Mini Paper on Thomas Kuhn

March 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

Stages of Kuhnian Science

1) Pre-Paradigm Science:
This period of scientific development is the practice of science without a core set of propositions or methods. Kuhn gives an example of this with regards to physical optics:

“Being able to take no common body of belief for granted, each writer on physical optics felt forced to build his field anew from its foundations. In doing so, his choice of supporting observation and experiment was relatively free […]” (Kuhn, p13)

It is evident that Kuhn is suggesting a subjective element to scientific development and the absence of a defined scientific community.

2) Normal Science (within a paradigm):
Normal science follows when an achievement, or discovery provides the basis for further research. It allows the specific scientific field to become expansive. The scientific community accepts specific propositions and methodologies and thus the parameters of the paradigm are established i.e. the scientific work is organized by the paradigm. According to Okasha, Kuhn’s conception of normal science can be summarized as the on-going practice of a scientist within a specific field: “the ordinary day-to-day activities that scientists engage in when their discipline is not undergoing revolutionary change.” (Okasha, p81)

3) Crisis:
According to Godfrey-Smith crisis refers to a period of instability: “a period of unstable stasis”. (Godfrey-Smith, p78) By this he means a period where a multitude of anomalies occur. When the anomalies accumulate to the degree that normal science cannot confidently continue to ‘puzzle-solve’, its set of established propositions and methodologies are undermined. It has reached a critical mass. (Godfrey-Smith, p82)

4) Revolution:
A revolution in science occurs when one paradigm replaces another. Godfrey-Smith’s analysis of Kuhn’s conception describes a replacement of fundamental propositions about the world: “The revolutionary periods see a breakdown of order […] followed by a process of rebuilding that can create fundamentally new kinds of conceptual structures.” (Godfrey-Smith, p87) The scientific revolutionary period has itself become a new paradigm when the whole of the scientific community has accepted the new set of theoretical assumptions.

Normal Science

For Kuhn a scientific field is usually unified by a single paradigm. Normal science is the process of articulating and refining the paradigm. Normal science is inspired by the key exemplar that defines the paradigm of which it is a part.

In normal science scientists do not just agree on certain scientific propositions and methods, but also on how future research in their field should look. It follows that normal science is social: it depends on the community of scientists to cooperate, find consensus and close off debate about fundamentals. (Godfrey-Smith, p81)

Kuhn argues that there is change within normal science, though it differs to the change that drives the revolutionary science. The change in normal science occurs through established standards for the justification of arguments. Importantly, however, Kuhn also recognizes that science does not always treat constantly arising anomalies as refutations and that this is a positive feature. Kuhn argues that if every anomaly was treated as a refutation of a paradigm science would not be able to progress. (Godfrey-Smith, p78)

Is Kuhn Right About Science?

Kuhn’s description of the scientific process seems accurate as it allows for the unavoidable, subjective nature of human organization. Science is practiced within cultural, social and economic frameworks and so normal science can only progress, and revolutions can only bring change, so long as each of these conditions is hospitable. Although it seems as if Kuhn is arguing that science is not as objective as it is generally believed to be, a scientific revolution could be described as a paradigm change on the macro level (in the social and economic sense of the word – the more consequential or all-encompassing theories) as opposed to the micro-level (the puzzle-solving, every-day activity of normal science). In this way, normal science is still compatible with the notion of objectivity and also with ‘the leap of faith’ needed for revolutionary paradigm change.

Bibliography

Godfrey-Smith, Peter 2003. Theory and Reality; an introduction to the philosophy of science, Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press. (pp 75 – 88)

Kuhn, Thomas 1996. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (third edition), Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press. (pp 10 – 22)

Okasha, Samir 2002. Philosophy of Science; A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (pp 77 – 90)

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