The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Thomas S. Kuhn

Summary: Hard to read. Both history and acquaintance made me doubt that practitioners of the natural sciences possess firmer or more permanent answers to such questions than their colleagues in social science.

Score: 60 / 100

Hard to read.

Both history and acquaintance made me doubt that practitioners of the natural sciences possess firmer or more permanent answers to such questions than their colleagues in social science. (Friday, July 17, 2015, 03:59 PM, page 73-74)

Normal science, for example, often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. (Friday, July 17, 2015, 04:29 PM, page 212-13)

That is why a new theory, however special its range of application, is seldom or never just an increment to what is already known. Its assimilation requires the reconstruction of prior theory and the re-evaluation of prior fact, an intrinsically revolutionary process that is seldom completed by a single man and never overnight. (Friday, July 17, 2015, 04:37 PM, page 235-38)

These transformations of the paradigms of physical optics are scientific revolutions, and the successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science.

To be accepted as a paradigm, a theory must seem better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted.

Francis Bacon’s acute methodological dictum: “Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion.”14

the Principia had been designed for application chiefly to problems of celestial mechanics.

Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, and Gauss all did some of their most brilliant work on problems aimed to improve the match between Newton’s paradigm and observation of the heavens.

man may be attracted to science for all sorts of reasons. Among them are the desire to be useful, the excitement of exploring new territory, the hope of finding order, and the drive to test established knowledge.

Discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly, i.e., with the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science.

X-rays, is a classic case of discovery through accident, a type that occurs more frequently than the impersonal standards of scientific reporting allow us easily to realize.

X-rays emerged in Würzburg between November 8 and December 28, 1895. In a third

But to be admirably successful is never, for a scientific theory, to be completely successful.

To reject one paradigm without simultaneously substituting another is to reject science itself. That act reflects not on the paradigm but on the man. Inevitably he will be seen by his colleagues as “the carpenter who blames his tools.”

Normal science does and must continually strive to bring theory and fact into closer agreement, and that activity can easily be seen as testing or as a search for confirmation or falsification.

Kepler’s account of his prolonged struggle with the motion of Mars and Priestley’s description of his response to the proliferation of new gases provide classic examples of the more random sort of research produced by the awareness of anomaly.

Scientists have not generally needed or wanted to be philosophers. Indeed, normal science usually holds creative philosophy at arm’s length, and probably for good reasons.

need not have done so.

scientific revolutions are here taken to be those non-cumulative developmental episodes in which an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an incompatible new one.

Each group uses its own paradigm to argue in that paradigm’s defense.

Though subtler than the changes from geocentrism to heliocentrism, from phlogiston to oxygen, or from corpuscles to waves, the resulting conceptual transformation is

Whitehead caught the unhistorical spirit of the scientific community when he wrote, “A science that hesitates to forget its founders is lost.”

The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proofs.


at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume …, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. … [B]ut I look with confidence to the future,—to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.”

Does a field make progress because it is a science, or is it a science because it makes progress?

Scientific education makes use of no equivalent for the art museum or the library of classics, and the result is a sometimes drastic distortion in the scientist’s perception of his discipline’s past.

first published: 2016-10-01
last modified: 2023-01-21