The problematic nature of translation arises from two assumptions. First, as we have seen, Kuhn assumes that meaning is (locally) holistic. A change in the meaning of one part of the lexical structure will result in a change to all its parts. This would rule out preservation of the translatability of taxonomies by redefining the changed part in terms of the unchanged part.

(source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In what sense is "the changed part .. redefined in terms of the unchanged part"? Does it mean that we are unable to see the change because it affects only a small part of the structure? Or does it mean that the terms by which I explain the change of the old taxonomy belong to the new one?

  • This is a straw man. A taxonomy itself is never a complete paradigm, the principles that guide its elaboration are there, too. Those are maintained by feeback from changes to the taxonomy, which must be able to adapt to new data, or it is not of any use. Fitting in any given piece of data can cause a change all the way down from the root, without weakening the paradigm at all. Not every system that has a dynamics is automatically chaos. I can throw out the whole vocabulary of English, keeping just the structures and manage communication with another English speaker almost immediately
    – user9166
    Nov 27 '18 at 1:28

We have to see :

The issue is about the Incommensurability of Scientific Theories that, in turn, relates to Quine's view about meaning and the topics of Indeterminacy of Translation and Meaning holism :

[the view] that treats the meanings of all of the words in a language as interdependent. Holism draws much of its appeal from the way in which the usage of all our words seems interconnected, and runs into many problems because the resultant view can seem to conflict with (among other things) the intuition that meanings are by and large shared and stable.

According to Kuhn :

some sort of local holism must be an essential feature of language.

But local holism must non precludes translation, and thus the possibility of compare alternative scientific theories, i.e. commensurability, and thus the possibility of a rational choice between aletrnative (competing) theories.

But we may have "global" cases of holism. Consider the case of phlogiston theory : how can we translate it into modern chemistry ?

In modern science there is no phlogiston; thus, the term "phlogiston" has no reference at all and we cannot translate it.

See page 52 :

in my view, the invariants of translation are to be sought. Unlike two members of the same language community, speakers of mutually translatable languages need not share terms: 'Rad' is not 'wheel'. But the referring expressions of one language must be matchable to coreferential expressions in the other, and the lexical structures employed by speakers of the languages must be the same, not only within each language but also from one language to the other.

Taxonomy must, in short, be preserved to provide both shared categories and shared relationships between them. Where it is not, translation is impossible, an outcome precisely illustrated by Kitcher's valiant attempt to fit the phlogiston theory to the taxonomy of modern chemistry.

In this case, we need interpretation instead of translation [page 53] :

Translation is, of course, only the first resort of those who seek comprehension. Communication can be established in its absence. But where translation is not feasible, the very different processes of interpretation and language acquisition are required.

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