Kuhn's view of the development of scientific theory has it that changes in paradigms mean that a scientist cannot compare paradigms with one another to determine which one is objectively better since the paradigms define the terms of debate. If I am in one paradigm, supposedly, I am viewing others from its lens.

In Kuhn's understanding of scientific development, the shift from one paradigm to another is ‘arational’. That is, not rational and not subject to rational considerations of evidence/theoretical simplicity.

However, the examples often given as cases of this kind of ‘arational’ paradigm shift include:

Newtonian Gravity to General Relativity


Luminiferous ether theory to the electromagnetic field oscillations.

There are many other cases other than these and these cases, in the scientific literature, are quite clearly justified by appeal to empirical evidence. GR made better novel predictions than Newton's gravity and the luminiferous ether theory made failed predictions so was abandoned. I’m not saying that these kinds of predictions make these theories automatically and completely true (since there are other philosophical issues involved there) but as far as the scientific literature shows, the preference of one ‘paradigm’ over another is experimentally and theoretically justified.

What am I missing here? Is Kuhn saying that, although it seems as though these considerations are rational, they're not. They're secretly arational?

Also, how are Kuhn's ideas on this generally received? Since (from what I've seen cited) the vast majority of philosophers identify themselves as scientific realists. How is this idea of Kuhn's generally responded to if most philosophers seem to reject it (or at least don't acknowledge it as true)?


  • You can see the well-known debate Kuhn-Popper-Lakatos into Lakatos & Musgrave editors, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press (1970) as well as Joseph Agassi, Popper and His Popular Critics : Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Imre Lakatos, Springer (2014) and Vasso Kindi & Theodore Arabatzis (editors), Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Revisited, Routledge (2013). – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jun 17 '18 at 16:15
  • I think Kuhn's point was that sometimes temperament and dogma prevent science from moving on. The problem is not with science but with people being reluctant to abandon favourite ideas and theories or otherwise not being able to cope with the new ideas. Thus ideas are more likely to change across generations than within them, regardless of the data. . – PeterJ Jun 18 '18 at 12:12
  • That probably is true. But people do use it quite regularly as the grounds for a scientific anti-realist position. I think that Kuhn did at one point but I can't really remember. His idea of incommensurability stinks of it at least. I've heard that he later rejected the notion. – Joe Lee-Doktor Jun 18 '18 at 14:51

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