What Are Scientific Revolutions?

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The scientific revolution conjures a vision of a perfect overthrow of an archaic worldview, and the dethroning of devious medievalists determined to keep control. But can we trust the hype? There is another view: that what occurred in that roiling period between Copernicus and Newton was more mess than method; and no two philosophers could agree on anything. For National Science Week we cast a closer eye on a time when the world truly turned.

A pivotal character of the time was René Descartes, whose ideas challenged the existing Aristotelian conceptions. As part of an occasional series on essential reading we revisit a Cartesian classic.

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode: Talk about a revolution!

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Short Article of the Day

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the original publication of Thomas Kuhn’s famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn, who taught at Berkeley, Princeton and MIT following studies in physics at Harvard, was a historian of science whose ideas have had a major impact on the philosophy of science.

Now in its third edition, Structure has had a lasting influence on our thinking about science. After 50 years, Kuhn’s ideas show signs of wear. But they continue to shape our “image of science”, to echo Kuhn’s own turn of phrase in the opening lines of Structure...

Continue reading Howard Sankey's article: Thomas Juhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50 Years On

Further Reading

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...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Nickles

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

If you’re interested in scientific revolutions, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

The Enlightenment | Science | Scientific Method | Sociology

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