Is success within a profession a criterion of truth?!

Earl and Littleboy, the authors of G. L. S. Shackle are rather critical of Shackle's unwillingness to compromise his ideas so that they would gain more mainstream acceptance. For instance, they write: "Shackle rebelled, and he lost. His tactics and timing were not quite right; he overreached. The reward even from partial victory could well have been a Noble Prize" (p. 81).

They seem to be putting forward, rather than a correspondence theory of truth, or a coherence theory of truth, what we might call the "professional advancement theory of truth": your ideas are true to the extent they gain you accolades and prizes!

But if Shackle was correct in his most radical proposals, wasn't he right to stick to his guns, even if it cost him recognition? And if those ideas were wrong, isn't that the reason he should have changed them, and not the fact he might have won a Nobel Prize had he done so?

Consider the case of Copernicus. My lecturer in the history of science noted that, while the Catholic Church had actually paid Copernicus little heed, professional astronomers had taken note of his theory, and almost uniformly rejected it. As John Milton (my lecturer, not the poet) put it, "As far as I have been able to determine, five or so decades after Copernicus's death, there were about four Copernicans in the world. And two of them were named Galileo and Kepler."

Would Earl and Littleboy want to chastise Copernicus, contending that, if only he had come up with a compromise system, like, say, Brahe's, he could have gained more professional acceptance?


  1. Does something similar apply to politics?


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