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Possible Kuhns in the History of Science:


Anomalies of Incommensurable
Paradigms1

Kenneth L. Caneva*

The work of Thomas Kuhn in the history and philosophy of science has often
confronted even its sympathetic readers with a perplexing problem: To what extent
does that work constitute a unified whole? What is the relationship among its parts?
Insisting that he put his philosophy aside when doing history but that his historical
work nonetheless bore witness to his central philosophical concerns, Kuhn was
himself remarkably unenlightening when it came to answering such questions.2 A
dominant motif in Kuhn’s work suggests that this problem may be a matter of
perception, and that its solution may hinge upon the reader’s undergoing an appro-

* Department of History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 219 McIver Building, P.O.
Box 26170 Greensboro, N.C. 27402-6170, U.S.A.
Received 14 April 1999; in revised form 4 August 1999.
1
An earlier version of this paper was presented at a symposium on ‘The Legacy of Thomas S. Kuhn’
at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 21
November 1997. Except as otherwise noted, all quotations are exactly as given in the original. Dates
of composition or presentation of Kuhn’s works, when that could be determined and when it was
different from the publication date, are given in square brackets before the date of publication. For
subsequently reprinted papers, the date in square brackets is either that of original composition or
presentation or that of original publication, when the former is unknown or is the same as the date of
original publication. An equals sign (=) joins texts that are identical but for possible insignificant vari-
ations in spelling or punctuation; an ‘approximately equals’ sign ( ⬇ ) joins texts that are basically the
same but with some differences in wording. I have used the handy German abbreviation ‘bzw.’ (for
beziehungsweise, meaning ‘or, as the case may be’) to join paired references following the immediately
preceding specification of their respective referents.
2
Kuhn (1980), p. 183; (1984), pp. 243, 245 ⫽ ([1984]1987), pp. 361, 363). In the latter essay he
asserted that his book on Planck and black-body theory ‘provides the most fully realized illustration
of the concept of history of science basic to my historical publications. The same conception underlies
my more philosophical writings—is, indeed what ties these apparently disparate aspects of my work
together’ (p. 231 bzw. 349, italics added). Unfortunately, he neglected to spell out just what that concep-
tion was, or how it underlay the totality of his work. Compare the judgement of Trevor Pinch: ‘Black-
Body Theory can be seen as the final stage of a process of retraction initiated by Kuhn in response to
some of the reactions which Structure produced’ ([Thackray] et al., 1979, p. 440).

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priate gestalt shift with regard to the nature of the Kuhnian enterprise.3 Although
such transformations of perception are, if truly Kuhnian in nature, holistic events
not amenable to anatomization and discursive elaboration, and thus not available
to the would-be interpreter as a deployable method of analysis, Kuhn outlined an
approach to be followed in coming to terms with outdated scientific texts that can
serve as a model for this exercise in understanding. In a 1968 encyclopedia article
on the history of science he offered the following excellent advice for the practis-
ing historian:
Recognizing that scientists are often famous for results they did not intend, he should
ask what problems his subject worked at and how these became problems for him.
Recognizing that a historic discovery is rarely quite the one attributed to its author
in later textbooks (pedagogic goals inevitably transform a narrative), the historian
should ask what his subject thought he had discovered and what he took the basis of
that discovery to be. And in this process of reconstruction the historian should pay
particular attention to his subject’s apparent errors, not for their own sake but because
they reveal far more of the mind at work than do the passages in which a scientist
seems to record a result or an argument that modern science still retains.4

Taking these directives in roughly reverse order, my strategy in this paper, whose
goal is not just criticism but a deeper understanding of Kuhn’s historiography of
science, will be to isolate what appear to be anomalies and inconsistencies in his
work, to puzzle out what he thought he was doing, and to identify what the central
problems were for him in terms of which that work makes more coherent sense.5
In accord with Kuhn’s advice, my way of going at these issues was in the first
instance via a ‘deep and sympathetic immersion in the sources’.6 I have tried to
distinguish significant anomalies and inconsistencies in Kuhn’s work from the
much larger set of issues that might be problematic for this or that reader—say
with regard to the factual truth of some claim, the nature of its evidentiary base,
or the historical accuracy of the overall philosophical enterprise—although that
line can be hard to draw in practice. I agree with Kuhn that it is attention to

3
In Structure Kuhn used both ‘shift’ and ‘switch’—as both verbs and nouns, with ‘shift’ somewhat
more frequent than ‘switch’—to describe changes in perception ([1961a]1962, pp. 113–121 ⫽
[1969d]1970, pp. 114–122). He spoke of ‘gestalt switch’ (pp. 116, 119, 121 bzw. 117, 120, 122) but
of ‘paradigm shift’ (p. 118 bzw. 119). I have used what appears to be the more common form in general
use, gestalt shift.
4
Kuhn (1968a), pp. 76–77 ⫽ ([1968]1977), p. 110.
5
Although he did not make the issue the focus of his paper, Thomas Nickles noted four topics with
respect to which the Kuhn of Structure was fundamentally ambivalent: whether he advocated ‘the
method of belief’ or ‘the method of doubt’; whether an account of science should be theory-centered
or practice-centered; whether he wrote as an insider or outsider with respect to the scientific community;
and whether his account is whiggish or anti-whiggish (Nickles, 1998, pp. 55–56, 58, 61, 63). With one
exception, to be discussed below, Hoyningen-Huene (1993) did not thematize the issue of the anomalies,
tensions, and inconsistencies in Kuhn’s work. Perhaps because his purposes were essentially philosophi-
cal, he did not comment on tensions between the historical and philosophical aspects of Kuhn’s work.
6
Kuhn (1968a), p. 77 ⫽ ([1968]1977), p. 111. Shifts in Kuhn’s views over time and the silent
disappearance of once-prominent terms and issues create real problems for a diachronic assessment of
Kuhn’s work, since it is often hard to know whether, in a later work, he did or did not still hold to
the views advocated in earlier works.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 89

apparent incongruities that is most likely to bring enlightenment. I also agree with
the sentiment of an injunction Kuhn quoted from Bertrand Russell: ‘In studying a
philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind
of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe
in his theories.’7

1. Tensions in the Kuhnian Enterprise


The Copernican Revolution of 1957 provides a good example of a vexing dishar-
mony, an unresolved tension between the explanatory adequacy of internal versus
external factors to account for the Copernican revolution. On the one hand, Coper-
nicus’ aim was ‘to reform the techniques employed in computing planetary pos-
ition’; it was ‘professional awareness of technical fallacy [that] inaugurated the
Copernican Revolution’; ‘[i]t was mathematical planetary astronomy, not cos-
mology or philosophy, that Copernicus found monstrous, and it was the reform of
mathematical astronomy that alone compelled him to move the earth’.8 On the
other hand, Kuhn concluded his discussion of nontechnical factors that contributed
to a general sense of ferment—voyages of exploration, calendar reform, availability
of better texts, and (most importantly) Neoplatonism, which he singled out as ‘an
essential element in the intellectual climate that gave birth to his vision of the
universe’—with the following assessment:
Neoplatonism completes the conceptual stage setting for the Copernican Revolution,
at least as we shall examine it here. For an astronomical revolution it is a puzzling
stage, because it is set with so few astronomical properties. Their absence, however,
is just what makes the setting important. Innovations in a science need not be
responses to novelties within that science at all. No fundamental astronomical dis-
covery, no new sort of astronomical observation, persuaded Copernicus of ancient
astronomy’s inadequacy or of the necessity for change.... Any possible understanding
of the Revolution’s timing and of the factors that called it forth must, therefore, be
sought principally outside of astronomy, within the larger intellectual milieu inhabited
by astronomy’s practitioners.9

7
Kuhn ([1970a]1971), p. 290 ⫽ ([1970a]1977), p. 149, citing Bertrand Russell, A History of Western
Philosophy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945), p. 39. His own maxim for students was: ‘[W]hen
reading the works of an important thinker, look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask
yourself how a sensible person could have written them’ (Kuhn, 1977a, p. xii ⬇ [1976a]1977, p. 34;
cf. 1990a, pp. 21–22). As Kuhn wrote of himself, ‘[p]robably the thing I do best and certainly the one
to which I have devoted most time is climbing from the writings into the minds of dead scientists,
figuring out how they thought, why they believed what they did, and how they came to change their
minds’ (Kuhn, 1983, p. 27). Yet he never really understood the thinking of his many critics. See Kuhn
([1969c]1970), p. 237, for his confessed inability to understand Lakatos’ pronouncements, and Kuhn
([1995]1997), p. 193 for his feeling that his critics treated him ‘as though I were a fool’ by attributing
to him beliefs no ‘respectable human being’ could hold.
8
Kuhn ([1956]1957), pp. 136, 138, 142 ⫽ ([1979]), pp. 137, 139, 143; cf. pp. vii, 1–2, 74–75, 144
bzw. 1–2, 75–76, 145.
9
Kuhn ([1956]1957), pp. 130, 131 ⫽ ([1979]), pp. 131, 132; cf. pp. vii, 123 bzw. vii, 124.
90 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

As near as I can make out, the book never adequately addressed, let alone resolved,
this apparent contradiction.10 It foreshadowed, I think, the widespread confusion
in the minds of many readers of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)
over whether Kuhn’s view of the history of science was essentially internalist or
externalist. In an essay of 1972 on Joseph Ben-David’s sociology of science, Kuhn
described his own historiographical position as ‘close to’ internalist insofar as he,
too, believed that ‘the dominant forces shaping the development of scientific ideas
are internal to the community of scientists’.11 Yet later in the same essay he wrote
that ‘[b]oth ancient and Renaissance astronomy provide important examples of
ways in which social demands can affect—decisively if also deviously and unpre-
dictably—the direction in which scientific ideas develop and thus ultimately their
essential structural form.’12 How do these divergent claims go together?
An analogous ambiguity with respect to the proper level of historical expla-
nation—whether individual, collective, or contextual—was evident in Kuhn’s abun-
dantly insightful (if ultimately flawed) paper on ‘Energy Conservation as an
Example of Simultaneous Discovery’, read in 1957 and published in 1959. After
reviewing the case for his trio of favored factors (availability of conversion pro-
cesses, concern with engines, and Naturphilosophie) compared with the duo he
neglected (the impossibility of perpetual motion and the dynamical theory of heat)
he concluded his paper with the following diffident reflections:
That does not mean that these [three] factors explain either the individual or collective
discoveries of energy conservation. Many old discoveries and concepts were essential
to the work of all the pioneers; many new ones played significant roles in the work
of individuals. We have not and shall not reconstruct the causes of all that occurred.
But the three factors discussed above may still provide the fundamental constellation,
given the question from which we began: Why, in the years 1830 to 1850, did so
many of the experiments and concepts required for a full statement of energy conser-
vation lie so close to the surface of scientific consciousness?13

What is the relationship between general factors and those peculiar to certain indi-
viduals, and how does either function in an explanatory capacity? What, ultimately,
is being explained by what? Although Kuhn hinted that he intended to take this
preliminary study further, he never returned to the topic.14
As already noted, much confusion has surrounded the question of just what The

10
Kuhn later observed that ‘when it was written the book was the only one that attempted to portray,
within a single pair of covers, both the technical–astronomical and the wider intellectual–historical
dimensions of the revolution’ (Kuhn, [1970a]1971, p. 297 ⫽ [1970a]1977, p. 157), thereby failing to
note that the book had not actually integrated those disparate sets of factors. See the probing analysis
of this book and its relationship to Kuhn’s other work by Robert Westman (1994); here, especially pp.
85–88.
11
Kuhn (1972), p. 168.
12
Kuhn (1972), p. 171; cf. p. 173.
13
Kuhn ([1957]1959), pp. 340–341 ⫽ ([1957]1977), p. 104.
14
Kuhn ([1957]1959), pp. 322 [‘preliminary identification’], 323 [‘as yet’], 331 [‘Another paper will
be needed to document this conclusion’], 339 [‘... provide leads for further research. At the moment I
shall only...’], 339 [‘preliminary discussion’] ⫽ ([1957]1977), pp. 73, 84, 100, 101.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 91

Structure of Scientific Revolutions is about. Among other things, it’s about the
nature of normal science and its guiding paradigms; it’s about the dynamics of
scientific change—that is the ‘structure of scientific revolutions’; it’s about the
nature of the radical differences between successive paradigms; and much more.
Ultimately this diversity of possibilities, juxtaposed without necessarily being har-
monized, will have to be unpacked. Kuhn himself called attention to an aspect of
his presentation that he feared might strike some readers as a confusion of issues:
‘I may even seem to have violated the very influential contemporary distinction
between “the context of discovery” and “the context of justification”. Can anything
more than profound confusion be indicated by this admixture of diverse fields and
concerns?’15 Had Kuhn in fact addressed the ramifications of this issue more
explicitly he might have avoided some of the confusions and ambiguities in his
work.
For me personally, the most glaring apparent inconsistency in the book concerns
the problematic relationship between the individual and the community to which
he or she ostensibly belongs and the role each plays.16 Kuhn the metahistorian
repeatedly insisted, here and elsewhere, that it is the community and not the indi-
vidual that plays the central role in scientific change. It is shared paradigms, after
all, that allow the identification of the all-important anomalies. Yet Kuhn the his-
torian recognized that ‘Copernicus saw as counterinstances what most of Ptolemy’s
other successors had seen as puzzles in the match between observation and theory.
Lavoisier saw as a counterinstance what Priestley had seen as a successfully solved
puzzle in the articulation of the phlogiston theory. And Einstein saw as counterin-
stances what Lorentz, Fitzgerald, and others had seen as puzzles in the articulation
of Newton’s and Maxwell’s theories.’17 In other words, none of these revolution-
aries can be understood as a representative of a group. In his 1986 Nobel Sym-
posium address on ‘Possible Worlds in the History of Science’ Kuhn recounted
his own experience in encountering passages that made no apparent sense in the
writings of Aristotle, Newton, Volta, Bohr, and Planck.18 What is striking is not
only that all his examples are of individuals, but also that none of the anomalies
he perceived related to community meanings, but rather to the peculiarities of the
individual scientist. In any case, Kuhn did not himself establish any basis on which
one might assess the possibly shared character of any particular belief. The same

15
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), pp. 8–9 ⫽ Kuhn ([1969d]1970), pp. 8–9. These dual concerns were early
fused in Kuhn’s conception of his enterprise. In an ‘Intellectual Biography’ dated 22 October 1953—
part of his successful application for a Guggenheim Fellowship—Kuhn wrote that for the previous five
years he had been ‘princi[p]ally concerned, as teacher and scholar, with the procedures by which fruitful
scientific concepts are devised by the innovator and accredited by the profession’ (quoted in Huf-
bauer, 1998).
16
See the earlier development of this theme in Caneva (1998). Hoyningen-Huene (1993, pp. 150–
154, 239–251) discussed the issue without identifying any deep explanatory anomalies, perhaps because
he’d concluded that ‘in the Kuhnian framework the principal agent in science, its subject, is not the
individual but the group’ (Hoyningen-Huene, 1992, p. 495).
17
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), pp. 79–80 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), pp. 79–80.
18
Kuhn ([1986a]1989), pp. 9–10 ⫽ Kuhn ([1986b]1990), p. 299.
92 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

pattern obtained both in his and John Heilbron’s 1969 study of ‘The Genesis of the
Bohr Atom’ and in his 1978 book on Black-Body Theory, each of them otherwise a
wonderful exemplar of fine-grained historical reconstruction: a lack of any attempt
to establish community meanings—or even the existence and extent of any parti-
cular community of researchers—alongside repeated acknowledgement (especially
in the latter work) of the idiosyncrasies of the principal scientists, of the lack of
consensus on key issues.19
Although in 1969 Kuhn was already insisting that ‘[i]f the term “paradigm” is
to be successfully explicated, scientific communities must first be recognized as
having an independent existence’, that ‘[s]cientific communities can and should be
isolated without prior recourse to paradigms; the latter can then be discovered by
scrutinizing the behavior of a given community’s members’, he himself never actu-
ally identified a real-life exemplar of an historically attested scientific community.20
Similarly, in what must surely be one of the great anomalies of omission in Kuhn’s
work, although Structure outlined a paradigm for doing the history of science, he
himself never provided a completely worked out historical exemplar of what Kuhn-
ian history of science would look like in full dress rehearsal. Ironically, he evidently
believed that he could teach by precept rather than by example. Especially in the
philosophical works of his later years Kuhn scarcely attempted to ground—or even
to exemplify—his general claims in significant historical particulars. Somewhat
earlier, in his 1980 review of Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences, he
complained that most of the papers in it ‘seldom present or even seek evidence of
what actually attracted scientists to or repelled them from the various research

19
Kuhn and Heilbron (1969a), pp. 212, 217; Kuhn ([1977b]1978), pp. 21 [‘only Boltzmann attempted
to develop a statistical theory of entropy’]; 23 [‘his [Planck’s] own by no means typical attitude towards
the second law’]; 26 [‘No one but Planck had taken such a position [with regard to making irreversibility
the core of the second law]’]; 38 [‘Until the end of the nineteenth century... only Boltzmann devoted
significant attention to a kinetic theory of irreversibility’]; 71 [‘To the best of my present knowledge,
Bryan’s outline of it [i.e., Boltzmann’s resort to probability calculus in 1877] in his 1894 report to the
British Association is the only published discussion of this aspect of Boltzmann’s work before Planck
took it up in December 1900’]; 98 [‘Planck, who must have discovered the combinatorial definition
[of entropy] in Sections 6 and 8 of Boltzmann’s Gas Theory, appears to have been the first man other
than its author to acknowledge even its existence’; cf. p. 100]; 112 [‘Ernest Rutherford... is the only
scientist known to have been drawn to “the general idea of a quantum of action” by the special accuracy
of Planck’s computations’]; 114 [‘reactions [to Planck’s derivation papers] from others were rare’];
143–144 [‘Though Einstein and Ehrenfest doubtless helped here and there to prepare the way for a
new attitude towards the significance of Planck’s work, only Max von Laue... appears to have found
their analysis of Planck’s theory convincing from the start’; cf. p. 188]; 182 [‘for the entire period
between their introduction in 1905 and the discovery of the Compton effect in 1922, very few theoretical
physicists besides Einstein himself believed that light-particles provided a basis for serious research’;
cf. p. 187].
20
Kuhn ([1969b]1974), p. 460 ⫽ ([1969b]1977), p. 295; ([1969e]1970), p. 176; cf. ([1969c]1970),
p. 252; 1977a, p. xvi ⬇ ([1976a]1977), p. 38. One reasonably well worked out attempt to identify a
coherent group of scientists and to associate with its representatives a distinctive style of science—
albeit not in the simple fashion Kuhn proposed here—was the dissertation I completed under Kuhn’s
direction in 1974. In an early draft I had referred to the ‘concretizing science’ and ‘abstracting science’
of my two generations of German researchers as ‘paradigms’. Kuhn objected, however, that, as his
student, people might wrongly impute my [mis]understandings to him, and I dropped the term. See
Caneva (1974) and its reworking as Caneva (1978).
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 93

programmes under study’.21 This is fair enough, but his further charge could, with
only slight modification, as well be entered against his own work: ‘Historically
meticulous when dealing with the nature and development of scientific ideas, they
substitute philosophical analysis for historical investigation when discussing why
and how those ideas appealed.’22 For example, his various treatments of Newtonian
mechanics from ‘Second Thoughts’ and ‘Postscript’ to ‘Possible Worlds’ made
no use of historical texts or examples but were based solely on his own rational
reconstruction of meanings without history even in the footnotes.23 What did Kuhn
believe such dehistoricized philosophy of science was good for?
By the 1970s Kuhn had turned increasingly to languages and problems of trans-
lation as the favored analogs to paradigms and problems of interparadigm incom-
mensurability. In the preface to The Essential Tension of 1977 he wrote that ‘[p]ro-
ponents of different theories (or different paradigms, in the broader sense of the
term) speak different languages—languages expressing different cognitive commit-
ments, suitable for different worlds. Their abilities to grasp each other’s viewpoints
are therefore inevitably limited by the imperfections of the processes of translation
and of reference determination.’24 Yet his own epochal experience with (finally)
understanding Aristotle had forcefully shown him that understanding an outdated
paradigm—an alien scientific language—is entirely possible without translation.
Similarly, the incommensurability of the referents of phlogiston and oxygen theory
did not stand in the way of Priestley’s and Lavoisier’s ability to understand each
other’s views. Why did Kuhn not see this? Or, if he saw it, why did it not make
any difference?
An incongruity with ultimately profound significance for the understanding of
Kuhn’s enterprise is the uneasy coexistence of his conception of discovery as an
extended process with a complex internal structure alongside his conception of the
gestalt shift as a sudden, unstructured, holistic event.25 As he wrote in Structure,
‘[crises] are terminated... by a relatively sudden and unstructured event like the
ges[t]alt switch’.26 Although Kuhn never explicated the precise relationship
between discoveries and gestalt shifts, clearly both are for him somehow closely
implicated in the process by which a scientific revolution is achieved. Indeed, the
year before the publication of Structure he presented a piece of his larger research
project as the ‘Historical Structure of Scientific Discovery’.27 His examination of
the issues surrounding the question of the discovery of oxygen, an essential aspect
of Lavoisier’s chemical revolution, was a crucial episode in the formation of his

21
Kuhn (1980), p. 188.
22
Kuhn (1980), p. 188.
23
Kuhn ([1969b]1974), pp. 464–465 ⫽ ([1969b]1977), pp. 298–300; ([1969e]1970), pp. 188–189;
([1986a]1989), pp. 14–15 ⬇ ([1986b]1990), pp. 301–302.
24
Kuhn (1977a), pp. xxii–xxiii ⬇ ([1976a]1977), p. 45.
25
For the former see Kuhn ([1961c]1962) and 1984, pp. 244–252 ⫽ ([1984]1987), pp. 362–370.
26
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 121 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), p. 122.
27
Kuhn ([1961c]1962) ⫽ ([1961c]1977).
94 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

own evolving historiographical perspective. In revisiting his book on Planck in


1984 he reasserted quite generally that ‘[d]iscoveries are extended processes, sel-
dom attributable to a particular moment in time and sometimes not even to a single
individual’.28 By implication, such processes are gradual and amenable to historical
analysis. On the other hand, in revisiting the question ‘What are scientific revol-
utions?’ in 1981, he asserted that ‘[r]evolutionary changes are somehow holistic.
They cannot, that is, be made piecemeal, one step at a time... In revolutionary
change one must either live with incoherence or else revise a number of interrelated
generalizations together. If these same changes were introduced one at a time,
there would be no intermediate resting place. Only the initial and final sets of
generalizations provide a coherent account of nature.’29 In responding to criticisms
of a paper delivered in 1982, Kuhn posed the question of whether scientists actually
experience revolutions, and answered that they do, at least in the ‘developed
sciences’: ‘There, holistic changes tend to happen all at once as in the gestalt
switches to which I have likened revolutions before. Part of the evidence for that
position remains empirical, reports of “aha” experiences, cases of mutual incompre-
hension, and so on.’30 Hence the changes likened to gestalt shifts appear not only
to characterize the relationship of the perceptual situations before and after the
paradigm change, but also to describe the actual process of change an individual
undergoes. The implications entailed by Kuhn’s differing perceptions of discoveries
and gestalt shifts will provide an important clue toward solving the puzzles that
this paper isolates.
One of the examples of revolutionary change that Kuhn adduced in 1981
involved responses to Volta’s construction of the pile in 1800, in particular the
different ways of conceptualizing the arrangement of metals and acid depending
on whether one adhered to the chemical or contact theory of the pile.31 Yet his
example appears problematic: no gestalt shifts actually marked the decades-long
debate over theories of the pile—in any event, Kuhn provided absolutely no evi-
dence that they did—and the scientists involved in the debate did experience piece-
meal transformation of their views over an extended period of often considerable
incoherence. The ultimate resolution of the debate, made possible only after the
acceptance of conservation of energy, could well be termed a compromise between
the two once-opposing positions: there is a contact force, but the continued exist-
ence of an electric current requires sustained chemical activity. Likewise, Planck’s
change of view with regard to the meaning of the quantum of action was not
sudden and gestalt-like, but represented a development over time that Kuhn himself
described in fine detail several years earlier. Once again there appears to be con-

28
Kuhn (1984), p. 251 ⫽ ([1984]1987), p. 369.
29
Kuhn (1981), p. 23 ⫽ ([1981]1987), p. 19. Kuhn’s argument sounds curiously like an idealist’s
rejection of the possibility of species transformation.
30
Kuhn ([1982]1983), p. 715.
31
Kuhn (1981), pp. 11–15 ⫽ ([1981]1987), pp. 12–14.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 95

fusion over the extent to which incommensurability-inducing revolutionary dis-


coveries are or are not processes extended in time with discernable developmen-
tal histories.
In remarks delivered in 1989, Kuhn illustrated his understanding of conceptual
change by contrasting pre- and post-Copernican categorizations of the earth, sun,
moon, planets, stars, and assorted meteorological phenomena, arguing for the cul-
tural dependence of our basic categories. At the end of his remarks he introduced
a dynamical element into what had been an essentially formal comparison: ‘I earlier
insisted that the Greek heavens were different from ours. I should now also insist
that the transition between them was relatively sudden, that it resulted from
research done on the prior version of the heavens, and that the heavens remained
the same while that research was under way. Without that stability, the research
responsible for the change could not have occurred.’32 Yet as Kuhn himself related
in The Copernican Revolution, not only did the transition from Ptolemaic to Coper-
nican astronomy take more than a hundred years, but it occurred only by way
of the mediation (of sorts) of Brahe’s geoheliocentric system, and was facilitated
(according to Kuhn) by the ‘implicit Copernicanism’ of those who employed the
geocentrist Erasmus Reinhold’s Prutenic Tables.33 As for the autobiographically
exemplary and conceptually portentous example of paradigm incommensurability,
Aristotelian versus Newtonian physics, by Kuhn’s own account impetus theory
was ‘a substantial modification of Aristotle’s theory’; it was ‘not [yet] Newtonian
dynamics, but... [it] helped to pave the way for Newton’s work’.34 This transition,
too, took place via a centuries-long and complex series of gradual steps. Kuhn
identified no specific individuals who ever actually underwent any kind of sudden
transformation of their perception of (say) falling bodies. How does one reconcile
the continuity of the actual history with the discontinuity demanded by the philo-
sophy?35
Only late in Kuhn’s career did he perceive the disharmony in his application of
the image of the gestalt shift to actual instances of historical change. In a reply to
commentators he conceded in 1986 that ‘[i]nsofar as the historian’s gestalt switch
provides the model [for revolutionary change in science], the magnitude of the
conceptual transpositions characteristic of scientific development is exaggerated.
Historians, working backwards, regularly experience as a single conceptual shift a

32
Kuhn ([1989]1991), pp. 23–24.
33
Kuhn ([1956]1957), pp. 200–209 and 188 [quote], respectively ⫽ ([1979]), pp. 200–209 and 188.
34
Kuhn ([1956]1957), pp. 118, 121 ⫽ ([1979]), pp. 119, 122.
35
Hoyningen-Huene said that Kuhn saw the development of science as a more continuous process
than did the older historiography of science, and argued that in his later work Kuhn presented scientific
revolutions as ‘gradual to a much greater degree than the gestalt switch metaphor suggests’ (Hoyningen-
Huene, 1993, pp. 22, 205). Leaving unaddressed the question of how this historical gradualism chimes
with the incommensurability that played an ever greater role in Kuhn’s philosophy of science, Hoyn-
ingen-Huene noted that, although Kuhn himself expressed dissatisfaction with his treatment of the conti-
nuities persisting through revolutions, ‘he didn’t analyze them in any depth’ (ibid., p. 222).
96 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

transposition for which the developmental process required a series of stages.’36


In accepting Arthur Miller’s call for (in Kuhn’s words) ‘study of the microprocesses
which occur within a community during periods of conceptual change’, Kuhn
added: ‘Excepting in its repeated references to metaphor, my paper has nothing to
say about them, but its formulation, unlike that of my older work, is designed to
leave room for their exploration.’37 A footnote registered a qualification: ‘The con-
trast is, of course, only with my older metahistorical work. As historian I have
often dealt with the detail of the transition process.’ Yet even given this recognition,
in 1991 he still identified the heart of his then current project as the explication
of revolutionary change and incommensurability.38 That is, it was discontinuities
that Kuhn the philosopher wanted to give an account of, even if Kuhn the historian
elsewhere appreciated the effectively continuous nature of historical change.

2. History of Science or Philosophy of Science?


One might have expected some kind of enlightenment with regard to the coher-
ence of the Kuhnian enterprise from the paper he delivered in 1968 on ‘The
Relations between the History and the Philosophy of Science’—revised in 1976
for publication in The Essential Tension— but in fact what we’re mostly presented
with is how different those separate enterprises are in general. The history of
science and the philosophy of science have, we are told, different goals: for the
former, a narrative that seeks to understand particular past events; for the latter,
the discovery of timeless general truths about science.39 Moreover, ‘in philosophy
of science, there is no role for the multitude of particulars, the idiosyncratic details,
which seem to be the stuff of history’, while ‘there is an autonomy (and integrity)
of historical understanding’ that resists reduction to general formulas.40 In the end,
Kuhn saw little of value for the historian of science in the literature of the philo-
sophy of science proper, but urged philosophers of science to exploit historical
accounts as sources of problems and data grounded in the details of actual scientific

36
Kuhn ([1986a]1989), p. 50.
37
Kuhn ([1986a]1989), pp. 50–51 [quotes on p. 51]. Note that Miller himself never spoke in terms
of ‘community.’ Some years before, Kuhn paraphrased Lakatos as saying that ‘[r]ecourse to external
history is often needed if one is to explain, for example, why a particular development occurred when
and as it did or how a particular group of scientists could fail to recognize an apparent implication of
their position’ (Kuhn, 1980, p. 181). Lakatos himself, however, had not spoken in terms of groups.
38
Kuhn ([1991]1992), p. 19. Cf., from his last-but-one published work: ‘[T]he topic that dominates
my project [is] incommensurability and the nature of the conceptual divide between the developmental
stages separated by what I once called “scientific revolutions”. My own encounter with incommensura-
bility was the first step on the road to Structure, and the notion still seems to me the central innovation
introduced by the book.... Efforts to understand and refine it have been my primary and increasingly
obsessive concern for thirty years’ (Kuhn, [1992a]1993, pp. 314–315).
39
Kuhn ([1968b]1977), p. 5. Cf. Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 320: ‘The fundamental product of historical
research is narratives of development over time’.
40
Kuhn ([1968b]1977), pp. 14, 18.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 97

practice.41 Although the burden of Kuhn’s argument was about the near impossi-
bility of doing history and philosophy of science simultaneously, he asserted, with-
out substantive elaboration, that ‘there are also great difficulties about practicing
them alternately,’ that ‘each switch is a personal wrench’.42 It’s not that there’s
anything wrong with any of this; it’s just that Kuhn didn’t exploit the occasion to
explain the relationship between his own historical and philosophical studies of
science—another anomalous omission, it seems to me, especially since Kuhn didn’t
here plead his usual lack of time or space. Nonetheless it does appear that, in the
event, Kuhn the philosopher of science wished to free the understanding of scien-
tific knowledge from dependence on the multifarious particulars that ground an
historical accounting.
Kuhn’s only elaborated consideration of the issue of doing history with philo-
sophical expectations came in his long review of Method and Appraisal in the
Physical Sciences, a book which contained a number of historical studies designed
to exhibit the applicability of Lakatos’ methodology of research programs. That
aim prompted the following reply:
As a motive for doing history that one seems to me a likely invitation to disaster.
Dangers arise partly from the nature of historical research, partly from the way Lak-
atos suggests doing it. In both history and the sciences the selection and interpretation
of sources of data are influenced by prior expectations, but in neither field does ‘to
influence’ imply ‘to determine’ or ‘to dictate’. Data can, and must be permitted to,
react back on expectations, make trouble for them, play a role in their transformation.
That mechanism is essential to the evolution of ideas in both fields, which are to that
extent methodologically similar.
The mechanism operates differently in science and history, however, and the result
is a decisive divergence in their optimal research strategies. For the sciences expec-
tations are ordinarily quite precise.... In history, on the other hand, expectations are
far less precise, and there is correspondingly less agreement than in science about
whether expectations ‘fit the facts’ and about the sorts of data relevant to their evalu-
ation. If prior expectations are not merely unreasonable, the historian committed to
them can usually make a case without consciously forcing the data. Accordingly, the
historian is usually well-advised to set expectations aside before beginning research...
That advice is, of course, a council of perfection: no one can entirely set aside
thought patterns induced by prior experience and training; such patterns do influence
research, which in any case could scarcely begin without them. But it is nonetheless
essential that the attempt to unlearn them be made. The historian’s problem is not
simply that the facts do not speak for themselves but that, unlike the scientist’s data,
they speak exceedingly softly. Quiet is required if they are to be heard at all. That
is a principal reason why I have myself resisted attempts to amalgamate history and
philosophy of science though simultaneously urging increased interaction between the
two. History done for the sake of philosophy is often scarcely history at all.43

41
In a retrospective account, Kuhn said that what he and his (unnamed) ‘fellow innovators’ ‘mostly
thought we were doing as we turned to history was building a philosophy of science on observations
of scientific life, the historical record providing our data’ (Kuhn, [1991]1992, p. 4).
42
Kuhn ([1968b]1977), p. 5.
43
Kuhn (1980), pp. 182–183. See his further comments in Kuhn ([1995]1997), pp. 192–193.
98 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

With that as an introduction—an eminently reasonable position, to be sure—Kuhn’s


assessment of the success of the authors’ Lakatosian enterprise comes as something
of a surprise: ‘Approaching Method and Appraisal with those predispositions, I
did not anticipate much pleasure or instruction from the five historical essays that
form its core. But experience has falsified my expectations.’44 Kuhn deemed the
papers by Peter Clark, John Worrall and Elie Zahar ‘valuable original contributions
to the literature on their subject’, while Alan Musgrave’s was ‘a thoroughly useful
account, well organized, balanced, and judicious’.45 Kuhn thus asked the obvious
question: ‘Given all that has previously been said about the likely consequences
of doing history for philosophical purposes, how can these papers be so success-
ful?’46 His answer was that, notwithstanding their Lakatosian proclivities, the
authors ‘conform[ed] to more usual standards of historical responsibility’.47 More-
over, he accused them of having told what were essentially standard stories
grounded in ‘the better professional literature written during the last forty years
about the development of scientific ideas’.48
In the end, I would rather think that this episode might have encouraged Kuhn
to undertake to do history from a Kuhnian perspective, especially since his entire
enterprise always rested on his supreme confidence in his own abilities and insights.
Several possible explanations suggest themselves as to why he didn’t. Perhaps he
didn’t really like doing the kind of detailed historical research required, as several
knowledgeable speakers and commentators at the 1997 Dibner symposium on Kuhn
suggested. Perhaps he feared that the result would not fall out in favor of his
philosophical schema. In any event, in later years he sought to reconceptualize his
enterprise—now appreciably contracted—in such a way as to free it of any depen-
dence on historical particulars and him of any responsibility for them.49
Yet in his 1984 reply to unnamed critics of his Planck book, many of whom had
professed disappointment at not finding there the Kuhn of Structure, he remained
unregenerate with regard to the book’s exemplification of the essential items of the
Kuhnian explanatory armamentarium, whose hold on him he expressed in allusively
autobiographical terms:
The wrenching experience of entering into an older mode of thought is the source of
my references to gestalt switches and revolutions; difficulties in translating the dis-
coverer’s language into our own are what led me to write also of incommensurability;
and paradigms were the concrete examples needed—since definition in words was
impossible—to acquire the language of the older mode. I do my best, for urgent
reasons, not to think in these terms when I do history, and I avoid the corresponding
vocabulary when presenting my results. It is too easy to constrain historical evidence

44
Kuhn (1980), p. 185.
45
Kuhn (1980), p. 185.
46
Kuhn (1980), p. 188.
47
Kuhn (1980), p. 188.
48
Kuhn (1980), p. 188.
49
For Kuhn’s de-emphasis of the empirical aspects of his enterprise, see Kuhn ([1990b]1991), p. 6;
([1991]1992]), pp. 10, 14–15.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 99

within a predetermined mold. If history (or ultimately philosophy) is to learn from


the texts that are my main concern, then I must minimize the role of prior conviction
in my approach to them.2 Often I do not know for some time after my historical work
is completed the respects in which it does and does not fit Structure.
Nevertheless, when I do look back, I have generally been well satisfied by the
extent to which my narrative fit the developmental schema that Structure provides.
Black-body theory is no exception.... The preceding crisis, to the extent that there
was one, resulted from the difficulties in reconciling Planck’s derivation with the
tenets of classical physics. Planck’s change of vocabulary—from ‘resonator’ to ‘oscil-
lator’ and from ‘element’ to ‘quantum’—is the central symptom of incommensura-
bility. It signals the changed meaning of the quantity h␯ from a mental subdivision
of the energy continuum to a physically separable atom of energy.... Among the
numerous paradigms (in the sense of concrete examples) to be found in the book,
Boltzmann’s probabilistic derivation of the entropy of a gas is of particular interest,
for it illustrates the problem to which the concept of paradigm was a response. The
derivation was not reduced to rules but instead served as a model to be applied by
means of analogy.50

Taken by themselves, these specific claims are eminently defensible. But taken
against the grander expectations of Kuhn’s historiography of science, they fail.
There was no general crisis; his examples of incommensurability seem rather
strained, a modest base on which to erect so grand a conclusion, such incommen-
surability as there was being limited in any event to one or a few people; and
pace Kuhn, bona-fide Kuhnian paradigms must be generally shared examples. The
localized applicability of Kuhnian concepts as suggestive aperçus is not the same
thing as the demonstrated applicability of ‘the developmental schema that Structure
provides’.51 Nor did Kuhn here, or elsewhere, see how to use such a fine-grained
analysis of conceptual change in science as a way of getting at what was otherwise
one of his chief concerns: the ways in which scientific knowledge is necessarily
a communal product. Perhaps such analyses, precisely because of the small-step

50
Kuhn (1984), p. 245 ⫽ ([1984]1987), p. 363. Kuhn’s footnote 2 refers the reader to Kuhn (1980).
In a later interview Kuhn backed away from even this modest claim concerning the congruence between
expectations drawn from the general philosophical schema and historical particulars: ‘I never thought
that Structure was more than a highly schematic sketch. I did not expect any direct lessons [from the
quantum physics project]. I’ve always said, assimilate this point of view and this way of doing it, and
then see what it does for you when you try to write a history, but don’t go out looking at history to
see whether this is true or false, to test the ideas. The only test of the ideas, at least at this level of
development, is going to be whether having assimilated those ideas, you see the material usefully
different. But it’s not going to be “Can you always locate the paradigm, can you always tell the differ-
ence between a revolution and a normal development?” It’s not meant to be applied that way’ (Kuhn,
1990a, p. 23). Again in 1995 he insisted that one cannot ‘apply a point of view that... is as schematic’
as that of Structure (Kuhn, [1995]1997, p. 192). With that, Kuhn effectively freed his analysis of science
from too-ready empirical disconfirmation.
51
It’s not clear how much of that developmental schema Kuhn was willing to give up and still claim
victory. In the 1969 postscript to Structure he reported that ‘[a] number of [—typically unnamed—]
critics have doubted whether crisis, the common awareness that something has gone wrong, precedes
revolutions so invariably as I have implied in my original text. Nothing important to my argument
depends, however, on crises’ being an absolute prerequisite to revolutions... [C]rises need not be gener-
ated by the work of the community that experiences them and that sometimes undergoes revolution as
a result’ (Kuhn, [1969e]1970, p. 181).
100 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

continuity they exhibit in conceptual change, threatened both to undermine the


historical relevance of incommensurability and to undercut the distinction between
normal and revolutionary science.

3. An Exemplary Personal Experience


Several passages quoted above have alluded to Kuhn’s personal experience of
incommensurability, an experience that had a profound and enduring impact on
his entire approach to understanding the nature and development of science.52
Although the anomalies and incongruities presented by his work, as so far ident-
ified, cannot all be accounted for in terms of the biography of their author, the
clear inseparability of ideas from author suggests that some insights toward the
solution to our problems may be obtainable from that source. The fullest account
of the episode in question—‘[o]ne memorable (and very hot) summer day’ in
194753—comes from his 1981 essay ‘What Are Scientific Revolutions?’:
I was sitting at my desk with the text of Aristotle’s Physics open in front of me and
with a four-colored pencil in my hand. Looking up, I gazed abstractedly out the
window of my room—the visual image is one I still retain. Suddenly the fragments
in my head sorted themselves out in a new way, and fell into place together. My jaw
dropped, for all at once Aristotle seemed a very good physicist indeed, but of a sort
I’d never dreamed possible. Now I could understand why he had said what he’d said,
and what his authority had been.... That sort of experience—the pieces suddenly sort-
ing themselves out and coming together in a new way—is the first general character-
istic of revolutionary change that I shall be singling out after further consideration
of examples. Though scientific revolutions leave much piecemeal mopping up to do,
the central change cannot be experienced piecemeal, one step at a time. Instead, it
involves some relatively sudden and unstructured transformation in which some part
of the flux of experience sorts itself out differently and displays patterns that were
not visible before.54

52
‘[M]y attempt to come to terms with Aristotle’s texts determined my future life’; ‘[W]hat I’d
encountered in reading Aristotle was my first example of what I later called scientific revoutions’ (Kuhn,
[1992b]1995, pp. 104, 106). Reporting on his interview with Kuhn, John Horgan recorded that ‘Kuhn...
traces his view of science to a single “Eureka!” moment in 1947’ (Horgan, 1991, p. 40).
53
Kuhn (1977a), pp. xi–xiii ⬇ ([1976a]1977), pp. 32–33, provides a few other details (quote on p.
xi bzw. 33) and a description of its significance: ‘What my reading of Aristotle seemed... to disclose
was a global sort of change in the way men viewed nature and applied language to it, one that could
not properly be described as constituted by additions to knowledge or by the mere piecemeal correction
of mistakes. That sort of change was shortly to be described by Herbert Butterfield as “putting on a
different kind of thinking-cap”, and puzzlement about it quickly led me to books on Gestalt psychology
and related fields. While discovering history, I had discovered my first scientific revolution, and my
subsequent search for best readings has often been a search for other episodes of the same sort’ (p.
xiii bzw. 35).
54
Kuhn (1981), pp. 5–6 ⫽ ([1981]1987), p. 9. Cf. Kuhn ([1982]1983), p. 715: ‘The concept of a
scientific revolution originated in the discovery that to understand any part of the science of the past
the historian must first learn the language in which that past was written. Attempts at translation into
a later language are bound to fail, and the language-learning process is therefore interpretive and her-
meneutic. Since success in interpretation is generally achieved in large chunks (“breaking into the
hermeneutic circle”), the historian’s discovery of the past repeatedly involves the sudden recognition
of new patterns or gestalts. It follows that the historian, at least, does experience revolutions.’ He
repeatedly likened the historian’s experience to the gestalt shift associated with revolutionary science:
‘My way of using concepts like revolution and gestalt switch was drawn from and continues appropri-
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 101

It is thus clear that Kuhn projected onto the historical development of science his
own profound personal experience of suddenly understanding a foreign text, which
left him convinced that revolutionary change in science must also be ‘sudden and
unstructured’, that here, at least, phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny: ‘The route I
travelled backwards with the aid of written texts was, I shall simply assert, nearly
enough the same one that earlier scientists had travelled forward with no text but
nature to guide them.’55 The pivotal concept of incommensurability, later to be
glossed in terms of a linguistic analogy, was born in this experience: ‘Incommen-
surability is a notion that for me emerged from attempts to understand apparently
nonsensical passages encountered in old scientific texts.’56 And perhaps it is not
far-fetched to suggest that his image of normal science as (largely quantitative)
puzzle-solving derived principally from his own experience as a physics graduate
student, just as his conviction that a mature science rests on a firm consensus may
reflect the fact that the physics he knew was in the main unproblematically accepted
by the physicists he knew. In certain pivotal ways, Kuhn’s historiography of science
was Kuhn writ large.57 Ultimately the question is whether an adequate understand-

ately to represent what historians must often go through to recapture the thought of a past generation
of scientists’, amounting to ‘a close parallelism between an historiographic and an epistemological
position’ (Kuhn, 1984, p. 246 ⫽ [1984]1987, p. 364).
55
Kuhn (1981), pp. 3–4 ⫽ ([1981]1987), p. 8. Kuhn eventually saw the connection between his
personal experience and his conception of the nature of scientific change. From the vantage point of
1986 he wrote (Kuhn, [1986a]1989, pp. 49–50):
In recent years I have increasingly recognized that my conception of the process by which
scientists move forward has been too closely modelled on my experience with the process by
which historians move into the past. For the historian, the period of wrestling with nonsense
passages in out-of-date texts is ordinarily marked by episodes in which the sudden recovery of
a long-forgotten way to use some still-familiar terms brings new understanding and coherence.
In the sciences, similar ‘aha-experiences’ mark the periods of frustration and puzzlement that
ordinarily precede fundamental innovation and that often precede the understanding of inno-
vation as well. The testimony of scientists to such experiences, together with my own experience
as an historian, was the basis for my repeated reference to gestalt switches, conversion experi-
ences, and the like. In many of the places in which such phrases appeared, their use was literal
or very nearly so, and in those places I would use them again, though perhaps with more care
for rhetorical overtones.
In other places, however, a special characteristic of scientific development led me to use such
terms metaphorically, often without quite recognizing the difference in use. The sciences are
unique among creative desciplines [sic] in the extent to which they cut themselves off from
their past, substituting for it a systematic reconstruction.... When reconceptualization occurs in
a scientific field, displaced concepts rapidly vanish from professional view. Later practitioners
reconstruct their predecessors’ work in the conceptual vocabulary they use themselves, a vocabu-
lary incapable of representing what those predecessors actually did. Such reconstruction is a
precondition for the cumulative image of scientific development familiar from science textbooks,
but it badly misrepresents the past. No wonder that the historian, breaking through to that past,
experiences the breakthrough as a gestalt switch.
56
Kuhn ([1990b]1991), p. 4. ‘The wrenching experience of entering into an older mode of thought is
the source of my references to gestalt switches and revolutions; difficulties in translating the discoverer’s
language into our own are what led me to write also of incommensurability’ (Kuhn, 1984, p. 245 ⫽
[1984]1987, p. 363).
57
John Heilbron (1993, pp. 111–112) has called attention to autobiographical aspects of Kuhn’s work:
‘His persuasiveness derives from a powerful dialectic often made more powerful still by a resonance
between his personal experiences and his historiographical ideas.... The autobiographical resonance is
102 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

ing of a person’s writings can be derived solely from an analysis of the ideas
contained in them, or whether clarifying insights might not also be derived from
the particularities of that person’s concerns and personal history. For an historian,
the answer to that question is obvious. Understanding, not evaluation, is what’s at
issue here.
In 1992, in another recounting of his 1947 encounter with Aristotle, Kuhn lik-
ened that experience to others he subsequently had with Boyle, Newton, Carnot,
Maxwell, Bohr, and Planck, ‘all [of which] had the same general character’:
First comes the discovery of anomalous passages, passages that make no sense, at
least not if written by a respectable author. Then the realization that the fault is the
reader’s, that the text is written in a vocabulary that is here and there foreign and
that must be recovered in order to make the text make sense. And, finally, comes the
discovery of a vocabulary which removes the anomalies and permits a new and plaus-
ible way of reading, a way of reading which, however, changes also the nature of
the problems on which one supposes the author of the text was at work.58

From here, clearly, comes the abiding concern with language and incommensura-
bility. Kuhn’s further gloss on his experiences sought to ground in them both the
historical and the philosophical aspects of his work:
Both as a historian and as a philosopher of science, experiences of that sort have
been central to my career. Most of my historical work has begun with the discovery
of passages that seem not to make sense, passages which for me have provided clues
to especially significant changes in the way a group of scientists looks at the world.
Most of my philosophical work has been directed in one way or another to the attempt
to understand experiences like these and to show how they fit with notions like the
objectivity and the progressive nature of science.59

Kuhn thus claimed at least genetic relatedness for his twin enterprises, though to
me they seem at best fraternal twins, separated at birth and nurtured in radically
different environments.

4. Some Fundamental Explanatory Dichotomies


What can one make of the foregoing identification of apparent anomalies and
incongruities in Kuhn’s work? Putting aside temporarily the issue of whether scien-
tific change is to be accounted for on the basis of internal or external factors, we
can usefully isolate from those examples a recurring set of diversely manifested
dichotomies whose abiding lack of resolution is, I believe, the source of the essen-
tial tensions that have always characterized Kuhn’s work. Although the several

perhaps clearest in the story of Kuhn’s discovery that Aristotle’s physics was not bad modern science
but good old philosophy. The involvement of self while retaining respect for the historical actor, the
technique of scrutinizing texts not for what sounds familiar but for what seems bizarre, and the reliance
on a clear and simple schema as a first approximation to a historical reconstruction were lessons of
great value.’
58
Kuhn ([1992b]1995), p. 106 [both quotes].
59
Kuhn ([1992b]1995), p. 106.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 103

dichotomies do not simply map the same terrain from different perspectives, there
is enough analogical coherence among them that their correspondences stand out
unambiguously. Most globally, there appears to be a radical non-intersection
between the historical and philosophical aspects of Kuhn’s work that verges on
incommensurability: different goals, different questions, different kinds of evi-
dence, different audiences.60 That incommensurability, however, is often largely
analytical; in practice those different aspects were not always distributed cleanly
or clearly among separate works, nor were they adequately distinguished within
individual works. Grosso modo, the contrasting alternatives of the other dichot-
omies also belong to the two inadequately distinguished yet somehow distinct
worlds of discourse pertaining respectively to history and philosophy: context of
discovery versus context of justification; continuity versus discontinuity; the pro-
cess of discovery versus the symbolism of the gestalt shift; the individual versus
the scientific community; concern with the history of science versus the nature of
science, with the particular versus the general. Although these issues coexist uneas-
ily in much of Kuhn’s work, their complex interpenetration not easily to be undone,
I believe that their analytic separation will at least render understandable many of
the outstanding problems and unresolved tensions in that work.61 Most importantly,
this analysis will enable us to specify the various unreconciled concerns, the funda-
mentally different problems and issues, that motivated his intensely pursued pre-
occupations. The conceptual unity that escapes us in Kuhn’s work can perhaps
thus be discovered in his personal trajectory.

5. The Individual Versus the Scientific Community: The Proper Locus of


Explanation
Since for me the vexing issue that ultimately led to my own conceptual break-
through—such as it may have been—had to do with the role of individual and

60
The categories here are, to be sure, poorly defined. In The Essential Tension, for example, he
distinguished between his ‘historical’ work—which he excluded from the volume—and the ‘historiogra-
phic’ and ‘metahistorical’ studies comprising the volume’s two sections (Kuhn, 1977a, pp. x and vii).
Elsewhere he more regularly distinguished between his ‘historical’ and ‘philosophical’ works.
61
John Schuster’s analysis of explanatory tensions and unexploited leads in Kuhn’s work identified
a closely cognate set of issues: ‘It seems to me that The essential tension unintentionally reveals two
different but related sets of themes in Kuhn’s work. The major set comprises the grand and well debated
theses of SSR: normal/revolutionary science, disciplinary matrices, Gestalt shifts, conversion without
real choice. The minor set consists of more disparate heuristic and metahistorical insights, sometimes
implicit and sometimes explicit in these essays, but always sitting uneasily with the major themes and
yet sometimes confused with them. Minor themes include (1) the doctrine of “significant discovery”
and complex feed-back, which cuts across the normal/revolutionary science dichotomy; (2) the view
of theory choice, and of normal science, which stresses the role of the actor as a skilled interpreter and
negotiator; (3) a sketched theory of conceptual alterations which avoids recourse to the metaphor of
dramatic, ineffable Gestalt switches; and (4) a whisper of a thesis that a fully historicized paradigm
concept demands an account of the social processes of production, maintenance, negotiation and
enforcement of the (continually alterable) elements of the disciplinary matrix. The metahistorical studies
show how Kuhn at various times stumbled upon these themes and turned away from them toward the
major themes of SSR’ (Schuster, 1979, pp. 308–309).
104 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

often idiosyncratic scientists as the dynamical agents of scientific change as against


Kuhn’s repeated insistence on the explanatory primacy of the scientific community
in understanding the historical development of science, let me approach the larger
problem via that route. Although I did not experience a sudden flash of insight, a
conceptual gestalt shift, but rather a gradual process by which I at first dimly then
ever more clearly began to notice patterns that were ‘there’ all the time, the result
resembled a kind of crystallization of understanding whereby I finally perceived
that, pace the historiographically complex Kuhn of Structure and ‘Scientific Dis-
covery’—and note the inclusion of the latter essay among the ‘metahistorical’ stud-
ies in The Essential Tension—his central philosophical concern was not with the
actual details of scientific change, especially not—pace the Kuhn of the ‘Bohr
Atom’, Black-Body Theory, and ‘Revisiting Planck’—with the work and reasoning
of individual scientists. What especially concerned him was rather to capture that
which is special about and characteristic of the scientific enterprise as a whole,
that which distinguishes it and its remarkable success from other human enterprises.
Answers to those questions he believed were to be found by analyzing scientific
knowledge as the product of scientific communities. From this perspective his
decision to ignore the bewilderingly diverse stories of individuals was eminently
functional. And since the scientific community can more properly be said to vali-
date knowledge claims than to generate them, one’s attention is naturally drawn
away from issues of discovery toward those of justification, of theory choice.
Appropriately, Kuhn’s own introduction to this nexus of issues seems to have
come via a perceived anomaly, that is, of ‘how a firm orientation towards an appar-
ently unique tradition can be compatible with the practice of those disciplines most
noted for the persistent production of novel ideas and techniques’.62 The ‘essential
tension’ he identified in 1959 was between ‘that flexibility and open-mindedness
that characterize, or indeed define, the divergent thinker’ responsible for revolution-
ary innovation, and the ‘convergent or consensus-bound research’ that most scien-
tists perform most of the time.63 Indicating the direction his thinking was already
starting to take—from attention to individual character traits to consideration of
the nature of community—he remarked in a footnote: ‘Strictly speaking it is the
professional group rather than the individual scientist that must display both these
characteristics simultaneously.’64 In another paper read later that year, one whose
origins went back to 1956, Kuhn noted that ‘[a] threat to theory is... a threat to
the scientific life, and, though the scientific enterprise progresses through such
threats, the individual scientist ignores them while he can.’65 By the time he

62
Kuhn (1959a), p. 169 ⬇ ([1959a]1963), pp. 347–348 ⫽ ([1959a]1977), p. 232.
63
Kuhn (1959a), p. 163 ⫽ ([1959a]1963), pp. 342, 343 ⫽ ([1959a]1977), p. 227.
64
Kuhn (1959a), p. 164 ⬇ ([1959a]1963), p. 343 ⫽ ([1959a]1977), p. 227. In 1961 he identified
scientists’ ‘acquired tension’ as ‘partly within the individual and partly within the community’ (Kuhn,
[1961b]1963, pp. 368–369).
65
Kuhn ([1959b]1961a), p. 182 ⫽ ([1959b]1961b), p. 52 ⫽ ([1959b]1977), p. 208.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 105

explained ‘the function of dogma in scientific research’ in 1961, this shift in per-
spective appears to have been firmly in place: ‘Preconception and resistance [to
innovation] seem the rule rather than the exception in mature scientific develop-
ment. Furthermore, under normal circumstances they characterize the very best and
most creative research as well as the more routine. Nor can there be much question
where they come from. Rather than being characteristics of the aberrant individual,
they are community characteristics with deep roots in the procedures through which
scientists are trained for work in their profession. Strongly held convictions that
are prior to research often seem to be a precondition for success in the sciences.’66
Writing of scientific education in Structure, Kuhn asserted that ‘the loss due to
rigidity accrues only to the individual. Given a generation in which to effect the
change, individual rigidity is compatible with a community that can switch from
paradigm to paradigm when the occasion demands’.67 The provisional answer he
proposed in 1959 to the anomaly-induced question of how scientific progress
rhymes with the de facto conservatism of much scientific work was ‘because no
other sort of work is nearly so well suited to isolate for continuing and concentrated
attention those loci of trouble or a crisis upon whose recognition the most funda-
mental advances in basic science depend’.68 The isolation of what Kuhn was
already calling ‘anomalies’ in that early paper was, in Structure, to become the
well known engine of progress-by-revolution.
In Structure, whose first draft Kuhn reported completing early in 1961, he
addressed the question of how ‘conversion’ to a new paradigm takes place. His
answer reveals the way in which shifting attention from the individual scientist to
the scientific community absolved him of the thorny responsibility of explaining
any particular conversion in favor of being able to explain how conversion in
general takes place:
Individual scientists embrace a new paradigm for all sorts of reasons and usually for
several at once. Some of these reasons—for example, the sun worship that helped
make Kepler a Copernican—lie outside the apparent sphere of science entirely. Others
must depend upon idiosyncrasies of autobiography and personality. Even the national-
ity or the prior reputation of the innovator and his teachers can sometimes play a
significant role. Ultimately, therefore, we must learn to ask this question [of how
conversion is induced] differently. Our concern will not then be with the arguments
that in fact convert one or another individual, but rather with the sort of community
that always sooner or later re-forms as a single group.69

66
Kuhn ([1961b]1963), pp. 348–349. On the explanatory centrality of the scientific community, see
also his remarks to commentators on pp. 392 and 394–395.
67
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 165 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), p. 166.
68
Kuhn (1959a), p. 170 ⬇ ([1959a]1963), p. 349 [which has ‘causes of crisis’ instead of ‘a crisis’]
⫽ ([1959a]1977), p. 234.
69
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), pp. 151–152 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), pp. 152–153. This loss of historical particu-
larity as one shifts the locus of change from the individual to the group nicely parallels the loss of
‘career line’ Kuhn identified as accompanying the shift of attention from particular named individuals
to generalized and abstract ‘natural kinds’ in dealing with the problem of reference: ‘When one makes
106 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

It is clear that for Kuhn an understanding of the nature and function of the scientific
community solved pressing problems with regard to the progressiveness of science
and the special character of scientific knowledge, problems that had concerned him
from the outset of his career:
In the process [of scientific revolution] the community will sustain losses. Often some
old problems must be banished. Frequently, in addition, revolution narrows the scope
of the community’s professional concerns, increases the extent of its specialization,
and attenuates its communication with other groups, both scientific and lay.... Yet
despite these and other losses to the individual communities, the nature of such com-
munities provides a virtual guarantee that both the list of problems solved by science
and the precision of individual problem-solutions will grow and grow. At least, the
nature of the community provides such a guarantee if there is any way at all in which
it can be provided. What better criterion than the decision of the scientific group
could there be?70

Like many readers coming from the history of science—the field with which Kuhn
often identified himself71—it took me a long time to appreciate just how radical
Kuhn-the-philosopher’s surrendering of responsibility was for the explanation of
the actual course of historical change in science.
Kuhn reiterated these themes throughout the 1960s in a series of papers
responding to his critics and restating his explanatory goals. As he put it in ‘Second
Thoughts on Paradigms’, originally presented in March 1969, his central problem
was ‘[t]o understand how a scientific community functions as a producer and valid-
ator of sound knowledge’.72 Later that year, in ‘Reflections on My Critics’, he
characterized his goals as ‘an understanding of science, of the reasons for its special
efficacy, of the cognitive status of its theories’ and ‘an explanation for science’s

the transition from proper names to the names of natural kinds, one loses access to the career line or
lifeline which, in the case of proper names, enables one to check the correctness of different applications
of the same term. The individuals which constitute natural families do have lifelines, but the natural
family itself does not’ (Kuhn, [1977c]1979, p. 411 ⫽ [1977c]1993, p. 535).
70
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 169 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), p. 170. In a paper delivered in 1973 Kuhn revisited
passages in Structure that argued that a scientist’s decision to accept a particular theory or paradigm
is not a matter of proof but of persuasion: ‘Statements of that sort obviously raise the question of why,
in the absence of binding criteria for scientific choice, both the number of solved scientific problems
and the precision of individual problem solutions should increase so markedly with the passage of time.
Confronting that issue, I sketched in my closing chapter a number of characteristics that scientists share
by virtue of the training which licenses their membership in one or another community of specialists.
In the absence of criteria able to dictate the choice of each individual, I argued, we do well to trust
the collective judgment of scientists trained in this way. “What better criterion could there be”, I asked
rhetorically, “than the decision of the scientific group?”’ (Kuhn, [1973]1977, pp. 320–321).
71
In a 1968 talk on ‘The Relations between the History and the Philosophy of Science’ he said ‘I
stand before you as a practicing historian of science’, though he allowed as how ‘my deepest interests
remained philosophical’ (Kuhn, [1968b]1977, pp. 3, 4). In an article published in 1971 on ‘The Relations
between History and History of Science’ he referred to the history of science as ‘my own profession’
(Kuhn, [1970a]1971, p. 291 ⫽ [1970a]1977, p. 150). In a 1975 presentation to an audience of logicians
and philosophers he spoke ‘[a]s an historian’ (Kuhn, [1975]1976, p. 180 ⫽ [1975]1977, p. 290). In
1990 he called his enterprise ‘historical philosophy of science’ (Kuhn, [1990b]1991, p. 6).
72
Kuhn ([1969b]1974), p. 463 ⫽ ([1969b]1977), p. 298.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 107

success’.73 Answers to these questions lay in an analysis of the special nature of


the scientific community. As he later put it, looking back,
Structure is sociological in that it emphasizes the existence of scientific communities,
insists that they be viewed as the producers of a special product, scientific knowledge,
and suggests that the nature of that product can be understood in terms of what is
special in the training and values of those groups.... The question that more than any
other has guided and motivated me is not simply why scientists choose the problems
that they do, but also, far more urgently, why the special nature of group practice in
the sciences has been so strikingly successful in resolving the problems scientists
choose. What is it about what scientists do, I have been asking, that makes their
output knowledge?74

In 1964 Kuhn wrote that ‘the new understanding produced by thought experi-
ments is not an understanding of nature but rather of the scientist’s conceptual
apparatus’.75 That insight can be applied to the audacious thought experiment Kuhn
proposed in 1969 by which communities were made the locus of epistemological
decision-making:
Some of the principles deployed in my explanation of science are irreducibly socio-
logical, at least at this time. In particular, confronted with the problem of theory-
choice, the structure of my response runs roughly as follows: take a group of the
ablest available people with the most appropriate motivation; train them in some
science and in the specialties relevant to the choice at hand; imbue them with the
value system, the ideology, current in their discipline (and to a great extent in other
scientific fields as well); and, finally, let them make the choice. If that technique does
not account for scientific development as we know it, then no other will. There can
be no set of rules of choice adequate to dictate desired individual behaviour in the
concrete cases that scientists will meet in the course of their careers. Whatever scien-
tific progress may be, we must account for it by examining the nature of the scientific
group, discovering what it values, what it tolerates, and what it disdains.76

What Kuhn was after were general explanations of the general conditions for scien-
tific progress, not specific explanations of specific instances of scientific change.
In responses to Popper and Lakatos, Kuhn stressed that he was not concerned
with the psychology of individuals but with a ‘social psychology’ that abstracts
from the differences among individuals.77 An apparent weakness with this move
he handily turned to his advantage:

73
Kuhn ([1969c]1970), p. 236.
74
Kuhn (1983), p. 28.
75
Kuhn (1964), pp. 308–309 ⫽ ([1964]1977), p. 242.
76
Kuhn ([1969c]1970), pp. 237–238. The next paragraph begins: ‘That position is intrinsically socio-
logical.’
77
Kuhn ([1965]1970), p. 22 ⫽ ([1965]1977), p. 291; ([1969c]1970), p. 240 [quote, to which he added
in parentheses: ‘I prefer “sociology”’]. Cf. Kuhn ([1969e]1970), p. 191: ‘Some readers have felt that
I was trying to make science rest on unanalyzable individual intuitions rather than on logic and law.
But that interpretation goes astray in two essential respects. First, if I am talking at all about intuitions,
they are not individual. Rather they are the tested and shared possessions of the members of a successful
group, and the novice acquires them through training as a part of his preparation for group-membership.’
108 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Given a group all the members of which are committed to choosing between alterna-
tive theories and also to considering such values as accuracy, simplicity, scope, and
so on while making their choice, the concrete decisions of individual members in
individual cases will nevertheless vary. Group behaviour will be affected decisively
by the shared commitments, but individual choice will be a function also of person-
ality, education, and the prior pattern of professional research. (These variables are
the province of individual psychology.) To many of my critics this variability seems
a weakness of my position. When considering the problems of crisis and of theory-
choice I shall want, however, to argue that it is instead a strength. If a decision
must be made under circumstances in which even the most deliberate and considered
judgement may be wrong, it may be vitally important that different individuals decide
in different ways. How else could the group as a whole hedge its bets?78

And again: ‘That variability of judgement [in the application of criteria] may, as
I suggested above in connection with the recognition of crises, even be essential
to scientific advance.... If all members of the community applied values in the same
high-risk way, the group’s enterprise would cease.... The needed results are instead
achieved by distributing the risk that must be taken among the group’s members.’79
And from the ‘Postscript’ to Structure, prepared late in 1969: ‘[T]he resort to
shared values rather than to shared rules governing individual choice may be the
community’s way of distributing risk and assuring the long-term success of its
enterprise.’80 With this turn, aimed at justifying his inattention to individuals, Kuhn
had come perilously close to reifying the scientific community into a self-conscious,
purposeful, decision-making agent.
That threatened reification lay at the heart of a passage in the ‘Postscript’ that,
more than any other, symbolized for me Kuhn’s inexplicable slighting of the need
for the historian to deal with biographical particulars in understanding the dynamics
of scientific change:
There is no neutral algorithm for theory-choice, no systematic decision procedure
which, properly applied, must lead each individual in the group to the same decision.
In this sense it is the community of specialists rather than its individual members that
makes the effective decision. To understand why science develops as it does, one
need not unravel the details of biography and personality that lead each individual to
a particular choice, though that topic has vast fascination. What one must understand,
however, is the manner in which a particular set of shared values interacts with the
particular experiences shared by a community of specialists to ensure that most mem-
bers of the group will ultimately find one set of arguments rather than another decis-
ive.81

What I for a long time could not see was that by ‘understand[ing] why science
develops as it does’ Kuhn was not referring to our understanding of the dynamics

78
Kuhn ([1969c]1970), p. 241.
79
Kuhn ([1969c]1970), p. 262; the passage Kuhn alluded to is on p. 248.
80
Kuhn ([1969e]1970), p. 186. Accepting Kuhn’s lead, Hoyningen-Huene linked the legitimacy of
‘individually variable factors’ in theory choice to the ‘higher-order goal’ of the community’s further
development of scientific knowledge (Hoyningen-Huene, 1993, p. 251).
81
Kuhn ([1969e]1970), p. 200.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 109

of particular episodes at the level of the participants—as, for example, he tried to


do in Black-Body Theory, with John Heilbron in ‘The Genesis of the Bohr Atom’,
and, to some extent, in ‘Energy Conservation’. If he were, then his claim would
clearly be untenable. Rather, he was referring to our understanding of the general
possibility of consensus formation, whatever that consensus might be and whatever
the reasons people had for joining it. Such a reading is consistent with the charac-
terization of his position in The Essential Tension: ‘Traditional discussions of scien-
tific method have sought a set of rules that would permit any individual who fol-
lowed them to produce sound knowledge. I have tried to insist, instead, that, though
science is practised by individuals, scientific knowledge is intrinsically a group
product and that neither its peculiar efficacy nor the manner in which it develops
will be understood without reference to the special nature of the groups that pro-
duce it.’82
By itself, the claim that ‘scientific knowledge is intrinsically a group product’
would seem to me patently at odds with Kuhn’s own detailed analysis of the per-
sonalized production of putative scientific knowledge by a Planck, a Bohr, a Coper-
nicus. He might have been referring to the fact that the idiosyncratic claims of
individuals must undergo some kind of transformation into the consensus belief of
the scientific community before we are willing to grant them full status as ‘scientific
knowledge’, but, with the exception of a feint in that direction in ‘Energy Conser-
vation’, he never directly addressed this critical problem in the history of science.
If he had, many of the tensions identified in his work might have been resolved,
allowing a clearer explication of, in particular, the collective aspects of the different
yet interconnected processes of (so-called) discovery and justification, making
possible the integration of individuals and their disparate concerns into a com-
munity of practitioners attached to desiderata of a sometimes different order, and
grounding a general understanding of the nature and success of science more
directly in its history. Further, a sophisticated contextualization of scientists’ more
technical concerns, again as adumbrated in ‘Energy Conservation’, would render
largely moot the need to distinguish between internal and external factors.
The object of Kuhn’s attention was rather the ‘peculiar efficacy’ of science and
‘the manner in which it develops’, clarification of which depended on the structures
of Structure. His problem was not that of the scientist-centered dynamics of scien-
tific change proper to the historian of science, but that of theory-choice proper to
the philosopher of science: for Kuhn the philosopher, the paradigmatic scientist is
one who compares theories and chooses between alternatives, who commits (or
not) to a particular paradigm.83 Kuhnian science develops via conversion and com-

82
Kuhn (1977a), p. xx ⬇ ([1976a]1977), p. 43.
83
But even that paradigmatic scientist disappears into an ostensible group: ‘Competition between
segments of the scientific community is the only historical process that ever actually results in the
rejection of one previously accepted theory or in the adoption of another’ (Kuhn, [1961a]1962, p. 8 ⫽
[1969d]1970, p. 8). Such a view grants pride of place to justification, not discovery.
110 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

mitment, and the legitimacy of its knowledge is established by reference to com-


munity consensus. The search for generally applicable objective criteria, referred
to as ‘the scientific method’—a traditional task of philosophy of science—is both
fruitless and unnecessary.

6. Individuals Versus Groups: The Proper Mode of Explanation


In 1986, in reply to his critics, Kuhn revealed that among his central concerns
was ‘a systematic attempt to separate the concepts appropriate to the description
of groups from those appropriate to the description of individuals’.84 That concern
resurfaced in 1992 in his remarks on a paper by Norton Wise, which had broached
a difficulty that, Kuhn confessed, ‘I’m far less sure can be resolved and to which
I’m especially sensitive because it exemplifies a trap into which I fell again and
again in Structure’.85 According to Kuhn, Wise went from identifying individuals
who successfully bridge a conceptual divide ‘to suggest[ing] that the bridges link
not only people but also practices’.86 Kuhn identified three difficulties with this
move, the most important of which was that in his view ‘Norton’s passage from
individual to group involves a damaging category mistake, the one of which I was
repeatedly guilty in Structure and which is endemic also in the writings of his-
torians, sociologists, social psychologists and others. The mistake is to treat groups
as individuals writ large or else individuals as groups writ small.... The most egregi-
ous example of this mistake in Structure is my repeated talk of gestalt switches
as characteristic of the experience undergone by the group.’87 His conclusion was
that ‘[w]e badly need to learn ways of understanding and describing groups that
do not rely upon the concepts and terms we apply unproblematically to individ-
uals’.88 To be sure. Yet what is also significant here is that Kuhn the philosopher
chose to focus his attention solely on the group as the locus of understanding the
processes of science. Indeed, he professed himself ‘much instructed by the dis-
covery that the puzzles about the relation of group members to group have a quite
precise parallel in the field of evolutionary biology: the vexing relation between
individual organisms and the species to which they belong’.89
Once again we find Kuhn looking for answers to his problems in one or another
favored analogy, not in the historical record. Even this last move, however, threat-
ened to reintroduce a pernicious reification into his conception of the explanatory
status of the group: ‘Understanding the process of evolution has in recent years
seemed increasingly to require conceiving the gene pool, not as the mere aggregate
of the genes of individual organisms, but as itself a sort of individual of which

84
Kuhn ([1986a]1989), p. 51.
85
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 327.
86
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 327.
87
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 328.
88
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 328.
89
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 329.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 111

the members of the species are parts. I am persuaded that this example contains
important clues to the sense in which science is intrinsically a community
activity.’90 On occasion, Kuhn chided philosophers of science for failing to consider
personal factors and individual idiosyncrasies in their accounts of decision making
and consensus formation.91 In particular his lecture of 1973 on ‘Objectivity, Value
Judgment and Theory Choice’ appeared to open up possibilities for a more success-
fully historicized philosophy of science than Kuhn regularly propounded.92 These
overtures, however, remained unexploited as Kuhn increasingly drew his problems
not from science or the history of science but from his own prior work.

7. Where Does the Real World Go?93


There is, in the end, a startling lacuna in Kuhn’s accounting of the peculiar
efficacy of scientific practice in his self-styled sociological terms: the real world
with which scientists deal. ‘Possible Worlds in History of Science’ did not have
a Kuhnian counterpart entitled ‘The Real World in Science’.94 There is, of course,
nothing wrong with the goal Kuhn set himself in his 1967 comments on similarities
and differences between science and art—that is, ‘to explore the ways in which
differences in shared values (and in audience) may decisively affect the develop-
mental patterns characteristic of science and art’—but surely any adequate account
of differences in their developmental patterns would have to come to terms with
the fact that scientists, unlike artists, seek verifiable propositional knowledge about
a physical world that severely restricts the range of viable options.95 Yet that world

90
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 329.
91
Kuhn ([1970b]1971), p. 140; ([1973]1977), pp. 325–326; ([1991]1992), p. 7.
92
On this subject see the insightful comments in Schuster (1979), pp. 306–307.
93
In November 1970 I submitted to Kuhn a Mannheim-inspired (handwritten!) prospectus for my
dissertation entitled ‘Erster Entwurf eines Versuchs einer wissenssoziologischen Erklärung des Über-
gangs von einer gesellschaftsbedingten Wissenschaftsform zu einer neuen’. Generally supportive, he
posed a simple question with his typical incisiveness: ‘Where does the science go?’ Figuring that out
kept me busy for four years.
94
Kuhn recounted a conversation with Mary Hesse after Structure had appeared: ‘She turned to me
and she said, “Tom, the one problem is now you’ve got to say in what sense science is empirical, or
what difference observation makes.” And I practically fell over, of course she was right but I wasn’t
seeing it that way’ (Kuhn, [1995]1997, p. 170). He apparently never did.
95
The characterization is from Kuhn (1977a), p. xxi ⬇ ([1976a]1977), p. 44; cf. Kuhn ([1967]1969)
⫽ ([1967]1977). Evelyn Fox Keller has put this central question more acutely than anyone else I know
(Keller, 1992, pp. 35–36):
Feminist critics of science, along with other analysts of science, need to reclaim access to the
mind-set of the working scientist, to what makes their descriptions seem so compelling.
For this, we need to redress an omission from many of our analyses to date that is especially
conspicuous to any working scientist: attention to the material constraints on which scientific
knowledge depends, and correlatively, to the undeniable record of technological success that
science as we know it can boast. If we grant the force of belief, we must surely not neglect the
even more dramatic force of scientific ‘know-how.’ Although beliefs, interests, and cultural
norms surely can, and do, influence the definition of scientific goals, as well as prevailing criteria
of success in meeting those goals, they cannot in themselves generate either epistemological or
technological success. Only where they mesh with the opportunities and constraints afforded by
material reality can they lead to the generation of effective knowledge. Our analyses began with
the question of where, and how, does the force of beliefs, interests, and cultural norms enter
112 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

plays no formal role in Kuhn’s account of science, despite the fact that he described
himself and Richard Boyd as ‘unregenerate realists’ and occasionally let slip state-
ments such as ‘[n]ature itself must first undermine professional security by making
prior achievements seem problematic’, ‘[e]nergy is conserved; nature behaves that
way’, and ‘nature cannot be forced into an arbitrary set of conceptual boxes’.96
Likewise, although he rejected what he took to be the implication of the ‘strong
program’ that ‘[n]ature itself, whatever that may be, has seemed to have no part
in the development of beliefs about it’ and dismissed otherwise unspecified ‘newer
formulations’ as uninformative ‘about the way... in which nature enters the negoti-
ations that produce beliefs about it’, he himself never in fact found a place for
nature in his erstwhile sociological philosophy of science.97 Indeed, one aspect of
his proffered reconceptualization of the scientific enterprise was that ‘what evalu-
ation aims to select is not beliefs that correspond to a so-called real external world,
but simply to the better or best of the bodies of belief actually present to the
evaluators’.98 The crocodile tears Kuhn had shed over the disappearance of nature
(‘whatever that may be’) are thus shown for what they were by his subsequent
acceptance of ‘bodies of belief’ in place of the ‘so-called real external world’ in
the evaluation of scientific knowledge claims.
It is possible that Kuhn’s continued failure to find a place for nature in his
explanation of the scientific enterprise and its peculiar effectiveness stemmed at

into the process by which effective knowledge is generated; the question that now remains is,
Where, and how, does the nonlinguistic realm we call nature enter into that process? How do
‘nature’ and ‘culture’ interact in the production of scientific knowledge? Until feminist critics
of science, along with other analysts of the influence of social forces on science, address this
question, our accounts of science will not be recognizable to working scientists.
Keller’s remarks remind us of the importance of considering the audience before which claims are
made and of the author’s sense of responsibility (or not) to that or other audiences.
96
Kuhn ([1977c]1979), p. 415 ⫽ ([1977c]1993), p. 539; ([1961a]1962), p. 168 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), p.
169; ([1957]1959), p. 323; ([1969c]1970), p. 263.
97
Kuhn ([1991]1992), pp. 8, 9. The published text of his comments on the strong program from a
later interview reads, curiously, ‘But you are not talking about anything worth calling science if you
leave out the role of [nature]’, the word in brackets having been supplied by the editors (Kuhn,
[1995]1997, p. 195). In Structure Kuhn wrote that ‘[o]bservation and experience can and must drastically
restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science’ (Kuhn, [1961a]1962,
p. 4; emphasis supplied), but that was not the theme he chose to develop, preferring then to emphasize
‘[a]n apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident’ (ibid.) Kuhn found
‘unenlightening’ Ludwik Fleck’s distinction between what he called the passive and active elements of
knowledge, the former representing object-sided constraints (Kuhn, [1976b]1979, p. xi).
The one ‘tension’ Hoyningen-Huene explicitly identified in Kuhn’s work was that between Kuhn’s
‘conventional reference to nature or the world as the object of science’ and his claim, that, after a
scientific revolution, ‘the scientist... works in a different world’ (Hoyningen-Huene, 1993, p. 31, quoting
from Kuhn, [1961a]1962, p. 120 ⫽ [1969d]1970, p. 121). In Hoyningen-Huene’s gloss, the meaning
of ‘world’ that makes Kuhnian sense here is ‘phenomenal world’, since Kuhn insisted on the unknow-
ability of a Kantian ‘world-in-itself’ (ibid., pp. 32–36; cf. 60–61, 267–271). Later, in quoting Kuhn to
the effect that ‘nature cannot be forced into an arbitrary set of conceptual boxes’, Hoyningen-Huene
inconsistently assigned this ‘resistance of nature’ to the world-in-itself without demonstrating that Kuhn
in fact assigned a coherent role to nature in explaining the development and peculiar success of science
(ibid., p. 75, quoting from Kuhn, [1969c]1970, p. 263).
98
Kuhn ([1991]1992), p. 18.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 113

least in part from a conflation of that issue with his rigorous exclusion from con-
sideration of the extent to which scientific knowledge captures anything one might
wish to call ‘truth’. Replying to the charge that he was an antirealist, Kuhn wrote:
‘My goal is double. On the one hand, I aim to justify claims that science is cogni-
tive, that its product is knowledge of nature, and that the criteria it uses in evaluat-
ing beliefs are in that sense epistemic. But on the other, I aim to deny all meaning
to claims that successive scientific beliefs become more and more probable or better
and better approximations to the truth and simultaneously to suggest that the subject
of truth claims cannot be a relation between beliefs and a putatively mind-inde-
pendent or “external” world.’99 Kuhn never explained how knowledge can be about
nature if truth claims cannot be judged against the natural world, but only with
reference to a particular ‘lexicon’.100 As he put it, still tentatively, in Structure,
‘We may... have to relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of para-
digms carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to the
truth.’101 If we do so, ‘a number of vexing problems may vanish in the process’.102
Indeed they do, but the cost is high: it is hard to take seriously Kuhn’s contention
that he has discovered the proper way to provide ‘an explanation for science’s
success’ vis-à-vis other human enterprises. Ironically, if tellingly, Kuhn missed the
importance of Copernicus’ belief that the earth really does move. Copernicus’ goal
was not just technical proficiency, just as his motivation was scarcely Neoplatonic.
Copernicus was after truth.

8. Incommensurability and Untranslatability: Essential Discontinuities


Kuhn acknowledged that, for him, the meaninglessness of the claim that science
gets ever closer to the truth ‘is a consequence of incommensurability’.103 In
reflecting on ‘The Road Since Structure’ in 1990 he affirmed that the central con-
cept of the book he had then been working on for some years was incommensura-
bility: ‘I emerge from those years feeling more strongly than ever that incommen-
surability has to be an essential component of any historical, developmental, or
evolutionary view of scientific knowledge.’104 Indeed, over the years the effective
focus of Kuhn’s concerns shifted from giving an account of science and its history
to explicating and defending the centrality of incommensurability, which overrode

99
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 330.
100
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 330.
101
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 169 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), p. 170. Kuhn reiterated this stance with greater
forcefulness in his subsequent writings, tying it to his rejection of the correspondence theory of truth
(Kuhn, [1977c]1979, p. 418 ⫽ [1977c]1993, p. 541; [1990b]1991, p. 6; [1991]1992, p. 14; [1992a]1993,
p. 330).
102
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 170 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), p. 171.
103
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 330.
104
Kuhn ([1990b]1991), p. 3; cf. (1990a), pp. 24–25. ‘Efforts to understand and refine it [incommen-
surability] have been my primary and increasingly obsessive concern for thirty years’ (Kuhn,
[1992a]1993, p. 315).
114 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

all other considerations, including his original goal of understanding the special
efficacy of science as an epistemic enterprise. Moreover, we see here in the strong-
est terms Kuhn-the-philosopher’s attachment to the notion of discontinuity, where
Kuhn-the-practising-historian had sought (for example) to render Planck’s concep-
tual trajectory understandable by identifying its continuities. In his commentary on
Kuhn’s ‘Possible Worlds’ paper, Arthur Miller identified ‘the principal problem in
Kuhn’s analysis to be his emphasis on discontinuous change from one theory (or
world) to another’.105 Quoting this passage in his rebuttal, Kuhn took Miller to
task: ‘There is, however, no talk of discontinuous change in my paper, much less
any emphasis on it. The contrast throughout is between the lexicons used at two
widely separated times: nothing is said about the nature of the intervening process
by which a transition between them is made.’106 Kuhn was correct, though I think
somewhat disingenuous, since his insistence on the impossibility of translation in
fact emphasized a kind of resultant discontinuity—if, to be sure, he left untouched
the issue of the dynamics of change, precisely the issue that typically concerns the
historian. Such an omission is hard to cover with silence alone, nor was Kuhn’s
effective black-boxing of such a central issue of general concern likely to satisfy
many people.
Kuhn’s linguistic turn, begun in earnest by at least 1969, gave him a powerful
analogy with which to argue the necessarily communal nature of scientific knowl-
edge, the self-contained nature of paradigms, and—in the end most importantly—
the importance of incommensurability. Groups, he suggested, ‘should... be regarded
as the units which produce scientific knowledge. They could not, of course, func-
tion without individuals as members, but the very idea of scientific knowledge as
a private product presents the same intrinsic problems as the notion of a private
language.’107 Characteristics of language communities and problems with trans-
lation came increasingly to stand for, indeed to drive out, attention paid more
directly to actual scientific communities and the problems they might have had
with regard to interparadigm communication. By the 1980s he was speaking in
terms of scientists’ sharing of ‘a lexicon, a structured vocabulary’, such that ‘[d]if-
ferent lexicons—those of different cultures or different historical periods, for
example—give access to different sets of possible worlds, largely but never entirely
overlapping’.108 With respect to the historically significant terms that mark the
development of science, accurate translation from one lexicon to another is not
usually possible.

105
Miller (1989), p. 34.
106
Kuhn ([1986a]1989), p. 49.
107
Kuhn ([1969c]1970), p. 253). The last words of the ‘Postscript’ are ‘Scientific knowledge, like
language, is intrinsically the common property of a group or else nothing at all. To understand it we
shall need to know the special characteristics of the groups that create and use it’ (Kuhn, [1969e]1970,
p. 210). Cf. Kuhn (1977a), pp. xxii–xxiii ⬇ ([1976a]1977), pp. 44–45. The whole topic is discussed
extensively in ‘Commensurability, Comparability, Communicability’ (Kuhn, [1982]1983).
108
Kuhn ([1986a]1989), p. 11 ⫽ ([1986b]1990), p. 300.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 115

In elaborating yet another analogy for scientific change—with biological evol-


ution, in particular with the process of speciation undergone by reproductively
isolated populations—Kuhn reinvoked the analogy with language: ‘In the scientific
case, the unit [undergoing revolutionary change] is a community of intercommun-
icating specialists, a unit whose members share a lexicon that provides the basis
for both the conduct and the evaluation of their research and which simultaneously,
by barring full communication with those outside the group, maintains their iso-
lation from practitioners of other specialties.’109 It seems to me, however, that the
alleged impossibility of full communication is rather logically entailed by Kuhn’s
privileging of problems of translation than historically attested by actual instances
of real failure to understand, not just failure to reach agreement. We are offered
no evidence that Priestley failed to understand Lavoisier, despite the untranslat-
ability of ‘oxygen’ into the terminology of the phlogiston theory, or that Tycho
failed to understand Copernicus because they had different referents for ‘planet’,
or that defenders of the chemical theory of the pile failed to understand contact
theorists because of their differing visual gestalts.
The untranslatability of one theory or paradigm into the terms of another, evi-
dencing their Kuhnian incommensurability, may be an important global fact about
the development of science, but it is largely irrelevant to the actual history of
science because scientists don’t have to be translators in order to understand others’
views. Having recognized the crucial difference between language learning and
translation—the former making communication possible, the latter standing in its
way—Kuhn chose to emphasize problems with translation in order to exemplify
the incommensurability of what he once called different paradigms.110 Indeed, lang-
uage communities became not just analogs of scientific communities, but their
stand-ins. If he had been concerned merely to characterize certain formal differ-
ences between different approaches to science—one wonders what word to use
for the erstwhile paradigms—then emphasis on untranslatability would be entirely
warranted. But repeated talk of ‘communication breakdowns’ implies that one has
in mind an actual process involving actual people.111 So does insistence that pro-
ponents of different theories or paradigms, by speaking different languages, cannot
fully ‘grasp each other’s viewpoints’, and so does the assertion that ‘incommensura-
bility has to be an essential component of any historical, developmental, or evol-

109
Kuhn ([1990b]1991), p. 8. By invoking isolated populations and species as stand-ins for scientific
communities, Kuhn has already effectively exaggerated the extent to which the latter are either isolated
or clearly demarcated.
110
Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p. 324; cf. (1990a), p. 20.
111
Kuhn ([1969c]1970), pp. 276–277; ([1969e]1970), pp. 201–202; ([1990b]1991), p. 9. On rare
occasions Kuhn relaxed his usual insistence on discontinuity: ‘Communities do not have experiences,
much less gestalt switches. As the conceptual vocabulary of a community changes, its members may
undergo gestalt switches, but only some of them do and not all at the same time. Of those who do not,
some cease to be members of the community; others acquire the new vocabulary in less dramatic ways.
Meanwhile, communication goes on, however imperfectly, metaphor serving as a partial bridge across
the divide between an old literal usage and a new one’ (Kuhn, [1986a]1989, p. 50).
116 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

utionary view of scientific knowledge’.112 Hence here, as often elsewhere, Kuhn


has confused the issue of whether he was speaking as a philosopher or as an
historian of science, whether it was reified abstractions or historically real people
he was most concerned with. It is as if Kuhn’s ever more assertive philosophical
side could not bring itself to break with the incommensurable historical concerns
that had long interested him; yet all the while his increasing preoccupation with
the all-importance of the incommensurability of scientific lexica rendered the actual
history of science increasingly irrelevant.

9. A Role for the History of Science


Ironically, a solution to this dilemma lay in potentia in the book that transformed
Kuhn into a Kuhnian. The opening sentence of the Introduction (subtitled ‘A Role
for History’) proclaimed: ‘History, if viewed as a repository for more than anecdote
or chronology, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by
which we are now possessed.’113 Although Structure provided only snippets of
historical evidence in support of its major claims, the structure of scientific revol-
utions that Kuhn sketched represented an essentially historical claim, in principle
amenable to historical elaboration and testing. If Kuhn had gone that route after
Structure he might have isolated for solution or revision some of the generally
recognized problems with the book: how one actually identifies a paradigm; the
extent to which particular scientists are members of particular communities; how
appreciable anomalies achieve that status; how consensus comes about; and what
role the individual plays in an explanation of scientific change.
But the book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was more than a
sketch of the historical structure of scientific revolutions: its aim was also to
expound an understanding of the general nature of science, especially its peculiar
effectiveness in solving problems, resolving disputes, achieving consensus, and
making progress. Those were the problems to which Kuhn thereafter principally
devoted his energies. In effect giving up any attempt to provide an historically
grounded account of the actual progress of scientific change, Kuhn sought a general
theory of the nature of science that would account for its general evolution in
terms of incommensurable paradigms—by whatever word the latter might sub-
sequently be called. In other words, he reconceptualized his chief problems so that
their solution lay not in the details of the history of science but in logical analysis
and analogical modeling. ‘The trouble with the historical philosophy of science’
was, in Kuhn’s 1991 critique by that name, that ‘by basing itself upon observations
of the historical record it has undermined the pillars on which the authority of
scientific knowledge was formerly thought to rest without supplying anything to

112
See the passages quoted at notes 24 and 104.
113
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 1.
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 117

replace them’.114 In a curious way he seems to have adopted the viewpoint that in
Structure he invoked to explain scientists’ inclination to suppress the historical
context of science: ‘More historical detail, whether of science’s present or of its
past, or more responsibility to the historical details that are presented, could only
give artificial status to human idiosyncrasy, error, and confusion.’115 Tellingly, his
response was to turn (again) from history to a properly recast general philosophical
account of science in order to defend its epistemological authority.116 He seemingly
did not see how to ground the authority of science on its actual history. Yet he
was the man who had once boldly asked, ‘How can the history of science fail to
be a source of phenomena to which theories about knowledge may legitimately be
asked to apply?’117
Again ironically, one of Kuhn’s great strengths was his willingness in Structure to
deploy explanatory terms that in principle resisted specification. Implicitly, it always
seemed to me, Kuhn was rejecting the philosopher’s challenge either to define one’s
terms or to confess one’s confusion. Historians, of course, can scarcely function
under such a constraint. Implicitly, it seemed to me, he correctly recognized that
speaking meaningfully about such a matter as ‘science’—at least as an unreconstruc-
ted historical affair—meant laying aside any desire to speak with philosophical pre-
cision. By allowing philosophers of science by and large to set the terms of his post-
Structure conversation he gave in to the temptation to seek salvation in an ever
narrower circumscription of his own language, in an ever more idealized picture of
science in which analogy effectively replaced historical substance.
A similar story can be told concerning the vicissitudes, actual and potential, of
the work that first brought Kuhn to widespread scholarly attention, The Copernican
Revolution. It seems to me the book fails at precisely those points most crucial to
the Kuhn of Structure: identification of the relevant scientific community, identifi-
cation of anomalies, evidence of crisis, and evidence of incommensurability that
actually frustrated communication or understanding. Nor did he address one of the
glaringly unresolved tensions in the book, over whether the Copernican revolution
is best understood as an internal, technical affair among the community of pro-
fessional astronomers or as the result of a welter of extrascientific factors.118 After

114
Kuhn ([1991]1992), p. 18.
115
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 137 ⫽ ([1969d]1970), p. 138.
116
Kuhn ([1991]1992), pp. 10, 14–15, 18. With regard to his intentions, cf. Kuhn ([1992a]1993), p.
314: ‘To my dismay, what John [Earman] not unfairly labels my “purple passages” led many readers
of Structure to suppose that I was attempting to undermine the cognitive authority of science rather
than to suggest a different view of its nature.’ For the passages in question, see Earman (1993), p. 19
(in Horwich, 1993).
117
Kuhn ([1961a]1962), p. 9 [the last sentence of the Introduction].
118
In an address delivered in 1985 at the XVIIth International Congress of History of Science, Kuhn
offered the following sketch of ‘the outstanding challenge now facing the profession’ (Kuhn,
[1985]1986, pp. 32, 33):
Those who emphasize the history of ideas typically read it as the story of the increasingly close
approach of successive scientific constructions to the real world, a reading which I take to be
simply incoherent. Those who emphasize institutional and social history, on the other hand, tend
118 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Structure, in particular, Kuhn retreated from any strong claims concerning the role
of external factors in the history of science. It seems to me that that problem,
especially as it concerns the Copernican case, can only find some kind of resolution
via a fully contextualized history of science at the level of the individual scientist.
But Kuhn the metahistorian of science consistently declined to take the individual
as the proper unit of analysis, and in the event he effectively walked away from
the problem as he declined to treat scientific communities as historical entities.
That issue surfaces again in consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of
Kuhn’s examination of ‘Energy Conservation as an Example of Simultaneous Dis-
covery’, which recently passed the fortieth anniversary of its original presentation
but whose historiographical promise was never realized.119 At least two factors—
the particular subject matter, and Kuhn’s general take on the issues involved in
going from a collective story about discrete individuals to an explanation of the
creation of the consensus that represents scientific knowledge—made the topic a
natural one for an investigation of the relative importance of internal and external
factors, and for the exploration of the relationship between individual and group.
But how does one actually do that kind of history of science? Alas. we have no
Kuhnian exemplar of what it would look like. As it stands, neither the inadequate
depth of coverage of its principals nor the scarcely attempted identification of the
putatively relevant scientific community (or communities) permits ‘Energy Conser-
vation’ to achieve that goal. Despite the conceptual centrality of the scientific com-
munity to Kuhn’s philosophy of science, as an historian he never undertook to
study the composition and dynamics of any actual scientific community.

to view it as displaying the dominant role of interests in determining the conclusions reached
by scientists, usually socio-economic interests but often interests of a broader sort as well. The
role of reason and experiment in scientific development is for them minor at best, a conclusion
I take to be as unsatisfactory as the first. We simply no longer have any useful notions of how
science works or of what scientific progress is.
That is the gap that currently needs to be filled, and I think historians of science—some of
them—will need to help in filling it.
Ignoring the rather caricatured nature of his characterization of what otherwise usually pass for internal-
ist and externalist approaches to the history of science, I note that Kuhn himself did not contribute to
the effort to close the gap, nor even to suggesting what such a bridge might look like.
119
Cf. Ian Hacking’s judgement (Hacking, 1979, p. 234): ‘The energy conservation paper is the only
piece in this collection that the ordinary historian of science will want to emulate, yet it is doubly
anomalous. First, although it is highly original and suggestive, even it is not a very good example of
the kind of history that Kuhn recommends. Secondly, it in no way exemplifies use of the sweeping
analytic tools that can be deduced from the “metahistorical” essays or Structure itself. Full understanding
of the conservation of energy... will almost certainly proceed in the direction of more detailed internal
history modified by awareness of input from technology and the other sciences.... Here, then, is another
“essential tension” revealed in Kuhn’s work. On the one hand there is the disciplinary matrix dominating
one hundred souls with its acknowledged achievements, its institutionalized hierarchy, and the standard
examples taught to students. On the other hand there is [what Herbert Butterfield called] “the new
texture of human experience in a new age.” The Structure of Scientific Revolutions too easily rides the
roller coaster of a continuum between the two.’
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 119

10. The Centrality of the Author


It is, in short, relatively easy to imagine a variety of possible roles for the history
of science in addressing some of the major issues that Kuhn’s work threw into
prominence. In my opinion it is a great loss to our profession that Kuhn chose not
to do that kind of historical work, a choice that may have had as much to do with
disposition and the differential enjoyment of different undertakings as with a bal-
anced assessment of the differential yields of different research strategies. That he
appears occasionally to have believed that he did in fact do some of that work—
witness his defense of Black-Body Theory—may not be due to simple blindness or
self-deception. Central to the Kuhnian enterprise remained Kuhn the idiosyncratic
individual, whose personal history—in particular his encounter with Aristotle’s
physics—indelibly affected his view of the scientific enterprise.120 Kuhn’s faith in
the central importance of incommensurability both to the progress of science and
to its philosophical understanding was ineradicably rooted in the central experience
of his development as a philosophically attuned historian of science.121 Indeed, the
likeness of that experience to a religious epiphany—he called it a ‘revelation’—
helps to explain its tenacious hold on his imagination.122 In the end, incommensura-
bility represented to Kuhn the cardinal insight of his life’s work: if the disconti-
nuities it entailed did not chime well with the historical record of science, then it
was history that would have to go. For the rest, Kuhn himself was always brimming
with more ideas than he could comfortably contain within the analytical confines
of his always schematizing mind, and he perhaps did not fully appreciate that the
welter of concerns that coexisted in him as a person did not thereby constitute a
harmonious whole. There was no Kuhn tout court.

References
Caneva, K. L. (1974) ‘Conceptual and Generational Change in German Physics: The Case
of Electricity, 1800–1846’, Ph.D. diss., Princeton University.

120
In glossing his finding that ‘[r]adical revolutions in science are rarely preceded by a crisis’ because
‘laterborns do not think or behave like good Kuhnians’, Frank Sulloway observed that ‘Kuhn’s (1962)
model of science provides a better description of firstborn behavior than it does of laterborn behavior.
Kuhn himself is a firstborn, so perhaps this is no surprise’ (Sulloway, 1996, pp. 347 and 536 n. 33).
121
That faith seems also to have been rooted in his experience of philosophical controversy. He wrote
tellingly in his essay review of Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: ‘Much in this volume testifies
to what I described above as the gestalt-switch that divides readers of my Scientific Revolutions into
two groups. Together with that book, this collection of essays therefore provides an extended example
of what I have elsewhere called partial or incomplete communication—the talking-through-each-other
that regularly characterizes discourse between participants in incommensurable points of view.... For
some readers, I suspect, the recurrent failure of these essays to intersect on intellectual issues will
provide this book’s greatest interest. Indeed, because those failures illustrate a phenomenon at the heart
of my own point of view, the book has interest for me’ (Kuhn, [1969c]1970, pp. 231–232, 232). Ironi-
cally, Kuhn’s attachment to the incommensurability between his and his critics’ views gave him a subtle
vested interest in not understanding them.
122
Kuhn ([1976b]1979), pp. vii [twice], 167 n.1 [in quotation marks]. On the relationship between
faith and experience see Heschel (1951), p. 165.
120 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

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Essays on Language, Gender and Science (New York and London: Routledge), pp.
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ment of Western Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press). (Preface dated Nov-
ember 1956. A revised Random House/Vintage Books edition appeared in 1959, and a
revised Harvard University Press edition in 1966 (neither seen). An undated ‘Note to
the Seventh Printing’ of the Harvard paperback edition reports that it incorporates all
previous and a few further minor corrections. According to the Press, that printing was
in 1979, and I cite that still-in-print Harvard University Press edition as Kuhn (1979.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1957]1959) ‘Energy Conservation as an Example of Simultaneous Discovery’,
in M. Clagett (ed.), Critical Problems in the History of Science, Proceedings of the
Institute for the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin, September 1–11,
1957 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959), pp. 321–356. (Reprinted in Kuhn
(1977a), pp. 66–104; cited as Kuhn ([1957]1977).
Kuhn, T. S. (1959a) ‘The Essential Tension: Tradition and Innovation in Scientific
Research’, in C. W. Taylor (ed.), The Third (1959) University of Utah Research Confer-
ence on the Identification of Creative Scientific Talent (Salt Lake City: University of
Utah Press), pp. 162–177. (The conference was held at Alta, 11–14 June 1959. Reprinted
(with the omission of comments and discussion) in C. W. Taylor and F. Barron (eds),
Scientific Creativity: Its Recognition and Development (New York and London: John
Wiley and Sons, 1963), pp. 341–354; cited as Kuhn ([1959a]1963). Reprinted from the
latter in Kuhn (1977a), pp. 225–239; cited as Kuhn ([1959a]1977).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1959b]1961a) ‘The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science’,
Isis 52(2), 161–193. (Delivered at a conference of the Social Science Research Council,
20–21 November 1959; see Kuhn (1977a), p. xvii, for its earlier history. Also published
in H. Woolf (ed.), Quantification: A History of the Meaning of Measurement in the
Natural and Social Sciences (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1961), pp. 31–
63; cited as Kuhn ([1959b]1961b). Reprinted (slightly edited) in Kuhn (1977a), pp. 178–
224; cited as Kuhn ([1959b]1977).)
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 121

Kuhn, T. S. ([1961a]1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of


Chicago Press). (Preface dated February 1962; first draft completed at the beginning of
1961; appeared late in 1962 (Kuhn, 1977a, pp. xviii, x).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1961b]1963) ‘The Function of Dogma in Scientific Research’, in A. C. Crom-
bie (ed.), Scientific Change, Symposium on the History of Science, University of Oxford,
9–15 July 1961 (New York: Basic Books), pp. 347–369. (Also includes Kuhn’s partici-
pation in the ‘Discussion’, pp. 386–395. Written after Structure (Kuhn, [1969c]1970,
p. 249).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1961c]1962) ‘Historical Structure of Scientific Discovery’, Science 136, no.
3518, 1 June, 760–764. (Based on a paper read at a joint session of the American Histori-
cal Association and the History of Science Society, 29 December 1961, ‘by which time
my book on revolutions was substantially complete’ (Kuhn, 1977a, p. xvii). Reprinted
as ‘The Historical Structure of Scientific Discovery’, in Kuhn (1977a), pp. 165–177;
cited as Kuhn ([1961c]1977).)
Kuhn, T. S. (1964) ‘A Function for Thought Experiments’, in Mélanges Alexandre Koyré,
vol. 2, ‘L’aventure de l’esprit’ (Paris: Hermann), pp. 307–334. (Reprinted in Kuhn
(1977a), pp. 240–265; cited as Kuhn ([1964]1977).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1965]1970) ‘Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?’, in Lakatos and
Musgrave (eds) (1970), pp. 1–23. (Delivered on 13 July 1965. Reprinted as ‘Logic of
Discovery or Psychology of Research’, in Kuhn (1977a), pp. 266–292; cited as Kuhn
([1965]1977).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1967]1969) ‘Comment [on the Relations of Science and Art]’, Comparative
Studies in Society and History 11(4, October), 403–412. (From a conference at Ann
Arbor in May 1967. Reprinted as ‘Comment on the Relations of Science and Art’, in
Kuhn (1977a), pp. 340–351; cited as Kuhn ([1967]1977).)
Kuhn, T. S. (1968a) ‘The History of Science’, in International Encyclopedia of the Social
Sciences, 18 vols (New York: Crowell Collier and Macmillan, 1968–79), vol. 14, pp.
74–83. (Reprinted in Kuhn (1977a), pp. 105–126; cited as Kuhn [1968a]1977.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1968b]1977) ‘The Relations between the History and the Philosophy of
Science’, paper delivered at Michigan State University, 1 March 1968.(Revised October
1976. First published in Kuhn (1977a), pp. 3–20.)
Kuhn, T. S. and Heilbron, J. L. (1969a) ‘The Genesis of the Bohr Atom’, Historical Studies
in the Physical Sciences 1, 211–290. (Heilbron’s name appears first.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1969b]1974) ‘Second Thoughts on Paradigms’, in F. Suppe (ed.), The Struc-
ture of Scientific Theories (Urbana, Chicago, and London: University of Illinois Press),
pp. 459–482. (Also includes a ‘Discussion’ by Kuhn and others, pp. 500–517. The
reprinting in the second edition of 1977 has identical pagination. Based on a symposium
at Urbana, 26–29 March 1969. Reprinted, without the discussion, in Kuhn (1977a), pp.
293–319; cited as Kuhn ([1969b]1977).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1969c]1970) ‘Reflections on My Critics’, in Lakatos and Musgrave (eds)
(1970), pp. 231–278. (Written between March and the end of 1969, but before the ‘Post-
script’ to Structure (Kuhn, 1977a, p. xx).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1969d]1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed., enlarged
(Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press). (Its ‘Postscript’ prepared late in
1969 (Kuhn, 1977a, p. xx).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1969e]1970) ‘Postscript—1969’, in Kuhn ([1969d]1970), pp. 174–210.
Kuhn, T. S. ([1970a]1971) ‘The Relations between History and History of Science’, Dae-
dalus, Spring 1971 ( ⫽ Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
100(2)), 271–304. (Possibly first presented at a conference in Rome or Princeton during
the summer of 1970 (preface to the winter 1971 issue, p. xiv). Reprinted as ‘The
Relations between History and the History of Science’, in Kuhn (1977a), pp. 127–161;
cited as Kuhn ([1970a]1977).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1970b]1971) ‘Notes on Lakatos’, in R. C. Buck and R. S. Cohen (eds), PSA
1970: In Memory of Rudolf Carnap, Proceedings of the 1970 Bienniel Meeting of the
Philosophy of Science Association, ‘Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science’ vol.
122 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

8 (Dordrecht: D. Reidel), pp. 137–146. (The meeting was held at Boston on 22–25
October. A commentary on I. Lakatos, ‘History of Science and Its Rational Reconstruc-
tions’, pp. 91–136.)
Kuhn, T. S. (1972) ‘Scientific Growth: Reflections on Ben-David’s “Scientific Role”’,
Minerva 10(1), 166–178. (Review of J. Ben-David, The Scientist’s Role in Society: A
Comparative Study (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1973]1977) ‘Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice’, paper deliv-
ered at Furman University, 30 November 1973. (First published in Kuhn (1977a), pp.
320–339.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1975]1976) ‘Theory-Change as Structure-Change: Comments of the Sneed
Formalism’, Erkenntnis 10(2), 179–199. (Reprinted in R. E. Butts and J. Hintikka (eds),
Historical and Philosophical Dimensions of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of
Science, Part Four of the Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress of Logic, Meth-
odology and Philosophy of Science, London, Ontario, Canada, [27 August–2 September]
1975. ‘The University of Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science’ vol. 12
(Dordrecht and Boston: D. Reidel, 1977), pp. 289–309; cited as Kuhn ([1975]1977).
Kuhn’s talk was given on 28 August.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1976b]1979) ‘Foreword’, in L. Fleck, Genesis and Development of a Scientific
Fact, ed. T. J. Trenn and R. K. Merton, trans. F. Bradley and T. J. Trenn (Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press), pp. vii–xi. (Dated June 1976.)
Kuhn, T. S. (1977a) The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and
Change (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press). (Undated ‘Preface’ on pp.
ix–xxiii; the much-the-same ‘Vorwort’ of the German edition published earlier that year–
Kuhn ([1976a]1977)–dated May 1976.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1977b]1978) Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894–1912
(Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press). (Preface dated Sep-
tember 1977; came out mid-November 1978 (Kuhn, [1979]1980, p. 194).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1977c]1979) ‘Metaphor in Science’, in A. Ortony (ed.), Metaphor and Thought
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 409–419. (From a conference at the Uni-
versity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, September 1977; possibly substantially revised
(preface, dated December 1978, p. vii). Largely a reply to Richard Boyd’s paper ‘Meta-
phor and Theory Change: What is ’Metaphor‘ a Metaphor for?’, pp. 356–408. Reprinted
in the expanded second edition, of 1993, on pp. 533–542; cited as Kuhn ([1977c]1993).)
Kuhn, T. S. (1980) ‘The Halt and the Blind: Philosophy and History of Science’, British
Journal for the Philosophy of Science 31(2), 181–192. (Review of C. Hawson (ed.),
Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences: The Critical Background to Modern
Science, 1800–1905 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).)
Kuhn, T. S. (1981) What Are Scientific Revolutions? Occasional Paper #18 (Cambridge:
Center for Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology [1981]). (Reprinted
in L. Krüger, L. J. Daston, and M. Heidelberger (eds), The Probabilistic Revolution, vol.
1, ‘Ideas in History’ (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1987), pp. 7–22; cited as
Kuhn ([1981]1987).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1982]1983) ‘Commensurability, Comparability, Communicability’, in P. D.
Asquith and T. Nickles (eds), PSA 1982: Proceedings of the 1982 Biennial Meeting of
the Philosophy of Science Association, vol. 2, ‘Symposia’ (East Lansing: Philosophy of
Science Association), pp. 669–688. (Delivered at Philadelphia, 31 October 1982.)
Kuhn, T. S. (1983) ‘Reflections on Receiving the John Desmond Bernal Award’, 4S Review
1, no. 4(winter), 26–30. (Originally delivered 5 November 1983, with additions.)
Kuhn, T. S. (1984) ‘Revisiting Planck’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 14(2),
231–252. (Reprinted as ‘Afterword: Revisiting Planck’, in Kuhn ([1986c]1987), pp. 349–
370; cited as Kuhn ([1984]1987).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1985]1986) ‘The Histories of Science: Diverse Worlds for Diverse Audiences’,
Academe. Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 72, no. 4(July–
August), 29–33. (Delivered at the XVIIth International Congress of History of Science,
Berkeley, 31 July 1985.)
Possible Kuhns in the History of Science 123

Kuhn, T. S. ([1986a]1989) ‘Possible Worlds in History of Science’, in Allén (1989), pp.


9–32. (Also includes ‘Speaker’s Reply’, pp. 49–51. ‘[C]onsiderably revised’ since the
symposium on 11–15 August 1986.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1986b]1990) ‘Dubbing and Redubbing: The Vulnerability of Rigid Desig-
nation’, in C. W. Savage (ed.), Scientific Theories, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy
of Science, vol. 14 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), pp. 298–318. (Prepared
for a Chapel Hill Philosophy Colloquium, October 1986; a reduced and revised version
of Kuhn ([1986a]1989).)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1989]1991) ‘The Natural and the Human Sciences’, in D. R. Hiley, J. F.
Bohman, and R. M. Shusterman (eds), The Interpretive Turn: Philosophy, Science, Cul-
ture (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press), pp. 17–24. (Remarks delivered at
La Salle University, 11 February 1989.)
Kuhn, T. S. (1990a) ‘‘The Nature of Scientific Knowledge: An Interview with Thomas
Kuhn’, by S. Sigurdsson’, Harvard Science Review 3, no. 1 (winter), 18–25.
Kuhn, T. S. ([1990b]1991) ‘The Road Since Structure’, in A. Fine, M. Forbes, and L. Wes-
sels (eds), PSA 1990: Proceedings of the 1990 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of
Science Association vol. 2, ‘Symposium and Invited Papers’ (East Lansing: Philosophy
of Science Association), pp. 3–13. (Kuhn’s presidential address, delivered 20 October
1990 in Minneapolis.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1991]1992) The Trouble with the Historical Philosophy of Science, Robert
and Maurine Rothschild Distinguished Lecture, 19 November 1991 (Cambridge, MA:
Department of the History of Science, Harvard University).
Kuhn, T. S. ([1992a]1993) ‘Afterwords’, in Horwich (1993), pp. 311–341. (Kuhn wrote of
having given his original response (in May 1990) ‘almost two years ago’.)
Kuhn, T. S.([1992b]1995) ‘Remarks on Receiving the Laurea of the University of Padua’,
in Università degli Studi di Padova, Galileo a Padova 1592–1610, [Atti delle] Celebra-
zioni del IV Centenario—7 dicembre 1991–7 dicembre 1992, 5 vols (Trieste: Edizioni
LINT), vol. 1, ‘L’Anno Galileiano’, pp. 103–106. (Address delivered 7 December 1992.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1995]1997) ‘A Discussion with Thomas S. Kuhn. A Physicist who became a
Historian for Philosophical Purposes. A discussion between Thomas S. Kuhn and Aris-
tides Baltas, Kostas Gavroglu, [and] Vasso Kindi’, Neusis, no. 6 (spring/summer), 145–
200. (Discussion took place in Athens, 19–21 October 1995.)
Miller, A. I. (1989) ‘Discussion of Thomas S. Kuhn’s Paper, “Possible Worlds in History
of Science”’, in Allén (1989), pp. 33–41.
Nickles, T. (1998) ‘Kuhn, Historical Philosophy of Science, and Case-Based Reasoning’,
Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology 6, 51–85.
Schuster, J. A. (1979) ‘Kuhn and Lakatos and the History of Science: Kuhn and Lakatos
Revisited’, British Journal for the History of Science 12, 301–317.
Sulloway, F. J. (1996) Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives
(New York: Pantheon Books/Random House).
[Thackray, A.], Klein, M. J., Shimony, A., and Pinch, T. J. (1979) ‘Paradigm Lost? A
Review Symposium [on Kuhn’s Black-Body Theory]’, Isis 70, 429–440.
Westman, R. S. (1994) ‘Two Cultures or One? A Second Look at Kuhn’s The Copernican
Revolution’, Isis 85, 79–115.

Further Reading
Allén, S. (ed.) (1989) Possible Worlds in Humanities, Arts and Sciences: Proceedings of
Nobel Symposium 65 (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter).
Kuhn, T. S. ([1976a]1977) Die Entstehung des Neuen: Studien zur Struktur der Wissen-
schaftsgeschichte,ed. L. Krüger, trans. H. Vetter (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp). (‘Vorwort’
by Kuhn (pp. 31–47) dated May 1976.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1979]1980) ‘Einstein’s Critique of Planck’, in H. Woolf (ed.), Some Strange-
ness in the Proportion: A Centennial Symposium to Celebrate the Achievements of Albert
Einstein (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley), pp. 186–191. (Also includes Kuhn’s partici-
124 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

pation in an ‘Open Discussion Following Papers by [M.] J. Klein and T. S. Kuhn’, pp.
192–196. Symposium held at the Institute for Advanced Study, 4–9 March 1979.)
Kuhn, T. S. ([1986c]1987) Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894–1912,
with a new Afterword (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press). (‘Note to
the Paperback Edition’ dated November 1986 (p. xv).)
Lakatos, I. and Musgrave, A. (eds) (1970) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Proceed-
ings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, [11–17 July]
1965, vol. 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). (Preface dated August 1969.)