Cover image for Thomas Kuhn : a philosophical history for our times
Thomas Kuhn : a philosophical history for our times
Fuller, Steve, 1959-
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Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xvii, 472 pages ; 24 cm
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Q175 .F927 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the best known and most influential books of the twentieth century. Whether they adore or revile him, critics and fans alike have tended to agree on one thing: Kuhn's ideas were revolutionary. But were they?

Steve Fuller argues that Kuhn actually held a profoundly conservative view of science and how one ought to study its history. Early on, Kuhn came under the influence of Harvard President James Bryant Conant (to whom Structure is dedicated), who had developed an educational program intended to help deflect Cold War unease over science's uncertain future by focusing on its illustrious past. Fuller argues that this rhetoric made its way into Structure, which Fuller sees as preserving and reinforcing the old view that science really is just a steady accumulation of truths about the world (once "paradigm shifts" are resolved).

Fuller suggests that Kuhn, deliberately or not, shared the tendency in Western culture to conceal possible negative effects of new knowledge from the general public. Because it insists on a difference between a history of science for scientists and one suited to historians, Fuller charges that Structure created the awkward divide that has led directly to the "Science Wars" and has stifled much innovative research. In conclusion, Fuller offers a way forward that rejects Kuhn's fixation on paradigms in favor of a conception of science as a social movement designed to empower society's traditionally disenfranchised elements.

Certain to be controversial, Thomas Kuhn must be read by anyone who has adopted, challenged, or otherwise engaged with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

"Structure will never look quite the same again after Fuller. In that sense, he has achieved one of the main aims of his ambitious and impressively executed project."--Jon Turney, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Philosophies like Kuhn's narrow the possible futures of inquiry by politically methodizing and taming them. More republican philosophies will leave the future open. Mr. Fuller has amply succeeded in his program of distinguishing the one from the other."--William R. Everdell, Washington Times

Author Notes

Steve Fuller is professor of sociology at the University of Warwick.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The resonance of the phrase "paradigm shift" amply testifies to the profound influence of Thomas Kuhn's book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). For Fuller, that influence cannot end soon enough. Fuller accuses Kuhn of succumbing to cold war ideology in constructing a myth of scientific autonomy that shielded American science from public scrutiny while cutting its practitioners loose from their historical moorings. Worse, the wide acceptance of Kuhn's misleading schema has caused scholars in all kinds of fields to distort their disciplines in order to imitate the paradigm-governed sciences enshrined in Structure. Kuhn's logic has also paralyzed philosophers, who have surrendered their traditional prerogative of evaluating the objectives and social effects of science, and has justified an ever-narrower specialization in which researchers do not even attempt to communicate with one another. The time has come, Fuller urges, to end this cultural pathology. Hearkening back to the views of Austrian physicist Ernst Mach, Fuller calls for a new "citizen science" in which science serves the dynamic and openly debated interests of democracy, not the recondite demands of a static paradigm. A brilliant analysis deserving as wide a readership as the acclaimed book it critiques. --Bryce Christensen

Library Journal Review

Fuller (sociology, Univ. of Warwick) argues that the Kuhnian philosophy of the history of science, as presented in Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions owes a lot to the ideas of James Bryant Conant (1893-1978), who was president of Harvard University. Fuller also maintains Kuhn's central idea of a "paradigm shift" in the sciences is actually a sociopolitically motivated view of conceptual revolutions in scientific history. Unfortunately, Fuller does not offer the reader a clear and succinct chapter on the life and thought of Kuhn (l922-96). Instead, the author discusses the complex emergence of Kuhn's viewpoints, with an emphasis on developments in modern physics. Even so, the relevance of empirical evidence is never stressed as being far more crucial to the success of scientific theories than the influences of social movements. This very scholarly but overly abstruse introduction to Kuhn's influence on society and education is suitable for large academic science collections only.DH. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This work, a study of the life and times of T.S. Kuhn's epochal The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), has already provoked considerable controversy. According to Fuller (sociology, Univ. of Warwick), an inexhaustible chronicler of science and technology studies (STS), Kuhn's notions of intellectual history were inaccurately "mythical," arising in a deterministic context of Cold War Harvard, and their influences, particularly in Fuller's own sociology of science, were and are retrogressive. The polydisciplinary mosaic of supporting contextual studies are formidable, and although the overall theses are nonetheless implausible, there are dozens of authentic portraits of near-forgotten predecessors in history, philosophy, and sociology of science, as well as acute analyses of performing centers, such as Columbia's and Harvard's programs in "general science" in the 1970s, Edinburgh's "strong programme" in the 1980s, and recent post-post-modernist France (with a rare defense of the less extreme of the phenomenological and postmodern sides of the current "science wars"). Fuller's hostility to Kuhn's ideas and to the "Kuhnization" of science studies, and his persistent self-referencing notes are annoying, but also productively contentious, so that his "intellectual surgery" and the tools of his contextualism ("nonrelativist constructionism") commends this book to all participants in contemporary history, philosophy, and sociology of science. Undergraduates through faculty. P. D. Skiff; Bard College

Table of Contents

Preface: Being There with Thomas Kuhn
I The Pilgrimage from Plato to NATO
Episodes in Enbushelment
II The Last Time Scientists Struggled for the Soul of Science
III The Politics of the Scientific Image in the Age of Conant
IV From Conant's Education Strategy to Kuhn's Research Strategy
V How Kuhn Unwittingly Saved Social Science from a Radical Future
VI The World Not Well Lost
Philosophy after Kuhn
VII Kuhnification as Ritualized Political Impotence
The Hidden History of Science Studies
VIII Conclusions