Thomas kuhn

20th November 2020

Thomas Kuhn on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
A physicist at Harvard, with a deep interest in Philosophy. This interest brought him to read a lot of Philosophy of Science books; while reading them, he found out how every of these books followed a structure: focusing on the good things of science, on the success.

Copernicus as a model. The Copernical Revolution upon which Kuhn built his own method, which led to his famous The Structure of Scientific Revolution.

According to Kuhn the development of science isn’t linear: quiet period alternate to more active periods. Unstable periods are called revolutionary.

During periods of *normal science:

  • “business as usual”
  • puzzle solving: not actual problems are solved, but puzzles which are solved through universally shared methods.
  • scientists share a set commitments: tools, principles, approaches.

Scientific paradigm

The above define a Scientific paradigm; this hasn’t a precise definition: it is what is followed during a period of normal science.

Principia Mathematica by Newton as the major example of the Newtonian paradigm.

The normal scientist has to believe in his/her paradigm no matter what; he uses it uncritically, sharing its principles. A normal science is a mono-paradigmatic science: nothing threatens the fundamental principles of the paradigm.

Popper comes back into play: dogmatism is the risk. This is why he strongly disagrees with Kuhn’s view.

Normal science, in Kuhn’s sense, exists. It is the activity of […] the not-too-critical professional: of the science student who accepts the ruling dogma of the day; who does not wish to challenge it; and who accepts a revolutionary theory only if almost everybody else is ready to accept it. If it becomes fashionable by a kind of bandwagon effect […]. In my view the ‘normal’ scientist, as Kuhn describes him, is a person one ought to be sorry for… The ‘normal’ scientist, in my view, has been taught badly… He has been taught in a dogmatic spirit: he is a victim of indoctrination. […]

I admit this kind of attitude exists […] I can only say that I see a very great danger in it. […] a danger to science and, indeed, to our civilization.


Not only Popper dislikes it, but he starts to question Kuhn’s authority. Scientist should take risks, push forward interpretations, etc.


Normal science is not the only period.
Normal science goes on until anomalies come up: a puzzle can’t be solved with the current paradigm:

  • crisis, followed by a…
  • …revision, which brings a proper…
  • …scientific revolution. *Revolution used with a political interpretation: a change at 360°.

when we realize that we’ve completed a revolution, we already are in a new paradigm.

How this happens in historical terms may be answered in a Lakatosian interpretation; while with Kuhn we cocus on what happens on the real world. Often what makes the decision for scientists are external factors, rather than internal ones, arbitrarily decided by the scientific community.
This is why a period of scientific revolution is a competitive one: groups of scientists challenge each other to promote their theories.

Next topic: Paul Feyerabend



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