The Ambiguous Legacy of Kuhn's Structure for Normative Philosophy of Science

In K. Brad Wray (ed.), Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions at 60. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 217-234 (2024)
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This chapter examines the legacy of Kuhn’s Structure for normative philosophy of science. As an argument regarding the history of 20th century philosophy of science, I contend that the main legacy of Structure was destructive: Structure shifted philosophy of science away from addressing general normative philosophical issues (e.g., the demarcation problem, empirical testability) towards more deflationary and local approaches to normative issues. This is evident in the first generation of post-Structure philosophers of science in the 1980s and 1990s, who adopted a pluralist approach to HPS. As a metaphilosophical argument regarding the methods adopted in HPS, I argue that there are a plurality of legitimate philosophical methodologies for inferring normative claims from historical cases. I frame this argument as a response to Pitt’s dilemma of case studies. I reject Pitt’s dilemma for its presupposition of an unrealistic and unfruitful standard (viz., epistemic certainty) for assessing HPS arguments and its analysis of philosophical methodology at the level of individual arguments. Pitt’s dilemma is most usefully understood as identifying potential points of criticism for HPS arguments. The chapter begins with an examination of Kuhn’s normative philosophy of science in Structure and his position that historical cases provide evidence for philosophical claims. Kuhn’s philosophical methodology is insufficiently articulated, and his utilization of case studies is subject to objections (viz., interpretative bias, hasty generalization) implied by Pitt’s dilemma. I subsequently examine four post-Kuhnian methodological perspectives: (1) Ian Hacking’s particularism, (2) Helen Longino’s practice-based approach, (3) Michael Friedman’s neo-Kantianism, and (4) Hasok Chang’s complementary science. These views suggest alternative methodological strategies in HPS for addressing normative issues. I conclude by articulating some outstanding methodological challenges for the pluralist tradition of HPS—associated with the Stanford and Minnesota schools of philosophy of science—that emerged in the 1980s and remains influential.

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Jonathan Y. Tsou
University of Texas at Dallas


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