Thomas Kuhn criticizes “development-by-accumulation” theories of research, which claim that science advances linearly by accumulating theory-independent data (Kuhn, 2014). Kuhn examined the history of science and suggested that science does not simply advance in phases based on objective observations. History of science, according to Kuhn, features revolutions in the scientific perspective. Scientists have a “paradigm.” A paradigm is a scientific accomplishment that, for some time, serves as a model for a community of practitioners to work with.
Every community has its own unique set of paradigms and assumptions that it works off of to accomplish its goals. Even if there are many competing schools of thought in science, there is nevertheless a single paradigm that all scientists adhere to without question. Scientists are willing to go along with the accepted paradigm for the most part unless something unexpected happens. New ideas challenge the existing paradigm, and ultimately one of these theories is recognized as the latest paradigm by the scientific community. Certain viewpoints dominated scientific thought at various points throughout time. It is possible for a single piece of study to “establish the valid issues and techniques of a research area for successive generations of practitioners.
The History of Science
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn is unlike anything else that has been written in the history of science. Before Kuhn, there wasn’t much in the way of a theoretically explicated description of how science changes. As a result, a popular, heroic picture of scientific progress emerged and a prevalent philosophy of science that dictated how research should advance. According to these views, new truths are added to the stock of old facts, hypotheses get closer to the truth, and earlier mistakes are corrected in some instances. The scientific process ensures that progress will be made, even if it accelerates in the hands of a very brilliant scientist.
The history of science was a new academic subject in the 1950s when Kuhn started his historical studies of science. While this may have been true, it became more apparent that the conventional concept of scientific progress was not always accurate (Doppelt, 2013). First, Kuhn established a developed alternative explanation, and he was the most significant author to do so. In light of the conventional view’s close alignment with the prevalent, positivist-influenced philosophy of science, an alternative perspective would have substantial ramifications for that discipline’s philosophical landscape. Despite his lack of formal intellectual education and calling his work ‘history for philosophical reasons,’ Kuhn was well aware of the importance of his invention to philosophy and referred to it as such.
According to Kuhn, a science’s growth is not a straight line; instead, there are regular and revolutionary (or “exceptional”) periods in its progression. Not only is the progress made at a faster pace during the extreme stages, but they are fundamentally distinct from other phases of science. Normal science resembles the conventional cumulative picture of scientific development on the surface. ‘Puzzle-solving’ is how Kuhn characterizes the work of a scientist (Doppelt, 2013). Aside from the fact that this term implies a lack of excitement in science, its primary purpose is to convey the idea that, like someone solving a crossword, the puzzle solver expects to have a fair chance of solving it, that his ability to do so is the primary factor in his success, and that the puzzle and its methods of solution are well-known. Attempting to solve a riddle is not an entirely new endeavor. Normal science may anticipate amassing an increasing number of puzzle solutions since its secrets, and their answers are well-known and uncomplicated. However, according to Kuhn, scientific revolutions are not cumulative because they need a change in current scientific theory or practice. All previous successes of conventional science aren’t retained in a process. In some instances, later age of research may find itself without an explanation for phenomena that were previously thought to have been effectively described (Doppelt, 2013). The ‘Kuhn-loss’ phenomenon has become a recognized characteristic of scientific revolutions.
Suppose scientific revolutions are nothing more than a step forward from the status quo. In that case, the pursuit, promotion, and acceptance of revolutionary science will always be seen as a good thing. Likewise, according to Popper, revolutions should be welcomed not because they increase our positive knowledge of the integrity of ideas but rather because they increase our negative awareness of the falsity of the underlying theories. In this aspect, Kuhn rejected both the Popperian and the orthodox perspectives. This scientist argues for a strong commitment by the scientific community to its standard theoretical views, values, instruments and methodologies, and even metaphysics for regular research to succeed in making progress. Kuhn refers to this as a ‘disciplinary matrix’ at one point, although he often refers to it as a ‘paradigm .’Developing a successful scientist’s mindset begins with the inculcation of a commitment to the discipline grid, which is a prerequisite for practical normal science. “The Essential Tension” by Kuhn explained the conflict between scientists’ drive for innovation and their need to remain conservative. Contrary to Popper’s notion of a scientist who is always attempting to disprove her most significant beliefs, Kuhn places an unusual premium on conservatism.
Because of this conservative reluctance to disprove major notions, revolutions are only pursued when necessary. Using Popper’s perspective, it is necessary to have a single, repeatable, and abnormal occurrence to reject a theory. In Kuhn’s opinion, scientists don’t test or validate their discipline’s governing beliefs during normal research. There are no abnormal outcomes that they see as a threat to their hypotheses. Only speculative puzzle solutions may be tested in a Popperian manner during regular science.
On the other hand, anomalies are downplayed or explained away wherever feasible. Only when many very troubling anomalies accumulate does the current disciplinary grid face a real challenge. An abnormality that interferes with the conduct of conventional science is especially problematic. It is possible that an anomaly may point out flaws in a regularly used piece of equipment or that it will throw doubt on a previously established idea. Until this abnormality has been rectified, regular science will be unable to proceed with confidence. Kuhn refers to this as a ‘crisis’ when a widespread lack of faith is widespread.
An important reaction to crises will be to look for an updated disciplinary grid that can eliminate at least the most serious anomalies while solving many lingering, unanswered questions. A scientific revolution will result from such a change. An anomaly necessitates a revolutionary change in a theory, according to Popper. According to Kuhn, the relevance of a problem and the weighting of riddles and their solutions are subjective. Modifying a disciplinary matrix is not a logical decision, nor is the specific revision of a disciplinary matrix rationally forced.
For this reason, the revolutionary period is especially ripe for logical debate and competition between competing ideas. When discussing revolutions, Kuhn did acknowledge the importance of non-scientific variables such as nationality or personality, which might influence their result. According to certain social scientists and science historians, the result of a scientific revolution, or any stride forward in scientific advancement, is always shaped by social and political variables. While Kuhn himself rejected these notions, his work makes it obvious that the elements affecting the result of a scientific argument, especially in contemporary research, are nearly always found inside science, primarily in connection with the puzzle-solving capability of the opposing theories.
Science, according to Kuhn, continues to advance, even in the face of revolutions. Using Kuhn-loss as an example, Kuhn claims that progress cannot be seen as a cumulative process. The quest for a new paradigm is fueled by the current paradigm’s inability to address certain critical abnormalities. Instead of the current one, any new paradigm that doesn’t fix most of these problems isn’t worth implementing. Though Kuhn’s influence will be felt, a good successor will still need to preserve much of the predecessor’s problem-solving ability. As Kuhn points out, a new theory must be able to answer quantitative issues just as its predecessor. However, its qualitative and explanatory strength may diminish. Since revolutions boost puzzle-solving capacity, we might conclude that the quantity and relevance of problems and anomalies that the updated paradigm resolves outweigh those problems and anomalies that were previously addressed but are no longer accessible due to Kuhn’s loss. This does not imply that Kuhn thinks we’re getting closer to the truth. Indeed, he subsequently rejects the idea of nearness to the truth as meaningless.
For Kuhn, scientific development is not a teleological process but rather an evolutionary one, as Wray explains (Wray, 2019). An organism’s evolution may be seen as a reaction to a challenge posed by its surroundings. When it comes to answering mysteries, the progress of science is assessed by how well its ideas adapt in response to those mysteries rather than how far it has progressed toward an ideal correct theory. Even though evolution does not produce perfect species, it does lead to a wider variety of organisms. As Wray says, a Kuhnian explanation of specialization in science is based on this (2019). Kuhn developed this theory in the latter part of his career. Some believe that the revolutionary new theory that succeeds in displacing a crisis-ridden predecessor may fall short of meeting the expectations of individuals who have been trained in the previous theory. The discipline might respond to this by developing two theories based on the original theory, each with a limited set of domains (one might be the old theory or a version of it). New taxonomic structures will be created due to this specialization, resulting in incomparability.
Thomas Kuhn elevated the term “paradigm” to its present meaning and its current usage in linguistics; this is only one example of how his work has hugely influenced the philosophy of science’s lexicon. Kuhn’s examination of the development of scientific beliefs has been affected by the widespread usage of the term “paradigm shift,” which has made scientists more aware of and susceptible to paradigm shifts. Logical processes were maintained but did not ultimately shape Kuhn’s paradigm choice. Kuhn believed that it was the consensus of the scientific community. He claimed that accepting or rejecting a paradigm is a social process as much as a rational one (Douglas, 2014). This implies that Kuhn is accused of being a relativist. There is a possibility that all of these hypotheses are correct. Why should we put our faith in current science if it is subject to change in the future? Scientific revolutions, according to Kuhn, inevitably lead to new, more correct hypotheses and hence constitute real progress.
Do scientific revolutions advance the field of knowledge? Is the current paradigm superior to the previous one? There is no such thing, according to Kuhn. The replacement of one paradigm with another does not get us any closer to understanding the nature of the universe. It is impossible to compare one paradigm with another. According to Kuhn, later paradigms are better at solving issues than early ones since they’re more flexible and adaptable. Because each paradigm defines riddles differently, what one paradigm considers a puzzle may be irrelevant to another. When a new paradigm is introduced, it answers problems that the old paradigm couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Kuhn utilized his incommensurability thesis to challenge the notion that paradigm changes are purely subjective events that can be predicted (Gregory, 2013). Truth is a function of the context in which it is expressed. The paradigm of science does not shift overnight. Scientists in their twenties and thirties are pioneering a new way of thinking. As shown by Thomas Kuhn, contemporary philosophers can no longer disregard science’s history and the social environment in which it takes place. The culture in which science is performed shapes the science itself.
Doppelt, G. (2013). Explaining the success of science: Kuhn and scientific realists. Topoi, 32(1), 43-51.
Douglas, H. (2014). Pure science and the problem of progress. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 46, 55-63.
Gregory, A. (2013). Kuhn and Taxonomies of History. Philosophy Study, 3(5), 412.
Kuhn, T. (2014). The history of science. In Philosophy, Science, and History (pp. 106-121). Routledge.
Wray, K. B. (2019). Kuhn and the history of science. In The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology (pp. 40-48). Routledge.