AF Chalmers - What is this thing called Science?

Chapter 8 – Theories as structures I: Kuhn’s paradigms  



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Chapter 8 – Theories as structures I:
Kuhn’s paradigms                                               

Mathematically formulated hypotheses form a convenient and effective method for creation of structure among observations.

When hypotheses created from various types of observations are possible to connect, this connection dramatically increases the confidence for both the connecting and the connected hypotheses.

Observations are then described by reference to the hypotheses.

Paradigm can be described as a belief system that is shared by many.

Alteration in beliefs - paradigm shift - are sometimes seen in young sciences when not yet interwoven systematic observations and structuring hypotheses gives a reliable and supporting structure.

The confidence in the scientific method may be said to be a paradigm. If so, it has not been changed since the eighteenth century.


The sketch of the Copernican Revolution outlined in the previous chapter suggests that the inductivist and falsificationist accounts of science are too piecemeal.

As noted earlier induction and falsification are not comparable. See comments to p.83 and 93.

The “scientific revolution” demonstrated the versatility of scientific methodology. See comments to p.92 and 93. But Popper’s theses (“descriptions”) cannot explain this “revolution”.

Historic studies, and all material objects around us, demonstrate the usefulness of scientific methodology, including induction. Also Kuhn realized this:

The overwhelming majority of scientific advance is of this normal cumulative sort

Thomas Kuhn - The Road Since Structure (2000) p.14.


Historic argument is not the only reason why some have seen the need to concentrate on theoretical frameworks.

History and logic shows without doubt that observations are the base for all experience about our world, including for theoretical hypotheses.

See comments to p.12, 13, 69 and 93.


Contrary to popular myth, experiment was by no means the key to Galileo's innovations in mechanics.

His efforts involved thought experiments, analogies and illustrative metaphors rather than detailed experimentation.

The statements about Galileo are erroneous, se comment to p.99.

Chalmers gives no account or source for his statement that the common and documented opinion that Galileo was a great experimentalist, should be erroneous.


In this section I have attempted to construct a rationale for approaching science by way of the theoretical frameworks within which scientific work and argumentation take place.



Introducing Thomas Kuhn

Inductivist and falsificationist accounts of science were challenged in a major way by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first published in 1962.

As stated earlier, induction is one type of method, verification and falsification another. See comments to p.83, 84, 93 and 104.

The rather few radical changes in paradigm that that may be claimed to have occurred have, as all experience about our perceived world, been based on observations which are generalized using induction and on structuring of such observations using verified hypotheses.

Observation, verification and induction are hence not by any means challenged by Kuhn’s discussion.


He came to believe that traditional accounts of science, whether inductivist or falsificationist, do not bear comparison with historical evidence.

As seen by the citation in the comment to p.104, Kuhn hence started to hesitate, and then came to believe again in the importance of traditional accounts of science, which includes methods like observation, induction and verification.

Chalmers also repeats his mantra, se the comment above.


Kuhn's picture of the way a science progresses can be summarized by:

Pre-science – normal science – crisis – revolution – new normal science – new crisis …

Major alterations in opinions about our world have mainly been seen when dogmatic opinions have been replaced by scientific methodology, i.e. at the border between pre-science and normal science in the scheme at left. See also comment to p.104.

In more mature sciences the observations described by interwoven verified hypotheses have provided an empiric base from many different types of observations. New methods or instruments have then modified, but not revolutionized, the beliefs within a field.


A mature science is governed by a single paradigm … /that/ sets the standards for legitimate work.

At the borders of any scientific area, many different beliefs exist.

If science should be governed by a single paradigm, it would be the confidence in the scientific method, and it has not been changed since it was established during the eighteenth century.


it is of the nature of a paradigm to belie precise definition.

A writer that hides from criticism avoids definitions. Without a definition nothing is claimed. When Kuhn writes a book about paradigms and paradigm shifts within science, he should at least have been able to give one single clear example of a paradigm, and to illustrate the circumstances that led to that the paradigm was altered.


Chalmers argues for presence of objective knowledge.

This indicates that Chalmers’ discussion about knowledge in relation to science in the first four chapters of the book was not deliberately erroneous.




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