Thomas Kuhn Term Paper

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Thomas Kuhn's The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions And Its Influence On Postmodern Art

The intention of this paper is not to present an in-depth discussion of the complex debate and intricate arguments, and dissent surrounding Thomas Kuhn's famous work the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but rather to trace the connections between the theory of scientific paradigm creation and shift, and the development of modern and postmodern thinking in the arts. This particularly refers to Kuhn's influence on post-structural philosophy and language theory.

It should be stated at the outset that there can be no attempt to suggest that Kuhn intended his work to act as a conduit for post modern theory. In fact many theorists such as Bernstein and others clearly refute the idea that Kuhn advocated or adhered to an irrationalist or non-logocentric approach to science or the arts.

However, Kuhn's work, whether intended or not, has had a profound influence and effect on the intellectual and artistic world. It has often been used as justification and rationale for modern art theories and especially as an underlying substantiation and argument for the post-structural thesis and deconstruction. The intention of this paper is therefore to trace some of these connections and to indicate to what extent Kuhn's major work has been influential and connected to the modern artistic and linguistic movements.

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It is also one of the contentions of this paper that, in order to show the linkage clearly between Kuhn's theories and modern art, his work cannot be understood outside of the broader historical context in which it was written. This refers to the fact that Kuhn's work was part of a larger movement in the arts and sciences and in the intellectual world generally which formed part of a larger 'paradigm shift' in the arts and resulted in the development of post-structural theories of language.

2. The impact of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Term Paper on Thomas Kuhn Assignment

The influence of the publication of Thomas Kuhn's Book the Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 was extensive and still has ramifications for scientific, philosophical and artistic thought today. "By the mid-1980s, it was the most frequently cited twentieth-century book in the 'Arts and Humanities Citation Index'. (Philosophy: Knowledge-more or less)

The first reactions to the theories in the book were immediate and critical. "Kuhn's leading ideas were absurd, contradictory, and wrong. It was even suggested that they were immoral and irrational. His views were caricatured and ridiculed."

Bernstein 51) However, after the first furor at the outlandish implications of the book, the significance and possibilities that the work suggested began to find adherents in the scientific community. "After the first flurry of heated polemic, calmer voices came to his defense and argued that although not without difficulties and ambiguities, many of his theses were warranted. "

What Kuhn hypothesized in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions was that scientific thought and theory did not progress in a consecutive linear fashion. New concepts or theoretical paradigms came about in a non-sequential and sudden fashion and were not coterminous or even necessarily theoretically related to the previous scientific paradigm. The following is a very simplistic outline of his theory but it encompasses the central tenets and aspects that made his work so influential.

Firstly, science had been based on presumptions of certainty and objective infallibility. The central concept that characterized classical science was that it was a normative and sequential progression of knowledge and understanding of reality. The following quotation expressed this view of science. It is cited at length in order to clearly establish this essential point at the outset.

A science, say astronomy, is dominated for a long period by a 'paradigm', such as Ptolemy's theory that the sun and planets revolve around a stationary earth. Most work is on 'normal science', the solving of standard problems in terms of the reigning paradigm. But anomalies -- results the paradigm cannot explain -- accumulate and eventually make the paradigm unsustainable. The Science enters a revolutionary phase as a new paradigm such as Copernicus's heliocentrism comes to seem more plausible. Defenders of the old order, who cannot accommodate the change and usually cannot even understand the concepts in which it is expressed, gradually die out and the new paradigm is left in control of the field. Then the process is repeated. (Fanklin, T.)

Kuhn's work contradicts this central and essential perception of the value and role of science.

The cumulative and progressive nature of modern science has been challenged by Thomas Kuhn, who has pointed to the discontinuous and revolutionary nature of change in the sciences. In his most radical assertions, he has denied the possibility of 'scientific' knowledge of nature at all, since all 'paradigms' by which scientists understand nature ultimately fail. (ibid)

The essential point of Kuhn's theory lies in the implications of the theory for science, as well as for all other academic and artistic disciplines. It must be remembered that for centuries science had been the model and measure of validity for all the other disciplines. If scientific knowledge and progress was to be understood as not constructively building on the theories of the past but rather advancing though drastic and radical changes of direction, as the theory of paradigm shift suggests, then the central tenets of scientific certainty is put into doubt. If certainty is questioned, then the edifice of science as infallible knowledge is questioned as well. The aspect of certainty should be kept in mind as it is one of the central aspects that appear in postmodern and post-structural thinking.

From the above a number of issues can be highlighted which are pertinent to the present discussion. Through his hypothesis of paradigm shift

Kuhn undermines the central assumption that scientific thought and theory is objective and an unbiased picture of understanding of reality. This is an essential linking point with the postmodern debate. Paradigm shift implies that the shift in radical and non-consecutive and not coherently related to the theories before it.

In science, Kuhn tells us, paradigm shifts happen when there are anomalies, disparate, odd scientific results that cannot be explained away by inadequate method. When sufficient anomalies occur, those in any science must begin to consider that the paradigm under which they are doing their work is no longer of use or is actually dysfunctional. Today we are faced with the same kind of situation in the world overall, where our paradigm is dysfunctional and a large minority is saying that we have to move to different fundamental assumptions.

Ray, M.)

In fact paradigm shift is likened to an intellectual revolution where the very foundational beliefs of the past are overturned. It is this new paradigm shift instigated by Kuhn and others that leads to an understanding of post-modern thought and art.

2.1 Relativity

The above outline leads the most important implication of Kuhn's theory for post-modern and post-structural art and thought. This is the concept of the relativity of all knowledge, which is a central outcome of the theory of paradigm shift theory and which lies at the centre of all post-modern and post-structural thinking, whether it be in art or science.

The concept of the relativity of knowledge is also extended to mean that all truth is no longer certain or 'fixed' but relative to various social and philosophical contexts. One of the central tenets of post modernism is that there can be no final or certain knowledge - all knowledge is luminal and therefore final truth is continually out of reach and is in fact a fallacy. As will be discussed, to the modernist and the post-modern mind the idea of the veracity of science is an illusion and all knowledge is partial and only relevant within a certain context.

While it would be unfair and incorrect to see these ideas as directly related to Kuhn's work, yet the rest of this paper will to show that the influence of his work provided a basis - one of many during the Twentieth Century - for the development of post-structural thinking. The central connection between Kuhn's theories and post-structural theory lies within the ambit of the concept of relativity and the innate separation and difference in paradigm shifts.

According to Kuhn, scientific truth is 'paradigm relative'. For example, what was considered true under the Ptolemaic view of the solar system differs from what we, having read Copernicus, believe. But that difference, Kuhn says, does not mean that one paradigm is truth and the other is false. Different paradigms, he insists, are 'incommensurable': they cannot legitimately be compared.

(Philosophy: Knowledge-more or less?)

The impact of scientific relativism, which Kuhn's work to a large extent precipitated, is that there is no single correct and infallible answer to the question of knowledge and understanding but only answers relative to specific periods of history. This was a devastating blow to centuries of scientific thought as a system of truth. This in turn led to the modern age of scientific skepticism which is a central foundation of the post-modern world… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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