Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times

Fuller, Steve

Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the best known and most influential books of the twentieth century. Whether they adore or revile him, critics and fans alike have tended to agree on one thing: Kuhn's ideas were revolutionary. But were they? Steve Fuller argues that Kuhn actually held a profoundly conservative view of science and how one ought to study its history. Early on, Kuhn came under the influence of Harvard President James Bryant Conant (to whom Structure is dedicated), who had developed an educational program intended to help deflect Cold War unease over science's uncertain future by focusing on its illustrious past. Fuller argues that this rhetoric made its way into Structure, which Fuller sees as preserving and reinforcing the old view that science really is just a steady accumulation of truths about the world (once "paradigm shifts" are resolved). Fuller suggests that Kuhn, deliberately or not, shared the tendency in Western culture to conceal possible negative effects of new knowledge from the general public. Because it insists on a difference between a history of science for scientists and one suited to historians, Fuller charges that Structure created the awkward divide that has led directly to the "Science Wars" and has stifled much innovative research. In conclusion, Fuller offers a way forward that rejects Kuhn's fixation on paradigms in favor of a conception of science as a social movement designed to empower society's traditionally disenfranchised elements. Certain to be controversial, Thomas Kuhn must be read by anyone who has adopted, challenged, or otherwise engaged with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. "Structure will never look quite the same again after Fuller. In that sense, he has achieved one of the main aims of his ambitious and impressively executed project."--Jon Turney, Times Higher Education Supplement "Philosophies like Kuhn's narrow the possible futures of inquiry by politically methodizing and taming them. More republican philosophies will leave the future open. Mr. Fuller has amply succeeded in his program of distinguishing the one from the other."--William R. Everdell, Washington Times Editorial Reviews Library Journal Fuller (sociology, Univ. of Warwick) argues that the Kuhnian philosophy of the history of science, as presented in Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions owes a lot to the ideas of James Bryant Conant (1893-1978), who was president of Harvard University. Fuller also maintains Kuhn's central idea of a "paradigm shift" in the sciences is actually a sociopolitically motivated view of conceptual revolutions in scientific history. Unfortunately, Fuller does not offer the reader a clear and succinct chapter on the life and thought of Kuhn (l922-96). Instead, the author discusses the complex emergence of Kuhn's viewpoints, with an emphasis on developments in modern physics. Even so, the relevance of empirical evidence is never stressed as being far more crucial to the success of scientific theories than the influences of social movements. This very scholarly but overly abstruse introduction to Kuhn's influence on society and education is suitable for large academic science collections only.--H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\ Booknews A critical examination of Thomas Kuhn's that argues that Kuhn was blind to his own historicity and his account of the scientific method suffered thereby. After exploring the Cold War influences on Kuhn and his book's reception in academic circles, Fuller (sociology, U. of Warwick) reverses Kuhn's argument in suggesting that scientific paradigms should be seen not as the ideal form of scientific inquiry, but rather as an arrested social movement in which the natural spread of knowledge is captured by a community that gains relative advantage by forcing other communities to rely on its expertise to get what they want. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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