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Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Apr 19th, 2022

Introduction

Thomas Kuhn in his book entitled the structure of scientific revolutions provides an analysis of the nature of scientific revolutions and science in general. According to Kuhn (2000), progress in science is not in line with a linear increase in the acquisition of new knowledge but rather based on paradigm shifts. He adds on to say that the nature of inquiry in science changes rapidly.

The concept of the paradigm of change is key to Kuhn’s analysis of scientific revolutions. He indicates that science makes progress on the basis of the prevailing paradigm to a point where it enters into a crisis.

He further indicates that at the point of the crisis, a revolution emerges followed by the occurrence of a competing paradigm. At this point, Kuhn indicates that the old paradigm is forsaken in favour of the new one as science acknowledges that the new one is the truth. According to Kuhn (2000), there are various reasons for initiating the paradigm change in science.

However, these reasons are not very coercive. Kuhn’s work as depicted in Structure does not provide an adequate analysis of the structure of scientific revolutions. The analysis provided is very inadequate and inappropriate in many respects, which give a wrong implication of the scientific revolution and the role of scientists.

Critical Analysis of Kuhn’s illustrations

To begin with, his analysis is limited to social sciences in which he confirms to have drawn most of his insight. The main approach used in his analysis was borrowed from the psychological analysis of the aspects implicated in scientific discovery (Fuller, 2000). This is a wrong approach because it does not acknowledge the differences between the scope and nature of social science from other forms of science.

With a background of historical science, Kuhn basically provided a historic analysis of the scientific revolution, which cannot provide correct clues on the scope of other forms of science. To adequately provide an analysis of the entire scope of science, Kuhn’s analysis probably should have provided a comparison of several scientific fields besides social science.

This is because social science is characterized by very minimal progress in change with much of the work formulated on the basis of existing theories. Most of these theories cannot be tested to provide proof of their efficacy. Other fields of science, which Kuhn did not examine are characterized by active research-based evidence and innovations.

Although this type of historical analysis of scientific revolutions as implicated by Kuhn may provide insight following the definition of what is needed for scientific revolutions, the definition provided is not appropriate. The historical analysis of scientific revolutions as implicated by Kuhn does not provide an ideal definition of science.

A proper definition of science probably would have provided a clear illustration of what he wanted to communicate. Despite that Kuhn did not wish to provide a definition of science in his argument, it emerges that the definition of science that can be drawn from his analysis is much generalized. A proper definition of science probably would have enabled Kuhn to provide a stronger analysis of scientific revolutions.

However, Kuhn clearly indicates his lack of interest in the proper definition of science (Sardar, 2000). This implies that he may likely not have a very good understanding of science and is therefore not in a good position to critically evaluate the scientific revolution.

Mcmullin’s Analysis of Kuhn’s Work

With regard to Kuhn’s analysis of the scientific revolution, McMullin argues that a realism lies within the range. Although he finds some aspects of Kuhn’s analysis inadequate in the analysis of the structure of scientific revolutions, he attempts to illustrate why these aspects hinder the heuristic ability of depicting the scientific revolution in Kuhn’s analysis.

According to McMullin (1993), Kuhn’s analysis is inadequate because it disposes the main reference of the association between a scientific theory and the verification of the truth of the theory (McMullin, 1993). This association refers to the insight of the theories provided by Kuhn in his analysis and the judgment that follows, which according to McMullin is characterized by human error.

He adds on to say that Kuhn’s analysis of the scientific revolution does not provide a reality of understanding the world in the context of science. According to him, Kuhn should have defined the scientific revolution in contradistinction to the judgments of the 20th century (McMullin, 1993). McMullin depicts the irony in the nature of scientific revolutions which has been missed by Kuhn’s analysis.

The inability of Kuhn to depict this irony in his analysis makes most of his work inadequate. According to McMullin (1993), a good analysis of the scientific revolution should provide a connection between competing scientific concepts which Kuhn’s analysis does not provide.

With regard to the use of the social science perspective, McMullin indicates that a critical reading of Kuhn’s work will deepen the understanding of critical realism. According to him, the understanding of the critical realism following the reading of Kuhn’s work will occur if a distinction is made between scientific features and values (McMullin, 1993).

However, because of the nature of Kuhn’s analysis, most readers do not have a better idea of the type of judgment that he presents in his arguments and therefore this distinction is not made. This makes most of his analysis inadequate in the provision of a good illustration of the nature of scientific revolution.

Despite that Kuhn’s social historical analysis has a significant role in defining progress in science; McMullin indicates that these theories do not determine the progress in science without an appeal to the rationality theory.

With regard to Mcmullin’s critical evaluation of Kuhn’s work, the impact of his own realistic challenge is for Kuhn to have indicated theories that depict the work of scientists. Because Kuhn depends on a dialectical tension occurring in revolutionary and conventional science, some of his concepts can be applicable to the development of the concept of realism (McMullin, 1993).

According to McMullin (1993), Kuhn’s analysis is overestimated with regard to the burgeoning theory of anti-realism. He adds on to identify a disjunction with Kuhn’s analysis which indicates the inadequacy of Kuhn’s way of attaining a scientific rationality. McMullin indicates that Kuhn could have provided an adequate analysis of scientific revolution had he focused on ideal aspects of the scientific theory.

Scientific Revolutions and the Scientific Community

In his work, Kuhn depicts the paradigm shift in scientific revolutions with regard to the success of the scientific community (Kuhn, 1970). According to him, this community is a group of individuals characterized by an increase in knowledge and should be the regarded as the highest authority in science. This authority according to Kuhn should be responsible for approving emerging scientific theories and concepts.

This type of analysis is irrelevant because it elevates a scientist to the level of the principal authority of confirming truths. According to Kuhn (2000), truth is rated on the basis of the implicated paradigm of belief as opposed to objective facts. The analysis provided by Kuhn does not acknowledge the problems associated to the nature of human belief.

McMullin equally had indicated that the appreciation of the work of scientists in Kuhn’s analysis could have added more value to his analysis of scientific revolutions. However, Kuhn downgrades his own analysis by failing to regard the work of scientists. Because the use of objective facts fails equally to provide an estimate of what truth should be, supporting the paradigm community justifies this choice.

The later aspect only adds on to downgrade the ability of Kuhn’s analysis to provide an adequate analysis of the nature of scientific revolutions (Kuhn, 1977).

Despite that Kuhn indicates that scientific revolution occurs as a result of the conventional puzzle solving tradition in science, he contradicts himself by acknowledging the value of innovators. However, he later makes his illustration more controversial by indicating that such innovation is only relevant to applied science.

While referring to the difference between basic science and applied science, Kuhn indicates that most scientists pursue inventive personality (Eng, 2001). In this regard, scientists, according to Kuhn are individuals who support divergent thinking. He adds on to say that with this type of thinking, important aspects of basic science are ignored.

His point of view is that the actual or expected type of scientific revolution is yet to be attained with the existence of conventional thinkers in science (Cole et al., 2003). These types of thinkers according to Kuhn will never pursue any new forms of knowledge or possibly invent any new theories but rather focus on solving puzzles.

This analysis is contrary to what happens in scientific revolutions. This is because scientists are always pursuing new approaches of solving problems and at the same time devising approaches of improving the existing solutions.

According to him, scientists make their work less innovative by concentrating on puzzles that can be easily solved. This indication is wrong because most of the work done by research scientists is characterized by complexity and success is attained only after long-term research and evidence–based findings. The pursuit of the truth is key to the goals and objectives of science.

The question of if there is sufficient power in science to attain the implicated truth is a topic of a different debate that cannot be answered by Kuhn’s claims. His indication that science is characterized by mistakes and lack of progress is counterintuitive to the fact that errors are common in the process of learning.

However, the prevalence of errors does not reduce the acquisition of knowledge in the implicated process (Cole et al., 2003). Kuhn indicates that scientific revolution is privileged because it is based on paradigms and puzzle solving. This forms the basis of his argument on the distinction between science and art.

With regard to the distinction between art and science, he indicates that art uses puzzle solving as a mechanism of producing results whereas science does the exact opposite. He believes that scientific revolutions and the nature of science does not produce any change on old and existing theories. According to him, scientists misuse existing theories by using them as tools but result into puzzle solving (Cole et al., 2003).

Despite that he offers an indication that scientists are professionally trained and knowledgeable on the use of protocols. This indication is misleading because scientists are trained to appreciate the progress in science as opposed to the use of protocols.

Although he also indicates that the scientific revolution exhibits some level of progress, he still describes the implicated progress in a very confusing manner. The description of the process of attaining progress in science as indicated by Kuhn is not very powerful.

Conclusion

In his analysis of science, Kuhn presented an illustration which is very vulnerable to attack and does not provide an adequate analysis of the structure of scientific revolutions. Despite that he did not mention the value of technology in the development of scientific revolutions, various other writers have examined approaches in both science and technology and provide a better illustration than his.

Kuhn did not make use of ideal sociological observations and neither did he connect any of his illustrations to emerging trends in technology. Kuhn’s analysis of the scientific revolution was basically meant to belittle the concept of scientific inquiry as opposed to providing an adequate analysis of the scientific revolution.

Instead of providing clear scientific illustrations, this analysis used much of social science aspects to justify and generalize the entire scope of science. This is an inadequate analysis because the scope of social science is very different from other forms of science. Despite that some of his content may provide useful insights on the nature of social science, Kuhn failed to specifically indicate that he was basically referring to social science.

References

Cole, G., Kentridge, R., Gellatly, R., & Heywood, C. (2003). Detectability of Onsets versus Offsets in the Change Detection Paradigm. Journal of Vision, 3(1), 22-31.

Eng, L. (2001). The accidental rebel: Thomas Kuhn and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Retrieved from

Fuller, S. (2000). Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History of Our Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, T. (1977). The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, T. (2000). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mcmullin, E. (1993). Rationality and Paradigm Change in Science. In P. Horwich (Ed.), World Changes: Thomas Kuhn and the Nature of Science (pp. 55-78). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sardar, Z. (2000). Thomas Kuhn and the Science Wars. New York: Totem Books.

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