Kuhn (1977, 321–2) identifies five characteristics that provide the shared basis for a choice of theory: 1. accuracy; 2. consistency (both internal and with other relevant currently accepted theories); 3. scope (its consequences should extend beyond the data it is required to explain); 4. simplicity (organizing otherwise confused and isolated phenomena); 5. fruitfulness (for further research).

(Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

I suppose that (1977) is referred to some essay contained in Kuhn's The essential tension. For I don't have this book, I cannot check which essay are pages 321-2 referred to.

Where does Kuhn talks about the five characteristics in the quote?

3 Answers 3


The essay is :

"Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice”, in The Essential Tension, University of Chicago Press (1977), page 320–on. Previously unpublished; lecure delivered at Furman
University, 30 November 1973.

See page 321-322:

What, I ask to begin with, are the characteristics of a good scientific theory? Among a number of quite usual answers I select five, not because they are exhaustive, but because they are individually important and collectively sufficiently varied to indicate what is at stake.

First, a theory should be accurate [...]

Second, a theory should be consistent [...]

Third, it should have broad scope [...]

Fourth, and closely related, it should be simple [...]

Fifth—a somewhat less standard item, but one of special importance to actual
scientific decisions—a theory should be fruitful of new research findings [...]


Kuhn developed his 'no algorithm' argument [for theory choice : GT] most thoroughly in a 1977 essay entitled 'Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice'. In that essay, he identifies five criteria that provide 'the shared basis for theory choice', namely accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness (Kuhn 1977a, p. 321). These five, he says, are 'the standard criteria for evaluating the adequacy of a theory', widely agreed on by mainstream philosophers of science. Kuhn has no quar rel with the standard view that these criteria play a key role in scientific theory choice; indeed, he regards them as partially constitutive of what science is. However, he argues, using examples from the history of science, that the criteria fail to uniquely determine theory choice, for two reasons. Firstly, the criteria are ambiguous — it may be unclear which of two theories is simpler, for example. In some respects Copernicus' theory was simpler than Ptolemy's, Kuhn says, but in others it was not. Secondly, there is the problem of how to appropri ately weight the criteria when they pull in different directions. How should simplicity be traded off against accuracy and scope, for ex ample? Kuhn says that 'no progress' has been made towards solving this problem (Kuhn 1977, 329). (Samir Okasha, 'Theory Choice and Social Choice: Kuhn versus Arrow', Mind, Vol. 120, No. 477 (January 2011), pp. 83-115 : 85.)

It's vital to add that Kuhn has reservations about these criteria : (1) of two theories, one may be simpler than the other in some respects but not in others; and (2) the criteria do not necessarily converge. One theory can score high on one criterion, another high on a different criterion. There is no lexical ordering of criteria by which we can assign greater weight to one criterion rather than another.


Thomas Kuhn, 'Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice', The Essential Tension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977, 320-39.


Others have given you the reference. See a good abstract of the whole subject in https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10838-020-09507-5

You must log in to answer this question.

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