In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR) Thomas Kuhn argued that
science fluctuated between sustained periods of normal science and periods of
chaotic reshuffling, called revolutionary science.
During periods of normal science the scientific community agree on a set of
foundational/basic beliefs called the paradigm (SSR, 10). The paradigm con-
tains four basic categories of knowledge, (i) firmly established symbolic laws
(e.g., f = ma), (ii) metaphysical world-views (e.g., that matter is composed of
atoms), (iii) values (e.g., that theories should be consistent, plausible, and sim-
ple), and (iv) methodological knowledge (often a tacit understanding of how to
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However, sometimes anomalies
appear so insurmountable that they destabilise the paradigm, leading to crisis
(SSR, 82). Kuhn wants to say that crises occur when an anomaly questions a
tenet(s) so intrinsically valuable to the paradigm that dismissing that tenet(s)
would lead to the collapse of the paradigm; this distinguishes problems that
lead to crisis from problems that do not. This clarification disarms Toulmin’s
(1970) criticism that such a distinction does not exist.
Crises are resolved in one of three ways (SSR, 84), (i) a solution is found and
normality returns, (ii) the anomaly/anomalies are set aside for the future gen-
erations, or (iii) a paradigm-shift takes place. In the latter case a new paradigm
will usurp an old paradigm. The new paradigm and the old paradigm are dis-
continuous; further, the new paradigm may completely abandon the previous
paradigm’s successes. Viewed generally, all scientific knowledge may someday
be succeeded – there is no “chest” of unquestionable, accumulated knowledge
(Putnam, 1978); instead, science is constantly rebooting. Kuhn says science is
non-cumulative (SSR, 92).
Paradigm-shifts are not instantaneous. First the paradigm blurs and "though
there still is a paradigm, few practitioners prove to be entirely agreed about
what it is." (SSR, 83) Within this malleable scientific environment potential
opposition paradigms arise and a sociological battle – a paradigm war – oc-
curs. Eventually a single paradigm will ascend; the scientific community will
agree on its acceptance and science will return to normality. Kuhn equivocates
these paradigm-shifts with a "change of world view" (SSR, 111-136): after a
paradigm-shift scientists see the world differently. Consider before and after the
Galilean revolution, beforehand Aristotelians [literally] saw pendulums falling
under their own weight, afterwards Galileans [literally] saw pendulums swinging
(SSR, 118-9). Kuhn is arguing that scientific observation is biased; how a sci-
entist interprets empirical fact is dependant on his paradigmatic beliefs – this
thesis is called theory-ladenness (Blackbrun, 2008). Importantly, this...