Philosophy of Science
Spring 2004

Helpful information on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR)

I.  The goal of the book:

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 vocabulary.)

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 tradition
        b. change across normal science traditions (revolutions)

2. Normal science and revolutionary science differ greatly in their epistemological properties.

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 and X).

Two tips for reading Kuhn:

IV.  Big questions:

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