Archives For Kuhn

Philosophy of science is going to be an invaluable tool in analyzing this argument as it is hermeneutics claim (as represented by Gadamer) to universality that Habermas points out leaves no room for criticism in the social or natural sciences. If we are subject to our horizons of prejudice and preconception, how can science or social science critique? Gadamer claims that this state of being is not normative, it just simply is. To what extent would Popper or Kuhn, or even Einstein, agree?

“In the ‘Influence of Darwin’ essay, the obvious justification for tracing the background to Darwin’s innovation is to show how much of an innovation it was. In contrast to over two millennia of philosophical commitment to the priority of fixed forms and permanent ends, of over-arching design and pre-established constraints, and a companion denigration of change, the merely experiential and chance, Darwin’s work marks a momentous shift in point of view regarding reality.” (Browning, p8)

“The new approach in philosophy is itself transitional, in process, today and for the foreseeable future. It is not one, at least in 1910, of providing firm hypotheses, much less final answers, regarding the large philosophical problems it faces.” (p14)

“The Darwinian revolution, Dewey declared, had opened the way for a transformation of ‘the logic of knowledge’.” (P18)

“The new proposals regarding knowledge in the first essay and regarding truth in the second were formulated by Dewey concisely, yet meticulously. A specific case of knowing is an experience that, as such, intends or points to another experience, not itself immediately present, but as one which would become fully and immediately present were certain operations carried out. So understood, a knowing upon which one relies in predicting or attempting to control a future experience may be disappointed and, therefore, assessable as misleading. And the truth of an idea (or judgment, proposition, belief, etc) consists of its ‘effective capacity’ to ‘make good,’ that is, to lead to the completion or achievement to which it points by means of the operations and actions it proposes.” (p18)

Writing about John Dewey’s famous essay “The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy” in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays in Contemporary Thought: John Dewey, Larry A. Hickman, Douglas Browning

These thoughts point towards an understanding of reality that is itself transitive. This sounds as if it would be in conflict with historicism, as defined in the early 20th century, and the logical positivists. It sounds resonate of Gadamer and Heidegger.

Einstein’s Main Ideas:

Special Relativity

Coordinate spacetime is not absolute, the simultaneity of events is observer-dependent, speed of light is invariant.

Many of the individual elements of SR had already been developed by Lorentz, Abraham, and Poincare.

Their work, however, was burdened with being an elaborate extension of classical ideas whose meaning seemed to become more obscure as it proceeded.

Einstein’s revolutionary contribution was in starting afresh and giving an entirely new physical interpretation to the symbols involved.

At first, the limited data on fast electrons contradicted SR, but Einstein was so sure of the theory that he was unperturbed. After several years, new and better data proved him right.

General Relativity

Gravitational fields are manifestations of the curvature of spacetime. The curvature of spacetime originates in the stress-energy of the material contained within the spacetime.

In 1915, Einstein showed that GR would have three measurable effects that differed from the predictions of classical physics:
(i) precession of the perihelion of the planet Mercury’s orbit
(ii) deflection of starlight passing close to the sun
(iii) red shift of the spectral lines of light radiated by a massive body.

(i) resolved a standing problem in physics.

(ii) and (iii) were later empirical verified, (ii) most famously by Eddington’s observations during a 1919 eclipse.

Mass is a form of energy, E=mc2

Understanding of gravitation, electromagnetism, and other interactions should be sought in a unified-field theory.

Quantum Mechanics

In one of his 1905 papers, Einstein argued that light itself comes in discrete quanta of energy.

In 1915, experiments by R.A. Millikan provided strong evidence that Einstein’s explanation was correct.

However, many physicists remained unconvinced of the literal reality of photons until the discovery of the Compton effect in 1923.

Einstein was one of the first to develop the description of atomic processes in probabilistic terms. He early on (1916) expressed discomfort at the element of randomness, and he never fully accepted this aspect of quantum mechanics.

In 1935, he wrote “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete?” with Podolsky and Rosen which discussed the extent to which quantum mechanics was a complete description of reality.


Einstein believed that quantum mechanics was incomplete.

He always hoped to find a new theory which would give a more satisfying account of atomic behavior.

This theory would not be a mere appending of hidden variables to quantum theory but would establish new concepts from which the quantum theory would emerge as only a statistical approximation of the truth.

Einstein’s Philosophical Views

Einstein was motivated by simplicity in theory choice.

What warrant is there for this? One reason (borrowed from Schlick) is that simpler theories generally contain fewer arbitrary elements and only non-arbitrary elements are likely to correspond to reality.

Positivism vs. Realism

Einstein was attached to the 19th century view on causality.

Summary of the Einstein-Bohr dialogue: complimentary vs. objective reality; “It became clear to me from listening to them both that the advent of quantum mechanics in 1925 represented a far greater break with the past than had been the case with the coming of special relativity in 1905 or of general relativity in 1915 […] how wrong I was in accepting a rather widespread belief that Einstein simply did not care anymore about the quantum theory. On the contrary, he wanted nothing more than to find a unified field theory which not only would join together gravitational and electromagnetic forces but also would provide the basis for a new interpretation of quantum phenomena.”

Einstein, influenced by Ernst Mach, began his philosophical life as a positivist.

Later on (post wide acceptance of quantum theory), he became a defender of Realism

Einstein argued that measuring B should not effect elsewhere located object A: “If one renounces the assumption that what is present in different parts of space has an independent, real existence, then I do not at all see what physics is supposed to describe”.

Einstein was a realist about determinism. This required him to be an anti-realist about quantum mechanics.

Or, as Einstein, tended to put it, it required him to endorse that quantum mechanics was incomplete. The complete description will be deterministic.
This is where the famous, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe” quote comes from.

Einstein on the Scientific Method:

“We now know that science cannot grow out of empiricism alone, that in the constructions of science we need to use free invention which only a posteriori can be confronted with experience as to its usefulness. This fact could elude earlier generations, to whom theoretical creation seemed to grow inductively out of empiricism without the creative influence of a free construction of concepts. The more primitive the status of science is the more readily can the scientist live under the illusion that he is a pure empiricist. In the nineteenth century, many still believed that Newton’s fundamental rule ‘hypotheses non fingo‘ should underlie all natural science.” (p14)

“Newton, forgive me; you found the only way which in your age was just about possible for a man with the highest powers of thought and creativity. The concepts which you created are guiding our thinking in physics even today, although we now know that they will have to be replaced by others farther removed from the sphere of immediate experience, if we aim at a profounder understanding of relationships.” (p14, 15)

Einstein’s Contribution:

“His special relativity includes the completion of the work of Maxwell and Lorentz. His general relativity includes the completion of Newton’s theory of gravitation and incorporates mach’s vision of the relativity of all motion. In all these respects, Einstein’s oeuvre represents the crowning of the work of his precursors, adding to and revising the foundations of their theories. In this sense he is a transitional figure, perfecting the past and changing the stream of future events. At the same time he is a pioneer, at first Planck, then he, then Bohr founded a new physics without precursors – the quantum theory.” (p15)

In 1905 Einstein produced 6 papers:

1) The light-quantum and the photoelectric effect, completed March 17. This paper, which led to his Nobel Prize in physics, was produced before he wrote his PhD thesis.
2) A new determination of molecular dimensions, completed April 30. This was his doctoral thesis, which was to become his paper most often quoted in modern literature.
3) Brownian motion, received May 11. This was a direct out growth of his thesis work.
4) The first paper on special relativity, received June 30.
5) The second paper on general relativity, containing the E = mc2 relation, received September 27.
6) A second paper on Brownian motion, received December 19.

These papers mark the entry of Einstein’s genius into the world of physics. These papers concern two central, early 20th century problems of physics. First, molecular reality. “How can one prove (or disprove) that atoms and molecules are real things? If they are real then how can one determine their size and count their number?” (p19)

The second problem was the molecular basis of statistical physics: “If atoms and molecules are real things, then how does one express such macroscopic concepts as pressure, temperature, and entropy in terms of the motion of these submicroscopic particles?” (p 19)


Subtle Is the Lord: The Science And the Life of Albert Einstein by Abraham Pais Oxford University Press
italics are from Melbourne University Lecture Slides

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.


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)