Archives For Thomas Kuhn


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Editor’s Note: The following is a slightly abridged version of Steve Fuller’s article “Science has always been a bit ‘post-truth’” that appeared in The Guardian on 15 December 2016.

Even today, more than fifty years after its first edition, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions remains the first port of call to learn about the history, philosophy or sociology of science. This is the book famous for talking about science as governed by ‘paradigms’ until overtaken by ‘revolutions’.

Kuhn argued that the way that both scientists and the general public need to understand the history of science is ‘Orwellian’. He is alluding to 1984, in which the protagonist’s job is to rewrite newspapers from the past to make it seem as though the government’s current policy is where it had been heading all along. In this perpetually airbrushed version of history, the public never sees the U-turns, switches of allegiance and errors of judgement that might cause them to question the state’s progressive narrative. Confidence in the status quo is maintained and new recruits are inspired to follow in its lead. Kuhn claimed that what applies to totalitarian 1984 also applies to science united under the spell of a paradigm.

What makes Kuhn’s account of science ‘post-truth’ is that truth is no longer the arbiter of legitimate power but rather the mask of legitimacy that is worn by everyone in pursuit of power. Truth is just one more – albeit perhaps the most important – resource in a power game without end. In this respect, science differs from politics only in that the masks of its players rarely drop.

The explanation for what happens behind the masks lies in the work of the Italian political economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), devotee of Machiavelli, admired by Mussolini and one of sociology’s forgotten founders. Kuhn spent his formative years at Harvard in the late 1930s when the local kingmaker, biochemist Lawrence Henderson, not only taught the first history of science courses but also convened an interdisciplinary ‘Pareto Circle’ to get the university’s rising stars acquainted with the person he regarded as Marx’s only true rival.

For Pareto, what passes for social order is the result of the interplay of two sorts of elites, which he called, following Machiavelli, ‘lions’ and ‘foxes’. The lions acquire legitimacy from tradition, which in science is based on expertise rather than lineage or custom. Yet, like these earlier forms of legitimacy, expertise derives its authority from the cumulative weight of intergenerational experience. This is exactly what Kuhn meant by a ‘paradigm’ in science – a set of conventions by which knowledge builds in an orderly fashion to complete a certain world-view established by a founding figure – say, Newton or Darwin. Each new piece of knowledge is anointed by a process of ‘peer review’.

As in 1984, the lions normally dictate the historical narrative. But on the cutting room floor lies the activities of the other set of elites, the foxes. In today’s politics of science, they are known by a variety of names, ranging from ‘mavericks’ to ‘social constructivists’ to ‘pseudoscientists’. Foxes are characterised by dissent and unrest, thriving in a world of openness and opportunity. (Read more …)

Author Information: Vasso Kindi, University of Athens, Greece

Kindi, Vasso. “The Role of Evidence in Judging Kuhn’s Model: On the Mizrahi, Patton, Marcum Exchange .” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 11 (2015): 25-33.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


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I would like to thank James H. Collier, executive editor of Social Epistemology, for the invitation to contribute to the most interesting dialogue which has been occasioned by Moti Mizrahi’s paper “Kuhn’s Incommensurability Thesis: What’s the Argument?” My view is very different from the dominant one in the dialogue regarding Kuhn’s account of science as developed in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and in his later work.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Moti Mizrahi, Florida Institute of Technology,

Mizrahi, Moti. “A Reply to James Marcum’s ‘What’s the Support for Kuhn’s Incommensurability Thesis?’.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 11 (2015): 21-24.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


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via flickr

Both Patton (2015) and Marcum (2015) think that there is compelling evidence for Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis, specifically, taxonomic incommensurability (TI). They disagree, however, about how the argument for TI is supposed to run. Patton (2015) claims that there is an Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) to be made for TI. In my response to Patton (2015), I argue that this is easier said than done (Mizrahi 2015b). Marcum (2015, 51), on the other hand, claims that the historian’s personal or psychological experience of accessing a revolutionary change in science—as illustrated in Kuhn’s own experience of laboring to understand the Aristotelian idea of motion while assuming a Newtonian idea of motion—represents a compelling type of support for TI.  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Moti Mizrahi, Florida Institute of Technology,

Mizrahi, Moti. “A Reply to Patton’s ‘Incommensurability and the Bonfire of the Meta-Theories’.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 10 (2015): 51-53.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

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Lydia Patton (2015) and I agree that philosophers of science need to exercise more argumentative caution when it comes to the stories they tell about science. One such story, namely, Kuhn’s account of theory change (more specifically, his incommensurability thesis), lacks this kind of argumentative caution, or so I have argued (Mizrahi 2015). Patton (2015) disagrees. She claims that Kuhn does offer a good argument in support of taxonomic incommensurability (TI). Kuhn’s argument, however, is neither deductive nor inductive. According to Patton (2015, 57), Kuhn “was pursuing an explanatory, not an inductive project.” In other words, Patton argues that Kuhn’s argument for TI should be construed as an Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE). In a follow-up comment, Patton clarifies her claim by writing:  Continue Reading…

Author Information:Lydia Patton, Virginia Tech,

Patton, Lydia. “Incommensurability and the Bonfire of the Meta-Theories: Response to Mizrahi.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 7 (2015): 51-58.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:


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What is Taxonomic Incommensurability?

Moti Mizrahi states Kuhn’s thesis of taxonomic incommensurability (TI) as follows:

Periods of scientific change (in particular, revolutionary change) that exhibit TI are scientific developments in which existing concepts are replaced with new concepts that are incompatible with the older concepts. The new concepts are incompatible with the old concepts in the following sense: two competing scientific theories are conceptually incompatible (or incommensurable) just in case they do not share the same “lexical taxonomy.” A lexical taxonomy contains the structures and vocabulary that are used to state a theory (2015, 2).

Mizrahi cites Kuhn (2000) as a basis for this definition. There, and elsewhere, Kuhn repeatedly employs the metaphor of incommensurability from Greek geometry:  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Adam Riggio, McMaster University,; Steve Fuller, University of Warwick,


Editor’s Note:

Adam Riggio

I‘d like to talk with you about two things. One is to ask you a practical political question, and the second is to have a wider discussion about how philosophy of science and scientific practice influence each other. I’ll start with the practical political question first, because one of the first lessons in writing for the web is to headline your most sensationalistic point.  Continue Reading…