Kuhn's 'Structure of Scientific Revolutions' at Fifty Reflections on a Science Classic
edited by Robert J. Richards and Lorraine Daston
University of Chicago Press, 2016
Cloth: 978-0-226-31703-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-31720-5 | Electronic: 978-0-226-31717-5
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.001.0001


Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a watershed event when it was published in 1962, upending the previous understanding of science as a slow, logical accumulation of facts and introducing, with the concept of the “paradigm shift,” social and psychological considerations into the heart of the scientific process. More than fifty years after its publication, Kuhn’s work continues to influence thinkers in a wide range of fields, including scientists, historians, and sociologists. It is clear that The Structure of Scientific Revolutions itself marks no less of a paradigm shift than those it describes.
In Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” at Fifty, leading social scientists and philosophers explore the origins of Kuhn’s masterwork and its legacy fifty years on. These essays exhume important historical context for Kuhn’s work, critically analyzing its foundations in twentieth-century science, politics, and Kuhn’s own intellectual biography: his experiences as a physics graduate student, his close relationship with psychologists before and after the publication of Structure, and the Cold War framework of terms such as “world view” and “paradigm.”


Robert J. Richards is the Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine; professor in the Departments of History, Philosophy, and Psychology and in the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science; and director of the Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine, all at the University of Chicago. Lorraine Daston is director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and is visiting professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.


"Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the most important books in the last hundred years. His language and concepts have permeated contemporary thought and his arguments are still alive and of real importance. What a great idea to have a fiftieth birthday for it! The selection of celebrants is top-notch, and, as is fitting, they are not simply kneeling at the feet of Kuhn, but critically engaging with his work."
— Cheryl Misak, University of Toronto

"Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the most important and influential books ever written about the nature of science, directing the thinking of philosophers, historians, and above all social scientists. Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions at Fifty, edited by leading science scholars Richards and Daston, does a splendid job of taking us from the genesis of Kuhn’s book, through its immediate influences, and on to assessments of its lasting worth. For those interested in the nature of science, this collection is essential reading."
— Michael Ruse, Florida State University

"There is much that is new and intriguing in this diverse volume. Some chapters invite us “inside the head” of Kuhn, through personal memories of his unique pedagogical style, his letters and notebooks, and his “Aristotle experience.”
Others explore how psychological theories, Kuhn's scientific work on radar during World War II, and the Cold War culture influenced Kuhn's philosophy. Still others focus on the text itself, examining how Kuhn redefined key concepts, including paradigms, revolutions, exemplars, and progress....Reflecting on the paradigm shift that Kuhn's influential book initiated gives us new insight into the current and future state of science studies."
— Science

“Few books leave a wake like physicist-turned-historian Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. These essays on that classic, edited by science historians Richards and Daston, emanate from a 2012 commemorative conference. It's a scholarly treat, from George Reisch probing the cold-war roots of Kuhn's provocations on dogma, to David Kaiser tracing the experimental psychology in his philosophical claims.”
— Nature

"Contains well-written essays by significant historians and philosophers that provide critical discourse on groundbreaking work and offer new ways to contextualize Kuhn’s own work. Along with fresh insight, a few essays provide personal recollections of Kuhn, while others make use of his correspondence and other records to examine the impact of the times (such as the Cold War culture) on his work. Some scholars delve into Kuhn’s influence on disciplines like psychology and examine the notion of his idea of paradigms and scientific revolutions. Using citation indexes, other essays trace the historical frequency of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This edited volume is extremely valuable to advanced researchers in every area of academic study—especially for individuals examining any facet of the history of this type of knowledge. This work is highly recommended for research institutions."
— Choice

"Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions at Fifty: Reflections on a Science Classic is an important contribution to a topic of utmost importance: where we came from, how our past changed and evolved through Thomas Kuhn’s unexpected influence; though there is still much work to do in order to understand how Kuhn became Kuhn, whether Kuhn made Kuhn or whether it was the scientific community, the book is an excellent starting point."
— Journal for General Philosophy of Science

"The fiftieth anniversary of Kuhn’s Structure generated so many books and symposia by philosophers that this reviewer found the present volume a refreshing change. The authors are generally skeptical of the more common interpretations of Kuhn offered by both philosophers and sociologists of scientific knowledge. Most of the nine authors are historians (some of whom have worked in the Kuhn archive), and the three philosophers included have all done serious historical research."
— Metascience


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0000
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

-George A. Reisch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0001
[Thomas Kuhn, James Bryant Conant, Cold War, conversion experience, mind control, ideology, Aristotle experience]
This chapter contextualizes Kuhn's early thinking about science and philosophy in the first years of the cold war and, in particular, his formative "Aristotle experience," his sudden realization that outmoded scientific texts and ideas could be sensible and intelligent when understood in the right ways. Kuhn's mentor, Harvard University President James Bryant Conant, played a large role in Kuhn's interpretation of this "shocking" experience and the way it informed the historiography in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This includes not only Conant's historical writings about science but widespread interest in political conversions manifest during the same years in popular anxieties about Communist influence in the United States (including reports of mind control and brainwashing) and academic over the status and rights of Communist faculty. In Structure, it is argued, Kuhn took this conventional wisdom about the susceptibility of the human mind to ideological control and applied it creatively and ironically to our understanding of scientific progress: the dogmatic, ideological character of "normal science" is in fact essential for the progressive, revolutionary character of science's history. (pages 12 - 30)
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    University of Chicago Press

-M. Norton Wise
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0002
[paradigm, community, esoteric, professional, smoking, social turn]
This essay reflects on the focused intensity of Thomas Kuhn's mode of work, highlighting his concept of a paradigm as a narrow technical thing, the possession of a tiny community: thus precise, esoteric, and professional. From this narrow character derived the power of a Kuhnian paradigm to produce new scientific knowledge through normal science and to reveal the anomalies that might lead to a new paradigm. But at the same time it insulated the community from larger cultural and social commitments, which would have threatened its effectiveness. From this perspective, Kuhn's well-known scepticism about the social turn in history of science was built deeply into his most basic ideas about the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (pages 31 - 41)
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    University of Chicago Press

-Peter Galison
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0003
[Thomas S Kuhn, philosophy science, history science, practice, theory, observation, radar, solid state quantum mechanics]
This chapter discusses the scientific practices behind Thomas S. Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. By examining Kuhn's civilian (solid state quantum theory) and wartime (WW II radar countermeasures) research, as well as by looking at his reading notes, notebooks, letters, and drafts, this chapter attempts to understand the formation of Kuhn's Structure. Specifically, it demonstrates how Kuhn pieced together a fundamentally psychological picture of work in the physical sciences, from theory practices down, and against an image of science built up from observation and experiment. (pages 42 - 70)
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    University of Chicago Press

-David Kaiser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0004
[psychology, paradigm shift, scientific revolutions, theory-laden observations, Gestalt images]
In a series of essays written after he published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn labored to clarify his original intentions, critique particular construals of his work, and highlight areas in which his thinking had evolved since the early 1960s. Many of these discussions grew out of his extensive correspondence with readers of Structure, the largest share of whom came from the field of psychology. Tracing Kuhn's intellectual route toward Structure --- which had included several important engagements with psychologists --- and focusing on his intense exchanges with readers after the book's publication helps to clarify the changing assessments that the book has received from historians of science over the past half century. (pages 71 - 95)
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    University of Chicago Press

-Ian Hacking
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0005
[Thomas Kuhn, paradigm, paradigms as shared examples, paradeigma, rhetoric, Aristotle, history of philosophy]
Kuhn organized his 1969 "Postcript" to Structures of Scientific Revolutions around three aspects of "paradigms": (1) Paradigms as community structure, (2) Paradigms as the constellation of group commitments, also spoken of as a "disciplinary "matrix", and (3) as the "central element" of novelty in Structures, paradigms as shared examples. This chapter is concerned only with (3), paradigms as shared examples (or, as Kuhn sometimes preferred, exemplars). The premise of the chapter is that no one has given a satisfactory analysis of Kuhn's idea of a paradigm as example, and it explores some of the theoretical difficulties that have made such an account elusive. This discussion is embedded within more general (mostly "Western"-focused) reflections on the history of reasoning and the use of examples in argument, with illustrations ranging from Aristotle's paradeigma in Rhetoric to Kuhn himself and other figures in 20th century philosophy. (pages 96 - 114)
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-Lorraine Daston
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0006
[Kuhn, Thomas S., Structure, Paradigm, Perception, Inverting Glasses, Rules]
No word in the title (and project) of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions now seems more outdated among historians of science than "structure." The success of Kuhn's own historicist program has made the existence of such over-arching structures across historical epochs and scientific disciplines seem implausible. Kuhn's own version structures in the history of science centered on paradigms, but he was unable to explain how these could be reduced to a set of clear-cut rules – indeed, Kuhn denied the possibility of such reductions. Instead, he turned to metaphors drawn from perceptual psychology, especially experiments done on inverting glasses. Re-examining these experiments suggests a way out of the apparent impasse of rule-governed structures versus paradigms by rethinking the meaning of rule. (pages 115 - 132)
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-Daniel Garber
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0007
[Thomas Kuhn, Scientific Revolution, paradigm, novatores, Thoephraste Renaudot, Charles Sorel]
Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions attempts to interpret scientific change on the model of a political revolution: a period of normalcy, followed by a crisis, that is resolved by a new regime, a new paradigm. This essay explores the appropriateness of this model for the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. When we examine the eclipse of Aristotelian natural philosophy, for a long while, if ever, it was not replaced by a single new paradigm. Rather, the "new" non-Aristotelian philosophy was actually a diverse group of thinkers, the "novatores" or "innovators" who agreed only in the rejection of Aristotelian natural philosophy but otherwise were quite diverse. This is important not only for understanding the historical period, but also because it reveals a flaw in Kuhn's framework. It is important for political revolutions to be resolved: the stability of the life depends on it. But there is no reason why a scientific revolution needs to result in the adoption of a single new paradigm: in the scientific world, a diversity of competing alternatives, and not Kuhnian normal science may turn out to be the norm. (pages 133 - 150)
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-Angela N. Creager
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0008
[Paradigm, Exemplar, Model system, Drosophila melanogaster, Bacteriophage, Tobacco mosaic virus, Poliovirus, Molecular Biology]
This essay argues that model systems in biology function as exemplars in the sense Thomas Kuhn develops in his postscript to second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, though there are distinctions. Whereas Kuhn largely emphasized the role of theory and problem-solving in terms of conceptual work, a model systems approach brings out the centrality of experimentation and analogies. Nonetheless, Kuhn's insight that scientists solve problems by looking for similarities that are embodied in physical situations, rather than following rules or laws, pertains to much biomedical research. Examples are drawn from molecular biology, particularly on how bacteriophage and tobacco mosaic virus provided alternative models for isolating and characterizing animal viruses. (pages 151 - 166)
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-Andrew Abbott
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.003.0009
[Kuhn, Citation, Paradigm, Reading, Scholarly Ideals, Cumulation]
Kuhn's overall citation data over fifty years show that while his model of scientific change still commands attention in his heartland fields, his book has mostly become a generic citation for the fact that general idea patterns change gradually over time. That only 6% of these 15,635 citations included references to specific pages (a proportion that fell from 14% at the outset to 3% more recently), indicates that detail of scholarly reading has declined consistently over time and that in all probability many or even most of the current citers of the book have not read it. The chapter closes with reflections on three scholarly ideals for non-cumulative sciences: bounded recurrence times, plurality, and plenitude. (pages 167 - 182)
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