«The Structure of Scientific Revolutions THOMAS S. KUHN (1962) (Excerpt) VIII. The Response to Crisis Let us then assume that crises are a necessary ...»
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
THOMAS S. KUHN (1962) (Excerpt)
VIII. The Response to Crisis
Let us then assume that crises are a necessary precondition for the emergence of novel theories
and ask next how scientists respond to their existence. Part of the answer, as obvious as it is
important, can be discovered by noting first what scientists never do when confronted by even
severe and prolonged anomalies. Though they may begin to lose faith and then to consider alternatives, they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis. They do not, that is, treat anomalies as counterinstances, though in the vocabulary of philosophy of science that is what they are. In part this generalization is simply a statement from historic fact, based upon examples like those given above and, more extensively, below. These hint what our later examination of paradigm rejection will disclose more fully: once it has achieved the status of paradigm, a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place. No process yet disclosed by the historical study of scientific development at all resembles the methodological stereotype of falsification by direct comparison with nature.
That remark does not mean that scientists do not reject scientific theories, or that experience and experiment are not essential to the process in which they do so. But it does mean--what will ultimately be a central point--that the act of judgment that leads scientists to reject a previously accepted theory is always based upon more than a comparison of that theory with the world. The decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another, and the judgment leading to that decision involves the comparison of both paradigms with nature and with each other.
There is, in addition, a second reason for doubting that scientists reject paradigms because confronted with anomalies or counterinstances. In developing it my argument will itself foreshadow another of this essay's main theses. The reasons for doubt sketched above were purely factual; they were, that is, themselves counterinstances to a prevalent epistemological theory. As such, if my present point is correct, they can at best help to create a crisis or, more accurately, to reinforce one that is already very much in existence, By themselves they cannot and will not falsify that philosophical theory, for its defenders will do what we have already seen scientists doing when confronted by anomaly, They will devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict. Many of the relevant modifications and qualifications are, in fact, already in the literature. If, therefore, these epistemological counterinstances are to constitute more than a minor irritant, that will be because they help to permit the emergence of a new and different analysis of science within which they are no longer a source of trouble. Furthermore, if a typical pattern, which we shall later observe in scientific revolutions, is applicable here, these anomalies will then no longer seem to be simply facts. From within a new theory of scientific knowledge, they may instead seem very much like tautologies, statements of situations that could not conceivably have been otherwise, It has often been observed, for example, that Newton's second law of motion, though it took centuries of difficult factual and theoretical research to achieve, behaves for those committed to Newton's theory very much like a purely logical statement that no amount of observation could refute.1 In Section X we shall see that the chemical law of fixed proportion, which before Dalton was an occasional experimental finding of very dubious generality, became after Dalton's work an ingredient of a definition of chemical compound that no experimental work could by itself have upset. Something much like that will also happen to the generalization that scientists fail to reject paradigms when faced with anomalies or counterinstances, They could not do so and still remain scientists. Though history is unlikely to record their names, some men have undoubtedly been driven to desert science because of their inability to tolerate crisis, Like artists, creative scientists must occasionally be able to live in a world out of joint--elsewhere I have described that necessity as "the essential tension" implicit in scientific research.2 But that rejection of science in favor of another occupation is, I think, the only sort of paradigm rejection to which counterinstances by themselves can lead. Once a first paradigm through which to view nature has been found, there is no such thing as research in the absence of any paradigm, To reject one paradigm without simultaneously substituting another is to reject science itself. That act reflects not on the paradigm but on the man, Inevitably he will be seen by his colleagues as "the carpenter who blames his tools."
The same point can be made at least equally effectively in reverse: there is no such thing as research without counterinstances, For what is it that differentiates normal science from science in a crisis state? Not, surely, that the former confronts no counterinstances, On the contrary, what we previously called the puzzles that constitute normal science exist only because no paradigm that provides a basis for scientific research ever completely resolves all its problems. The very few that have ever seemed to do so (e.g., geometric optics) have shortly ceased to yield research problems at all and have instead become tools for engineering.
Excepting those that are exclusively instrumental, every problem that normal science sees as a puzzle can be seen, from another viewpoint, as a counterinstance and thus as a source of crisis.
Copernicus saw as counterinstances what most of Ptolemy's other successors had seen as puzzles in the match between observation and theory. Lavoisier saw as a counterinstance what Priestley had seen as a successfully solved puzzle in the articulation of the phlogiston theory. And Einstein saw as counterinstances what Lorentz, Fitzgerald, and others had seen as puzzles in the articulation of Newton's and Maxwell's theories. Furthermore, even the existence of crisis does not by itself transform a puzzle into a counterinstance. There is no such sharp dividing line.
Instead, by proliferating versions of the paradigm, crisis loosens the rules of normal puzzlesolving in ways that ultimately permit a new paradigm to emerge. There are, I think, only two alternatives: either no scientific theory ever confronts a counterinstance, or all such theories confront counterinstances at all times.
How can the situation have seemed otherwise? That question necessarily leads to the historical and critical elucidation of philosophy, and those topics are here barred. But we can at least note two reasons why science has seemed to provide so apt an illustration of the generalization that truth and falsity are uniquely and unequivocally determined by the confrontation of statement with fact. Normal science does and must continually strive to bring theory and fact into closer agreement, and that activity can easily be seen as testing or as a search for confirmation or falsification. Instead, its object is to solve a puzzle for whose very existence the validity of the paradigm must be assumed. Failure to achieve a solution discredits only the scientist and not the theory. Here, even more than above, the proverb applies: "It is a poor carpenter who blames his tools." In addition, the manner in which science pedagogy entangles discussion of a theory with remarks on its exemplary applications has helped to reinforce a confirmation-theory drawn predominantly from other sources. Given the slightest reason for doing so, the man who reads a science text can easily take the applications to be the evidence for the theory, the reasons why it ought to be believed. But science students accept theories on the authority of teacher and text, not because of evidence. What alternatives have they, or what competence? The applications given in texts are not there as evidence but because learning them is part of learning the paradigm at the base of current practice. If applications were set forth as evidence, then the very failure of texts to suggest alternative interpretations or to discuss problems for which scientists have failed to produce paradigm solutions would convict their authors of extreme bias. There is not the slightest reason for such an indictment.
How, then, to return to the initial question, do scientists respond to the awareness of an anomaly in the fit between theory and nature? What has just been said indicates that even a discrepancy unaccountably larger than that experienced in other applications of the theory need not draw any very profound response. There are always some discrepancies. Even the most stubborn ones usually respond at last to normal practice. Very often scientists are willing to wait, particularly if there are many problems available in other parts of the field. We have already noted, for example, that during the sixty years after Newton's original computation, the predicted motion of the moon's perigee remained only half of that observed. As Europe's best mathematical physicists continued to wrestle unsuccessfully with the well-known discrepancy, there were occasional proposals for a modification of Newton's inverse square law. But no one took these proposals very seriously, and in practice this patience with a major anomaly proved justified. Clairaut in 1750 was able to show that only the mathematics of the application had been wrong and that Newtonian theory could stand as before.3 Even in cases where no mere mistake seems quite possible (perhaps because the mathematics involved is simpler or of a familiar and elsewhere successful sort), persistent and recognized anomaly does not always induce crisis. No one seriously questioned Newtonian theory because of the long-recognized discrepancies between predictions from that theory and both the speed of sound and the motion of Mercury. The first discrepancy was ultimately and quite unexpectedly resolved by experiments on heat undertaken for a very different purpose; the second vanished with the general theory of relativity after a crisis that it had had no role in creating.4 Apparently neither had seemed sufficiently fundamental to evoke the malaise that goes with crisis. They could be recognized as counterinstances and still be set aside for later work.
It follows that if an anomaly is to evoke crisis, it must usually be more than just an anomaly.
There are always difficulties somewhere in the paradigm-nature fit; most of them are set right sooner or later, often by processes that could not have been foreseen. The scientist who pauses to examine every anomaly he notes will seldom get significant work done. We therefore have to ask what it is that makes an anomaly seem worth concerted scrutiny, and to that question there is probably no fully general answer. The cases we have already examined are characteristic but scarcely prescriptive. Sometimes an anomaly will clearly call into question explicit and fundamental generalizations of the paradigm, as the problem of ether drag did for those who accepted Maxwell's theory. Or, as in the Copernican revolution, an anomaly without apparent fundamental import may evoke crisis if the applications that it inhibits have a particular practical importance, in this case for calendar design and astrology. Or, as in eighteenthcentury chemistry, the development of normal science may transform an anomaly that had previously been only a vexation into a source of crisis: the problem of weight relations had a very different status after the evolution of pneumatic-chemical techniques. Presumably there are still other circumstances that can make an anomaly particularly pressing, and ordinarily several of these will combine. We have already noted, for example, that one source of the crisis that confronted Copernicus was the mere length of time during which astronomers had wrestled unsuccessfully with the reduction of the residual discrepancies in Ptolemy's system.
When, for these reasons or others like them, an anomaly comes to seem more than just another puzzle of normal science, the transition to crisis and to extraordinary science has begun. The anomaly itself now comes to be more generally recognized as such by the profession. More and more attention is devoted to it by more and more of the field's most eminent men. If it still continues to resist, as it usually does not, many of them may come to view its resolution as the subject matter of their discipline. For them the field will no longer look quite the same as it had earlier. Part of its different appearance results simply from the new fixation point of scientific scrutiny. An even more important source of change is the divergent nature of the numerous partial solutions that concerted attention to the problem has made available. The early attacks upon the resistant problem will have followed the paradigm rules quite closely. But with continuing resistance, more and more of the attacks upon it will have involved some minor or not so minor articulation of the paradigm, no two of them quite alike, each partially successful, but none sufficiently so to be accepted as paradigm by the group. Through this proliferation of divergent articulations (more and more frequently they will come to be described as ad hoc adjustments), the rules of normal science become increasingly blurred. Though there still is a paradigm, few practitioners prove to be entirely agreed about what it is. Even formerly standard solutions of solved problems are called in question.