Thomas Kuhn Critiques





Thomas Kuhn Critiques

Thomas Kuhn is considered to have changed the perspective with which the scientific community and public viewed science completely. Once, the history of science used to be viewed as a defined progression from theory towards fact by the addition of more facts until the later was achieved, but afterwards things changed. Kuhn proposed a series of changes, resulting to revolutionary transformations characterized by the views of one scientific period having very little to do with those of the previous. He went forth to question the possibility of science ever finding the truth hence the emergence of what came to be popularly known as Kuhn’s concept of paradigm. This was generally regarded as a rejection of the positivistic notion of progress of knowledge.

Thomas differentiated between different kinds of science based on his concept of paradigm, resulting in two kinds of science; normal and revolutionary science. Normal science is that that was pursued by a group of scientists who shared a paradigm, this being a general consensus among a large group of scientists on concrete solutions to a central problem in their field. These solutions, called ‘exemplars’, formed the basis of their arguments and commitment that wasn’t based on critical testing. It relied upon their training and general experience in the same field. Normal science was also proposed to be rather isolated from outside influences and the paradigms of other scientific fields as well as non scientific values.

Kuhn’s views were criticized mainly for being insufficiently leftist at a time most scientific processes were geared towards a greater social welfare and towards more military and global might than their own repute. In the era of the race to the moon, the Cold War and penicillin as well as DNA, advancing such theories put Thomas Kuhn in the wrong side of public interest, as demonstrated by the heated debate and condemnation directed to his work by Steve Fuller and James Bryant Conant.

In his 1949 book ‘The Origins of Modern Science’, Herbert Butterfield compared the advancement of scientific theory as an optical illusion or visual gestalt, an image that depicts either a rabbit or a duck depending on its viewer. Butterfield’s perspective on the shifting paradigms in science that lead to scientific theory advances were characterized in his statement about ‘picking up sticks’. Here, he described how ‘handling the same bundles of data as before, but placing them in a new system of relations with one another by giving them a different framework’, was comparable to the earlier mentioned visual gestalt. As much as this rabbit-duck example poses a danger to the view of differences in scientific theory advancement as purely based on changing perceptions, it can still be seen how Butterfield’s views were supportive of Kuhn’s concept of paradigms.

In history, as was discussed in class, the first scientific revolution from Galileo to Newton led to an explanatory model of the world as a machine subject to the influences of physical laws under physics and astronomy. Newton’s concept of absolute time and space were later replaced by Albert Einstein’s space-time relativity model and generated a logical contradiction to the claim that any transcendence outside the traditional Newtonian-Galileo ‘closed world’ system would be a miracle or reincarnation itself. As this demonstrates, Einstein’s paradigm provided a crisis acknowledging the concept of paradigmatic revolution by Thomas Kuhn.

A good illustration of Kuhn’s theory of paradigm revolution is found in Biblical studies. In addition, there is a difference between his concepts of ‘paradigm’ and later narratives, including Bacon whose classical scientific methods he rejects. He simply denies that scientific advances were merely a step-by step inductive approach to discovery of the underlying fact. To him, scientific research always takes an approach that is defined by received presupposition or paradigm and convictions produced by previously existent scientific findings. In its received form, the cluster of beliefs and values or standards forming the basis of research while forming the provided framework advance to a whole field of study.

Kuhn’s second preposition, published in his second edition of his then famous literature, was the phrase ‘disciplinary matrix’. Problem solving from a scientific perspective for Kuhn was divided into three types; the paradigm disciplinary matrix, working on those areas that were most directly definitely experimental checks on the theory. All these experiments were still closely controlled by the matrix. Normal science was the second concept that matures when a group of scientists forwards a fundamental theory, inclusive of supporting evidence or data. This according to Kuhn defines the whole scientific revolution. The final concept was that of ‘extraordinary’ science, characterized by anomalies in a certain field that can’t be ignored easily. These anomalies were observed to fall into patterns that followed their own order.

Thomas Kuhn advanced many examples for each of the aforementioned concepts. The most interesting however, was that of the study of electricity where up to the first half of the 18th century, there was no standard theory of electricity. This is shown by the existence of many views back then on the same topic in men like Gray, Hauksbee, DeFay and Watson. Soon however, the theory of electricity became a ‘normal science’ when Benjamin Franklin combined all past theories. Kuhn mentions how James Clark Maxwell introduces a revolution in the second half of the 19th century via his electro magnetism theory, which among others was difficult for contemporaries to comprehend.