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    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy    Scientific Revolutions   First published Thu Mar 5, 2009; substantive revision Tue Nov 28, 2017   The topic of scientific revolutions has  been philosophically important since Thomas Kuhn’s account in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions   (1962, 1970). Kuhn’s death in 1996 and the fiftieth anniversary of Structure  in 2012 have renewed attention to the issues raised by his work. It is controversial whether or not there have been any revolutions in the strictly Kuhnian sense. It is also controversial what exactly a Kuhnian revolution is, or would be. Although talk of revolution is often exaggerated, most analysts agree that there have been transformative scientific developments of various kinds, whether Kuhnian or not. However, there is considerable disagreement about their import. The existence and nature of scientific revolutions is a topic that raises a host of fundamental questions about the sciences and how to interpret them, a topic that intersects most of the major issues that have concerned  philosophers of science and their colleagues in neighboring science and technology studies disciplines. Even if the so-called Scientific Revolution from Copernicus to Newton fits the attractive, Enlightenment picture of the transition from feudalism to modernity (a claim that is also contested), the putative revolutions in mature sciences (e.g., relativity and quantum mechanics) challenge this Enlightenment vision of permanent rational and methodological standards underlying objective sciences and technologies that lead society along the path of  progress toward the truth about the world. Today’s scientific realists are the most visible heirs of this picture. Although many philosophers and philosophically or historically reflective scientists had commented on the dramatic developments in twentieth-century  physics, it was not until Kuhn that such developments seemed so epistemologically and ontologically damaging as to seriously challenge traditional conceptions of science  —  and hence our understanding of knowledge acquisition generally. Why it was Kuhn’s work and its timing that made the major difference are themselves interesting questions for  investigation, given that others (e.g., Wittgenstein, Fleck, Bachelard, Polanyi, Toulmin, and Hanson) had already broached important “Kuhnian” themes.  Was there a Scientific Revolution that replaced pre-scientific thinking about nature and society and thus marked the transition to modernity? Which later developments, if any, are truly revolutionary? Are attributions of revolution usually a sign of insufficient historiographical understanding? In any case, how are such episodes to be explained historically and epistemologically? Are they contingent, that is, historical accidents and thus  perhaps avoidable; or are they somehow necessary to a “progressive” science? And, if so, why? Is there an overall pattern of scientific development? If so, is it basically one of creative displacement, as Kuhn claimed? Do all revolutions have the same structure and function, or are there diverse forms of rupture, discontinuity, or rapid change in science? Do they represent great leaps forward or, on the contrary, does their existence undercut the claim that science progresses? Does the existence of revolutions in mature sciences support a  postmodern or “post - critical” (Polanyi) rather than a modern, neo -Enlightenment conception of science in relation to other human enterprises? Does their existence support a strongly constructionist versus a realist conception of scientific knowledge claims? Are revolutions an exercise in rationality or are they so excessive as to be labeled irrational? Do they invite epistemological relativism? What are the implications of revolution for science policy? This entry will survey some but not all of these issues.    1. The Problems of Revolution and Innovative Change     2. History of the Concept of Scientific Revolution    o   2.1 Scientific Revolution as a Topic for Historiography of Science  o   2.2 Scientific Revolution as a Topic for Philosophy  o   2.3 Criteria for Identifying Scientific Revolutions       3. Kuhn’s Early A ccount of Scientific Revolutions  o   3.1 Kuhn’s Early Model of Mature Scientific Development   o   3.2 Revolution as Incommensurable Paradigm Change    o   3.3 Progress through Revolutions  o   3.4 Revolution or Evolution?     4. Kuhn’s Later Account of Scientific Revolutions      5. Larger Formations and Historical A Prioris: The Germanic and French Traditions  o   5.1 Thomas Kuhn: Kantian or Hegelian?  o   5.2 The German Neo-Kantian Tradition  o   5.3 The French Discontinuity Theorists  o   5.4 Kuhn’s Relation to the Germanic and French Traditions       6. Other Revolution Claims and Examples  o   6.1 Some Alternative Conceptions of Scientific Revolution  o   6.2 Some Biological Cases    o   6.3 Nonlinear Dynamics  o   6.4 The Essential Tension between Tradition and Innovation     Bibliography       Academic Tools     Other Internet Resources     Related Entries  1. The Problems of Revolution and Innovative Change   The difficulties in identifying and conceptualizing scientific revolutions involve many of the most challenging issues in epistemology, methodology, ontology, philosophy of language, and even value theory. With revolution we immediately confront the problem of deep,  possibly noncumulative, conceptual and practical change, now in modern science itself, a locus that Enlightenment thinkers would have found surprising. And since revolution is typically driven by new results, or by a conceptual-cum-social reorganization of old ones, often highly unexpected, we also confront the hard problem of understanding creative innovation. Third, major revolutions supposedly change the normative landscape of research  by altering the goals and methodological standards of the enterprise, so we face also the difficult problem of relating descriptive claims to normative claims and practices, and changes in the former to changes in the latter. Comparing the world of business innovation and economic theory provides a perspective on the difficulty of these problems, for both the sciences and the industrial technologies change rapidly and sometimes deeply (in the aforementioned ways), thanks to what might be termed “innovation push”—   both the pressure to innovate (to find and solve new problems, thereby creating new designs) and the pressure to accommodate innovation (see, e.g., Christensen 1997; Christensen and Raynor, 2003; Arthur 2009). In a market economy, as in science, there is a premium on change driven by innovation. Yet most economists have treated innovations as exogenous factors  —  as accidental, economically contingent events that come in from outside the economic system to work their effects. It is surprising that only recently has innovation become a central topic of economic theorists. Decades ago, the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter characterized economic innovation as  the process of industrial mutation — if I may use that biological term — that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure  from within , incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. [1942, chap. VII; Schumpeter’s emphasis]   Unfortunately, economists largely ignored this sort of claim (made also by a few others) until the recent development of economic growth theory (e.g., Robert Solow, Paul Romer, and W. Brian Arthur: see Beinhocker 2006 and Warsh 2006). The result was an inability of economic models to account for economic innovation endogenously and, thereby, to gain an adequate understanding of the generation of economic wealth. The parallel observation holds for philosophy of science. Here, too, the leading philosophers of science until the 1960s  —  the logical empiricists and the Popperians  —  rejected innovation as a legitimate topic, even though it is the primary intellectual driver of scientific change and  producer of the wealth of skilled knowledge that results. The general idea is that the so-called context of discovery, the context of creatively constructing new theories, experimental designs, etc., is only of historical and psychological interest, not epistemological interest, and that the latter resides in the epistemic status of the “final products” of investigation. On this view, convincing confirmation or refutation of a claim enables scientists to render an epistemic judgment that detaches it from its historical context. This judgment is based on the logical relations of theories and evidence rather than on history or psychology. According to this traditional view, there exists a logic of justification but not a logic of discovery. The distinction has nineteenth-century antecedents (Laudan 1980). Cohen and Nagel (1934) contended that to take historical path into account as part of the epistemic assessment was to confuse historical questions with logical questions and thereby to commit what they called a “genetic fallacy.” However, the context of discovery / context of justification distinction (or family of distinctions) is often attributed to Reichenbach (1938). (See the entry on Reichenbach. For recent discussion see Schickore and Steinle, 2006.) Today there are entire academic industries devoted to various aspects of the topic of scientific revolutions, whether political or scientific, yet we have no adequate general theory or model of revolutions in either sphere. This article will focus on Thomas Kuhn’s conception of scientific revolutions, which relies partly on analogies to political revolution and to religious conversion. Kuhn’s is by far the most discussed account of scientific revolutions and did much to reshape the field of philosophy of science, given his controversial claims about incommensurability, rationality, objectivity, progress, and realism. For a general account of Kuhn’s work, see the entry on  Kuhn. See also Hoyningen- Huene (1993), and Bird (2001). 2. History of the Concept of Scientific Revolution   What hist ory lies behind the terms ‘revolution’ and ‘scientific revolution’? The answer is an intriguing mix of accounts of physical phenomena, political fortunes, and conceptions of chance, fate, and history. Originally a term applying to rotating wheels and including the revolution of the celestial bodies (as in Copernicus’ title:    De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium ) and, more metaphorically, the wheel of fortune, ‘revolution’ was eventually

As a Man Thinketh

Sep 10, 2019
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