Thomas Kuhn: A Theory of How Science Progresses and What Theory Is • A. The Conventional View of Science and Kuhn’s Critique • B. Kuhn’s Model: From Paradigm to Scientific Revolution • C. Implications for Sociology
Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions • first published in 1962 • translated into 20 languages • has sold over a million copies • has affected just about every field and discipline • remains a point of controversy • blew me away when I read it as a college freshman
Clifford Geertz “Structure was the right book at the right time” “Structure opened the door to the eruption of the sociology of knowledge into the study of…sciences about as far as it could be opened.” Kuhn “prayed for rain and got a flood.”
A new theory generally begins as a critique of an existing one. What was the view of science that Kuhn was arguing against?
How does Kuhn dispute this “conventional” view of science? 1) Science is based above all on shared paradigms, not methods or sets of facts 2) Progress in science has been discontinuous and revolutionary, not incremental and evolutionary Therefore science, like all other types of human activities, is a fundamentally social and community-based process
Kuhn’s Basic Model NormalScience Anomalies Paradigm New Paradigm Extraordinary Science Scientific Revolution
What Are Paradigms? • Paradigms are the precondition and the basis for science • Paradigms “map” the world and pose questions that can be answered within the confines of the paradigm • Paradigms define the methods to be used to answer the questions • Paradigms promise “success”
Review: Normal Science • Normal science is the working out of the paradigm • It is a process of puzzle-solving • It is inherently conservative • the validity of the paradigm is assumed • normal scientists strive to fit the world into the conceptual boxes of the paradigm • It nonetheless produces novelty in the long run
Anomalies and Extraordinary Science Anomalies may consist of: findings that violate the expectations of the paradigm problems that should be possible to be solved but resist repeated efforts to solve them Extraordinary Science: scientists begin to “think outside the box.” Several outcomes are possible.
Scientific Revolutions • involve the replacement of one paradigm by another • involve the rethinking of everything that had been “known” before • are driven by communities of scientists who act to some degree on “faith” • are a fundamentally social process
“Kuhn will be remembered because he taught that the process of science was fundamentally human, that discoveries were the product not of some plodding, rational process but of human ingenuity intermingled with politics and personality--that science was, in the end, a social process.” Malcolm Caldwell
What implications does this have for sociology? • Science itself is a social activity that can be studied sociologically • The world can be understood in terms of different paradigms • Sociology may be unusual in being permanently a multi-paradigm “science”
Are there potential downsides to the paradigm concept? What has happened as it has become part of popular discourse?