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thomas Kuhn

thomas Kuhn



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Published by: Huxley10 on May 10, 2008
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Research Methodology IL5021 Liam Hogan
Liam Hogan
Student I.D:
Research Methodology Seminar
Module Code:
Dr. Luke Ashworth
MA in Peace & Development Studies
January 2003
Research Methodology IL5021 Liam Hogan
2. Explain Thomas Kuhn's idea of scientificrevolutions. How relevant are his ideas tothe human and social sciences?
The first edition of Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of ScientificRevolutions" appeared just over 30 years ago, in 1962. His vision hasrevolutionized the way we think about science, and has given us as a newway to look at change in all of life.The vision of science that preceded Kuhn saw science as anaccumulation of all that had been learned over history, each new law addingits weight to the mass of science, and a progression towards an absolutetruth. Kuhn saw something else. He saw a science profoundly altered by amajor new law, so that all of the science might be affected. Kuhn envisioneda science as having, at any one time, a worldview, or 'paradigm', of itsenvironment. This scientific paradigm describes everything that the scienceholds, all of its laws, beliefs, procedures, methods, everything upon which itbases its life. Kuhn felt that most scientists participate in 'normal science’that is any activity consistent with the existing paradigm, with relatively smallgains the rule.Eventually, anomalies arise which the paradigm cannot resolve. Thensome individual(s) may step out of the paradigm, and propose some newprinciple or law. If the scientific community accepts the proposed change,the science experiences a 'paradigm shift', and the new science proceedswith a new paradigm.Even if they have not read Kuhn’s tract, most educated people haveencountered terms like
 paradigm shift 
. They got them throughKuhn’s considerable influence. Kuhn didn’t invent these expressions, butthey are now associated with his name.Kuhn’s was mainly a theory of science and its development over time.He defined a paradigm as a "universally recognized scientific achievement,which for a time provides model problems and solutions to a community of 
Research Methodology IL5021 Liam Hogan
practitioners." This packs a lot of information into a small space! A paradigmis the way the community practicing a given science understands its corner of the universe. For example, in physics, Aristotelians took the earth to be atrest, and located at the center of all space. Isaac Newton and his followers,beginning in the 17
century, understood the earth to be in motion, circlingthe sun, in a universe without a center. Two quite different physical theoriesgrew out of these assumptions. There have obviously been quite differentanswers to basic questions like: in the last analysis, what is reality like? Howdo its fundamental components interact with each other and with us?When a science acquires a working set of answers to such questionsin its own corner of the world and establishes it sufficiently well that the nextgeneration can take the answers for granted and use them as a basis for further research, it has a paradigm. Kuhn believed a science was not fullymature until it had developed one.If paradigms are ways of understanding the portion of the worldstudied by a given science, they condition the scientist’s way of thinking andseeing. He sees what he is trained to see, i.e., what his education tells himis there. Things that don’t fit the conceptual boxes provided by a paradigmare either sources of acute discomfort, or are not seen at all. However, somescientists (often younger and with less of a stake in an established point of view) are more adventurous than others. They become aware of problemsthat resist solution.Apparently well-verified facts that don’t fit the expectations set by aparadigm are called
. As anomalies multiply, and particularly if they begin to suggest patterns that contradict the fundamental assumptionsof the paradigm, they become sources of crisis, which develops when part of the scientific community uses anomalies to cast doubt on a paradigm’sassumptions. Scientific revolutions, according to Kuhn, are relativelyunstructured events during which a paradigm is thrown out and another ischosen to replace it. During the interim are sometimes intense debates over 

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