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Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times Paperback – 4 Feb 2002

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About the Author

Steve Fuller, trained in the history and philosophy of science, is now professor of sociology at the University of Warwick.

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One of the most vivid metaphors that Jesus used to address his Apostles was of the lamp hidden beneath a bushel basket, a situation that of course only served to subvert the lamp's illumination. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Good book... 19 Mar. 2004
By Benjamin B. Eshbach - Published on
Format: Paperback
If you approach this book thinking that you are going to read a shrewd critique of paradigms, incommensurability, "normal science" and the like, you will be disappointed. Fuller does not approach Kuhn on this field, largely because Fuller is practically a Kuhnian. What Fuller attempts in this book is a critique of a certain overarching detrimental (and ancient) mindset which has been facilitated by, among many other things, the social impact of Kuhn's Structure. According to Fuller, the hasty acceptance of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by intellectuals in the sixties resulted in a general acceptance of specific strategies for studying science as a social and historical phenomenon: strategies which, by virtue of their wickedness, have furthered the distance between science and the public. What SSK and STS have done (thanks to built in Kuhn-isms) is continued a tradition which presents science conveniently distanced from any moral culpability to the public. This social division is being entrenched, not closed, by science studies who see their mission as value-free and judgment-prohibited.
Fuller is gifted at rhetoric. This and some of his other works are really challenging and illuminating. He draws his lines at odd angles to the ones we've been accustomed to by science-wars literature which make him hard to track. The perspectives veered back and forth between refreshing and annoying for me but usually stayed on the refreshing side. Fuller's identification of Richard Swinburne as both a capable natural epistemologist and natural theologian (refreshing). Fuller's chastisement of Philip Kitcher (refreshing). Fuller's dismissal of the institutional conflict thesis in the history of "science" and "religion" (refreshing). Fuller's dismissal of Erwin Panofsky and Alexander Koyre (disappointing.) I need at least a year with this book before I can clearly call Fuller a good guy or a bad guy.
There are two things about the book that I would inform a reader going in:
(1) The author nurses an uncomfortable hostility toward Thomas Kuhn. This hostility waxes and wanes throughout the work giving the impression that it was written over a long period of time as Fuller himself passed in and out of hostile episodes (inspired by newsgroup debates?) At first I found this hostility off-putting. He simply came off as a man whose underwear was a couple sizes too small. For the first half of the book I highlighted (in pencil) each of these disorienting jabs as I came on them -- turning an otherwise disruptive read into a game of I-Spy-With-My-Little-Eye. Eventually I came to believe that Fuller's meanness was a conciliatory performance for the benefit of irritated science fans who bought this book dreaming that Fuller was going to "go to bat" for them against "Kuhnheads."
(2) Fuller consistently and ungenerously reads Kuhn as prescriptive, not descriptive. This is by no means clear in Kuhn's writing,not even in all two or three Kuhn-quotes provided by Fuller. -- Just as Feyerabend was perplexed to declare near the opening of his contribution to Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, (Consolations for the Specialist.)
A flip-book reading might inspire a premature eulogy to Kuhn's ideas and a triumphant reaffirmation of the ("the" as in "one") Scientific Revolution. Kuhn's significance has been *decimated* only in the imaginations of those who have been praying for some relief from the beatings they've gotten when trying to endorse their vision of cumulative scientific progress (a vision Fuller does not share and in fact attributes partly to the fact that "the goals of science are continually rewritten so that the current state of inquiry always turns out to be a waystation that some suitably trans-generational 'we' have been always pursuing." (Science. Milton Keynes and Minneapolis.)) Now, armed with an academic conspiracy theory and clever neologisms like "Kuhnification", these valiant warriors can go another round -- unless of course their adversary has also read this book, in which case they're still screwed.
What "Kuhn" and "paradigm" have come to be are mere rhetorical trump-card ripostes, suitably amorphous to lend false dignity to any sentence they happen to find themselves in. This book could have been called 'Alexander Koyre' or even "James Conant" or even Duhem! The book is not really about Kuhn. It is about a beef which Fuller has with science studies. For Steven Fuller, "Thomas Kuhn" is nothing if not a fetching title, bound to move copy.
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
A Defense of Fuller 1 Oct. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Judged by the Reader from Nashville's idea of what goes on in academic culture and research grants, I wouldn't trust his reading of Fuller. In the first place, Fuller's book is very much in the "old style" of academic work -- including not only archival material, conceptual overviews of various fields, but even some moralizing. That is to say, Fuller's book harkens back to a period BEFORE the research grant culture arose. Nowadays, the grant culture supports loads of bite-sized articles with executive summaries and crisply presented reference lists. Whatever other business Fuller might be up to in this book, it is certainly not that! Also, it's nothing like a contemporary doctoral dissertation, since the dissertation director would have nipped in the bud the vast scope that Fuller's book has.
As an academic author, I have no problem with Fuller's method, especially because of the enormous -- and often enormously mindless -- significance accorded to Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. You can't uproot such an entrenched book without assaulting it from all sides, ranging from the immediate Harvard environment to the larger themes in Western culture with which Kuhn's book has unwittingly resonated. Anything less, it seems to me, would simply not be taken seriously by the people who ultimately have the power to dethrone it -- which, for better for worse, are academics and those who take us seriously.
44 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Paradigms are dead! Long live the permanent revolution in sc 9 May 2000
By Courtney Pearson ( - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is much more than an intellectual biography of Kuhn himself (who does not seem to have been a very interesting person) and even more than an intellectual history of the times in which Kuhn lived -- though it is closer to the latter. Rather, it is a systematic indictment of the ways in which Western culture - "from Plato to NATO," as Fuller himself puts it -- has suppressed the critical function of scientific inquiry. Kuhn is a major player here because he was very explicit that criticism of a ruling paradigm should happen only after it has accumulated so many unsolvable problems that even defenders of the paradigm are forced to ask the big questions about why they were interested in their particular domain of reality in the first place. Fuller argues that all the radical implications drawn from Kuhn's work over the last two generations have been largely spurious. Fuller shows this over and over again in many fields of inquiry. Kuhn was bred by a Harvard elite that was interested in stabilizing a world repeatedly threatened by war. The person to whom Kuhn dedicated his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was not only Harvard's president and the chief administrator of the US atomic bomb project in WWII, but he was also "the brightest person" Kuhn ever met (quoted from Kuhn's last interview). This book really leaves you wondering how it was possible for so many supposedly intelligent people were so fooled for so long - after all, according to Fuller, philosophers and sociologists of science remain under the Kuhnian spell. In short, if Hegel needed a present-day advocate of the "cunning of reason" in history, Fuller is his man. The book is incredibly documented - from both archives and esoteric texts - yet the writing remains lively throughout.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Inertial Bodies 14 Sept. 2003
By John C. Landon - Published on
Format: Paperback
One learns to cruise the groves of academe discoursing gladly in Kuhn pidgin talk about paradigm shifts and gestalt switches and picking up this book seemed to forebode some fan club grok on the profundity of the 'paradigm' paradigm. Quite a high dosage of shock treatment then to face head on a virtual mastiff's attack against current Kuhnification. Taken aback, I recovered by midbook and thought, Ok you convinced me. In fact, this book, at any level of agreement or not, is an invaluable tour through many regions of science studies untravelled by most due to either the lack of time for specialized literature or more likely the outcast status of anything less than science worship. Comprehensive to almost arcane at points, the account succeeds through sheer overkill and in the process fills in the background to Kuhn's achievement, from the influence of Conant, to the legacy of Big Science served in a trick play on the normal science chloroform that is our daily bread. At the end one is cured of facile use of Kuhnian terminology, although I see no reason why one couldn't indulge a revised usage of the concept once it is clear that the implied mechanics of scientific change does not quite really follow Kuhn's model, and remains to be discovered. I read this next to the recent 'Doubts about Darwin' by T. Woodward with its depiction of the Intelligent Design folks closing on their foes with some Kuhn, clamoring for a paradigm shift in evolutionary biology. Not so simple, as Fuller's book makes clear.
Such a rich discourse requires a bit of study, but if you still plan to speak Kuhn pidgin,you might consider this inside track on the Kuhn paradigm. Quiet ferocity, but very much worth reading.
20 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Radical thesis marred by implacable hostility 3 Dec. 2000
By Andrew N. Carpenter - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Fuller argues that Kuhn's *The Structure of Scientific Revolutions*, the ostensibly radical study of paradigm shifts in science, is a profoundly reactionary work: by interpreting historical disputes in terms of parties' commitments to incommensurable paradigms, Kuhn has unleashed a pernicious ahistorical relativism that closes off public debate about the moral, political, and cultural implications of contemporary science. Fuller, a sociologist, attributes Kuhn's conservatism to an over sensitivity to the social consequences of challenging received opinions and to cold war concerns about scientists' morale and about the public perception of science.
Fuller portrays Kuhn as a dangerous exemplar of the dark side of Western culture. Whereas, on his estimation, Socrates, Jesus, and Kuhn's rival Ernest Mach represent a salutary risk-seeking critical libertarianism, Plato, the Catholic Church, and Kuhn represent a tragic risk-adverse authoritarianism. Fuller's broader agenda is to combat the second tradition from the standpoint of the first. This makes for an exciting polemic and, to his credit, Fuller supports his partisan rhetoric with extensive documentation. Ultimately, however, Fuller is not simply a critic of Kuhn but is his implacable enemy. A destructive urge dominates, which leads Fuller to put forward numerous implausible analyses and causes him to overlook opportunities to engage in constructive reasoned dialogue with his interlocutor.
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