Philosophy Kuhn's Rationale Essay

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[. . .] The more troubling comparison, however, is to coercion.[footnoteRef:5] [5: J. Rouse. 'Kuhn's Philosophy of Science Practice.' Division I Faculty Publications. Paper 18, , 2002 . ]

Other authors agree with Kuhn and can see the rationale of his argument for the irrational nature of science and the irrationality part of the nature of scientific revolutions. Rouse recognizes as Kuhn did that shifts in paradigms can be spontaneous and immediate, like an epiphany or clear and complete recollection of a recent dream. What Kuhn and other authors understand when they recognize the irrationality of science is the nature of group dynamics, group behaviors, and group perceptions. Kuhn's final section in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is the Post Script, where in he spends considerable time discussing how the preceding work is furthermore an exploration of social dynamics, social psychology, and areas of sociological discourse. His attention to the irrationality of science and scientific revolutions is really an awareness of the irrationality of human nature in all facets of society whether the topic is art, science, religion, philosophy, politics, magic, or otherwise. These additional traits of scientific revolution described by Kuhn further demonstrate how scientific revolution is not wholly rational. Kuhn, in fact, discusses his thoughts regarding intuition and subjectivity, as well as the reactions of his peers to discussion and implementation of such terms in science for a great portion of the second half of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

Philosophically, at least, this second sense of 'paradigm' is the deeper of the two, and the claims I have made in its name are the main sources for the controversies and misunderstandings that the book has evoked, particularly for the charge that I make of science a subjective and irrational enterprise.[footnoteRef:6] [6: T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition, The University of Chicago Press, London, 1970 Page 175.]

These ideas and the reactions to said ideas are why Eng refers to Kuhn "an accidental rebel."[footnoteRef:7] Rebellion, whether accidental or intentional, rarely takes wholly rational forms, and revolution, scientific or otherwise, is a form of rebellion. Thus, based on Kuhn's ideas and perspective, scientific revolution cannot be wholly rational, either. [7: L. Eng. 'The accidental rebel: Thomas Kuhn and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.' STS Concepts, , 2011.]

Using Kuhn's arguments as a springboard or launching pad, other authors also argue for the irrational nature of science and revolutions in science. Henry refreshes the memories of readers regarding the origins of science and magic:

Further important sources of the empiricism of the Scientific Revolution were to be found in the magical tradition, and these influences can be seen at work in a number of areas. A number of historians of science have refused to accept that something which they see as so irrational could have had any impact whatsoever upon the supremely rational pursuit of science. Their arguments seem to be based on mere prejudice, or on a failure to understand the richness and complexity of the magical tradition.[footnoteRef:8] [8: J. Henry. The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science, Second Edition. Palgrave, New York, 2002.]

Members of the scientific community have long since refuted any presence of irrationality when it comes to science. In an earlier quotation from Kuhn, he states how his ideas about subjectivity and intuition cause controversy. Here, Henry writes of magic and existing prejudices within the scientific community. Some of the prejudices could be considered as evidence of denial, arrogance, and fear. Most humans, regardless of their vocations or interests, fear the unknown. For scientists, irrationality is the unknown. Science is a discipline seeking objectivity, neutrality, and rationality. Therefore, to imply or contend that irrationality is fundamental to science and revolutions in science induces fear in philosophically conservative members of the scientific community.

There have been multiple revolutions in science. Kuhn's ideas do not simply describe the case of one particular scientific revolution. His ideas describe the general pattern and trajectory of scientific revolution, no matter how often it occurs or in what period within human history it occurs. Henry, having a keen understanding of Kuhn's ideas and undertones, concisely describes Kuhn's pattern of scientific revolution as

Scientific revolutions thus complete a recurrent cycle from normal science, to crisis, to a revolutionary reconstitution of normal science under a new paradigm. In retrospect, and from within, this cycle inevitably appears progressive. The revolution's victorious faction can claim to have resolved the fundamental anomalies of the old paradigm, and to have renewed the prospects for successful research governed by shared assumptions. Indeed, the new community typically rewrites the textbooks, and retells its own history, to reflect this point-of-view. But from the standpoint of the losers, or even of those who look on impartially, such rewritings might seem to mark change without any genuine claim to progress, because there is no neutral standard from which to assess the merits of the change. The resulting body of knowledge is in any case not cumulative, since much of what was previously known (or merely believed) had to be excluded, without its ever having been conclusively refuted.[footnoteRef:9] [9: J. Rouse. 'Kuhn's Philosophy of Science Practice.' Division I Faculty Publications. Paper 18, , 2002. ]

This quotation summarizes several of Kuhn's primary points as well as makes distinct connections among other authors quoted and read for the purpose of this exercise. Rouse first describes scientific revolution as a cycle. Cycles are found in nature and nature is not wholly rational, such as cycles of the moon, menstrual cycles of females of numerous species, and cycles of the seasons during the year. Even weather patterns are not wholly rational. Thus to compare science to something irrational such as nature is to connote that science itself is not wholly rational. Furthermore, the portions of the cycles of scientific revolution are not wholly rational in of themselves. How is it that in order to conquer a paradigm, the new paradigm must erase evidence of the existence of the previous paradigm? How do readers know what is new and what came before? Without this knowledge, how do researchers and scientists avoid repeating the same mistakes or the same successes, which are equally, if not more frustrating? That is irrational; lack of vital information as to what has come before makes scientific practice slightly hysterical, which is yet another manifestation of lack of rationality. Rouse agrees with Kuhn that scientific knowledge, because if the irrational nature of the rise of new paradigms, is not cumulative. How can it be when there is no complete linear timeline of scientific advancements, discoveries, and errors? It is wondrous that scientific progress is made at all. Scientific progress, like scientific revolution, is a little bit magical and if magic were fully rational, human beings would not enjoy it, nor be captivated by it.


Andersen, H., Barker, P., & Chen, X. 'Kuhn's mature philosophy of science and cognitive psychology.' Philosophical Psychology, Volume 9, issue 3, 1996, p. 347 -- 363.

Bird, Alexander, 'Thomas Kuhn', The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), , 2011 (accessed 2012 March 14).

Budd, J.M., & Hill, H. 'The Cognitive and Social Lives of Paradigms in Information Science.' , 2007 (accessed 2012 March 15).

Eng, L. 'The accidental rebel: Thomas Kuhn and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.' STS Concepts, , 2011, (accessed 2012 March 14).

Henry, J. The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science, Second Edition. Palgrave, New York, 2002.

Kuhn, T.S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition, Enlarged. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, The University of Chicago Press, London, 1970.

Ricken, M. 'Philosophical Perspectives on Science: Kuhn and Incommensurability.' , 2000, (accessed 2012 March 16).

Rouse, J. 'Kuhn's Philosophy of Science Practice.' Division I Faculty Publications. Paper 18, , 2002 (accessed 2012 March 15). [END OF PREVIEW]

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