Thomas Samuel Kuhn

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Philosophers

Western Philosophy
20th-century philosophy
Thomas Kuhn
Name: Thomas Samuel Kuhn
Birth: 1922 July 18 ( Cincinnati, Ohio)
Death: 1996 June 17
School/tradition: Analytic philosophy
Main interests: Philosophy of science
Notable ideas: "paradigm shift," incommensurability, normal science
Influenced: Paul Feyerabend, almost all philosophy of science afterward

Thomas Samuel Kuhn ( July 18, 1922 – June 17, 1996) was an American intellectual who wrote extensively on the history of science and developed several important notions in the philosophy of science.


He was born to a Jewish family in Cincinnati, Ohio to Samuel L. Kuhn, an industrial engineer, and Minette Stroock Kuhn. He obtained his bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard University in 1943, his master's in 1946 and Ph.D. in 1949, and taught a course in the history of science there from 1948 until 1956 at the suggestion of Harvard president James Conant. After leaving Harvard, Kuhn taught at the University of California, Berkeley, in both the philosophy department and the history department, being named Professor of the History of Science in 1961. In 1964 he joined Princeton University as the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Philosophy and History of Science. In 1979 he joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy, remaining there until 1991.

Kuhn was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1954, and in 1982 was awarded the George Sarton Medal in the History of Science. He was also awarded numerous honorary doctorates.

He suffered cancer of the bronchial tubes for the last two years of his life and died on Monday June 17, 1996. He was survived by his wife Jehane R. Kuhn, his ex-wife Kathryn Muhs Kuhn, and their three children, Sarah, Elizabeth and Nathaniel.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)

Thomas Kuhn is most famous for his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR) (1962) in which he presented the idea that science does not progress via a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but instead undergoes periodic revolutions which he calls " paradigm shifts", in which the nature of scientific inquiry within a particular field is abruptly transformed. In SSR, Kuhn also argues that rival paradigms are incommensurable -- that is, that it is not possible to understand one paradigm through the conceptual framework and terminology of another rival paradigm. For many critics, this thesis seemed to entail that theory choice is fundamentally irrational: if rival theories cannot be directly compared, then one cannot make a rational choice as to which one is better. Whether or not Kuhn's views had such relativistic consequences is the subject of much debate; Kuhn himself denied the accusation of relativism in the 3rd edition of SSR, and sought to clarify his views to avoid further misinterpretation.

The book was originally printed as an article in the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, published by the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle.

The enormous impact of Kuhn's work can be measured in the changes it brought about in the vocabulary of the philosophy of science: besides "paradigm shift", Kuhn raised the word " paradigm" itself from a term used in certain forms of linguistics to its current broader meaning, coined the term " normal science" to refer to the relatively routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within a paradigm, and was largely responsible for the use of the term " scientific revolutions" in the plural, taking place at widely different periods of time and in different disciplines, as opposed to a single "Scientific Revolution" in the late Renaissance.

Kuhn's work has been extensively used in social science; for instance, in the post-positivist/positivist debate within International Relations. Kuhn is credited as a foundational force behind the post- Mertonian Sociology of Scientific Knowledge.

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