Thomas Kuhn Essay

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Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-96) made major contributions to the history and philosophy of science, especially in relation to the character and change of a discipline’s scientific paradigm. He emphasized the social construction of scientific knowledge and the defining and disciplinary force of scientific paradigms. A paradigm is a worldview, a set of implicit and explicit guides or examples defining the world and the questions and methods for analyzing the world. Kuhn’s most recognized and enduring work is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he described a discipline’s paradigm articulation up to the point at which that paradigm is no longer capable of furnishing or resolving interesting problems. The ensuing crisis of normal science provokes extraordinary science and the possibility of scientific revolution in which the basic paradigm of a discipline is changed.

Kuhn’s work indicates the importance of social structure in any discussion of a scientific community. A clear picture of socialization emerges from the discussion of the intergenerational process of recruitment and accreditation. Paradigm discipline to sustain an integral core of fundamental problems and methods is a social process, most visible in the structure and function of a penalty-reward and status system in the discipline’s hierarchy of journals, departments, and associations. Less visible but no less important is the tacit knowledge of shared commitments and research guides. This emphasis on the social construction of science is part of a general movement, dating at least to Marx, toward a sociology of knowing. If a unification of scientific knowledge is in the offing near term, it will likely build upon this growing concern with the process of human cognition.


  1. Kuhn, T. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  2. Nickles, T. (ed.) (2003) Thomas Kuhn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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