Thomas Kuhn and Science as Activity

Thomas Kuhn and Science as Activity

June 28, 2021 Off By Felso

Kuhn, in his work on understanding science (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), emphasizes that the psychology of scientists and the sociological characteristics of the community of scientists play a crucial role in understanding science. In other words, it adds elements such as ideology, morality, belief, tradition and custom to the scientific research process in understanding science.

Kuhn explained the stages of development of science, which he saw as the activity of scientists, in his painting “The style of progress of a science”. Accordingly, science consists of the following stages.
goes through:

1) Pre-scientific period,
2) Ordinary science period,
3) Depressions,
4) Revolution

Each branch of science progresses through these stages in its own history. The pre-scientific period is a preparatory period. In this period, researchers are in disagreement about which events or phenomena are worth explaining and examining, which method they should use, and which observations are important. Again, researchers did not have a single set of theoretical premises from which they would work, or which they would accept as fundamental. Then the theory of one of the scientists makes itself accepted. Kuhn calls this method or theory a paradigm. According to him, paradigm is all the assumptions, beliefs, rules, conceptual and experimental tools that a scientific approach uses directly or indirectly to understand and question the phenomena it deals with and the relationships between them. In other words, paradigm is the way a scientific approach perceives and questions nature and society. For example, the heliocentric theory of the Universe is a paradigm. Again, Newtonian physics and Einsteinian physics are paradigms. This period, which is studied depending on the paradigm, is what Kuhn calls normal science. In this period, scientists gathered around theories; universe, society, human, disease etc. they solve problems. They make new discoveries in the fields of science and technology.

According to Kuhn, in the normal science period, some problems that cannot be solved by the paradigm arise and science enters a crisis period. In this period, sciences are not at a level to meet the technology needs of humanity. It cannot give satisfactory answers about the universe. The inconsistency between scientific explanations and reality is constantly increasing. In this case, the searches in the pre-scientific period begin. During this crisis, a young scientist emerges and initiates the scientific revolution by introducing a new paradigm. According to Kuhn, the paradigm introduced during the revolution stage is so different that it cannot be compared with the old paradigm. This stage is the period when a paradigm ends and a new paradigm begins to take effect.

According to the view of science as an activity, science as a product does not move towards perfection in a straight line, as in the view of science as a product, it progresses by leaping from one paradigm to another. Science is not like a “snowball that grows as it rolls” as in the understanding of science as a product. Sometimes the snowball hits the rock and disperses. New paradigms emerge from the dispersed parts and continue on their way to be dispersed one day. In addition, according to this understanding, the correctness or falsity of paradigms cannot be mentioned, only their validity. Paradigm lives as long as it answers questions, otherwise it leaves its place to new ones.

Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook