Archives For Armin Krishnan

Author Information: Armin Krishnan, University of Texas at El Paso,

Krishnan, Armin. 2013. “Organizing Science: A Further Reply to Fred D’Agostino.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (3): 19-21.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:

I want to thank Professor D’Agostino for his kind response to my comments. I am aware that epistemologists have debated the problem of incommensurability ever since Thomas Kuhn brought it up in reference to his concept of scientific paradigms. My way of thinking is more influenced by the pragmatism expressed in Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method (1978), which also developed a concept of the incommensurability of disciplines and methodologies. If something works in terms of expanding or improving our understanding of a specific subject matter or in terms of solving a specific problem, it should be good enough. Scientists and academics should not be too limited by the constraints of disciplinary thinking and should instead try to build bridges to other disciplines and other forms of human knowledge.

I do appreciate and accept Professor D’Agostino’s response that the question of an optimal organization of science is not even decidable since we have no conception of optimal scientific performance and since we have no possibility of comparing the current organization of science with some non-existing hypothetical alternative organization of science. Different arrangements for the organization of science maybe indeed so different as to be considered incommensurable or, in other words, might be so different that they could not even be compared in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, I do think that the way in which the disciplines were originally conceived and the way in which they developed is historically contingent and is not predetermined by some epistemic necessity. It rather appears that “the present organization of content into departments is highly arbitrary, a product in large part of historical accident” (Campbell 1969, 364). We could have a very different set of disciplines if there had been different founders of disciplines or different scientific inventors at the time, or if they had been preoccupied with different scientific questions or problems. The problem with disciplinarity as I see it is that it results in the division of knowledge into compartments that resist easy access because the disciplines protect their body of knowledge through the invention and use of discipline-specific knowledge practices. This makes real interdisciplinarity more difficult and causes, as described by Donald T. Campbell, in the “redundant piling up of highly similar specialties” separated in different disciplines and departments (1969, 361). Continue Reading…

Author Information: Fred D’Agostino, University if Queensland, Australia,

D’Agostino, Fred. 2013. “Reply to Armin Krishnan.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 24-25

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to: Krishnan, Armin. 2013. “Response to Fred D’Agostino’s ‘Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge’”. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 19-23.

Thanks to Dr Krishnan for the very thoughtful comments on my paper “Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge”. I will share some anecdotes by way of reply.

When I was considering writing on the topic of “incommensurability”, an issue which arises in two, related formed, I thought: “I’d better have a look at the databases and see what’s been published”. What I found, approaching the matter as a philosopher, was, for example, an Annual Review of Sociology article on incommensurability, as seen from a sociological perspective, some management studies literature, and some literature from multi-criterion decision theory. All of this was immensely influential in the approach that, in due course, after lots of cogitation, I adopted in my book Incommensurability and Commensuration (Ashgate 2003). I built a non-essentialist story about how what is incommensurable can be commensurated and how what could be commensurated, if we wanted, can be “declared” incommensurable around these readings from outside my own home discipline. (In which, to complicate the story, I have never been formally trained.) So I guess that I agree with Dr Krishnan that “the dynamics and tension between disciplines … enables much of the innovation that occurs within disciplines” (20). Insofar as what I had to say about incommensurability was innovative from a philosophical point of view, it was so because I’d engaged with other disciplines.

That’s one part of this first anecdote. The other part is that my work on incommensurability has never entered the specifically philosophical discourse on that topic to any significant degree. Now, of course, it may be that it’s no good, or even that it’s misconceived and its being ignored is really a kindness and I should complain (not that I am complaining). But it’s also possible that, precisely because of the multidisciplinary underpinnings of the work, it’s simply hard to process by philosophers, especially since my discussion simply bypasses as not of central significance many of the preoccupations of contemporary philosophy when it comes to incommensurability.

My second anecdote arises from my experience as an academic manager and, specifically, as a member of a review panel which did the septennial review of a School of Tourism. The other panel members were themselves founding generation tourism studies academics from Britain, the Continent and North America, and of considerable distinction. One of their major concerns, not specific to the particular School we were reviewing, was that there was a pipeline of students who had done undergraduate, then post-graduate, then doctoral studies all in Tourism and hence, unlike this “founding generation”, had had limited exposure to the disciplines that they’d been engaged with as ways of entry into tourism studies: one was an economist, one a geographer, one an anthropologist “by training”. They all worried that the new generation of tourism academics were not going to have the sort of disciplinary training that would enable them to do high-quality research. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Armin Krishnan, University of Texas at El Paso,

Krishnan, Armin. 2013. “Response to Fred D’Agostino’s ‘Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge’”. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 19-23.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to: D’Agostino, Fred. 2012. “Disciplinarity and the Growth of Knowledge.” Social Epistemology 26 (3-4): 331-350.

The concept of interdisciplinarity has become so increasingly popular with researchers, universities, and institutional funders of research that there has been even the notion that disciplinarity might be already dead. Interestingly, the ideal of interdisciplinarity and the growth of interdisciplinary fields have not made the traditional disciplines obsolete and it does not seem as if the organization of science and knowledge in disciplines would go away anytime soon. What are the reasons for the survival and indeed continued success of the established disciplines? Fred D’Agostino has thrown some light on the social mechanisms that make disciplinarity work and succeed in their objectives of advancing knowledge. In his insightful recent article in Social Epistemology, Fred D’Agostino (2012) has argued that disciplinarity facilitates the growth of knowledge by exploiting the tension between disciplinary tradition and “innovative elements of disciplinary enquiry” (331).

There would be two types of research activity, one based is on the idea of exploration with the aim of new discovery and innovation and the other is based on the idea of exploitation of an already existing paradigm or body of knowledge with the aim of adding details and filling the gaps left by the disciplinary innovators. D’Agostino essentially claims that the dynamic interplay of “exploration and exploitation” (346) within a disciplinary community held together by a “shallow consensus” (346) on values, including the value of being part of a greater community with shared interests and stakes, allows science and knowledge to advance in an “orderly (332) manner. In other words, disciplinarity would not be a constraint or obstacle to the advancement of knowledge, as sometimes claimed, by limiting scientific enquiry through consistent rules for what constitutes good research.

To the contrary, it appears that disciplines are actually the enablers of scientific innovation, which is made possible by their ability to tolerate incoherence. The disciplines would offer only a common rationality and an agreement on the research agenda, but they would not prescribe the desirable results or impose strict rules for getting a result. This flexibility inherent in disciplinarity would allow innovators to take disciplines in new directions and the disciplines themselves to manage the risk of innovation. If novel ideas and approaches take the discipline in a profitable direction, then the discipline can renew itself or expand. Otherwise the system simply assigns individual responsibility for the failure of interpreting the shared standards of the discipline correctly. This dynamics of traditionalism and innovation would make it possible to balance the need for scientific innovation against the need for coherence that creates and maintains the discipline-based community. Continue Reading…