (e.g. psychologically
grounded) account of science. Despite his naturalistic pronouncements, how-
ever, his practice strongly resembles the rational reconstructionist strategy of
Lakatos.48 Fitting historical materials into his model requires a severe compro-
mise of historiographical standards no less radical than that required by
Lakatos model. The sense in which such philosophical models enhance our
understanding of the actual development of science, therefore, remains unclear.
This gap between Kitchers prqject and its actual products is not entirely
surprising. It is a truism that philosophers of science are typically tempted to
privilege the big picture over the messy details of particular historical episodes,
whereas historians of science sometimes take it as a mark of the maturity of
their profession that their detailed historical investigations need not acknowl-
edge, much less directly address, the relationship of their inquiries to broader
philosophical concerns (e.g. the issue of whether scientific knowledge is
progressive, and how such progress should be measured). It is not difficult,
however, to see how history of science could bear on philosophical claims.
Detailed historical studies of particular scientific episodes are the ideal instru-
ment for dissecting naturalistically-committed philosophical models and expos-
ing their hidden presuppositions and commitments. But this amounts to a very
different, and much more limited, vision of the relationship between history and
philosophy of science than that comprised in the confident pronouncements of
philosophers like Lakatos and Kitcher. What is less clear is whether, or how,
historical and philosophical approaches can be combined to produce a
convincing, positive characterization of science. Our discussion above suggests
that whereas philosophy of science can be useful in discerning and evaluating
patterns of reasoning underlying the publicly-available arguments in particular
historical episodes, and may, to some extent, be able to make general claims
about scientific reasoning, history of science is philosophically useful primarily
because, in addition to providing content for philosophical reflection, when
properly executed it reveals the limitations of idealized philosophical models of
Lakatos, it will be recalled, once declared that Philosophy of science without
history of science is empty; history of science without philosophy of science is
blind. The foregoing considerations suggest a less pithy but, I think, more
accurate formulation of the disciplinary relationships at issue: Philosophy of
science without serious history of science provides little insight into science as it
has been and is being practiced; history of science, without being related to the
general problems and concerns about the nature of science that it is the business
48See M. Solomon Legend Naturalism and Scientific Progress: An Essay on Philip Kitchers The
Advuncement of Sciek, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 26 (1995), 205-218.
338 Studies in History and Philosophy ojscience

of philosophy of science to investigate, cannot properly assess the implications

of its detailed findings about particular historical episodes for our understand-
ing of the scientific enterprise. The aspiration to develop an approach that
integrates the considerable resources of history of science and philosophy of
science, without compromising the internal standards of either, is as yet
unrealized, but still eminently worthy of pursuit.

Acknowledgements-I would like to thank Philip Kitcher, Edward Manier, Robert Westman, and
the anonymous referee(s) of this journal for helpful comments on the ideas expressed in this paper.