Thomas Kuhn

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

by Thomas S. Kuhn

Outline and Study Guide
prepared by Professor Frank Pajares
Emory University

Chapter I – Introduction: A Role for History.

Kuhn begins by formulating some assumptions that lay the foundation for subsequent discussion and by briefly outlining the key contentions of the book.

  1. A scientific community cannot practice its trade without some set of received beliefs (p. 4).
    1. These beliefs form the foundation of the “educational initiation that prepares and licenses the student for professional practice” (5).
    2. The nature of the “rigorous and rigid” preparation helps ensure that the received beliefs exert a “deep hold” on the student’s mind.
  2. Normal science “is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like” (5)—scientists take great pains to defend that assumption.
  3. To this end, “normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments” (5).
  4. Research is “a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education” (5).
  5. A shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly “subverts the existing tradition of scientific practice” (6). These shifts are what Kuhn describes as scientific revolutions—”the tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity of normal science” (6).
    1. New assumptions (paradigms/theories) require the reconstruction of prior assumptions and the reevaluation of prior facts. This is difficult and time consuming. It is also strongly resisted by the established community.
    2. When a shift takes place, “a scientist’s world is qualitatively transformed [and] quantitatively enriched by fundamental novelties of either fact or theory” (7).

Chapter II – The Route to Normal Science.

In this chapter, Kuhn describes how paradigms are created and what they contribute to scientific (disciplined) inquiry.

  1. Normal science “means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice” (10).


    1. These achievements must be
      1. sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity and
      2. sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners (and their students) to resolve, i. e., research.
    2. These achievements can be called paradigms (10).
    3. “The road to a firm research consensus is extraordinarily arduous” (15[L1] ).
  2. The successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science” (12).
  3. Students study these paradigms in order to become members of the particular scientific community in which they will later practice.
    1. Because the student largely learns from and is mentored by researchers “who learned the bases of their field from the same concrete models” (11), there is seldom disagreement over fundamentals.
    2. Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice (11).
    3. A shared commitment to a paradigm ensures that its practitioners engage in the paradigmatic observations that its own paradigm can do most to explain (13), i.e., investigate the kinds of research questions to which their own theories can most easily provide answers.
  4. “It remains an open question what parts of social science have yet acquired such paradigms” (15). [psychology? education? teacher education? sociology[L2] ?]
  5. Paradigms help scientific communities to bound their discipline in that they help the scientist to
    1. create avenues of inquiry.
    2. formulate questions.
    3. select methods with which to examine questions.
    4. define areas of relevance.
    5. [establish/create meaning?]
  6. [L3] “In the absence of a paradigm or some candidate for paradigm, all the facts that could possibly pertain to the development of a given science are likely to seem equally relevant” (15).
  7. A paradigm is essential to scientific inquiry—”no natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation, and criticism” (16-17).
  8. How are paradigms created, and how do scientific revolutions take place?
    1. Inquiry begins with a random collection of “mere facts” (although, often, a body of beliefs is already implicit in the collection).
      1. During these early stages of inquiry, different researchers confronting the same phenomena describe and interpret them in different ways (17).
      2. In time, these descriptions and interpretations entirely disappear.
    2. A preparadigmatic school (movement) appears.
      1. Such a school often emphasizes a special part of the collection of facts.
      2. Often, these schools vie for preeminence.
    3. From the competition of preparadigmatic schools, one paradigm emerges—”To be accepted as a paradigm, a theory must seem better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted” (17-18), thus making research possible.
    4. As a paradigm grows in strength and in the number of advocates, the preparadigmatic schools (or the previous paradigm) fade.
      1. “When an individual or group first produces a synthesis able to attract most of the next generation’s practitioners, the older schools gradually disappear” (18).
      2. Those with “older views . . . are simply read out of the profession and their work is subsequently ignored. If they do not accommodate their work to the new paradigm, they are doomed to isolation or must attach themselves to some other group” (19), or move to a department of philosophy (or history).
    5. A[L4]  paradigm transforms a group into a profession or, at least, a discipline (19). And from this follow the
      1. formation of specialized journals.
      2. foundation of professional societies (or specialized groups within societies—SIGs).
      3. claim to a special place in academe (and academe’s curriculum).
      4. fact that members of the group need no longer build their field anew—first principles, justification of concepts, questions, and methods. Such endeavors are left to the theorist or to writer of textbooks.
      5. promulgation of scholarly articles intended for and “addressed only to professional colleagues, [those] whose knowledge of a shared paradigm can be assumed and who prove to be the only ones able to read the papers addressed to them” (20)—preaching to the converted.
      6. (discussion groups on the Internet and a listerserver?)
  9. A paradigm guides the whole group’s research, and it is this criterion that most clearly proclaims a field a science (22).


 [L1]Proving something completely takes a long time

 [L2]All facets of study have paradigms?  That everyone studies an open ended idea that cannot be solved or can be but takes a long time.

 [L3]Write a paper? Create outline of what will be written. Book shows how similar two subjects are. Not so different.

 [L4]Discusses rhetorical devices?

 [L5]Creates rhetoric from interaction with group.

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