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  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: December 2009

4 - Kuhn's Philosophy of Scientific Practice


The opening sentence of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is often thought to be prophetic. Kuhn proclaimed that “history of science … could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by which we are now possessed” (1970, p. 1). In the decade or so after the book was published in 1962, the dominant philosophical conception of science, logical empiricism, was indeed substantially transformed. Moreover, although Kuhn's book at the time was only one among a half dozen prominent challenges to logical empiricism, it has in retrospect become the symbol for its own revolution, marking a transition to a postempiricist era in the philosophy of science. Citations of Kuhn are now ubiquitous in various contrasts between the supposedly bad old days and some more enlightened present conception of science.

Proclamations of revolution are often succeeded by revisionist debunking. That fate may well befall Kuhn's book. In the past decade or so, a number of scholars have convincingly called attention to important continuities between Kuhn's book and the work of his logical empiricist predecessors. Others note that Kuhn and his most sympathetic readers have repudiated the most radical-sounding claims associated with the book. In a still different vein, one scholar has argued that Kuhn's book was reactionary rather than revolutionary: Fuller (1999) claims both that Kuhn aimed to insulate science from public scrutiny and democratic control, and that, contrary to its public image, the philosophical and social scientific work most influenced by Kuhn has had just that effect.

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