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James Yu

Exam No. 2


Kuhn believed that the context of discovery is very much involved with

understanding scientific knowledge. Indeed, he would definitely say that the context of

discovery is a concern of philosophy of science. There are various reasons for Kuhn’s

belief, based on his model for scientific revolutions laid out in his book.

At the heart of the issue is Kuhn’s belief about how new theories are made. He

says that there are two main phases of science: normal and revolutionary. During normal

science, scientists will solve puzzles using the current paradigm. The paradigm itself will

present new puzzles that were not known before its introduction. While trying to solve

these puzzles, scientists will undoubtedly run into anomalies that do not fit into the

paradigm. Kuhn says that it is these anomalies that have the potential to give rise to

revolutionary science—whereby a new paradigm takes over the old.

The very thing that sparks a new paradigm is the discovery of an anomaly during

normal science. An observation did not seem to fit—and a new theory might emerge

from this. This is basically context of discovery, but in Kuhn’s picture it is integrated

with the idea of normal science. Thus, it is normal science—the solving of puzzles that

explore a paradigm—that bring about discovery. To Kuhn, this was a natural part of the

process of science.

Another reason behind Kuhn’s acceptance of context of discovery within his

framework is that his view of science is cumulative. Scientists go out in the world and

test paradigms, find anomalies, and eventually formulate new paradigms. This view is in

contrast to the positivists who saw philosophy of science as understanding claims about
observation and theories. One can say that Kuhn takes a more historical perspective of

the philosophy of science.

In light of these observations, Kuhn is saying that the context of discovery and the

context of justification go hand in hand within the framework of paradigms. The

distinction between the two is strained because justification depends on discovery, and

vice versa.

Personally, I believe that the distinction is still a valid one, even if you believe in

Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I think that what Kuhn says about

justification and discovery being bound up with each other is accurate in some cases, but

not all. There are numerous scientific discoveries that involve a more capricious

approach than the usual “find an anomaly and fit it in” scenario. Sometimes, even

anomalies may be revealed without a specific puzzle solving component (maybe in a


In cases like that, there may be no rational way in linking the justification with

discovery. Therefore, in cases like these, the distinction between discovery and

justification is stark. In short, I believe that there is some middle ground between the

total abandonment of discovery by the positivist and the total acceptance of discovery

within the framework by Kuhn.


Constructivism is the belief that knowledge and reality is constructed, rather than

deciphered from a real and existing object or phenomenon. The strong version of this

says that we create the world using our theories. I believe that this strong type of

constructivism will mostly lead to confusion, and is based on beliefs that are not totally


The main argument that constructivists put forth is the fact that our sensations are

relative. Basically, there is no real true state of the world that we can perceive—only

relative sensations. Therefore, people from different cultures, backgrounds, and places

will come to different theories of the world, since they all perceive different things—we

can never know true absolutes. Even if we band together, we can not know it, since

forming a joint perception is social constructivism.

However, I would like to argue that the idea of theory-laden perception is not

always true to the most radical degree. There are some basic observations like causality,

motion, and notions of logic that appear to be universal, even in infants. In other areas,

like music and culture, we see many similarities that arise in vastly different people.

In short, perception is only relative to a certain finite degree. There are things we

disagree on, but there are others that are universal. This stands firmly against the

constructivist view that all perceptions are relative. The end result is that there are some

things in this universe that we can all agree on.

Believing in radical relativism also leads one into circles. If nothing is absolute

and everything is relative, then the statement about radical relativism itself is relative.

The only way out of this is for relativists to claim that their statement about relativism is
the only non-relative truth in the universe. But then, can there not be more concepts that

are absolutely true? It seems very convenient that relativism turns out to be the only


Also, relativism will lead to fragmented world views that can never be agreed

upon. If that is the case, we might as well pack up our bags now and leave, since there

wouldn’t be a point in taking classes and doing well on exams—our knowledge is

relative! Some might even say that relativism may lead to an even worst fate: a belief in


Given all these negative aspects of constructivism, there are a few good ideas

presented by this movement. The idea that we perceive different things (when not taken

to an ultimate degree) is a useful concept. Feyerabend put this best in his beliefs about

scientific progress—that in order to move forward we must consider theories that may

seem crazy and radical. Sometimes, it is these crazy theories that soon prove to be well

posed and progressive. The process of discovery is not always a rational one.

This milder version of Feyerabend’s belief is as far as we can push constructivism

(in my opinion). Thinking that the universe actually changes due to the development of a

new theory is absurd. Rather, it is much more likely that our perception have been

altered in light of this theory—like the man wearing the inverting lens.

Kuhn said in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “…though the world does

not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterward works in a different world.”

He means that our thoughts do not actually change the physical world, but rather, change

our perception of it. I hold true to the realist belief that there is some concrete truth out in

the world, and we are trying to map it out with our imperfect perceptions. There are
many ways to interpret the world, but I believe that there is only one way that truly

describes the ontological universe. We will never which way is correct, so an African

tribe’s belief about the universe has the potential to be closer to the truth than the

traditional western science belief. Of course, it is highly unlikely that we will ever attain

this truth, unless we are given infinite time.