A Reply to Julien Lapointe's suggestions for Summer Readings.

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Lafontaine, Andrée


I'm going to have to disagree with Julien Lapointe on a number of points, but I'm not sure these disagreements matter for the purpose of his argument (some of my points are probably beside the point but I'll write them down anyways for the sake of clarity). I also have a suggestion for summer reading: Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolution.
I believe Kuhn's revolutionary model explains the development of intellectual endeavours better than Toulmin's evolutionary  model (this is probably the point that has the least impact with regards to your overall argument as I believe that the rest of my critique would still apply to a Toulminian model). According to Toulmin, intellectual enterprises may “fail”—for institutional or methodological reasons—to achieve “compactness” and remain “diffuse” or “would-be” disciplines. In any case, they remain “stuck” at the level of methodological issues: professionals cannot agree on the proper methodologies and constantly debate over the overarching methodology to be adopted. Consequently, research “lacks any continuing rational direction”, the “disciplinary possibilities (...) are not fully exploited, and the rational purposes of its practitioners are frustrated”. As noted, Toulmin’s evolutionary model has the advantage of explaining changes in intellectual enterprises as guided by rationality; disciplines evolve towards greater rationality, and it is this rational goal that explains why disciplines are “propelled” towards change.
I can't help but this that this is too idealistic a model (in both senses of the word). The cynic in me (which I really try to keep in the closet as much as I can) points out many other, non rational, more materialistic, reasons to explain such changes. It seems to me like Toulmin is unable to see the value of disciplines that are not compact (they "fail to achieve...").
I think Kuhn offers a more accurate model to explain change in intellectual endeavours, especially in humanistic disciplines and in the social sciences (I put emphasis on humanistic and social science disciplines because I think Toulmin's chapter on "Evolution and the Human Sciences" - especially when he talks about Marxism - is by far the weakest part of his book, and the one that has aged the most).
When all professionals working within a field agree on a common aim and methodology, Kuhn claims that they are working within a paradigm.  This paradigm provides, not only a methodology, but also a set of questions to be answered. This is why normal (stable, directed, paradigmatic) science proceeds by puzzle-solving, focusing on “in-depth” rather than “broad” knowledge. So far so close to Toulmin. Kuhn moreover adds that working within a paradigm has the advantage that the researcher does not need to “build his field anew” every time. Contrary to Toulmin, however, Kuhn claims that change within intellectual enterprises proceeds when an accepted paradigm finds itself in a state of crisis and is supplanted by an alternative. Normal sciences depend on the stability of their paradigm and tend to suppress rather than welcome fundamental changes and novelty, which they perceive as an attack.  This is why paradigms do not “evolve” for Kuhn, they are simply replaced by a competing paradigm. Disciplines, or “sciences”, for Kuhn, find themselves in “successive transitions from one paradigm to another via revolution”. According to this model, there is no necessary continuity between the different paradigms; the new one is “simply more successful than [its] competitors in solving a few problems that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute”. 
I would say that Kuhn's model is both more accurate and preferable than Toulmin's, then, for two main reasons: 1) Kuhn's model seems more accurate for it acknowledge a variety of factors contributing to change and 2) it is also preferable because it highlights the limitations - trade-offs, of focused research, and the comparative advantages that less oriented, more diffuse forms of research might have.
According to Neil Levy, what differentiates analytic from continental philosophy is not the fact that only the former took the linguistic turn—a commonly-defended thesis—but rather that it took the “paradigmatic turn”. Analytic philosophy can be seen as seeking to proceed within a paradigm: like normal scientists, its practitioners tend to “address themselves to fellow specialists” who share “her technical vocabulary and her sense of what problems she ought to be concerned with” rather than the educated public at large. Philosophers working within the analytic tradition are generally uninterested in what lies outside the paradigm unless of course, it is to criticize that, which does not agree with their methodology. This corresponds to the first drawback identified by Kuhn: because a paradigm-based research program is firmly grounded in a guiding theory it is intolerant to novelty and tends to suppress new theories. Levy notes a further trade-off—also highlighted by Kuhn—in the development of philosophy along paradigmatic lines. The adoption of a paradigm, and the subsequently increased specialization means both a rapid and concentrated development of the discipline, and a divorce from day-to-day concerns of non-specialists: “If AP can claim greater depth and rigor, CP can claim greater social relevance”. 
Levy further notes that, within modernity, research has proceeded in two main directions: a paradigmatic, “cumulative”, “self-reproducing”, scientific way, and a non-paradigmatic, artistic way, where novelty is encouraged rather than suppressed. This is why, according to Levy, the analytic tradition is closer to the sciences while continental philosophy seems more amenable to the study of arts.
My point here is to say that a "paradigmatic" more oriented, directed, focused research-project (one where most or all researches agree on the questions to be addressed and the methods to be used) allows for more focused and rapid development and problem-solving. But this comes with an important trade-off (suppression of novelty and criticism, but also the exclusion of differing conceptions of what is to be studied and what questions are to be asked) and I'm not sure the price isn't too high, especially in disciplines related to the arts and the humanities. And I think this is particularly fitting in Film Studies, especially since we  don't seem to agree on our object of study. I don't see these disagreements as a fault or something to be resolved. I'm not sure Film Studies would benefit from adopting a "paradigmatic model". This isn't however, what J. Lapointe advocates either. J. Lapointe might be rather advocating that some parts of FS (Bordwell's project for instance) adopt such a model and that allows them to do certain things very well, and this can coexist with non-paradigmatic endeavours. And if that were the case, I would agree. I can see the value of more paradigmatically-oriented research in FS, but I can't accept that as being the only avenue of research. Unfortunately, the quote from Livingston seems to suggest that peaceful coexistence is not on the menu.


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