The revolutionary ideas of Thomas Kuhn

Thomas-KuhnJames A. Marcum at the TLS:

Thomas Kuhn’s influence on the academic and intellectual landscape in the second half of the twentieth century is undeniable. It spans the natural sciences, and the historical and philosophical disciplines that examine them, through to the fine arts and even to business. But what did Kuhn espouse? In brief, he popularized the notions of the paradigm and the paradigm shift. A paradigm for Kuhn is a bundle of puzzles, techniques, assumptions, standards and vocabulary that scientists endorse and employ to undertake their day-to-day activities and thereby make remarkable advances in understanding and explaining the natural world. What Kuhn unintentionally achieved, however, was to open the epistemic floodgates for non-scientific disciplines to rush through. Justin Fox, in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, to take a single example, queries whether economics is on the verge of “a paradigm shift”. Kuhn has his detractors and critics, of course – those who charge him with almost every conceivable academic failing, especially the promotion of relativism and irrationalism.

Kuhn was born on July 18, 1922 in Cincinnati, OH. After a progressive education, he matriculated in 1940 to Harvard University – majoring in physics – and graduated summa cum laude in 1943. He participated in several war-related projects, and after VE day he returned to Harvard to carry out research on theoretical solid-state physics, for which he was awarded a doctorate in 1949.

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