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I know that Kuhn had developed his own demarcation criteria to determine whether something is science or not. But according to my lecturer the quest for an objective, universal demarcation criteria had been deemed untenable after Kuhn.

Why is that the case and what role did Kuhn play in this.

  • See The criterion of puzzle-solving for Kuhn and see Science and Pseudo-Science for the complete debate on demarcation. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 21 at 6:58
  • We have to consider that the "universal" demarcation criteria that originated with Logical Positivism was a formal one. After Kuhn its nature shifted towards a more "historical" nature. If so, it is hard to maintain the original requirement of universality. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 21 at 13:23
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    Because according to Kuhn any criteria in science are relativized to paradigms. Since paradigms are subject to replacement there can be no universal criteria. – Conifold Jan 21 at 22:07
  • @Conifold I think you meant objective, not universal. These notions can be different. – rus9384 Jan 23 at 2:11
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Sven Ove Hansson summarizes attempts to create a demarcation between science and pseudo-science after Thomas Kuhn's (1974) use of normal science as a means for demarcation. Under "Criteria based on scientific progress" Hansson notes attempts to formulate a demarcation by Thagard (1978), Roshbart (1990) and Reisch (1998).

Others, some after Kuhn, have provided lists of criteria rather than single criteria such as Popper's falsifiability:

Most authors who have proposed demarcation criteria have instead put forward a list of such criteria. A large number of lists have been published that consist of (usually 5–10) criteria that can be used in combination to identify a pseudoscience or pseudoscientific practice. This includes lists by Langmuir ([1953] 1989), Gruenberger (1964), Dutch (1982), Bunge (1982), Radner and Radner (1982), Kitcher (1982, 30–54), Hansson (1983), Grove (1985), Thagard (1988), Glymour and Stalker (1990), Derkson (1993, 2001), Vollmer (1993), Ruse (1996, 300–306) and Mahner (2007).

Whether these attempts can be characterized as universal or tenable, attempts has been made.

What may have changed is an awareness of the way the term pseudo-science is used more to characterize deviant doctrine rather than faulty methods of inquiry.

As an example, faulty methods of inquiry need not be labeled pseudoscienfitic. Hansson notes:

...fraud in otherwise legitimate branches of science is seldom if ever called “pseudoscience”.

However, deviant doctrine may well be so characterized.

Pseudoscience, as it is commonly conceived, involves a sustained effort to promote standpoints different from those that have scientific legitimacy at the time.

This explains why fraud in science is not usually regarded as pseudoscientific. Such practices are not in general associated with a deviant or unorthodox doctrine. To the contrary, the fraudulent scientist is usually anxious that her results be in conformity with the predictions of established scientific theories. Deviations from these would lead to a much higher risk of disclosure.

Hansson notes the resulting tension:

Most philosophers of science, and most scientists, prefer to regard science as constituted by methods of inquiry rather than by particular doctrines.

Hansson did not identify Kuhn as a cause for this new awareness. Kuhn, being well-known, may be more a way to mark a change in awareness of how the word pseudo-science is used rather than being a cause for that change.


Hansson, Sven Ove, "Science and Pseudo-Science", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/pseudo-science/.

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