International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

Series | Book | Chapter


Commentary on "nonsense and paradigm change", by Aristides Baltas

Eric Oberheim

pp. 71-83


Baltas's discussion of the positive functional roles of nonsense raises a number of interesting issues concerning the nature of conceptual progress. They have direct pragmatic implications for how best to teach new ideas. He aims to specify and describe a positive functional role of nonsense in learning and teaching, and then to argue that nonsense is a necessary component in the process of conceptual advance.The rest of this short commentary has two parts. In part 1, I argue against Baltas's claim that in the natural sciences, the only way to teach someone entrenched in an older paradigm the concepts of a newer paradigm is through the judicious use of nonsense. It is possible to teach new incommensurable concepts without talking nonsense. To help make sense of Weinberg's "nonsense", I introduce the distinction between propositional content and performative significance, and discuss the function of metaphor. I also offer some general critical remarks about Baltas's interpretation of Kuhn's model of scientific advance, and about his "elucidatory analogy" between Kuhn and Wittgenstein. Then in part 2, I will very briefly probe Baltas's interpretation of the penultimate paragraph of the Tractatus, on the basis of the characterization of the relationship between the Tractatus and the Investigations given in part 1.

Publication details

Published in:

Soler Léna, Sankey Howard, Hoyningen-Huene Paul (2008) Rethinking scientific change and theory comparison: stabilities, ruptures, incommensurabilities?. Dordrecht, Springer.

Pages: 71-83

DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-6279-7_5

Full citation:

Oberheim Eric (2008) „Commentary on "nonsense and paradigm change", by Aristides Baltas“, In: L. Soler, H. Sankey & P. Hoyningen-Huene (eds.), Rethinking scientific change and theory comparison, Dordrecht, Springer, 71–83.