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Thomas Kuhn: the Structure of Scientific Revolution Essay Sample

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Thomas Kuhn: the Structure of Scientific Revolution Essay Sample

About Thomas Kuhn and this essay

Born in 1922 in Cincinnati, Kuhn obtained a Ph.D. degree in physics from Harvard University in 1949. He will later teach a course of history of science at the University of California, Berkeley. Their, in 1962, he wrote and published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions which will be the object of this essay. This essay will be divided in 5 parts: -the paradigm, -the phases of paradigm cycles (further divided in: pre-paradigm & normal sciences, crisis and new paradigm), -the incommensurability, -the rationality of scientific progress and -the progression of science.

A paradigm

The structure of scientific revolution of Thomas Kuhn focus on the cycle of scientific structure in it’s whole. From it’s beginning to its end followed again by the beginning of a whole new scientific structure. Once these scientific structures (or ideas) are universally accessible and acknowledge by of vast majority of scientist in that same exact field, Kuhn will designate it as a paradigm, a common belief among all participating specialist in a theory and its principles. This paradigm will be more than just a theory. It will be a whole scientific outlook on a field of study. A paradigm is the whole constitution of what makes a scientific community. It will, for the time it will be actual, provide standard methods for a whole group of scientist.

The phases of paradigm cycles

Pre-paradigm & normal sciences

The pre-paradigm period is the beginning of everything. It is usually discernible by profound new discussions over rightful procedures. Pre-paradigms occur only once. Paradigms are in constant cycle and the first (or last) real phase of a paradigm cycle is what Kuhn calls normal science. The concept of normal science closely pictures how Kuhn describes a paradigm. All participants within a particular discipline are on a consensus and have an accepted framework, or common way of doing things. The normal science is when a research practice is in a resting mode. “Normal science: the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time” (p.3) It is also at its climax. Scientist during that period will have full confidence in the paradigm and will actually see no other way of guiding their research. “…normal science, a pursuit not directed to novelties and tending at first to suppress them…” (p.52) If a scientist failed “to come near the anticipated result (it) is usually failure as a scientist” (p.35) Kuhn compares normal sciences to puzzle-solving. During this stage, practitioners will perfects the paradigm, make it stronger and/or solve small anomalies to fit the paradigm.


At first, the few anomalies appearing now and then will not be sufficient to question the scientists about the validity of the paradigm. However, if after some time, more and more incongruities in the paradigm are revealed, Scientist will start lengthier investigation of anomalies. Then crisis begins and real discoveries are launches. “…during the crises that lead to large-scale changes of paradigm, scientists usually develop many speculative and unarticulated theories that can themselves point the way to discovery.” (p. 61) The researchers will now stop blindly following the paradigm and starts to explore new ways as the old paradigm has become unreliable and questioned by a majority. A scientific revolution is about to begin.

New Paradigm

“Often a new paradigm emerges, at least in embryo, before a crisis has developed or been explicitly recognized” (p. 86) In the initial growing periods of a new paradigm, many new alternative will be developed. An overlap of the problems to resolve will occur during the transition from old to new paradigm. “When the transition is complete, the profession will have changed its view of the field, its methods, and its goals” (P. 85) It is more likely that new people to a certain field of a paradigm will accomplish the fundamental developments to the new ones. The advantage is originating from being detached from the traditional guidelines of normal sciences. They will therefore have stronger abilities to substitute them. The beginning of a new paradigm will lead scientists to use innovative devices and search in different locations. Then could also look at things differently even if they keep using their previous instruments. Everything changes in the way the look at their sciences and the way and places they use their tools.


Since new paradigms are born from old ones, wordlist is usually transferred from one to another. But the exact definition of these words rarely is the same. This result in a misinterpretation of practitioners from one paradigm about the opposing paradigm and vice versa. For example the revolutionary change that Copernicus brought to astronomy about the earth “moving” was firstly seen as delusional. We need to bring the matter further and think that Copernicus’ proposition was far greater than simply moving the earth. “It was a whole new way of regarding the problems of physics and astronomy” (p. 149) The incommensurability of contesting paradigms comes from their livings in distinctive realms. “That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another.” (p. 150)

Rationality of Scientific progress

In the structure of the scientific revolution, Kuhn brings up the occasional irrational decisions of scientist during a change of paradigm. Considering that the early new paradigm have still a lot to prove and many question unsolved a scientist must have some faith that the new paradigm will be “better” than the old paradigm which lasted for so long with only a few unsuccessful glitch along the way… Scientist must choose to make the switch to the new paradigm by instinct and “sometimes it is only personal and inarticulate aesthetic considerations that can do that.” (p. 158)

Progression of science

Kuhn says: “It is difficult to see scientific development as a process of accretion” (p. 3) Kuhn advance that in many cases the progression of sciences is much more aleatory than linear. The transition from a paradigm in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is far from a cumulative. Kuhn gives for example that the Einsteinium model in physic is more closely related to these of Aristotelian then Newtonian. “…the textbook tendency to make the development of science linear hides a process that lies at the heart of the most significant episodes of scientific development.” (p. 140) Kuhn blames this attitude of linear progression, to slow “real” scientific progress.

Definition of Discoveries

Another thing that Kuhn discusses about discoveries is how the worlds attribute the title “discovery”. Which is misleading us in to be a happening in a very specific moment in time and attributable to one single person. An example he gives, is the discovery of oxygen, which “final” concept or identification was spread over a few years by two different scientists. “Clearly we need a new vocabulary and concepts for analyzing events like the discovery of oxygen.” (p. 55)


There is a few things that the structure of scientific revolution brings to the reader:

The main one is the description of the paradigm cycle from it’s pre-paradigm form were the science is being created. The transition to normal science, were novelties happen infrequently du to the narrow views from the paradigm on the scientific field in question. The crisis, were high numbers of anomalies on this paradigm brings a scientific community to search or move to a new paradigm. Other of Kuhn’s important point are: the incommensurability of two paradigm which causes many misunderstanding between the two competing set. The idea of linear progression which hides an important aspect of pushing scientist to walk off-road and therefore make new discoveries. The eye opener about science often not being objectives. As science often based its rationality on certain datas which will almost always be in some way influence by the personal judgement or faith of the scientist. Finally, the proposed change of vocabulary for the definition of discovery. Which biased us on it being a single happening.

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