Kuhn, Thomas S.

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KUHN, THOMAS S. (1922–1996), U.S. historian and philosopher of science. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kuhn was educated at Harvard University, earning his bachelor's degree in 1943, his master's degree in physics in 1946, and his Ph.D. in the history of science in 1949. He remained at Harvard as a junior fellow, becoming an assistant professor of general education and the history of science in 1952. He taught at the University of California at Berkeley from 1956 to 1964, and at Princeton University from 1964 to 1979. Kuhn was named professor of the philosophy and history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979, becoming professor emeritus in 1984.

Kuhn's first book, The Copernican Revolution (1957), was a study of the development of the heliocentric theory of the solar system. His second work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), has become one of the most influential books in the philosophy of science, the social sciences, and the humanities. In this work, Kuhn argued against the conventional view of science as a gradual acquisition of knowledge, based on experimental data, which develops over time. Instead, Kuhn maintained that scientific theory has been defined by "paradigms," or worldviews, which consist of both theories and experimental methods. The acceptance of a paradigm by scientists influences all subsequent experimental work as scientists seek to refine its theories; the paradigm determines not only the type of experiments performed but also the interpretation of their results. Puzzling results are considered to result from flawed methodology. Eventually, however, an accumulation of difficult results and insoluble problems may cause a crisis that must be resolved by an intellectual revolution – in other words, by the creation of a new paradigm. Though initial reviews of the work were mixed, it was later considered to have revolutionized its field. Its influence has been considerable in areas beyond the history and philosophy of science, as Kuhn's concept of paradigm shifts was extended to political science, sociology, economics, and other fields.

Kuhn received many honors during his lifetime. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1954 and a fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science from 1958 to 1959. He served as director of the project Sources for the History of Quantum Physics, sponsored by the American Physical Society and the American Philosophical Society, from 1961 to 1964. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 1972 to 1979. He received the Howard T. Behrman Award from Princeton in 1977, the George Sarton Medal from the History of Science Society in 1982, and the Bernal Award from the Society for Social Studies of Science in 1983.

[Dorothy Bauhoff (2nd ed.)]