The aim of this essay is to provide a summary and critique of Thomas S. Kuhn’s groundbreaking thesis ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.’ This will be done by analyzing his concepts of ‘paradigm’, ‘normal science’ and ‘scientific revolutions.’ Following the overview I will present the example of ‘The Copernican Revolution’ to empirically show a paradigm shift. The rest of the essay is concerned specifically with critically examining Kuhn’s notion of a paradigm and the incommensurability between them. I will show that to define paradigm is a never ending task however this should not hinder the usefulness of the concept itself.
Before Kuhn’s book was written, the commonly held position by scientists and philosophers of science, such as Mach and Otswald , about the structure of science; was that it involved linear progression as a result of an incremental accumulation of knowledge from the activities undertaken by members of the scientific community. They thought that as generations of scientists observed more and more, their understanding of a particular scientific fact would become better refined through an ever growing stockpile of facts, theories and methods. The aim of the historian of science would be to pin point the man and the moment in time a further discovery was made; whilst also describing the obstacles that inhibited scientific progression.
Then in 1962, Kuhn’s revolutionary book challenged the prevailing model of the history of science and argued for an episodic structure in which periods of conceptual continuity in normal science are interrupted by periods of revolutionary science.
I will begin by outlining the core concepts that Kuhn presents at the beginning of his thesis. The backbone of Kuhn’s structure of science is the notion of a paradigm. In common usage a paradigm is an “accepted model or pattern.” However, for Kuhn it is more than that, it is “largely a promise of success discoverable in selected and still incomplete examples” that needs “further articulation and specification under new or more stringent conditions.” Hence from paradigms “spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research” this is what Kuhn calls ‘normal science.’
For scientists to work within a normal science tradition, a paradigm is required as a pre-requisite. Normal science mostly consists of “mopping-up operations ”. The aim of which is to actualize the promise of the paradigm by “extending the knowledge of those facts that the paradigm displays as particularly revealing, by increasing the extent of the match between those facts and the paradigm’s predictions, and by further articulation of the paradigm itself.” Normal science makes up the majority of a scientists career, in which they articulate the phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies. Whilst working within a normal science tradition, there can come a point at which it starts to fail. This could be due to continued failures at solving a...