Peter Coles has a nice post on Thomas Kuhn’s place in the philosophy of science. Many people seem to regard Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as, well, revolutionary in its effect on how we think about the nature of scientific progress and its relation to objective truth.

I confess that I never really got the point of Structure of Scientific Revolutions, so I’m glad to see that Peter’s on the same page. He goes further than I’d ever thought of going, placing Kuhn on a continuum leading from Hume and Popper through to the clownish yet pernicious writings of Feyerabend. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to hang Feyerabend around Kuhn’s neck, but maybe Peter’s right.

Anyway, in addition to putting down Kuhn et al.’s vision of what science is, Peter advances his own view, which is 100% right, in my opinion. I tried to say much the same thing in my own way a few years ago, but Peter’s version is probably better.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

4 thoughts on “Kuhn”

  1. Ted, your version is far better than Peter’s. You at least recognized that you were arguing against “cartoon Popper”, not the real philosopher. Peter is also arguing against “cartoon Popper”, but doesn’t seem to realize it. I’ll follow up on his blog, probably sometime tomorrow.

  2. I left this comment over at in the dark, you might be interested:

    Very recently, I have noted that the principle of falsification seems to be derivable from Bayes’ theorem ( http://maximum-entropy-blog.blogspot.nl/2012/08/bayes-theorem-all-you-need-to-know.html ).

    Of course, there are more ways than just falsification to update the probability for a hypothesis, but I agree with Popper that if a theory is not vulnerable to falsification, then it is pseudoscience at best.

    Furthermore, there is an asymmetry between falsification and verification. A theory that achieves negligibly small probability when compared to any other theory is falsified and remains so for all time. But a theory can achieve very high probability in one system of competing models, but later become superseded as new data comes in, resulting in new models to be constructed. Falsification is irreversible, but verification is not.

    Agree whole-heartedly with your main point about Kuhn, though. His ideas point to the equivalence of all points of view, no matter how barmy, or how devoid of evidence.

  3. It seems to me that if Kuhn’s idea isn’t true, then we don’t need to consider it. So assume it is. If it is not scientific, it is not relevant to science. So assume it is. But in that case, it will be replaced by the next paradigm, so again we can ignore it.

    It seems to me that many people think that things like the Copernican revolution (a pun not too many get) are the norm. Actually, new theories haven’t been inhibited by their proponents being burned, at least for a while now in some countries, so it is traditional scientific progress which takes place, not Kuhn’s idea of paradigm shifts.

  4. I picked up Kuhn’s book from a used book store a few weeks ago — it looked like an interesting read and is so far. I am new to the history of science as a subject and look forward to finishing the book. Then it’s back to this post (and your Why I’m Not a Popperian) to enjoy some discussion.

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