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Kant on Wheels

Peter Lipton: Thomas Kuhn, 19 July 2001

The Road since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-93 
by Thomas Kuhn, edited by James Conant and John Haugeland.
Chicago, 335 pp., £16, November 2000, 0 226 45798 2
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Thomas KuhnA Philosophical History for Our Times 
by Steve Fuller.
Chicago, 472 pp., £24.50, June 2000, 0 226 26894 2
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... heard to blurt out to a woman he had met there: ‘I just want to know what Truth is!’ This was Thomas Kuhn and what he meant was that specific truths such as those of physics mattered less to him than acquiring metaphysical knowledge of the nature of truth. Soon afterwards, he gave up physics, but rather than take up philosophy directly, he approached ...

Popper’s World

John Maynard Smith, 18 August 1983

The Open Universe: An Argument for Indeterminism 
by Karl Popper, edited by W.W. Bartley.
Hutchinson, 185 pp., £15, July 1982, 0 09 146180 4
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... the way scientists do what they do. I say ‘perhaps’ because the same claim might be made for Thomas Kuhn. However, Kuhn seems to me a perceptive sociologist of science, but a poor philosopher. Also, in so far as he has had an effect on the way scientists behave, it has been pernicious: to be a great ...

Paulin’s People

Edward Said, 9 April 1992

Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 298 pp., £15.99, January 1992, 0 571 16308 4
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... upon reading a work of criticism – perhaps because, like the natural scientists described by Thomas Kuhn, we are bound by ‘paradigms of research’ which tend to direct attention to accepted modes of expression and discovery. Some time in 1987 I happened on an issue of a literary magazine left in my house by a visiting friend. My attention was ...

Paradigms Gone Wild

Steven Shapin, 30 March 2023

The Last Writings of Thomas S. KuhnIncommensurability in Science 
edited by Bojana Mladenović.
Chicago, 302 pp., £20, November 2022, 978 0 226 82274 7
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... The​ tragedy of Thomas Kuhn’s life was to have written a great book. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was published in 1962, when he was forty, and he spent the rest of his life distressed by its success. It has sold 1.7 million copies, and has been translated into 42 languages. Very few academic books sell in those numbers and scarcely any are still seen as state of the art sixty years after publication ...

The Planet That Wasn’t There

Thomas Jones: Phantom Planets, 19 January 2017

The Hunt for Vulcan: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet and Deciphered the Universe 
by Thomas Levenson.
Head of Zeus, 229 pp., £7.99, August 2016, 978 1 78497 398 8
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... of Mercury. How that belief came about, and how Einstein came to demolish it, is the subject of Thomas Levenson’s eye-opening book.Pluto lost its planetary status ten years ago after a group of astronomers, Brown among them, discovered another object of roughly the same size orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune.2 If Pluto was a planet, then so was Eris (as ...


Alasdair MacIntyre, 16 April 1981

Modern French Philosophy 
by Vincent Descombes, translated by Lorna Scott Fox.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £14.50, January 1981, 0 521 22837 9
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... of literature who have presented their doctrines with that kind of cloudy enthusiasm which led Thomas Carlyle to call literature ‘a great foam-froth’. On both groups of authors Descombes is excellent. His account of structuralism with its emphasis on the debt to the mathematics of Bourbaki and to the practice of such anthropologists as Dumézil is a ...

Cat’s Whiskers

Jerry Fodor, 30 October 1997

Points of View 
by A.W. Moore.
Oxford, 313 pp., £35, June 1997, 0 19 823692 1
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... of our most eminent contemporaries, seem to think that’s indeed the best that you can do. So Thomas Kuhn famously maintained that, because concepts are implicitly defined by the theories that endorse them, radically different theories are ipso facto ‘incommensurable’. There is, to that extent, no such thing as a rational choice between ...

Reconstituted Chicken

Philip Kitcher, 2 October 1997

This is Biology 
by Ernst Mayr.
Harvard, 340 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 9780674884687
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... debate seems quaint and unpromising, as if he hadn’t heard of recent developments. His target is Thomas Kuhn, and he wants to rebut the claim that the history of science is punctuated by Kuhnian revolutions. Kuhn’s famous Structure of Scientific Revolutions contains a final, worried, chapter, in which he tries to ...

‘Screw you, I’m going home’

Ian Hacking, 22 June 2000

Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction Versus the Richness of Being 
by Paul Feyerabend, edited by Bert Terpstra.
Chicago, 285 pp., £19, February 2000, 0 226 24533 0
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... different visions can learn from each other, and one vision grow out of another. Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn between them made famous the idea that competing or successive scientific theories or world views are ‘incommensurable’. That sloganeering word acquired a lot of meanings, but the core idea was that different principles or ways of thinking ...

Fire the press secretary

Jerry Fodor, 28 April 2011

Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind 
by Robert Kurzban.
Princeton, 274 pp., £19.95, January 2011, 978 0 691 14674 4
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... the works of a number of iconic figures of the time and in several different fields: one thinks of Thomas Kuhn, Norwood Hanson and Paul Feyerabend in philosophy and of the New Look psychology of Jerome Bruner and Mitchell Ash. The art historian Erwin Panofsky made much of it, and the popular press swallowed it whole. The long and short is: one sees what ...

Doing something different

John Ellis, 27 July 1989

Doing what comes naturally: Change, Rhetoric and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies 
by Stanley Fish.
Oxford, 613 pp., £35, July 1989, 9780198129981
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... discussion it might seem that really important work in philosophy of science begins with Thomas Kuhn, that serious questioning of both the positivist theory of language and the general notion of truth begins with Derrida, that jurisprudence begins with Critical Legal Studies, that truly profound thought on intention and interpretation in ...

Turtles All the Way Down

Walter Gratzer, 4 September 1997

The End of Science 
by John Horgan.
Little, Brown, 324 pp., £18.99, May 1997, 0 316 64052 2
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... does not turn up very often, but equally, science does not advance by lurching between what Thomas Kuhn (for whom Horgan has no time either) called fresh paradigms. Few scientists seek to operate at that level anyway. The discovery of the structure of DNA was the most important event in biology this century; yet it did not supplant the established ...

Mix ’n’ match

Roy Porter, 19 January 1989

The Essential Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Vol. I: Theory 
by Liu Yanchi, translated by Fang Tingyu and Chen Laidi.
Columbia, 305 pp., $40, April 1988, 9780231061964
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The Essential Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Vol. II: Clinical Practice 
by Liu Yanchi, translated by Fang Tingyu and Chen Laidi.
Columbia, 479 pp., £80, April 1988, 0 231 06518 3
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Traditional Medicine in Contemporary China 
by Nathan Sivin.
University of Michigan Centre for Chinese Studies, 549 pp., $22.50, September 1987, 0 89264 073 1
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... and unity in the teeth of the disruption and disaggregation wrought by the struggle between what Thomas Kuhn called ‘incommensurable paradigms’. Watching the fate of Chinese medicine may tell us much about the processes by which, in our own Scientific Revolution, the Ptolemaic-Aristotelian tradition succumbed to ...
Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend 
Chicago, 192 pp., £18.25, June 1995, 0 226 24531 4Show More
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... by raising the magic wand of “falsifiability”.’ Later he regarded Popper – and even Thomas Kuhn, who taught that scientific doctrines come and go like women’s hair styles – as too conservative in his critique. Meanwhile, Feyerabend got an academic job, and in 1955 ‘began what is technically known as my career’. He was hired by the ...

The Cinderella Molecule

Steven Shapin: Solving the Ribosome, 24 January 2019

Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome 
by Venki Ramakrishnan.
Oneworld, 272 pp., £20, September 2018, 978 1 78607 436 2
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... remained to be done was a series of mopping-up operations or puzzle-solving, what the historian Thomas Kuhn called ‘normal science’. By the 1950s it had become clear that the cellular organelle where proteins were manufactured was the ribosome – given its name by an American microbiologist. The ribosome was known to be an extremely complex ...

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