Thomas Samuel Kuhn (1922-96) was an American historian and philosopher of science. He was born in Cincinnati. Kuhn obtained his
Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and PhD in physics from Harvard University. He taught the history of science at Harvard
from 1948 until 1956. He then moved to California for a few years before returning (via Princeton) to take up a position at MIT(Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
His most famous work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was published in 1962. Kuhn argued against Karl Popper’s thesis that scientific knowledge progresses in a linear fashion via the progressive repudiation of thoughts, models, and ideas. Popper believed that science’s true concern is not with ‘what is’, but rather with what can be proven false or impossible. In contrast, Kuhn argued that science proceeds via paradigm shifts’ (comparable to Bachelard’s concept of the epistemological break, though much narrower in scope) amounting
to wholesale revolutions in thought. His rationale is that some scientific discoveries do not merely refute previous theories, they redraw the map of knowledge itself-for example, when Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic he not only proved once and for all that to do so did not risk falling off the edge of the earth, he also created a vast new colonial enterprise.
Kuhn proposed a three-phase model of scientific progress: first, there is prescience, which follows certain discoveries, but lacks an overall hypothesis; then there is ‘normal science’ in which the initial discoveries are converted into a paradigm or platform of thought upon which future work can be built; the third phase is crisis, which is what happens when the second phase ultimately fails. The crisis is resolved with the irruption of a new paradigm in the place of the old. Kuhn maintained that each new paradigm was incommensurable with what went before, but this has since been rejected as unnecessarily relativistic.