Thomas Kuhn

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Thomas Samuel Kuhn (July 18, 1921 – June 22, 1996) was an American philosopher and historian of science. His most famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, revolutionized the philosophy of science and has become one of the most cited academic books of all time. His contribution to the philosophy of science marked a break with key positivist doctrines and began a new style of philosophy of science that brought it much closer to the history of science. The general thrust of his book is that science operates on the model of paradigms which are clung to until a scientific revolution or paradigm shift happens. As examples, he used the shift from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics, as well as the shift from pre-Darwinian to post-Darwinian biology.

"... while Kuhn thus opened up the entire domain of science for political analysis, he argued that the behaviorally visible mark of a truly scientific community was its high degree of autonomy, its ability to exercise authority over its own intellectual affairs. He confirmed the instinct that science was really different. But he also showed that scientists, within their domain, behaved very much like the rest of us." – David Hollinger, writing in the New York Times.[1]

Kuhn's life and career

Thomas Samuel Kuhn was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Samuel L. Kuhn, an industrial engineer, and Minette Stroock Kuhn. He was awarded a bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard University in 1943 graduating summa cum laude, and spent the remaining war years at Harvard researching into radar. He gained a master's degree in 1946, and a PhD in physics in 1949 for a thesis concerned an application of quantum mechanics to solid state physics. From 1948 until 1956 he taught a course in the history of science at Harvard, and in 1957 he published his first book, The Copernican Revolution. After leaving Harvard, Kuhn taught at the University of California, Berkeley, in both the philosophy department and the history department. There, he wrote and published (in 1962), at the age of forty, his major work: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Most of his subsequent career was spent in articulating and developing the ideas developed within it. In 1964 he joined Princeton University as the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Philosophy and History of Science. In 1978 he published Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912 and in 1979 he joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy, remaining there until 1991. In 1982 he was awarded the George Sarton Medal by the History of Science Society. In 1994 he was diagnosed with cancer of the bronchial tubes; he died in 1996.[2]

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

For more information, see: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (book).


Notes

  1. Paradigms Lost, David Hollinger, writing in the New York Times, May 28, 2000
  2. Thomas Kuhn, 73; Devised Science Paradigm The New York Times, June 19, 1996, Obituary By Lawrence Van Gelder; Fullmer JZ (1998) Memorial. Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996)Technology and Culture 139:372-7