Philosophy of Science
Helpful information on The Structure of Scientific
I. The goal of the book:
- To accurately describe the dynamics of scientific change. (The
big tradition that preceded him, logical positivism, was more concerned with
giving an account of how science operated at any given moment in its history.
Understanding science was supposed to be a matter of understanding
the logical structure of theories, something which has nothing to do with
- Possibly, to say something about whether scientists ought to
solve puzzles and make choices between competing scientific theories in the
ways that they do.
II. Important issues and terminology:
Paradigm – an impressive achievement which inspires people and provides
a basis for further work; or, an achievement + a body of work based
on the achievement taken to give insight into some of the workings of the
world (we could call this an exemplar); or all of the above
+ shared values of the scientists working within a paradigm.
(It was pointed out to Kuhn that his usage of “paradigm” seemed to slip between
these — and perhaps other — meanings in the original book. He addresses
this issue in §§1-3 of the Postscript.)
Whatever it is, a paradigm is not a list of instructions, not something
you could codify.
Normal science tradition – a paradigm-guided body of work.
Anomaly – a puzzle which consistently resists solution.
Crisis – a period of instability generated by the persistent failure
of the best people in the field to solve the puzzles they’re trying to solve.
Relativism* - view that there is no single or objectively special
set of standards entitled to govern a domain of practice.
Antirealism(1)* - the disbelief in the mind-independent existence
of a class of entities.
Antirealism(2)* - the claim that our scientific theories do not need
to aim at telling a literally true story of what the world is like.
*Keep these issues in mind when reading chapter X, probably the most controversial
chapter of the book!
(Click here for other potentially useful
III. Structure of the book.
Kuhn presents two main arguments in the book:
1. There are two distinct modes of scientific change:
a. change within a normal science
b. change across normal science
2. Normal science and revolutionary science differ greatly in their epistemological
Compare to what Popper would say here:
1’ Large scale and small scale scientific change all follows the same
pattern: conjectures and refutations.
2’ The scientist is permanently open-minded and critical; as falsification
is pretty clear-cut, the epistemic life of the scientist is always the same.
In SSR, the argument for point (1) is laid out in chapters II through XII,
while point (2) surfaces at various places (particularly in chapters VIII
Two tips for reading Kuhn:
- Many of the scientific examples Kuhn discusses are quite detailed,
and for many of the points he makes he illustrates with multiple examples.
Don't get too caught up in the details of these examples as
you read. (I'll be bringing examples that I hope will be clear to lectures.)
- Kuhn almost always save his most important points for the ends of chapters
(the last few pages). Be sure to read these carefully!
IV. Big questions:
- What is special about the structure of science and scientific change?
- Which features of scientific practice drive change or make it possible
when a crisis arises?
- What sort of picture of scientific progress does Kuhn give us?
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