“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn

Kuhn’s phases of scientific history are advocated for in his theory that science has a “cycle of revolutions” within which it functions. In this theory, he put forward the scientific history as having five phases namely: Pure paradigm phase (the non-science phase); paradigmatic science (Normal science phase); the crisis phase; Revolution phase (paradigm shift); New paradigm phase (return to normal paradigm). (Kuhn T., pp 1-34)

During the first phase which he called the pre-scientific phase or pre-paradigm period, he stated that the scientists used imperfect and mismatched theories. Their views and arguments were disorganized since they had many different varieties but there was no particular platform for them to develop the theories. (Kuhn T., pp 1-34) The norm then was for disagreements to ensue about the basics when a new theory arose as they had to start from scratch. It is no wonder that there was no advancement in their theories and they could not be termed as scientific since they were not accumulative or improving.

Paradigmatic (normal science) phase. Over time, most of them would tend to adopt one famous theory and due to its adoption by many scientists i.e. the majority, the other scientists will also approve it and therefore it will be taken by them to form their fundamental view. This phase was characterized by progress and the accumulative nature of their theories. It is at this stage that the dogmas were developed. (Kuhn T., pp 1-34)

In this phase of normal science, the scientists tended to have many things in common e.g. the values and facts. They looked into the details of the theories and elaborated on the supporting facts and they tended to broaden the aspects of the paradigms into various aspects of life. The major characteristic of this phase was lack of invention and instead had complacency with their state of affairs. This made it impossible for any cases of falsification to occur. (Kuhn T., pp 1-34)

For any anomalies to be discovered in a paradigm, it is the intuition of the scientists to do research that will make a conducive environment for this to happen, and only when the scientists can identify them will they be also able to tell the mistakes in the paradigm itself. There are a number of factors that may lead to the discovery of the anomalies i.e. religious, political, or resistance from the scientists when they don’t heed the requirements to revolutionize. (Kuhn T., pp 1-34)

As time goes it will be common for incongruities to be noticed. The scientists will try to get explanations for them but for the paradigms inconsistent with the famous adopted ones, the scientists will disregard them. It is in the course of this phase that the paradigms are looked into deeply and reevaluated so that the product of this phase will be another new paradigm which consists of the variations of the theories held by the other discarded paradigms and also from this paradigm one would be able to get the illustrations for any inconsistencies. When an old paradigm is discarded and another one is adopted, this transition was referred to by Kuhn as the paradigm shift. (Kuhn T., pp 35-65).

There comes a time when scientists will start developing newer ideas and theories which will be more and more in contradiction with the held conventions. These disagreements in views will be the main source of discontent and in due course, there will follow a revolution, a scientific revolution, more or less like a political revolution. This is how the revolutionary ideas which tend to make major differences in the scientific world do come about.

The most popular prevailing theory or view which is ultimately adopted by all the other scientists was referred to as the paradigm. This paradigm reflects all the variations of the other previously held and shared theories and principles. Having a paradigm was seen as an accomplishment and it was used as an example in the sense that it laid out a methodology to be followed. In this respect, the paradigm served a number of roles. It gave the scientists the guide in problem identification in their time. (Kuhn T., pp 35-65).

After the problem identification, it was also used as the guide in giving them ideas on the possible solutions to the particular problems that they had. In the solution of the problems, the scientists needed to follow specific procedures and from the paradigms, they could get to know suitable modus operandi. According to Kuhn the paradigms also played another vital role in showing the scientists about what was existing, their various types, and generally the science of held beliefs. The paradigms also played the role in epistemology. This is the explanation of “how we know what we know”. It also showed us the various manners in which we relate to the things that are present in our surroundings. (Class notes,)

Kuhn is convinced that even though science is meant to free us from dogma, in his opinion, dogma is at the heart of science. This is because, for many theories which are accepted, it is like the developers must be in agreement with some already laid down principles to be followed. This is a view that is in tandem with Duhem’s view that for you to do an experiment, you have to presuppose that the others are correct. Duhem wrote about the impossibility of getting verifiable determinations by using scientific experiments. (Kourany J. pg 191) After studying the works of other earlier scientists his final verdict was that most of the new discoveries by the newer generations of scientists were actually just developments of the theories and studies of the older scientists. (Kourany J. 193)

He held that most theories are connected with one another and a theory cannot be evaluated in seclusion from the others. Duhem criticized the falsification theory by the popper. According to theory-ladenness, it is suggested that any observation which can be made most definitely already has some other theory behind it. He suggested that scientific experiments are usually made up of exact observation and a variety of explanations for that observation. (Kourany J. pp190).

Duhem disagreed with the decision criteria suggesting that when there is a structure of theories that have been upheld a scientist can be able to refute some of the theories or their aspects depending on his knowledge or perception, therefore, making it very difficult for someone to know an exact thing for certainty. (Kourany J. pg189)

Duhem also brought the idea that in the case of a decisive experiment where there are two theories all giving a justification of its aspects whereby if one of them is falsified, the other one would be proven to be valid, this can not happen because there is no way of falsifying a theory and on the other hand a person cannot possibly know if at all the said two explanations are the only ones which are there for that particular observation.

As a rejection of conventionalism in science, the arguments espoused by Duhem suggest that it is not justifiable to have a specific decision criterion, and therefore it is good for there to be disagreements in scientific opinions. The more opinions differ the more enriched will be the final observation. He, therefore, posits that ad hoc maneuver is justifiable in this case. Controversial as it may sound, he further argues that so long as an individual has a view of something which varies from the other views then he/she can be regarded as a scientist as well. (Kourany J. pp193)

Duhem has an all-inclusive and accommodative approach concerning the old and the new theories and also of different peoples’ views on observations as he trusts in peoples’ capability to make rational judgments when faced with questions, and says that all views are valuable to the general makeup of science. (Kourany J.)

The reason as to why it can be taken that science for Kuhn is non-cumulative and non-progressive is because, in his theory of how scientists go about developing theories, he implies that when a new theory arises, there will be many disagreements about it and its development into a paradigm will depend on the popularity of the other theories in which case it might be discarded as another one is held onto. Even after a theory has developed into a paradigm it can still be discarded as long as there is newer information discovered that contradicts it and there is enough support for it. In this case, there is no progression on the first theory but rather a newer discovery.

The general conception of science is that it has a specific structure within which it operates and the verifiable beliefs/theories are held. In our conception, these scientific facts are provable to illustrate their interrelationships with one another, through the use of experiments. But according to Kuhn, he suggests that results can be obtained in such cases can be subjective rather than objective as he insists in his theory of science having a “cycle of revolutions”. In this theory when describing the different phases through which science goes, he tries to elaborate to us his way of understanding it.

Kuhn portrays science as non-objective because his theory which tends to lean towards the view of science in such light suggests that when we look critically at the stages through which other disciplines of study have gone through and the way the theories have been developed, then it becomes apparent that all other subjects and disciplines can also be defined as science. This is because his views tend to disagree with the fundamentals that distinguish science from other disciplines. If Kuhn’s views were to be put to a practical test, then there will be total chaos in this discipline. This is because science has international standards and conventions which must be upheld.

For example, if everyone was to have his/her own peculiar views of different phenomena, we would have a situation whereby we cannot communicate scientifically; nobody would want to agree with others on anything. All purporting to be scientists would want their views to prevail as the famous one. Since there is no falsification of experiments there would be no way of telling if a particular view/ theory is logical or not. There would be no way of making any comparisons between any theories. Apart from that scientists may not even be able to make references to any previously done researches and experiments that may come in handy in supporting any new theories. In fact, Kuhn’s arguments can best be described as impractical and inapplicable.

Kuhn may not necessarily be bent on portraying science as irrational and non-objective as such. My feeling is that his main aim is to expand our way of observing and evaluating scientific discoveries, theories, or facts. He tries to bring to our conscience that there are a lot of considerations we have to make when about these scientific theories and not just make assumptions. It has also been agreed that Kuhn accepts that science is just the way it should be.

On the other hand, Kuhn’s theory of his view of science can be seen as attacking the normally objective-oriented nature of science. Over the years many people, scientists, philosophers have upheld this opinion of science, but his criticism of it does not warrant a warm reception. This is because it shakes the objective fundamentals on which science is based and if we don’t have these then Science would inevitably be drawn towards subjectivism and generalizations. In this case, the science world would be a hell of chaos as everyone would have unfounded beliefs and theories on everything without any solid factual experiments to back them. This is because Kuhn’s view does not agree with falsification and confirmation. This is the main reason why most scientists don’t agree with him.

References

Janet A. Kourany. Scientific Knowledge. 2nd Edition. Wordswoth Publishing. 1997.

Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Third Edition. 1970.