Lecture 10


Paradigms and Normal Science

Last time we examined in a very general way Kuhn's account of the historical development of particular scientific disciplines. To review, Kuhn argued that a scientific discipline goes through various stages: the pre-paradigmatic, paradigmatic ("normal"), and revolutionary (transitional, from one paradigm to another). Each stage is characterized in terms of the notion of a paradigm, so it is highly important that we discuss this notion in detail. Today, we will limit ourselves primarily to the context of the transition from pre-paradigmatic science to "normal" (paradigm-governed) science.


Let's look a bit a Kuhn's characterization of the notion of paradigm. He introduces paradigms first as "universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners" (page x). A paradigm is "at the start largely a promise of success discoverable in selected and still incomplete examples" (pages 23-24), and it is "an object for further articulation and specification under new or more stringent conditions" (page 23); hence from paradigms "spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research" (page 10) that Kuhn calls "normal science." Normal science consists primarily of developing the initial paradigm "by extending the knowledge of those facts that the paradigm displays as particularly revealing, by increasing the extent of the match between those facts and the paradigm's predictions, and by further articulation of the paradigm itself" (page 24). The paradigm provides "a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions" (page 27). Those phenomena "that will not fit the box are often not seen at all" (page 24). Normal science "suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments." Nevertheless, not all problems will receive solutions within the paradigm, even after repeated attempts, and so anomalies develop that produce "the tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity of normal science" (page 6).

At the outset of SSR, we are told that a paradigm is a concrete achievement that provides a model for subsequent research. Such achievements are referred to in textbooks, lectures, and laboratory exercises; typically, they are the standard problems that a student is required to solve in learning the discipline. The task given the student provides some of the content of the mathematical equations (or more generally, theoretical descriptions) that comprise the main body of the text. In other parts of SSR, however, we are told that a paradigm is much more, e.g., that it includes law, theory, application, and instrumentation together (page 10); or that it is a set of commitments of various sorts, including conceptual, theoretical, instrumental, methodological, and quasi-metaphysical commitments (pages 41-42). Paradigms sometimes are characterized as definitive, concrete patterns or models for subsequent research, but at other times seem to be characterized as vague theories or theory schemas to be subsequently articulated. In its broadest sense, the paradigm is taken to included theories, laws, models, concrete applications (exemplars--"paradigms" in the narrower sense), explicit or implicit metaphysical beliefs, standard for judging theories, and particular sets of theoretical values. In short, anything that is accepted or presupposed by a particular scientific community can seemingly be part of a "paradigm."

There is no doubt that all these elements are present in science. The question is whether it is informative to characterize science in this way. A basic problem is as follows: is "paradigm" is defined in its broadest sense, where anything that is accepted or presupposed by a scientific community is part of the "paradigm" that defines that community, then it is a relatively trivial matter to say that there are paradigms. (That is, it's not really a substantive historical thesis to say that scientific eras are defined by the universal acceptance of a paradigm if a paradigm is simply defined as whatever is universally accepted.)

In his 1969 Postscript to SSR, Kuhn recognizes these problems and distinguishes between two senses of "paradigm" as used in SSR: a "disciplinary matrix" (framework) and an "exemplar." The former (disciplinary matrix) is the entire framework--conceptual, methodological, metaphysical, theoretical, and instrumental--assumed by a scientific tradition. The latter (exemplars) are the concrete, definitive achievements upon which all subsequent research is patterned. Kuhn's thesis about paradigms is not empty, since he argues that the definitive, concrete achievement ("paradigm" in the narrow sense) provides the foundation of the disciplinary matrix ("paradigm" in the broader sense). In other words, a scientific tradition is defined not by explicitly stated theories derived by explicit methodological rules, but by intuitive abstraction from a particular, concrete achievement. Let's look at this in more detail.

The function of textbook examples - Textbook examples provide much of the content of the mathematical or theoretical principles that precede them. Here's a common phenomenon: you read the chapter, think you understand, but can't do the problems. This doesn't evince any failure on your part to understand the text, simply shows that understanding the theory cannot be achieved simply by reading a set of propositions. Learning the theory consists in applying it (it's not that you learn the theory first and then learn to apply it). In other words, knowledge of a theory is not always propositional knowledge (knowledge that--accumulation of facts); it is sometimes procedural or judgmental knowledge (knowledge how--acquiring judgmental skills). Scientists agree on the identification of a paradigm (exemplar), but not necessarily on the full interpretation or rationalization of the paradigm (page 44).

Scientific training is a process of incorporation into a particular community - The goal of training is to get the student to see new problems as like the standard problems in a certain respect: to group the problems that he will be faced with into certain similarity classes, based on the extent to which they resemble the concrete, standard exemplars. Being able to group things in the right way, and to attack similar problems using methods appropriate for solving that particular type of problem evinces understanding and so incorporation into the community. Kuhn's thesis is that it does not evince the internalization of methodological rules explicit or implicit in scientific procedure. (Here a "rule" is understood as a kind of statement about how to proceed in certain circumstances.) That is not to say that none, or even most, of scientific practice can be codified into rules; it is just that rules of how to proceed are not required, nor does scientific competence (in the sense of judgmental skills) consist in the acquisition of rules (statements about how to proceed) and facts (statements about the way the world is). This distinguishes him from Carnap and Popper, who see at least the "justification" of scientific theories are a rule-governed procedure.

Thus, to adopt a paradigm is to adopt a concrete achievement as definitive for the discipline. (Example: Newton's Principia, with its application to particular problems such as the tides, the orbits of the planets, terrestrial motion such as occurs with projectiles, pendulums, and springs, and so on.) It's definitive in the sense that the methods that were used, the result that was obtained, and the assumptions behind the methods (mathematical generalizations, techniques for relating the formalism to concrete situations, etc.). The discipline then grows by extending these procedures to new areas--the growth is not simply one of "mopping up" however (despite Kuhn's own characterization of it as such), but rather an extension of the disciplinary matrix (framework) by organic growth. (No sufficient & necessary conditions; instead, a family resemblance.)

Normal Science

Pre-Paradigmatic Science - Kuhn's model is the physical sciences; almost all of his examples are taken from Astronomy, Physics, or Chemistry. This affects his view of science. Consider, on the other hand, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, are they "pre-paradigmatic"? Is there any universally shared framework? If so, are they sciences at all?

ï Some properties - each person has to start anew from the foundations (or at least, each subgroup); disagreement over fundamentals (what counts as an interesting problem, what methods should be used to solve the problem, what problems have been solved); in this context, all facts seem equally relevant:

In the absence of a paradigm or some candidate for a paradigm, all of the facts that could possibly pertain to the development of a given science are likely to seem equally relevant. As a result, early fact-gathering is a far more nearly random activity than the one that subsequent scientific research makes familiar ... [and] is usually restricted to the wealth of data that lie ready to hand (page 15).

Thus, some important facts are missed (e.g., electrical repulsion).

Why accept a paradigm?

Important to recognize that the form of the solution is not exactly specified, but only the categories in which it will be framed and the set of allowable paths that will get one there. However, this again is not a rule-bound activity, but imitation (and extension) of a pattern. "Normal science can proceed without rules only so long as the relevant scientific community accepts without question the particular problems-solutions already achieved. Rules should therefore become important and the characteristic unconcern about them should vanish whenever paradigms or models are felt to be insecure" (page 47).

Discuss: What level of unanimity exists in present sciences? Aren't there disagreements even in physics?