About the following quote from Thomas Kuhn, talking about the first time he read Aristotle:

"The question I hoped to answer, was how much mechanics Aristotle had known, how much he had left for people such as Galileo and Newton to discover. Given that formulation, I rapidly discovered that Aristotle had known almost no mechanics at all… that conclusion was standard and it might in principle have been right. But I found it bothersome because, as I was reading him, Aristotle appeared not only ignorant of mechanics, but a dreadfully bad physical scientist as well. About motion, in particular, his writings seemed to me full of egregious errors, both of logic and of observation."

When (aaaa) and where (article, essay...?) did he write this?

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    "What Are Scientific Revolutions?", an excerpt from The Probablistic Revolution, Volume I: Ideas in History, eds. Lorenz Kruger, Lorraine, J. Daston, and Michael Heidelberger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), pp. 7-22. sites.fas.harvard.edu/~hsci161/Sci._Rev._Reader/12_S6_Kuhn.pdf
    – sand1
    Jul 8, 2018 at 15:54
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    What is your source of the quote ? Jul 8, 2018 at 20:08
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    It isn't 'Aristoteles' but Aristotle; I thought it was a typo, but you've spelt it twice like that - and despite it being quoted as Aristotle in your extract. Jul 8, 2018 at 22:16
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    'Aristoteles' is the Gk name for Aristotle.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jul 9, 2018 at 15:02
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    @MauroALLEGRANZA I found the quote here: theguardian.com/science/2012/aug/19/…
    – franz1
    Jul 9, 2018 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


You'll find it in 1987, “What are Scientific Revolutions?”, in The Probabilistic Revolution edited by L. Krüger, L. Daston, and M. Heidelberger, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 7-22. Reprinted in Kuhn, The Road since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, with an Autobiographical Interview, 2000: 13–32.

Source : https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thomas-kuhn/?PHPSESSID=7cbe04d487c09fc6d87e2092a58505aa. (§4.3).


I'd question Kuhns assessment. Here's another assessment by Julian Barbour, a British Physicist who wrote in his book, The Discovery of Dynamics:

In most accounts of the history of dynamics, Aristotle is regarded as having had a perverse effect and to have retarded the development of the subject. He is generally compared unfavourably with Plato and the Pre-Socratics. This judgement is too facile and was certainly encouraged by the fact that the dramatic rise of modern science in the seventeenth century coincided with the overthrow of the last remnants of Aristotelianism. However, one could well argue that the largely qualitative Aristotelian Physics had to precede the quantitative stage in the development of dynamics.

There is a good, rough and ready way of estimating Aristotles contribution. Newton, as we know postulated three fundamental laws of motion. Examination of pre-Aristotelian authors reveals only traces of anything resembling these laws. On the other hand, antecedents of all three laws occur in Aristotles main works relating to the problem of space, time & motion.

Further, it is not just that they are mentioned among much else; on the contrary, they occupy a prominent position in his work. It is true that they are subordinated to his supreme teleological principle (that 'God and nature create nothing that does not fulfill a purpose') and this was completely abandoned by Newton (or it was at least as an explicit dynamical principle).

However, this lofty teleology - and theology - of Aristotles overall scheme was not in itself a hindrance to scientific progress, being far removed from the rough and tumble of the actual world. God could see the overall pattern and determine the final cause of things; but the nitty-gritty details, were so to speak, delegated to efficient causes and it was with these that Aristotles principles, just like Newtons, were concerned with.

I think this is a much more sober assessment of Aristotles place in the history of dynamics than Kuhns, which as Barbour puts it is 'facile'. I'd also be critical of Barbours somewhat dismissive attitude towards Newtons theology; it's well-known for example, that he was an unorthodox Christian, he denied the trinity and was a Unitarian; and this, seems of a piece with Aristotles theology; and as it seems Barbours dismissal is the assessment of a mostly secular age; obviously, Newtons scientific achievements have far outshone his religious personality - but if one is interested in the whole of his thought, rather than just a part - then this should not be at the expense of his overall cosmology of man, the world and the universe.

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    But isn't the question just about the source of the quotation ? Kuhn himself retracted the view.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jul 9, 2018 at 15:04

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