the cedar ledge

What Are Kuhnian Paradigms?

Date: May 22 2022

Summary: An overview on what Thomas Kuhn meant by paradigm and how that applies to science.

Keywords: ##outline #science #normal #exemplar #paradigm #characteristics


T. S. Kuhn and I. Hacking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Fourth edition. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.


What Was Kuhn’s Concept of a Paradigm?

Kuhn reintroduced into the modern English lexicon the word, “paradigm.” Before his time, the term was rather archaic. A paradigm is the background through which normal science is conducted loosely speaking. Another way of thinking about it is from online user heynonnynonnie suggesting that a paradigm is a consensus agreed upon by a group of practitioners of a field.

What Are the Characteristics of a Paradigm?

When he used the word, as Kuhn admitted himself, he overloaded the term to mean quite a number of things. To my understanding, this was my gist of a Kuhnian paradigm in that paradigms generally have two core characteristics:

  1. Unprecedented and can sustain practitioners

  2. Open-ended and with problems to be solved or investigated

Endemic to paradigms is that they posit theories around a domain of research. For a paradigm to be accepted, it must propose a better theory than its predecessors or competitors. Furthermore, a proposed new paradigm is not required to address every fact of the world.

What Are the Benefits of Choosing a Paradigm?

When a domain decides upon a paradigm, avenues of research can now be readily scoped. By presupposing paradigm, questions can now be posed within the context of the paradigm. In accordance to the paradigm, it can be reasonably assumed that solutions can be found.

A benefit that did not immediately appear to me was the insulating properties of a paradigm. An example that Kuhn suggested is that in the social sciences, one has to frame an avenue of research by its importance to society (such as studying racial discrimination, etc.). Problems such as these are notoriously difficult to frame and reach a quorum consensus on due to possibly many competing schools of thought or groups. Instead, by keeping a conversation limited to the adherents of a specific paradigm, a researcher can easily keep moving forward through problems without having to strive against competing schools of thought. Furthermore, the insulating power of a paradigms gives a researcher the ability to solely focus on problems they think they can solve or are solvable.

I will admit, his example of social scientists was at first confusing. But, upon reflection, what made this example make sense is that he later explained his decision to have this as an example due to the fact that there are often many competing paradigms in these areas. This conflict makes progress difficult as many people still argue the fundamentals of these sciences.



CC BY-SA 4.0 Jacob Zelko. Last modified: June 21, 2022. Website built with Franklin.jl and the Julia programming language.