The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Paperback – 5 Dec 1996
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There's a comic strip showing a chick breaking out of its shell, looking around, and saying, "Oh, wow! Paradigm shift!" Blame the late Thomas Kuhn. Few indeed are the philosophers or historians influential enough to make it into the funny papers, but Kuhn is one.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is indeed a paradigmatic work in the history of science. Kuhn's use of terms such as "paradigm shift" and "normal science", his ideas of how scientists move from disdain through doubt to acceptance of a new theory, his stress on social and psychological factors in science--all have had profound effects on historians, scientists, philosophers, critics, writers, business gurus, and even the cartoonist in the street.
Some scientists (such as Steven Weinberg and Ernst Mayr) are profoundly irritated by Kuhn, especially by the doubts he casts--or the way his work has been used to cast doubt--on the idea of scientific progress. Yet it has been said that the acceptance of plate tectonics in the 1960s, for instance, was sped by geologists' reluctance to be on the downside of a paradigm shift. Even Weinberg has said that "structure has had a wider influence than any other book on the history of science". As one of Kuhn's obituaries noted, "We all live in a post-Kuhnian age." --Mary Ellen Curtin
Thomas S. Kuhn's work explaining the process of scientific discovery. This text is the third edition and incorporates a new index.See all Product description
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It is not easy though. Structure addresses academic scientists and philosophers. In particular he confronts the ideas and propositions of Karl Popper. Some familiarity with physics and chemistry will be required.
It has dated a little. Throughout Kuhn refers to scientists as men, not so strange in the 1960s. He holds a very “western view” of science, too. He accords to the practice and its practitioners a respect that has dimmed somewhat in the years since. Certainly today we are not so comfortable with the notion that science best manages itself. Nonetheless Kuhn’s ideas remain as important as they are challenging.
Students are likely to encounter Structures on philosophy courses and as part of a taught programme it will easier to understand. It should appeal to graduates and undergraduates in the natural sciences especially. Kuhn himself tells us that in his own days as a student and then professor he found textbooks useful training manuals for physics, chemistry etc but inadequate in other ways. They misrepresented the history of their discipline and misconstrued how it reached its current point and how it would progress in the future. That was the 1940s and 1950s – have current texts been adapted as he suggested? Something readers today could usefully consider.
The popularization of key ideas in Structure should be viewed with caution. Concepts such as paradigm have been transferred all too loosely into other domains. Furthermore, it would be false to see Kuhn as a "voice of the 60s" or to suggest that he was debunking technology and rationality. This edition has a useful introduction by Ian Hacking which supplies a corrective to such notions and valuable context.
The reason for my three stars, is that Kuhn does not fully account for what has happened in the last forty years. The arrival of political influence on science, through state sponsored scientific programmes, has made a mockery of a principled approach to science. This is evident in the over reliance on scientific models that vary significantly from actual data, the controversy over the scientific basis of ‘man-made climate change’ is one such example.
Kuhn’s arguments led to a significant attack on the nature of science by political opportunists. These same opportunists then wanted to redefine science and use it to their own advantage. Once weakened by Kuhn’s philosophical assault, science became vulnerable to those with political motivation, who now use it as a weapon. It is common to hear phrases such as ‘scientists believe’ or ‘scientifically proven’ by lay people wishing to come across as authority figures.
Both human psychology and politics have affected the once truthful goals of science and Kuhn certainly got one of these right.
This book transcends disciplines. An important work of philosophy, yes, but it should not be them it is limited to. If there is one work outside their field I could make every scientist read, it would be this.
This is how we do science and as a research scientist for now nearly 20 years it is certainly how I see science from the inside. This is not crank philosophy or something from the creationist movement, this is an intelligent discourse. It does not have any hidden relgious agenda. It just states that science is relativistic and science is relativistic, only very bad scientists would ever argue that they know the absolute truth.
More than this it is well written and accessible and it should be read much more widely. It certainly is a clearer view than Popper's and while they are different in some aspects they do not present a completely different view of science. Both agree that certainty does not exist.