Thomas Kuhn

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Thomas Samuel Kuhn (July 18, 1922June 17, 1996) was an American physicist, historian, and philosopher of science and who wrote extensively on the history of science and developed several important notions in the philosophy of science.


  • Only when they must choose between competing theories do scientists behave like philosophers.
    • Kuhn (1970) in Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?, edited by Imre Lakatos, Alan Musgrave (1970). Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0521096235. 
  • I could easily believe that Aristotle had stumbled, but not that, on entering physics, he had totally collapsed. Might not the fault be mine rather than Aristotle's, I asked myself. Perhaps his words had not always meant to him and his contemporaries quite what they meant to me and mine.
    Feeling that way, I continued to puzzle over the text, and my suspicions ultimately proved well-founded. I was sitting at my desk with the text of Aristotle's Physics open in front of me and with a four-colored pencil in my hand. Looking up, I gazed abstractedly out the window of my room -- the visual image is one I still retain. Suddenly the fragments in my head sorted themselves out in a new way, and fell into place together. My jaw dropped, for all at once Aristotle seemed a very good physicist indeed, but of a sort I'd never dreamed possible. Now I could understand why he had said what he'd said, and what his authority had been. Statements that had previously seemed egregious mistakes, now seemed at worst near misses within a powerful and generally successful tradition. That sort of experience -- the pieces suddenly sorting themselves out and coming together in a new way -- is the first general characteristic of revolutionary change that I shall be singling out after further consideration of examples. Though scientific revolutions leave much piecemeal mopping up to do, the central change cannot be experienced piecemenal, one step at a time. Instead, it involves some relatively sudden and unstructured transformation in which some part of the flux of experience sorts itself out differently and displays patterns that were not visible before.
    • Thomas Kuhn, "What Are Scientific Revolutions?" 1982. In: Thomas S. Kuhn. The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, with an Autobiographical Interview. University of Chicago Press, 2002. p. 16

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962[edit]

  • Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend most all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. As a puzzle-solving activity, normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none.
    • p. 5.
  • "Normal science" means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice
    • p. 10.
  • Without commitment to a paradigm there can be no science... the study of paradigms is what prepares a student for membership in a particular scientific community. Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a particular research tradition. ...scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature.
    • p. 11.
  • The scientific enterprise as a whole does from time to time prove useful, open up new territory, display order, and test long-accepted belief. Nevertheless, the individual engaged on a normal research problem is almost never doing any one of these things. Once engaged, his motivation is of a rather different sort. What then challenges him is the conviction that, if only he is skillful enough, he will succeed in solving a puzzle that no one before has solved or solved so well.
    • p. 38.
  • Scientists work from models acquired through education and through subsequent exposure to the literature often without quite knowing or needing to know what characteristics have given these models the status of community paradigms
    • p. 46.
  • Somehow, the practice of astronomy, physics, chemistry or biology normally fails to evoke the controversies over fundamentals that today seem endemic among, say, psychologists or sociologists. Attempting to discover the source of that difference led me to recognize the role in scientific research of what I have since called “paradigms.” These I take to be universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners.
    • p. 48.
  • Normal science, the puzzle-solving activity we have just examined, is a highly cumulative enterprise, eminently successful in its aim, the steady extension of the scope and precision of scientific knowledge.
    • p. 52.
  • [The] most fundamental aspect of the incommensurability of competing paradigms... is that "the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds."
    • As cited in: Scott L. Pratt (2009) Logic: Inquiry, Argument, and Order. p. 8.
  • In a sense that I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. One contains constrained bodies that fall slowly, the other pendulums that repeat their motions again and again. In one, solutions are compounds, in the other mixtures. One is embedded in a flat, the other in a curved, matrix of space. Practicing in different worlds, the two groups of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction. Again, that is not to say that they can see anything they please. Both are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they see them in different relations one to the other. That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another.
    • p. 150 cited in: Stuart A. Umpleby and Eric B. Dent. (1999) "The Origins and Purposes of Several Traditions. in Systems Theory and Cybernetics".

Quotes about Thomas Kuhn[edit]

  • Kuhn as does Popper rejects the idea that science grows by accumulation of eternal truths.. But while according to Popper science is ‘revolution in permanence’, and criticism the heart of the scientific enterprise, according to Kuhn revolution is exceptional and, indeed, extra-scientific, and criticism is, in ‘normal’ times, anathema... The clash between Popper and Kuhn is not about a mere technical point in epistemology. It concerns our central intellectual values, and has implications not only for theoretical physics but also for the underdeveloped social sciences and even for moral and political philosophy. If even in science there is no other way of judging a theory but by assessing the number, faith and vocal energy of its supporters, then this must be even more so in the social sciences: truth lies in power. Thus Kuhn’s position would vindicate, no doubt, unintentionally, the basic political credo of contemporary religious maniacs (‘student revolutionaries’).
  • Up until the publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, the history, philosophy, and sociology of science maintained an internalist approach to scientific knowledge claims. Science was seen as somehow above any social, political, or cultural influences, and therefore, the examinations of scientific knowledge focused on areas such as 'discoveries,' 'famous men,' and 'the scientific revolution in the West.' When Kuhn opened the door to the possibility that external factors were involved in the development of scientific paradigms, science studies assumed a more critical tone.
    • Diane M. Rodgers (2009) "Debugging the Link Between Social Theory and Social Insects".

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Wikipedia has an article about:
  • Thomas Kuhn entry by Alexander Bird in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy