Discussion questions on Kuhn, Chapter 9 and Postscript

Note: Although by the end of the chapter you will have a good sense of what Kuhn means by "paradigm" and "normal science," let me tell you enough about them so that you'll be able to get started. Kuhn uses the term "paradigm" to refer to several different things, but mainly the term has two main meanings. First, it refers to a scientific achievement as an exemplar of how to do science and as an example of what scientific success is. Thus Newton's and Darwin's theories are paradigms. Second, it refers to the whole world view – substantive theories, methodology, values, etc. – of scientists working in a particular discipline. Evolutionary biologists not only accept Darwinian theory and theories of population genetics, but they ask similar questions, appraise answers in similar ways, etc. The paradigm of orthodox economists consists of some simple generalizations, commitments to various mathematical techniques, etc. "Normal science" is science guided by a paradigm. It is complacent, believing that the paradigm is basically correct, and the efforts of normal scientists are devoted to improving the accuracy of measurements and mopping up the annoying details that haven't yet been made to fit. Since this mopping up never completely succeeds, normal science winds up uncovering "anomalies" that come to seem more and more serious and thus set the stage for scientific revolution.


1. What are the main points of analogy between political and scientific revolutions?

2. Kuhn argues that the development of science is not only in fact not cumulative (where each new theory builds on and adds to the previous), but that science couldn't possibly be cumulative. Why not?

3. On page 5 Kuhn presents a view, which he attributes to the logical positivists, which purports to show that apparent conflicts between scientific theories and their successors are due to misinterpretation and exaggeration of the content of scientific theories. What in Kuhn's view is wrong with this view of science?

4. Why can the conflict between paradigms only be resolved by means of revolution? Why can't it be resolved by rational argument and crucial experiments?

5. What is the point of the discussion of gravity and "occult qualities" on pages 8-9?

6. In what sense does Kuhn's view support the view that scientific truth is relative rather than absolute? (Be sure to consult his postscript, pp. 11-12.)