Kuhn’s “wrong turning” and legacy today

Synthese 197 (1):381-406 (2020)
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Alexander Bird indicates that the significance of Thomas Kuhn in the history of philosophy of science is somehow paradoxical. On the one hand, Kuhn was one of the most influential and important philosophers of science in the second half of the twentieth century. On the other hand, nowadays there is little distinctively Kuhn’s legacy in the sense that most of Kuhn’s work has no longer any philosophical significance. Bird argues that the explanation of the paradox of Kuhn’s legacy is that Kuhn took a direction opposite to that of the mainstream of the philosophy of science in his later academic career. This paper aims to provide a new way to understand and develop Kuhn’s legacy by revisiting the development of Kuhn’s philosophy of science in 1970s and proposing a new account of exemplar. Firstly, I propose my diagnosis of Kuhn’s “wrong turning” by identifying Kuhn’s two novel contributions: the introduction of paradigm and the proposal of the incommensurability thesis. Secondly, I argue that Kuhn made a conceptual/terminological turn from paradigm to theory, which undermined Kuhn’s novel contributions. Thirdly, I propose a new articulation of exemplar and propose an exemplar-based approach to analysing the history of science. Finally, I show how the exemplar-based approach can be applied to analyse the history of science by my case study of the early development of genetics.

Author's Profile

Yafeng Shan
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


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