Thomas Kuhn
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Thomas Samuel Kuhn (; July 18, 1922 – June 17, 1996) was an American
philosopher of science A philosopher is a person who practices or investigates philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Suc ...
whose 1962 book ''
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'' (1962; second edition 1970; third edition 1996; fourth edition 2012) is a book about the history of science by philosopher Thomas S. Kuhn. Its publication was a landmark event in the History of science, ...
'' was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term ''
paradigm shift A paradigm shift, a concept brought into the common lexicon by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, is a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a :Scientific disciplines, scientific discipline. Even ...
'', which has since become an English-language idiom. Kuhn made several claims concerning the progress of scientific knowledge: that scientific fields undergo periodic "paradigm shifts" rather than solely progressing in a linear and continuous way, and that these paradigm shifts open up new approaches to understanding what scientists would never have considered valid before; and that the notion of scientific truth, at any given moment, cannot be established solely by objective criteria but is defined by a consensus of a
scientific community The scientific community is a diverse network of interacting scientists. It includes many "working group, sub-communities" working on particular scientific fields, and within particular institutions; interdisciplinary and cross-institutional acti ...
. Competing paradigms are frequently incommensurable; that is, they are competing and irreconcilable accounts of reality. Thus, our comprehension of science can never rely wholly upon "objectivity" alone. Science must account for subjective perspectives as well, since all objective conclusions are ultimately founded upon the subjective conditioning/worldview of its researchers and participants.


Early life, family and education

Kuhn was born in
Cincinnati Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County, Ohio, Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located at the northern side of the confluence of the Licking River (Kentucky), Licking and Ohio Rive ...
,
Ohio Ohio () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. Of the List of states and territories of the United States, fifty U.S. states, it is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 34th-l ...
, to Minette Stroock Kuhn and Samuel L. Kuhn, an industrial engineer, both
Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים, , ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation A nation is a community of people formed on the basis of a combination of shared features such as language, history, ethnicity, culture and/or ...
. From kindergarten through fifth grade, he was educated at Lincoln School, a private progressive school in Manhattan, which stressed independent thinking rather than learning facts and subjects. The family then moved north to the small town of Croton-on-Hudson, New York where, once again, he attended a private progressive school – Hessian Hills School. It was here that, in sixth through ninth grade, he learned to love mathematics. He left Hessian Hills in 1937. He graduated from The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, in 1940. He obtained his BSc degree in
physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical science is that depar ...
from
Harvard College Harvard College is the undergraduate education, undergraduate college of Harvard University, an Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1636, Harvard College is the original school of Harvard University, the oldest ...
in 1943, where he also obtained MSc and PhD degrees in physics in 1946 and 1949, respectively, under the supervision of John Van Vleck. As he states in the first few pages of the preface to the second edition of ''
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'' (1962; second edition 1970; third edition 1996; fourth edition 2012) is a book about the history of science by philosopher Thomas S. Kuhn. Its publication was a landmark event in the History of science, ...
'', his three years of total academic freedom as a Harvard Junior Fellow were crucial in allowing him to switch from physics to the history and
philosophy of science Philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methodology, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern Demarcation problem, what qualifies as science, the reliability of s ...
.


Career

Kuhn taught a course in the history of science at Harvard from 1948 until 1956, at the suggestion of university president James Conant. After leaving Harvard, Kuhn taught at the
University of California, Berkeley The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley, Berkeley, Cal, or California) is a public university, public land-grant university, land-grant research university in Berkeley, California. Established in 1868 as the University of Californi ...
, in both the philosophy department and the history department, being named Professor of the history of science in 1961. Kuhn interviewed and tape recorded Danish physicist
Niels Bohr Niels Henrik David Bohr (; 7 October 1885 – 18 November 1962) was a Danes, Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and old quantum theory, quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel ...
the day before Bohr's death. At Berkeley, he wrote and published (in 1962) his best known and most influential work: ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions''. In 1964, he joined
Princeton University Princeton University is a private university, private research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the List of Colonial Colleges, fourth-oldest ins ...
as the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Philosophy and History of Science. He served as the president of the History of Science Society from 1969 to 1970. In 1979 he joined the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a Private university, private Land-grant university, land-grant research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1861, MIT has played a key role in the development of modern t ...
(MIT) as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy, remaining there until 1991.


''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions''

''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'' (''SSR'') was originally printed as an article in the ''
International Encyclopedia of Unified Science International is an adjective (also used as a noun) meaning "between nations". International may also refer to: Music Albums * ''International'' (Kevin Michael album), 2011 * ''International'' (New Order album), 2002 * ''International'' (The T ...
'', published by the logical positivists of the
Vienna Circle The Vienna Circle (german: Wiener Kreis) of Logical Empiricism was a group of elite philosophers and scientists drawn from the Natural science, natural and Social Sciences, social sciences, logic and mathematics who met regularly from 1924 to 193 ...
. In this book, heavily influenced by the fundamental work of Ludwik Fleck, Kuhn argued that science does not progress via a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but undergoes periodic revolutions, also called "
paradigm shift A paradigm shift, a concept brought into the common lexicon by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, is a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a :Scientific disciplines, scientific discipline. Even ...
s" (although he did not coin the phrase, he did contribute to its increase in popularity), in which the nature of scientific inquiry within a particular field is abruptly transformed. In general, science is broken up into three distinct stages. Prescience, which lacks a central paradigm, comes first. This is followed by " normal science", when scientists attempt to enlarge the central paradigm by "puzzle-solving". Guided by the paradigm, normal science is extremely productive: "when the paradigm is successful, the profession will have solved problems that its members could scarcely have imagined and would never have undertaken without commitment to the paradigm". In regard to experimentation and collection of data with a view toward solving problems through the commitment to a paradigm, Kuhn states: "The operations and measurements that a scientist undertakes in the laboratory are not 'the given' of experience but rather 'the collected with difficulty.' They are not what the scientist sees—at least not before his research is well advanced and his attention focused. Rather, they are concrete indices to the content of more elementary perceptions, and as such they are selected for the close scrutiny of normal research only because they promise opportunity for the fruitful elaboration of an accepted paradigm. Far more clearly than the immediate experience from which they in part derive, operations and measurements are paradigm-determined. Science does not deal in all possible laboratory manipulations. Instead, it selects those relevant to the juxtaposition of a paradigm with the immediate experience that that paradigm has partially determined. As a result, scientists with different paradigms engage in different concrete laboratory manipulations." During the period of normal science, the failure of a result to conform to the paradigm is seen not as refuting the paradigm, but as the mistake of the researcher, contra
Karl Popper Sir Karl Raimund Popper (28 July 1902 – 17 September 1994) was an Austrian-British philosopher, academic and social commentator. One of the 20th century's most influential philosophers of science, Popper is known for his rejection of the cl ...
's
falsifiability Falsifiability is a standard of evaluation of scientific theories and hypotheses that was introduced by the Philosophy of science, philosopher of science Karl Popper in his book ''The Logic of Scientific Discovery'' (1934). He proposed it as t ...
criterion. As anomalous results build up, science reaches a ''crisis'', at which point a new paradigm, which subsumes the old results along with the anomalous results into one framework, is accepted. This is termed ''revolutionary science''. In ''SSR'', Kuhn also argues that rival paradigms are incommensurable—that is, it is not possible to understand one paradigm through the conceptual framework and terminology of another rival paradigm. For many critics, for example
David Stove David Charles Stove (15 September 1927 – 2 June 1994) was an Australian philosopher. Philosophy His work in philosophy of science included criticisms of David Hume's Inductive skepticism, Inductive scepticism. He offered a positive response ...
('' Popper and After'', 1982), this thesis seemed to entail that theory choice is fundamentally
irrational Irrationality is cognition, thinking, talking, or acting without inclusion of rationality. It is more specifically described as an action or opinion given through inadequate use of reason, or through emotional distress or cognitive deficiency. T ...
: if rival theories cannot be directly compared, then one cannot make a rational choice as to which one is better. Whether Kuhn's views had such relativistic consequences is the subject of much debate; Kuhn himself denied the accusation of
relativism Relativism is a family of philosophical views which deny claims to Objectivity (philosophy), objectivity within a particular domain and assert that valuations in that domain are relative to the perspective of an observer or the context in whic ...
in the third edition of ''SSR'', and sought to clarify his views to avoid further misinterpretation. Freeman Dyson has quoted Kuhn as saying "I am not a Kuhnian!", referring to the
relativism Relativism is a family of philosophical views which deny claims to Objectivity (philosophy), objectivity within a particular domain and assert that valuations in that domain are relative to the perspective of an observer or the context in whic ...
that some philosophers have developed based on his work. ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'' is the single most widely cited book in the social sciences. The enormous impact of Kuhn's work can be measured in the changes it brought about in the vocabulary of the philosophy of science: besides "paradigm shift", Kuhn popularized the word ''
paradigm In science and philosophy, a paradigm () is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitute legitimate contributions to a field. Etymology ''Paradigm'' comes f ...
'' itself from a term used in certain forms of
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
and the work of Georg Lichtenberg to its current broader meaning, coined the term " normal science" to refer to the relatively routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within a paradigm, and was largely responsible for the use of the term " scientific revolutions" in the plural, taking place at widely different periods of time and in different disciplines, as opposed to a single
scientific revolution The Scientific Revolution was a series of events that marked the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics Mathematics is an area of knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, fo ...
in the late Renaissance. The frequent use of the phrase "paradigm shift" has made scientists more aware of and in many cases more receptive to paradigm changes, so that Kuhn's analysis of the evolution of scientific views has by itself influenced that evolution. Kuhn's work has been extensively used in social science; for instance, in the post-positivist/ positivist debate within
International Relations International relations (IR), sometimes referred to as international studies and international affairs, is the Scientific method, scientific study of interactions between sovereign states. In a broader sense, it concerns all activities betwe ...
. Kuhn is credited as a foundational force behind the post- Mertonian
sociology of scientific knowledge The sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) is the study of science as a social activity, especially dealing with "the social conditions and effects of science, and with the social structures and processes of scientific activity." The sociol ...
. Kuhn's work has also been used in the Arts and Humanities, such as by Matthew Edward Harris to distinguish between scientific and historical communities (such as political or religious groups): 'political-religious beliefs and opinions are not epistemologically the same as those pertaining to scientific theories'. This is because would-be scientists' worldviews are changed through rigorous training, through the engagement between what Kuhn calls 'exemplars' and the Global Paradigm. Kuhn's notions of paradigms and paradigm shifts have been influential in understanding the history of economic thought, for example the Keynesian revolution, and in debates in political science. A defense Kuhn gives against the objection that his account of science from ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'' results in relativism can be found in an essay by Kuhn called "Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice." In this essay, he reiterates five criteria from the penultimate chapter of ''SSR'' that determine (or help determine, more properly) theory choice: # ''Accurate'' – empirically adequate with experimentation and observation # ''Consistent'' – internally consistent, but also externally consistent with other theories # ''Broad Scope'' – a theory's consequences should extend beyond that which it was initially designed to explain # ''Simple'' – the simplest explanation, principally similar to
Occam's razor Occam's razor, Ockham's razor, or Ocham's razor ( la, novacula Occami), also known as the principle of parsimony or the law of parsimony ( la, lex parsimoniae), is the problem-solving principle that "entities should not be multiplied beyond neces ...
# ''Fruitful'' – a theory should disclose new phenomena or new relationships among phenomena He then goes on to show how, although these criteria admittedly determine theory choice, they are imprecise in practice and relative to individual scientists. According to Kuhn, "When scientists must choose between competing theories, two men fully committed to the same list of criteria for choice may nevertheless reach different conclusions." For this reason, the criteria still are not "objective" in the usual sense of the word because individual scientists reach different conclusions with the same criteria due to valuing one criterion over another or even adding additional criteria for selfish or other subjective reasons. Kuhn then goes on to say, "I am suggesting, of course, that the criteria of choice with which I began function not as rules, which determine choice, but as values, which influence it." Because Kuhn utilizes the history of science in his account of science, his criteria or values for theory choice are often understood as descriptive normative rules (or more properly, values) of theory choice for the scientific community rather than prescriptive normative rules in the usual sense of the word "criteria", although there are many varied interpretations of Kuhn's account of science.


Post-''Structure'' philosophy

Years after the publication of ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'', Kuhn dropped the concept of a paradigm and began to focus on the semantic aspects of scientific theories. In particular, Kuhn focuses on the taxonomic structure of scientific kind terms. As a consequence, a scientific revolution is not defined as a 'change of paradigm' anymore, but rather as a change in the taxonomic structure of the theoretical language of science. Some scholars describe this change as resulting from a 'linguistic turn'. In their book, Andersen, Barker and Chen use some recent theories in cognitive psychology to vindicate Kuhn's mature philosophy. Apart from dropping the concept of a paradigm, Kuhn also began to look at the process of scientific specialisation. In a scientific revolution, a new paradigm (or a new taxonomy) replaces the old one; by contrast, specialisation leads to a proliferation of new specialties and disciplines. This attention to the proliferation of specialties would make Kuhn's model less 'revolutionary' and more 'evolutionary'. Some philosophers claim that Kuhn attempted to describe different kinds of scientific change: revolutions and specialty-creation. Others claim that the process of specialisation is in itself a special case of scientific revolutions. It is also possible to argue that, in Kuhn's model, science evolves ''through'' revolutions.


Polanyi–Kuhn debate

Although they used different terminologies, both Kuhn and Michael Polanyi believed that scientists' subjective experiences made science a relativized discipline. Polanyi lectured on this topic for decades before Kuhn published ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions''. Supporters of Polanyi charged Kuhn with plagiarism, as it was known that Kuhn attended several of Polanyi's lectures, and that the two men had debated endlessly over
epistemology Epistemology (; ), or the theory of knowledge, is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major subfields such as ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Epis ...
before either had achieved fame. After the charge of plagiarism, Kuhn acknowledged Polanyi in the ''Second'' edition of ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions''. Despite this intellectual alliance, Polanyi's work was constantly interpreted by others within the framework of Kuhn's paradigm shifts, much to Polanyi's (and Kuhn's) dismay.


Honors

Kuhn was named a
Guggenheim Fellow Guggenheim Fellowships are Grant (money), grants that have been awarded annually since by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative abi ...
in 1954, elected to the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (abbreviation: AAA&S) is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is ...
in 1963, elected to the
American Philosophical Society The American Philosophical Society (APS), founded in 1743 in Philadelphia, is a scholarly organization that promotes knowledge in the sciences and humanities through research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and communi ...
in 1974, elected to the United States
National Academy of Sciences The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a United States nonprofit, NGO, non-governmental organization. NAS is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, along with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the ...
in 1979, and, in 1982 was awarded the George Sarton Medal by the History of Science Society. He also received numerous honorary doctorates. In honor of his legacy, the Thomas Kuhn Paradigm Shift Award is awarded by the
American Chemical Society The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry Chemistry is the scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a na ...
to speakers who present original views that are at odds with mainstream scientific understanding. The winner is selected based on the novelty of the viewpoint and its potential impact if it were to be widely accepted.


Personal life

Thomas Kuhn was married twice, first to Kathryn Muhs with whom he had three children, then to Jehane Barton Burns (Jehane B. Kuhn). In 1994, Kuhn was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in 1996.


Bibliography

* Kuhn, T. S. '' The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought''. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957. * Kuhn, T. S. The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science. ''Isis'', 52 (1961): 161–193. * Kuhn, T. S. ''
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'' (1962; second edition 1970; third edition 1996; fourth edition 2012) is a book about the history of science by philosopher Thomas S. Kuhn. Its publication was a landmark event in the History of science, ...
''. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. * Kuhn, T. S
"The Function of Dogma in Scientific Research".
pp. 347–369 in A. C. Crombie (ed.). ''Scientific Change'' (Symposium on the History of Science, University of Oxford, July 9–15, 1961). New York and London: Basic Books and Heineman, 1963. * Kuhn, T. S. ''The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change''. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1977. * Kuhn, T. S. '' Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912''. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. * Kuhn, T. S. ''The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970–1993''. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.


References


Further reading

* Hanne Andersen, Peter Barker, and Xiang Chen. ''The Cognitive Structure of Scientific Revolutions'', Cambridge University Press, 2006. * Alexander Bird. ''Thomas Kuhn''. Princeton and London: Princeton University Press and Acumen Press, 2000. * Steve Fuller. ''Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times''. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. * Matthew Edward Harris. ''The Notion of Papal Monarchy in the Thirteenth Century: The Idea of Paradigm in Church History.' Lampeter and
Lewiston, New York Lewiston is a Administrative divisions of New York#Town, town in Niagara County, New York, Niagara County, New York (state), New York, United States. The population was 15,944 at the 2020 census. The town and its contained village are named afte ...
:
Edwin Mellen Press The Edwin Mellen Press or Mellen Press is an international Independent business, independent company and Academic publisher, academic publishing house with editorial offices in Lewiston (town), New York, Lewiston, New York, and Lampeter, Lampete ...
, 2010. . * Paul Hoyningen-Huene ''Reconstructing Scientific Revolutions: Thomas S. Kuhn's Philosophy of Science''. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. * Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, ''Meaning Changes: A Study of Thomas Kuhn's Philosophy''. AV Akademikerverlag, 2012. * Errol Morris. '' The Ashtray (Or the Man Who Denied Reality)''. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. * Sal Restivo, The Myth of the Kuhnian Revolution. ''Sociological Theory'', Vol. 1, (1983), 293–305.


External links


Notes for Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"
* * James A. Marcum,
Thomas S. Kuhn (1922–1996)
, ''Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy''

(obituary, '' The Tech'' p. 9 vol 116 no 28, June 26, 1996)
Review in the New York Review of Books

Color Portrait

History of Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science
BOOK VI: Kuhn on Revolution and Feyerabend on Anarchy – with free downloads for public use.
Thomas S. Kuhn, post-modernism and materialist dialectics
* Errol Morris
The Ashtray: The Ultimatum
(Part 1 f 5 parts, a critical view and memoir of Kuhn * Daniel Laskowski Tozzini
"Objetividade e racionalidade na filosofia da ciência de Thomas Kuhn"
* Thomas S. Kuhn Papers, MC 240. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts. * Maurício Cavalcante Rio
"Thomas S. Kuhn e a Construção Social do Conhecimento Científico

Thomas Kuhn on Information Philosopher
*
N. M. Swerdlow, "Thomas S. Kuhn", Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences (2013)
{{DEFAULTSORT:Kuhn, Thomas Samuel 1922 births 1996 deaths Historians of science Philosophers of science Jewish American historians Jewish philosophers 20th-century American historians 20th-century American male writers 20th-century American philosophers Taft School alumni MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences faculty Princeton University faculty University of California, Berkeley College of Letters and Science faculty Harvard University faculty Harvard University alumni Scientists from Cincinnati Writers from Berkeley, California Deaths from lung cancer Members of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences fellows Philosophers from Ohio Corresponding Fellows of the British Academy Historians from Ohio Historians from California American male non-fiction writers 20th-century American Jews Members of the American Philosophical Society