Thomas Kuhn’s View of Scientific Theory

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Thomas Kuhn’s View of Scientific Theory How Thomas Kuhn’s view on scientific theories emerges, developed, and demised overtime.Thomas Kuhn became well known in the scientific world through his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions which was published in 1962. His view on how scientific theories emerged came as a challenged against the dominating scientific view of Popper which holds on his “falsifiability” of knowledge.

Popper’s view was that a scientific knowledge can only be true if it is falsified. That is, when knowledge is constantly falsified it is proven true. Leland Gerson Neuberg (1989) Stated “Popper argues that no absolutely certain, irrevocably true statement can come out of science as he sees it, but that if the conclusions have been falsified, then their falsification also falsifies the theory from which they were deduced” (p. 120).

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  Neuberg stated further that, failure to falsify merely calls for temporary “conventional acceptance of the theory until the next test—it does not establish that the theory is true” (Neuberg 1989, p. 120). In this case, Popper states that if the theory fails an experimental test, it should be abandoned by the scientific community. Neuberg states,“The scientific theory of Thomas Kuhn emerged through his analysis of scientific revolutions in which he cited that replacement of new theories is an even more complex affair.

First, for some range of natural phenomena concrete predictions must emerge from the practice of the field. Second, for some interesting sub-class of phenomena, whatever passes for predictive success must be consistently achieved, and third, predictive techniques must have roots in a theory which, however, metaphysical, simultaneously justifies them, explain their limited success and suggest means for their improvement in both precision and scope” (Neuberg, p. 121).It can be noted that the above statement emphasized that ‘concrete predictions must emerge from the practice of the field.

’ Kuhn’s view of scientific knowledge requires that both the epistemological investigator and the research scientist be able to relate to sentences derived from a theory not to other sentences.Likewise the demise of some theories according to Kuhn is due to the fact that normal science discovery is not tested and ceases naturally since scientists do not question the theories.  This is contrary to his theory wherein theories are part of a progressing discovery of revolutionary science.The development of Kuhn’s scientific theoriesThe development of Kuhn’s scientific theories started out with his analysis of the dominant theories which he finds these scientific knowledge “not only fails to resolve but even fails to grapple with the problem for analytic philosophy in the twentieth century” (Neuberg, p.

122) had led him to publish his own view on how scientific theories emerge. Kuhn views science as working within a perspective which shapes the interest of science how phenomena are viewed, the demands it makes on theories and the criteria it insists on for theories.  In his ‘normal science’, Kuhn emphasized that research must be firmly based upon one or more scientific achievements that are recognized by a scientific community for a time as providing the groundwork for its further practice. Kuhn calls this achievement as paradigms in which he stressed that this achievement must be “open ended” in order to give way for others to redefine various problems and resolve them through research.

This definition means the transition or the paradigm shift, which according to Kuhn, the consecutive transition from paradigm to another through revolution is the usual development pattern of mature science. Thomas Nickles cited that in his ‘The structure of Scientific Revolutions’ Kuhn pointed out that “there are two types of mature physical science, “normal science and extraordinary or revolutionary science” (Nickles 2003, p. 1). Kuhn explained that paradigms are formed through random collections of facts.

Researchers interpret these facts in varied ways. From these varied interpretations, one paradigm emerges but in order for it to be accepted as paradigm, it must be better than others competing.  Kuhn calls this paradigm shift as scientific revolutions. However, Kuhn stressed that it should not explain all the facts with which it can be confronted.

The role that history plays in the philosophy of sciencePeter J. Bowler (2003) stated that Kuhn’s approach “used history to show that successful theories establish themselves as the paradigm for scientific activity in the field: they define not only acceptable techniques for tackling problems but also which problems are relevant for investigations (p. 15).It is evident from the discussion above that Kuhn was against the reduction of theories by abandoning theories that failed in the experimental test, rather, Kuhn asserted that the history of science indicates that scientific change is fundamentally revolutionary.

The role that history plays in the development of science for Kuhn centered on the development of paradigms which are not simply theories, but are also “accepted examples of scientific practice…that provides model from which spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research” (Mackie, C. 1998 p. 26). Kuhn rejects the notion that has progressed incrementally via a process of accumulations of facts.

He explained that ideas and theories do not always gain acceptance because they are indeed proven as facts; rather their acceptance can be the result of a more complex process in which sociological factors play a role. Kuhn asserted “an apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident is always a formative ingredient of beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time” (Mackie, p. 25).How this differs from the approach of logical positivistWhile there seems to be some points that are related between Kuhn’s view on the role of history in philosophy and the approach of logical positivism in their view of theory, in which logical positivism held on that theories are true representations of reality that can be verified by objective observation is in contrast with Kuhn’s assertion that theories is as subjective as any other kind of thinking and that competing theories cannot be compared and evaluated objectively.

The differences between logical positivism and Kuhn’s view scientific history has gone parallel as Kuhn maintained the concept of subjectivity while the logical positivism emphasized on objectivity.Despite its popularity, Kuhn’s view of scientific theories received quite a number of criticisms from various philosophers on ground of being anti-rational. John Gunnell noted that the theories as “instructive but … no clear notion of scientific judgment [that] tends to undermine the idea of objectivity in science” (p. 67).

In his notion, the theories are relativistic and because of that it does not provide any basis to which scientific claims cannot be compared specifically in the “sense of formal logic and traditional epistemology” (Gunnell, p. 67).In addition, D.A.

Carson mentioned that Kuhn’s theories met “a storm of opposition” from many philosophers of science who demanded “scientific distinction between rationality and irrationality” (Carson, p. 89).  Some of those philosophers who united themselves in their opposition to Kuhn were Steven Toulmin (1972), Ernan McMullin (1970), Dudley Shapere (1984), Imre Lakatos (1970), and Larry Laudan (1977) (Giere, p. 16).

These philosophers opposed the Logical Empiricism of Kuhn, instead, they claimed that “science exhibits rational progress” which is closely related to scientific rationality, claiming analytical philosophy in historical robes (p. 16).  This view explains that to analyze rationality is through historical basis and not through logical categories, which is contrary to Kuhn’s Logical Empiricism.Another opposition contested Kuhn’s methodological incommensurability as noted by Robert Nola.

  For Kuhn, there are alternative theories or paradigms that are incommensurable; it means that there are no standards that can be rationally evaluated.  Kuhn argued that paradigms are methodological incommensurable in the sense that there are attributes or values that should be considered in rationalization, which is so deep, and “hard to sustain” as claimed by later Kuhn rejection (Nola, p. 50).These and other criticism that attacked Kuhn’s theories had led him to redevelop and consider a conscious change to his paradigm in response to criticism aired on him in 1969.

  A correction to previous concepts, though the central elements remain intact, includes conceptual transformation in the scientific revolution theory.  The changes signify that Kuhn himself acknowledges some defects in his theory in which the concepts were not applicable to all studies. For instance, incommensurability as argued by some philosophers of his contemporary  was something vague and impressionistic because it lacked specificity, thus, it did not provide definite remedy to scientific research.Kuhn’s perception that previous or “out of date” paradigms should be forced to return because he opposed the idea of theory rejection.

  Here, philosophers argued this concept as very much applicable to social sciences than natural sciences, wherein current advocates of natural sciences follow the latest discovery while social sciences care about historical facts.The criticisms of the theory would prove its irrelevance in some aspects though not in all scientific studies. A scientific revolution recognizes the handling of old data as necessary in the current studies in the form of paradigms. Basically, Kuhn acknowledged the irrelevance of scientific revolution to normal science, which posed him a lot of opposition.

  Reference Bowler, P. Evolution England: University of California PressCarson, D.A. (2002) The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism.

USA: Zondervan.Giere, Ronald N. (1999) Science Without Laws. USA: University of Chicago Press.

Gunnell, John (1986) Between Philosophy and Politics. USA:  University of Massachusetts Press.Mackie, C. (1998) Canonizing Economic Theory USA: M.

E. SharpeNeuberg, L. G. (1989) Conceptual Anomalies in Economics and Statistics USA: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Nickles, T. 2003 Thomas Kuhn USA: Cambridge University PressNola, Robert (2003) Rescuing Reason: A Critique of Anti-Rationalist Views of Science and Knowledge. USA: Springer.

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