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Academic & Professional Books  Reference  Physical Sciences  Physical Sciences: General

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (50th Anniversary Edition)

By: Thomas S Kuhn(Author), Ian Hacking(Introduction By)
217 pages, no illustrations
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a towering achievement upon publication in 1962 and remains intellectually stimulating to this day.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (50th Anniversary Edition)
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  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (50th Anniversary Edition) ISBN: 9780226458120 Edition: 4 Paperback Apr 2012 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (50th Anniversary Edition) ISBN: 9780226458113 Edition: 4 Hardback May 2012 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Selected version: £11.99
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About this book

A good book may have the power to change the way we see the world, but a great book actually becomes part of our daily consciousness, pervading our thinking to the point that we take it for granted, and we forget how provocative and challenging its ideas once were – and still are. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is that kind of book. When it was first published in 1962, it was a landmark event in the history and philosophy of science. Fifty years later, it still has many lessons to teach.

With The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn challenged long-standing linear notions of scientific progress, arguing that transformative ideas don't arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation but that the revolutions in science, those breakthrough moments that disrupt accepted thinking and offer unanticipated ideas, occur outside of "normal science," as he called it. Though Kuhn was writing when physics ruled the sciences, his ideas on how scientific revolutions bring order to the anomalies that amass over time in research experiments are still instructive in our biotech age.

This new edition of Kuhn's essential work in the history of science includes an insightful introduction by Ian Hacking, which clarifies terms popularized by Kuhn, including paradigm and incommensurability, and applies Kuhn's ideas to the science of today. Usefully keyed to the separate sections of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (50th Anniversary Edition), Hacking's introduction provides important background information as well as a contemporary context. Newly designed, with an expanded index, this edition will be eagerly welcomed by the next generation of readers seeking to understand the history of our perspectives on science.


Introductory Essay by Ian Hacking

I. Introduction: A Role for History
II. The Route to Normal Science
III. The Nature of Normal Science
IV. Normal Science as Puzzle-solving
V. The Priority of Paradigms
VI. Anomaly and the Emergence of Scientific evolutions
VII. Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Theories
VIII. The Response to Crisis
IX. The Nature and Necessity of Scientific Revolutions
X. Revolutions as Changes of World View
XI. The Invisibility of Revolutions
XII. The Resolution of Revolutions
XIII. Progress through Revolutions


Customer Reviews (1)

  • A towering achievement then, still stimulating now
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 28 Nov 2018 Written for Paperback

    This review is part of a double bill. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press recently published How Scientific Progress Occurs. In it, Elof Axel Carlson explores the relevance to biology of the ideas Kuhn formulated in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This is one of those classics already on my to-do list, so I have read both books back-to-back and will review them one after the other. Anyway, who is this Kuhn and why should you care? Virtually everyone will have heard the buzzwords “paradigm” and “paradigm shift” – and for that, you can thank Kuhn.

    Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996) was an American physicist, historian and philosopher of science whose claim to fame is this book. Initially published as a 1962 essay, it was reissued in 1970, 1996, and on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 2012, as this fourth edition. This version presents a nicely packaged book that includes Kuhn’s 1969 postscript and a 30-page introductory essay by Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking.

    In this book, Kuhn outlines how he thinks scientific knowledge advances, which goes something like this: a given scientific discipline is united under a certain paradigm (a collection of theories, research methods, standards etc. that define and delineate the field) and its practitioners engage in “normal science”: effectively solving puzzles by refining details of the paradigm and developing new methodologies to do so in the process. Inevitably, unexplainable anomalies start piling up until these can no longer be ignored. The field enters a state of crisis which is eventually resolved by a paradigm shift: a new way of seeing and understanding the world.

    It pays to keep in mind that Kuhn was a physicist writing in the ’60s when this was one of the most influential scientific disciplines. The examples Kuhn has mined from the history of physics, chemistry, and astronomy are convincing examples of how we used to tackle certain questions in completely different ways that at the time had an internal logical consistency. This allows him to trot out movers and shakers in science such as Aristotle, Ptolemy, Newton, Franklin, and Einstein. Closer to home (for me) is geology which went from Lyell’s uniformitarianism to the rise and acceptance of plate tectonics and the role of catastrophes (see my reviews of Cataclysms, Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences, and The Tectonic Plates are Moving!).

    Kuhn writes many noteworthy things, of which I will highlight three.

    First, looking at the history of science, the idea of unifying paradigms is fairly novel. In many fields, Kuhn mentions, there is a pre-paradigmatic period where everyone started from first principles and came up with completely different ideas to try and explain observations. But, one by one, paradigms started to form in these fields. This allowed scientists to all work under the umbrella of a shared understanding, resulting in refinement and the pursuit of ever more esoteric topics. These were then shared through specialised channels such as symposia and dedicated journals to the very limited audience of your peers. Incidentally, I wonder if this is when science retreated to its ivory tower.

    Second, even if an old paradigm is increasingly becoming a creaking façade ready to tumble down, scientists will try and prop it up with ad hoc explanations, until a different paradigm is put forward that can be compared to both the old one and the observations done “in the wild”. Kuhn posits that the new paradigm is not necessarily better, might not explain certain observations the old paradigm did (or even deem them irrelevant), and often throws up its own questions. He even goes so far as to compare it to the blind process of natural selection which aims not towards an ultimate goal, but simply to survival in the here and now. So it is with scientific theories. But, when, on balance, the new paradigm seems to fit better, the slow and very human process of convincing and converting begins. Not surprisingly, young scientists usually come up with novel ideas, while the old guard steadfastly defends the ideas on which they build their careers, the old paradigm often dying when they do.

    Third interesting point is that Kuhn feels the history of these revolutions has been largely hidden and forgotten. And he points the finger at textbooks. Being pedagogic tools written after the establishment of a paradigm, and with the aim of making students familiar with the current paradigm, they often only pay lip service to the long and complicated history of a field in an introductory chapter. As Kuhn writes nicely, this “truncates the scientist’s sense of his discipline’s history”. It also leads to the misconception that scientific disciplines advance linearly by accumulating more and more facts, theories and methods. Not so, says Kuhn surveying history: there are periods of crisis where the decks were swept clean, textbooks were rewritten, and groups of scientists started looking at problems through a completely different prism.

    The introductory essay does a nice job of highlighting the book’s reception and the opposition of noted philosophers such as Karl Popper (biologists will know him from classics such as The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Conjectures and Refutations and the practice of hypothesis testing to accept or reject your proposed explanations), but also of interesting follow-up work looking at the book’s legacy such as The Road Since Structure.

    Kuhn kept plugging away at his theory until the end of his life, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript on the question of incommensurability, i.e. whether the theories before and after a paradigm shift can be meaningfully compared to each other. He thinks not, as the way of thinking and the use and meaning of existing vocabulary have so dramatically changed that trying to read and understand classic scientific tracts can be almost impossible. This material was, and as of today still is, unpublished but in preparation. Look out for Thomas Kuhn: The Plurality of Worlds.

    Although I will by default commend any publisher that goes to the serious* effort of continuing to make available classic works, my worry is always “how readable and relevant are they to a modern audience?”. Luckily, Kuhn’s well-crafted prose is still very readable today and his ideas remain intellectually stimulating. Interestingly, Hacking’s introductory essay already questions the applicability of Kuhn’s ideas to biology, which I will explore further in my review of How Scientific Progress Occurs.

    * I am excluding the countless print-on-demand outfits churning out works of which the copyright has expired while adding zero value to them.
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Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-96) was the Laurence Rockefeller Professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include The Essential Tension; Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912; and The Copernican Revolution.

By: Thomas S Kuhn(Author), Ian Hacking(Introduction By)
217 pages, no illustrations
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a towering achievement upon publication in 1962 and remains intellectually stimulating to this day.
Media reviews

"Like Thomas Kuhn, Ian Hacking has a gift for clear exposition. His introduction provides a helpful guide to some of the thornier philosophical issues [...] We may still admire Kuhn's dexterity in broaching challenging ideas with a fascinating mix of examples from psychology, history, philosophy, and beyond. We need hardly agree with each of Kuhn's propositions to enjoy – and benefit from – this classic book."
– David Kaiser, Nature

"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions did a gestalt flip on just about every assumption about the who, how, and what of scientific progress [...] The book still vibrates our culture's walls like a trumpet call. History of science may not have become exactly what Kuhn thought it should, but The Structure of Scientific Revolutions knocked it off its existing tracks."
Chronicle of Higher Education

"So long as there are still paradigms among us, the achievements of Thomas Kuhn will be remembered."
National Post (Canada)

"One of the most influential books of the 20th century [...] Singlehandedly changed the way we think about mankind's most organized attempt to understand the world."

"The Kuhnian image of science has reshaped our understanding of the scientific enterprise and human inquiry in general. If you haven't already read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the publication of this inexpensive 50th-anniversary edition offers a perfect excuse to do so."

"Thomas S. Kuhn didn't invent the phrase paradigm shift, but he popularized it and gave it the meaning it has today. He also triggered one when he published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 [...] After Kuhn, we can no longer ignore the fact that however powerful science is, it's as flawed as the scientists who do it."
– Time, All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books

"Occasionally there emerges a book which has an influence far beyond its originally intended audience [...] Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [...] has clearly emerged as just such a work."
– Ron Johnston, Times Higher Education Supplement

"The book really did change 'the image of science by which we are now possessed.' Forever."
– Ian Hacking, from the Introduction

"Perhaps the best explanation of the process of discovery."
– William Irwin Thompson, New York Times Book Review

"A landmark in intellectual history which has attracted attention far beyond its own immediate field [...] If causing a revolution is the hallmark of a superior paradigm, Structure has been a resounding success."
– Nicholas Wade, Science

"Among the most influential academic books in this century."

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