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Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
by Thomas S. Kuhn
A Synopsis from the original by Professor Frank Pajares
From the Philosopher's Web Magazine
A scientific community cannot practice its trade without some set of received beliefs. These beliefs form the
foundation of the "educational initiation that prepares and licenses the student for professional practice". The
nature of the "rigorous and rigid" preparation helps ensure that the received beliefs are firmly fixed in the
student's mind. Scientists take great pains to defend the assumption that scientists know what the world is
like...To this end, "normal science" will often suppress novelties which undermine its foundations. Research is
therefore not about discovering the unknown, but rather "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into
the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education".
A shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly undermines the basic
tenets of the current scientific practice These shifts are what Kuhn describes as scientific revolutions - "the
tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity of normal science" New assumptions
–"paradigms" - require the reconstruction of prior assumptions and the re-evaluation of prior facts. This is
difficult and time consuming. It is also strongly resisted by the established community.
II The Route to Normal Science
So how are paradigms created and what do they contribute to scientific inquiry?
Normal science "means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements
that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further
practice". These achievements must be sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents
away from competing modes of scientific activity and sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for
the redefined group of practitioners (and their students) to resolve. These achievements can be called
paradigms. Students study these paradigms in order to become members of the particular scientific community
in which they will later practice.
Because the student largely learns from and is mentored by researchers "who learned the bases of their field
from the same concrete models" there is seldom disagreement over fundamentals. Men whose research is
based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. A shared
commitment to a paradigm ensures that its practitioners engage in the paradigmatic observations that its own
paradigm can do most to explain. Paradigms help scientific communities to bound their discipline in that they
help the scientist to create avenues of inquiry, formulate questions, select methods with which to examine
questions, define areas of relevance. and establish or create meaning. A paradigm is essential to scientific
inquiry - "no natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined
theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation, and criticism".
How are paradigms created, and how do scientific revolutions take place? Inquiry begins with a random
http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/kuhnsyn.html (1 of 8) [8/28/2006 5:40:56 PM]
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by George Berkeley.