After years of struggling to complete a book on scientific revolutions and the development of scientific knowledge, in 1962, Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Three years later, in 1965, there was a lively and now-famous colloquium at Bedford College, London, dedicated to Structure. It was organized by Imre Lakatos, a former student of Karl Popper. Popper was there as well. He had just been knighted, and was now addressed as Sir Karl! The proceedings of the conference were published five years later in a volume edited by Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (CUP 1970/1972: Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge).
At the conference, Lakatos famously argued that Kuhn claims “scientific revolution is irrational, a matter for mob psychology” (Lakatos 1970/1972, 178; emphasis in original). At this same conference, Margaret Masterman advanced an alternative assessment of Kuhn’s account of science. Masterman claimed that “Kuhn is one of the outstanding philosophers of science of our time … [he] has really looked at actual science” (Masterman 1970/1972, 59).
It is remarkable that Kuhn’s influential book was open to such radically different interpretations. Indeed, in responding to his critics at the conference, Kuhn noted that “I am tempted to posit the existence of two Thomas Kuhns” (Kuhn 1970/1972, 231).
Kuhn under-estimated himself. There are not just two Thomas Kuhns. Since 1965, the interpretations of Kuhn’s work have proliferated; there are now dozens of Thomas Kuhns.
There are reasons for this. First, Kuhn presents his view in terms that are colorful and exciting, like “paradigm”, “paradigm change”, “crisis”, “scientific revolution”, and such. These terms have been picked up by scholars in many fields, from anthropology to zoology. They have proved to be very fruitful.
Second, Kuhn provides a compact, and easy to grasp picture of the development of scientific knowledge — a cycle that moves from a pre-paradigm stage, to a normal science research tradition, characterized by consensus, to a crisis that is ultimately resolved by a change of paradigm, which then ushers in a new normal science research tradition. Many have since sought to evaluate whether their own discipline is subject to this same developmental cycle.
Third, Kuhn provided a fresh alternative to the logical analyses of science that characterized the philosophies of science developed by the Logical Positivists. Logical Positivism seemed to be losing steam around 1960. Kuhn’s book reinvigorated the research program in philosophy of science, showing how the history of science might shed new light on old philosophical problems. But quickly many realized that the relevance of the history of science to the philosophy of science was far from clear, and the exact ways in which history could have a bearing on philosophy needed to be explored.
Kuhn continues to fascinate many readers, as his writings continued to be rich and open to multiple interpretations. Indeed, this makes Kuhn an ideal thinker to be the focus of a volume in the Cambridge University Press Interpreting … series. The papers in this volume explore a wide range of topics relevant to those who want to understand Kuhn’s views. Many draw on the rich archival resources from the Thomas S. Kuhn Papers, at MIT
Kuhn, T. S. 1970/2000. “Reflections on My Critics,” in Imre. Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965, Volume 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pages 231-278.
Lakatos, Imre. 1970/1972. “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” in Imre. Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965, Volume 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pages 91-196.
Masterman, M. 1970/1972. “The Nature of a Paradigm,” in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965, Vol. IV, reprinted with corrections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pages 59-89.