views updated May 21 2018


Paradigm is the key term in Thomas Kuhn's (19221996) very influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). As is frequently the case when new ideas are presented, Kuhn took an existing term and gave it a specialized meaning. The term paradigm now occurs frequently in every kind of discourse, usually to mean something like "way of thinking" or "approach to a problem." Kuhn has generally been given credit for introducing this usage, but the way that paradigm is popularly used misses a central aspect of his argument. Kuhn emphasizes that a paradigm cannot be reduced to a set of beliefs or to a list of rules and indeed that a paradigm cannot be put into words. Scientists have to learn by doing, both by thinking in terms of the concepts that are used in a particular science and by physically manipulating material to create phenomena.

Kuhn argues that the history of science is best understood as exhibiting stable periods, which he calls normal science, punctuated by revolutionary changes. Paradigm is the central concept that Kuhn uses to make his case, since a period of normal science is defined by its paradigm and a scientific revolution is, in Kuhn's terms, a change in paradigms. Typically a paradigm is first established by the publication of a ground-breaking book that sets out problems and solutions, then others adopt the aims and methods of the original, thus establishing a period of normal science. Contrary to the traditional view that science was founded in Renaissance Europe by "the scientific revolution," Kuhn sees multiple revolutions in the history of science, that is, multiple cases of the overthrow of one scientific paradigm by another.

Paradigm is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a pattern, exemplar, or example. Kuhn acknowledges this meaning by giving the conjugation of a regular Latin verb as an example of a paradigm. Furthermore, since he believes that a normal science is typically established by an important book and often by a series of experiments, it is clear that Kuhn has the idea of a paradigm as a pattern that will be followed very much in mind when he is explaining his view. A key aspect of paradigms is that they set out problems and also show how to solve them. Newton's laws of motion and the force of gravity combine to explain planetary motion, for example. There is more to a paradigm than a good model to follow, however. Kuhn also thinks that among scientists who are working under the same paradigm, the historian can find common methods, common standards, common aims, and fundamental agreement about the nature of the world and the nature of the processes in it. Periods of normal science are characterized by consensus, especially about fundamentals, and this agreement allows for specialization, or as Kuhn puts it, "professional and esoteric work" (1996, p. 23). The function of normal science is to extend the original work by applying its methods to new areas as well as to revisit old ground in order to refine the paradigm. Because normal science is based on agreement and has well-defined parameters, it can make progress and accumulate knowledge.

On Definition

Kuhn compresses his discussion of the centrality of the notion of paradigm into a single chapter entitled "The Priority of Paradigms." Paradigms have priority because there is nothing more basic by which "paradigm" could be defined. In logical terminology, the word paradigm functions as a primitive term. Properties of paradigms can be given and examples of paradigms can be enumerated, but the word cannot be defined, any more than number can be defined in arithmetic. Kuhn justifies his introduction of the term paradigm by arguing that, for the historian, it is a better organizational concept than any other. By looking for paradigms and changes in paradigms, the historian can classify scientists and historical periods in ways that lead to productive research and a better understanding of the history of science. Turning to philosophers to justify the undefinability of paradigms, Kuhn invokes Michael Polyani's (18911976) idea of tacit knowledge and Ludwig Wittgenstein's (18891951) idea that some human activities cannot be captured by a set of rules, arguing that while paradigms cannot be reduced to a set of methods and beliefs, they are recognizable to the historian as the organizing principle underlying a period of normal science.

The root definition of paradigm as both pattern and example exhibits both sides of a classical philosophical debate over the nature of definition. Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) argued forcefully that providing examples is not adequate; the real definition of a term must specify what the examples have in common and thus explain why they all properly fall under the concept being defined. In the terminology of later philosophy, Plato argues that a definition must tell us the essence of a thing. For Plato, this is the eidos, the eternal form or idea to which all objects falling under a concept must conform. Kuhn sides with David Hume (17111776) and Wittgenstein in rejecting Plato's requirement that the essence be given in the proper definition of a concept. Like Hume, Kuhn argues that it is enough to say that the objects falling under a concept resemble one another in various aspects that can be specified and to take that resemblance as a starting point. Kuhn claims that paradigms do not have an essence, since there is always some disagreement and some difference in emphasis among scientists who are working under the same paradigm. In Wittgenstein's terminology, the historian can find a family resemblance among the views of these scientists rather than single common set of beliefs and methods.

Kuhn also defends his view that paradigms cannot be reduced to a set of beliefs and rules of method by pointing out that scientists learn by working through concrete examples of problems, not by learning rules. Thus learning a paradigm is more like learning a skill than like learning a body of knowledge, a point that Joseph Rouse has rightly emphasized. Kuhn is very close to using paradigm in its original meaning here, since the problems and solutions through which students learn are to be taken as patterns of scientific thought and work.

Criticism of Kuhn's Paradigms

Kuhn's use of the term paradigm was immediately criticized, especially by philosophers, for being too broad and vague. In the postscript to Structure (1962), Kuhn conceded that the term was perhaps too broad, saying that he would use paradigm to mean "exemplar," that is, the founding book or experiment of a particular science, and that the rest of the elements that make up normal science will be called the "disciplinary matrix." However, this change in terminology played no role in Kuhn's later work, so it provides little gain in understanding his viewpoint.

Kuhn was also accused of circularity, since it seems that in order to determine the nature of the paradigm behind a particular period of normal science, the historian must first determine which scientists belong to that group and then study their work to discover their aims, methods, and assumptions. However, since normal science is defined in terms of a paradigm, it seems that the historian must also recognize a paradigm first in order to know which scientists are working under it. Kuhn acknowledged that this was indeed a problem, suggesting that scientists should be categorized first on purely sociological grounds, such as who works with whom, and then the paradigm that underlies these connections be can determined.


Kuhn argued that his use of the term revolution to describe changes in science is appropriate because, like political revolutions, scientific revolutions overturn existing rules and institutions in order to establish new ones. By definition, there can be no legal way to have a political revolution, since any changes that follow the processes of the old regime would merely be reform, not revolution. For Kuhn the key point of the analogy between political and scientific revolutions is that in both cases there are no rules that could help adjudicate between the two systems. The supporters of the old and the new paradigms will each follow their own methods, emphasize their own aims, and accept their own solutions to problems, without necessarily accepting any of the methods, aims, or standards of supporters of the other paradigm. In an influential paper that helped redirect criticism of Kuhn's book, Gerald Doppelt emphasized the apparent relativism of Kuhn's view, given that there is no right or wrong answer to the question of when an old paradigm should be abandoned and a new paradigm adopted. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (17431794) and Joseph Priestley (17331804) independently discovered oxygen, but while Lavoisier used this discovery as a basis for a new chemistry, Priestley never accepted Lavoisier's revolution and maintained the old phlogiston paradigm instead. Kuhn argued that both of these famous scientists were acting reasonably. Nothing can force a scientist to change paradigms, according to Kuhn, because a scientist can always find a way either to incorporate new data into the existing paradigm or to show why the new data can be dismissed as unimportant from the point of view of the existing paradigm. It is important to note, however, that Kuhn is not saying that anyone can believe anything. Paradigms must be well developed and cover a wide range of phenomena. It is not easy to develop a new science that will justify the overthrow of an established paradigm.

Rather than promoting general relativism, Kuhn saw himself as rejecting particular philosophical accounts of science. He criticizes the idea of confirming scientific theories and comparing how well they are confirmed, a view of science associated with Rudolf Carnap (18911970), and he criticizes the idea of testing scientific theories to show that one theory is false, a view of science associated with Karl Popper (19021994). Both of these views require that a body of neutral evidence be available to scientists, a position that Kuhn disputes because, he claims, all evidence is acquired on the basis of a paradigm and therefore an element of it. He also points out that Popper's view that theories should be rejected when negative evidence is found is unrealistic, since there are always anomaliesproblems that the paradigm cannot solve.

Leaps of Faith

Given that no new evidence or argument could overthrow a paradigm, Kuhn needs to explain "What causes the group [of professional scientists] to abandon one tradition of normal research in favor of another" (1996, p. 144). After pointing out that it is possible for a revolution to take place over generations without requiring individual scientists to change from one paradigm to another, Kuhn sets out four reasons that scientists may have for deciding to change paradigms. Two of these reasons, aesthetic considerations (including simplicity, unity, and so forth) and personal or political beliefs, are clearly subjective. We can understand how Lavoisier could have reasons to revolutionize chemistry that Priestley did not share, if the reasons given are personal and subjective. We do not expect others to have the same personal or subjective views or tastes that we do. Kuhn also says that a scientist may change from one paradigm to another if the new paradigm solves problems that the old one could not. New paradigms are successfully introduced when there is a crisis, that is, when scientists feel that the old paradigm is not working. To revolutionary scientists, what had been anomalies are now seen as refutations of the old paradigm. Although this reason for changing paradigms sounds objective, Kuhn argues that there is no objective way to know how seriously anomalies should be taken. Some, like Lavoisier, will feel that there is a crisis and a need for revolutionary change, while others, like Priestley, can look at the same situation and feel no need for change. To add to the sense that these two positions are subjective, Kuhn famously describes the change from one paradigm to another as a Gestalt shift, in which a picture of an old woman suddenly looks like a young woman or a duck suddenly looks like a rabbit. When they are seen from the perspective of the new paradigm, what had been minor anomalous puzzles suddenly show that the old paradigm was terribly wrong. Finally, Kuhn points out that in a revolutionary period, scientists must decide which paradigm is more promising for future success. Such forward-looking predictions are bound to be based on partial information and require belief in the promise of the paradigm. Kuhn calls this a matter of faith and argues that it too is subjective, like all of the reasons that scientists may have to change paradigms.

Criticism of Kuhn's Relativism

Kuhn was rather surprised at the reaction of many philosophers and scientists to his work. He did not see himself as claiming that science is irrational or subjective but rather as developing a philosophy of science that was true to the actual history of science. While this may be true, it is also clear that Kuhn was quite capable of using inflammatory rhetoric that was bound to offend many supporters of science. For example, when explaining the analogy with political revolution, he says that the defender of a new viewpoint must resort to "techniques of mass persuasion, including force" when political recourse fails (1996, p. 93). In the mythology of modern science, the church represents the Dark Ages, superstition, and jargon-filled Scholastic rationalizations, whereas science represents reason, knowledge, and the objective quest for the truth. Yet Kuhn says that science textbooks are as dogmatic as orthodox theology, and, in arguing that there is no objective criterion for deciding between paradigms, he says changing from one paradigm to another is a "conversion experience" (1996, p. 151). Explaining how the existence of multiple revolutions has been covered up by traditional histories of science, Kuhn compares these histories to those given to the population in George Orwell's (Eric Arthur Blair; 19031950) 1984 (1949), which is about as far from objective truth as can be imagined. Kuhn also compares science textbooks to tourist brochures.

Incommensurable Worlds

In order to justify his claim that there is no neutral set of observations or experiments that could help scientists determine which paradigm is true, Kuhn argues that the Gestalt experiments show how it is possible to think of a scientist as seeing the world very differently after a change of paradigm. Examples of scientists s eeing different things after a change of paradigm include the following: The earth was seen as the center of the universe, then as a planet orbiting one of millions of stars. Light was seen first as a particle, then as a wave, and finally as a photon. Uranus was first seen as a star, then as a comet, then finally as a planet when William Herschel (17381822) "discovered" it. Dephlogisticated air was later seen as oxygen. Stones restrained from falling to their natural place were later seen as the repetitive motion of a pendulum. Kuhn argues that the revolutionary changes described in these examples are not simply changes in the name of something: Phlogiston is not anti-oxygen, the pendulum is not a falling stone, and so forth. Scientists working in different paradigms collect different data and work on different problems. Something that formerly needed to be explained may be seen as natural under a new paradigm, and what seemed natural before may now seem to need an explanation. Therefore "the historian of science may be tempted to exclaim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them" (1996, p. 111).

Although he occasionally said contradictory things on this issue in Structure, Kuhn later insisted that the scientists working under different paradigms really do live in different worlds. Paradigms cannot be said to be different interpretations of a single objective world because "interpretation" only happens within a paradigm. We do not see the world as it really is but rather have to learn how to see, guided by the paradigm. Without a paradigm, there would be no science at all; rather there would only be confusion, a point that Kuhn makes with his reference to the experiments of Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman with anomalous playing cards and of George M. Stratton with inverted vision. Kuhn introduced the term incommensurability to describe the difficulty of comparing one paradigm to another. There is no way to test a paradigm as a whole or to compare the predictions that derive from paradigms against one another, as scientists do when they test theories. Kuhn argues that in cases where the same word is used in two different paradigms or when it seems that the same phenomenon can be described in both, the words in fact have different meanings in each paradigm and the phenomenon is not the same.

Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Samuel Kuhn was born on 18 July 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1943 with a bachelor's degree in physics, and after some work in the government Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, he returned to Harvard for his master's and doctoral degrees in physics in 1946 and 1949. He remained at Harvard until 1956 teaching in the Department of the History of Science that had just been created by his mentor James Conant, who aided his transition from theoretical physics to the history and philosophy of science. Kuhn next joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, where he developed the idea for his most influential book. In 1964 he moved to Princeton, where he was the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Philosophy and History of Science. Kuhn returned to Boston to complete his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as professor of philosophy and history of science from 1979 to 1983 and the Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy from 1983 until 1991. Kuhn was the author or coauthor of five books and scores of articles on the philosophy and history of science. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 19541955, the winner of the George Sarton Medal in the History of Science in 1982, and the holder of honorary degrees from many institutions, among them the University of Notre Dame, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the University of Padua, and the University of Athens. Kuhn suffered from cancer during the last years of his life and died in 1996.

Revolutions have been covered up by textbooks, whose job it is to teach current science, not to teach history of science. Words are applied anachronistically, and the development of science is made to look linear and cumulative. As a historian, Kuhn discovered that there are radically different ways of doing science. He sought a way of expressing his discovery and of explaining the immersion into a historical text that is required for understanding. The concept of a paradigm is central to Kuhn's expression of his discovery and to his attempt to correct philosophical misrepresentations of science.

See also Knowledge ; Relativism ; Science .


Barnes, Barry. T. S. Kuhn and Social Science. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Bird, Alexander. Thomas Kuhn. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Doppelt, Gerald. "Kuhn's Epistemological Relativism: An Interpretation and Defense." Inquiry 21 (1978): 3386.

Fuller, Steve. Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Gutting, Gary, ed. Paradigms and Revolutions. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.

Hacking, Ian, ed. Scientific Revolutions. Oxford Readings in Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Horwich, Paul, ed. World Changes: Thomas Kuhn and the Nature of Science. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993.

Kuhn, Thomas S. Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 18941912. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

. The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957.

. The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

. The Road since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 19701993, with an Autobiographical Interview. Edited by James Conant and John Haugeland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Nickles, Thomas, ed. Thomas Kuhn. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Nola, Robert. Rescuing Reason: A Critique of Anti-Rationalist Views of Science and Knowledge. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 2003.

Nola, Robert, and Howard Sankey, eds. After Popper, Kuhn, and Feyerabend: Recent Issues in Theories of Scientific Method. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 2002.

Rouse, Joseph. "Kuhn's Philosophy of Scientific Practice." In Thomas Kuhn, edited by Thomas Nickles. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Sankey, Howard. The Incommensurability Thesis. Aldershot, U.K., and Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1994.

Sardar, Ziauddin. Thomas Kuhn and the Science Wars. London: Icon, 2000.

Von Dietze, Erich. Paradigms Explained: Rethinking Thomas Kuhn's Philosophy of Science. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.

David J. Stump


views updated May 11 2018



A paradigm is a template, model, or framework. Paradigms can be used to create new objects, just as templates can be used as patterns when outlining or designing something new. In fact, the word paradigm has its roots in the Greek term for a side-by-side comparison. Within the philosophy of science, a paradigm is a general but distinct worldview or theory. The history of science is characterized by paradigm shifts.

The seminal work on paradigm shifts is that of Thomas Kuhn (19221996). His 1962 monograph, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, described what is essentially a form of nonlinear progress within the sciences. Put simply, during phases of what Kuhn called normal science, individuals working in a scientific field share assumptions, perspectives, and methods, and knowledge accumulates in a linear fashion. There is progress, but all of the knowledge and information is constrained by the same set of premises and assumptions. It is in this sense that it is conceptually linear. Eventually the assumptions are brought into question and the inadequacies and limitations of the theories being used are recognized. At that point one or more assumptions may be questioned, and new empirical results may be difficult or impossible to explain. It is not just one theory or method that is inadequate; instead, the fundamental assumptions of a field are brought into question. A bit later an alternative perspective or paradigm is introduced that is so dramatically different from what came before it that the shift is clearly not just an extension of what came before, but a fundamental and overarching change within the field. Examples of major paradigm shifts underscore the magnitude of these paradigm shifts: Einsteins theory of relativity is enormously different from the Newtonian physics that preceded it; Copernicus initiated a revolution of a similar magnitude; Darwin changed the way biologists thought about the Homo sapiens, and stimulated modern reconsideration of humanitys role within nature.

In his review of paradigm shifts in the 1999 Encyclopedia of Creativity, Thomas Nickles suggested that research produced within a paradigm is highly convergent, whereas that produced when a shift between paradigms is occurring is highly divergent. Convergent thinking is not very original nor creative. It involves finding conventional or correct answers and solutions to fairly well-defined questions and problems. Divergent thinking, in contrast, is often original and creative. It involves exploring new options; the thinking moves in different and often original and unconventional directions. Various theories of divergent thinking are also described in the Encyclopedia of Creativity (Runco 1999).

Kuhn (1963) also referred to the convergent and divergent thinking involved in normal science and in paradigm shifts. He felt there was an essential tension between them, and one that stimulated creative thinking as well as paradigm shifts. Kuhn wrote: Something like convergent thinking is just as essential to scientific advance as is divergent. Since those two modes of thought are inevitably in conflict, it will follow that the ability to support tension that can occasionally become almost unbearable is one of the prime requisites for the very best sort of scientific research (1963, p. 342).

Paradigm shifts introduce new rules and new problem-solving techniques. In fact, they often introduce new problems as well as solutions. This may sound odd, but such problem discovery is distinct from problem solving, and is an important part of the creative process. Psychologists studying creativity even include problem-finding skills as part of the creativity complex. There is more to paradigm shifts: They also introduce new taxonomies, new classifications of the phenomena under study, and new ideas. Significantly, much of the new thinking that characterizes new paradigms is preconscious. Indeed, many of the differences between paradigms (e.g., Newtons and Einsteins) reflect assumptions, which of course are by definition not consciously processed.

Nickles used two tree metaphors to describe the reclassifications that occur during normal science and those that occur during paradigm shifts. The former can be viewed as branching, where new findings and ideas suggest additional specific branches to the tree of knowledge (or perhaps remove an old branch). The research on creative thinking can itself be used as an example. At one point, creative thinking was equated with problem solving. That was the tree, so to speak, and new theories merely identified new kinds of problem solving. Then behavioral scientists realized that thinking is often the most creative when the individual actually identifies a new problem, rather than merely solves an existing problem. Nickles referred to this kind of breakthrough as tree switching because an entirely new treenot just a new branchis introduced. In dramatic paradigm shifts such as Einsteins, the old tree is completely dismissed. Nickles gave Mendeleevs theory of the periodic table of elements and Darwins theory of evolution as examples of tree switching and true paradigm shifts.

Kuhn himself described normal science as progressing by working with exemplars. The basic idea here is that problem solving during a period of normal science depends on identifying similarities among problems and questions; and once the similarity is identified, a solution (which is itself analogous to previous solutions) is suggested. Kuhn even applied this to science education, where instruction and the curriculum rely on exemplars, analogies, and similarities. Paradigm shifts, in contrast, involve what Kuhn called new disciplinary matrices. This was Kuhns way of describing tree switching and entirely new perspectives within the sciences.

Note that disciplinary matrices are, for Kuhn, within the sciences. Indeed, Kuhns theory of paradigm shifts initially focused on the hard sciences. The example above, concerning problem-solving and -finding extends this to the social and behavioral sciences. But the concept of paradigm shifts is now used much more broadly, even outside the sciences. The idea of paradigm shifts and the suggestion of questioning assumptions and nonlinear progress has proven to be very useful in organizational theory and management, for instance, and a large number of articles and programs outlined in business periodicals tie paradigm shifts to innovation. According to Nickles (1999), political debates and advertisements also regularly refer to paradigm shifts. Whether or not these meet the criteria presented by Kuhn is dubious, but the assumption that dramatic shifts of some sort are useful for creativity and innovation is obviously quite useful.

Criticisms of the theory of paradigm shifts underscore the retrospective and even post hoc method used by Kuhn, as well as the implication that normal science relies so heavily on analogies and acquired similarity relations (exemplars). Critics often note that normal science is much more inventive and creative than the original theory of paradigm shifts allowed. Alternative conceptions of scientific progress include the evolutionary perspective whereby changes do occur but they are more linear, perhaps the result of a natural selection process. If this is accurate, progresseven highly creative advanceis more gradual and less sudden than described by paradigm shifts. Of course, the interesting thing here is that the evolutionary perspective is itself an analogy, taken from the biological sciences. Still, it is no doubt useful to recognize that paradigm shifts themselves represent one theoretical framework and one set of assumptions. The theory is enormously useful, but not the final word on progress. If it was the final word, the theory of paradigm shifts would, in a manner of speaking, refute itself.

SEE ALSO Discourse; Epistemology; Foucault, Michel; Kuhn, Thomas; Mannheim, Karl; Philosophy of Science; Revolutions, Scientific; Science


Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1963. The Essential Tension: Tradition and Innovation in Scientific Research. In Scientific Creativity: Its Recognition and Development, eds. Calvin W. Taylor and Frank Barron, 341354. New York: Wiley.

Nickles, Thomas. 1999. Paradigm Shifts. In Encyclopedia of Creativity, eds. Mark A. Runco and Steven Pritzker, 335346. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Runco, Mark. 1999. Divergent Thinking. In Encyclopedia of Creativity, eds. Mark A. Runco and Steven Pritzker, 577582. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Mark A. Runco


views updated May 18 2018

paradigm, paradigmatic In ordinary speech the word paradigm designates a typical example or model to be replicated or followed. This connotation is carried over into the technical use of the term introduced by the philosopher and historian of science Thomas Kuhn, and thence into a wide range of sociological contexts. The term paradigm plays a key part in Kuhn's account of the practice which he calls ‘normal’ science. In ‘normal’ (that is non-revolutionary) periods in a science, there is a consensus across the relevant scientific community about the theoretical and methodological rules to be followed, the instruments to be used, the problems to be investigated, and the standards by which research is to be judged. This consensus derives from the adoption by the scientific community of some past scientific achievement as its model or paradigm. Scientific training in the discipline involves familiarization with this paradigm, or its textbook representations. To acquire the status of a paradigm, a scientific achievement must offer sufficiently convincing resolutions of previously recognized problems to attract the adherence of enough specialists to form the core of a new consensus. It must also have enough unresolved problems to provide the puzzles for subsequent research practice within the research tradition it comes to define.

The concept revolutionized thinking about the philosophy of science. Until the mid-twentieth century, at least in the English-speaking world, philosophy of science was conducted largely in abstraction from the history or social realities of scientific practice. Generally, an ideal-typical model of science (sometimes, as in the work of Sir Karl Popper, this was explicitly prescriptive) was subjected to philosophical analysis, and its key features commended as demarcation criteria separating science from pseudo-science, religious faith, speculative metaphysics, or other (usually less worthy) activities. Kuhn's major work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 1970), was one of the first successful attempts to pose philosophical questions about the nature of scientific knowledge by way of a serious conceptualization of the history of the sciences.

Kuhn's account challenges widespread assumptions about scientific progress as the piecemeal accumulation of knowledge, and about scientific rationality as a formal process of matching theory to evidence. His alternative vision is of a discontinuous history, in which periods of consensual normal science were interspersed with crises and intellectual revolutions, some of which called into question the most fundamental epistemological assumptions of science itself. Far from advancing in a cumulative, gradual way, revolutionary changes in science therefore involve abandonment of much previously accepted knowledge, and proceed by abrupt qualitative transitions of perspective. By contrast, normal science displays few of the features—bold conjecture, preparedness to abandon assumptions in the face of the evidence, and so on—widely attributed to scientists in Popperian and empiricist philosophies of science. Routine puzzle-solving in terms provided by a shared conventional paradigm is how Kuhn characterizes the great majority of scientific activity in non-revolutionary times.

The attention Kuhn gives to the role of the scientific community, its shared norms, its role in the resolution of periods of revolutionary crisis, the organization of scientific communication and education, as well as the recognition of extra-scientific pressures in the instigation of scientific revolutions, all ensured that his work would be influential amongst social scientists, well beyond the circles of philosophers and historians of science. In sociology, his work was of great importance in enabling sociology of knowledge to extend its scope to include the natural sciences. It was also important in discussions about the history and nature of sociology itself, and of the significance of a persisting lack of consensus around a single paradigm in sociology, and indeed the other social sciences. Was the persistence of rivalry between alternative perspectives evidence that sociology was still in its ‘pre-paradigmatic’ (that is, pre-scientific) stage; or, rather, did it suggest that the model of ‘scientific consensus’ was permanently unattainable, or inappropriate to sociology? Though Kuhn was himself a determined anti-relativist, many of his arguments pointed in a relativist direction, and his work was widely used by those whose main aim was to debunk the view of science as an especially authoritative form of knowledge. George Ritzer has suggested that sociology is a ‘multiple paradigm’ science (Sociology, 1975
) and argued forcefully for more paradigmatic integration in the discipline (Toward an Integrated Sociological Paradigm, 1981).


views updated May 17 2018

par·a·digm / ˈparəˌdīm/ • n. 1. technical a typical example or pattern of something; a model: there is a new paradigm for public art in this country. ∎  a worldview underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject: the discovery of universal gravitation became the paradigm of successful science.2. a set of linguistic items that form mutually exclusive choices in particular syntactic roles: English determiners form a paradigm: we can say “a book” or “his book” but not “a his book.” Often contrasted with syntagm. ∎  (in the traditional grammar of Latin, Greek, and other inflected languages) a table of all the inflected forms of a particular verb, noun, or adjective, serving as a model for other words of the same conjugation or declension.


views updated May 23 2018

PARADIGM [From Greek parádeigma, a pattern, an example, a basis for comparison. Stress: ‘PA-ra-dime’]. In GRAMMAR, a set of all the (especially inflected) forms of a word (write, writes, wrote, writing, written), especially when used as a model for all other words of the same type. Paradigms serve as models for word forms in LATIN and GREEK (in which key words represent the patterns of numbered groups of nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) and to a lesser extent for such other languages as French and Spanish (principally for verbs). Their use is limited in English, because it is not a highly inflected language. See CONJUGATION, SUFFIX.


views updated May 09 2018

paradigm A model or example of the environment and methodology in which systems and software are developed and operated. For one operational paradigm there could be several alternative development paradigms. Examples are functional programming, logic programming, semantic data modeling, algebraic computing, numerical computing, object-oriented design, prototyping, and natural language dialogue.


views updated May 17 2018

paradigm pattern; example XV; (gram.) example of the inflexions of a class of words XVI. — late L. paradīgma — Gr. parádeigma example, f. paradeiknúnai show side by side, f. PARA-1 + deiknúnai show.


views updated May 08 2018

paradigm Essentially, a large-scale and generalized model that provides a view-point from which the real world may be investigated. It differs from most other models, which are abstractions based on data derived from the real world.


views updated May 18 2018

paradigm Essentially, a large-scale and generalized model that provides a viewpoint from which the real world may be investigated. It differs from most other models, which are abstractions based on data derived from the real world.


views updated Jun 08 2018

paradigm Essentially, a large-scale and generalized model that provides a viewpoint from which the real world may be investigated. It differs from most other models, which are abstractions based on data derived from the real world.