What was Kuhn's demarcation criterion to determine whether something is or is not science? I know that he spoke about paradigms, but do those define what is or is not science? Or is it about puzzle solving, and whether a candidate for science-ness is involved with solving puzzles? (That is, trying to create a model to fit all the information gathered from observation in)

  • I've read Kuhn extensively. Your description is not "Kuhnian." Better read him first. Then, ask questions. Dec 5, 2014 at 22:10
  • Well, I think it's fair to ask about thinkers one hasn't read, but indeed, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Kuhn's other work like The Copernican Revolution and The Road since Structure are lively, unchallenging reads. Dec 5, 2014 at 23:14
  • 1
    @DarcyDavis I am sick of watching you disrespect people. Get over yourself, then give answers.
    – user9166
    Dec 7, 2014 at 5:04

1 Answer 1


For Kuhn the demarcation between science and non-science is institutional. It parallels institutional theories in other areas of philosophy, like aesthetics. In short, science is what is undertaken by the body of workers called scientists—especially professional scientists. The question of whether something is or isn't science is a matter of whether it's part of the human institution of science.

An institution in this sense is collection of things in the world, typically recognizable to insiders and outsiders. Among the examples of institutions in this sense are a country's legal system and higher education. We can recognize the institution of science as collection of people, organizations, activities, and events, inputs, and outputs, including things like researchers, laboratories, journals, books, courses, experiments, techniques, specialized terminology, theories, hypotheses, bodies of data, physical tools, field-stations, articles, and so forth.

Defining science institutionally of course stands in contrast to other preceding philosophers' efforts to define science in terms of its internal characteristics like verifiability (Logical Empiricists) or falsifiability (Popper). Kuhn would not argue this way. At the same time, he would not allow that anything goes as science, because he thinks the institution of science approaches the world with certain values that rule out some activities or claims as unscientific.

One of the characteristics of the institution of science is normal science, and normal science involves puzzle-solving. Puzzle-solving is what you may be remembering as the typical activity of the institution of science. It is the characteristic activity of normal science, on Kuhn's view. Not all science is a matter of puzzle-solving, though, since some scientific activity is revolutionary—reevaluating the basic assumptions about what the major questions and puzzles for the discipline are.

  • 1
    In your final paragraph: Kuhn's use of the term "puzzle solving" is not general puzzle solving, rather it is an evocative term that he coined to cover the activities of scientists when working within the established paradigm (and thus day-to-day puzzle solving is not indicated by that term in this context). Based on this, I disagree with your "neither necessary nor sufficient" formulation; it is not possible for science to exist without the "typical activity of the institution of science".
    – Dave
    Dec 5, 2014 at 22:55
  • 1
    I'm with @Dave on this one. During scientific revolutions science is governed by social processes found in other domains, like politics: "Like the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life" (SSR, p. 93). "As in political revolutions, so in paradigm choice-there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community" (p. 94). …
    – DBK
    Dec 6, 2014 at 0:59
  • 1
    Yes, that makes sense, and is a viable interpretation. Indeed Lakatos remarks that for Kuhn crisis is “extra-scientific.” Yet, I believe Kuhn intends that revolutions are possible within particular fields, inside the edifice of science. So while crisis periods happen for “socio-psychological reasons” external to science's internal scientific reasoning and rules (as Lakatos also puts it), they still count—sociologically, descriptively, institutionally rather than normatively—as science, by virtue of happening within the field. Dec 6, 2014 at 1:57
  • 1
    @DBK But during its revolutionary phases, it is still typified by puzzle-solving behavior. There is a race to incorporate solved puzzles and to solve unsolved puzzles to "win" the right to become the dominant paradigm. While tryuing to decide what to do with quantum effects, physics proceeded by letting each approach try to explain the competing data.
    – user9166
    Dec 6, 2014 at 1:57
  • 1
    @ChristoperE Kuhn does not have to say it. Theories need to be applied to data outside those of their originators, or they are pointless. Just look at the data. Look at what people did and do when competing to establish a paradigm in unsettled areas, like quantum physics or in unified field theories which are trying to bridge existing domains of explanation. They compete to show their solutions are slicker than their contenders. They offer to solve puzzles more easily or with greater reliability.
    – user9166
    Dec 6, 2014 at 2:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .