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Thomas Samuel Kuhn

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Thomas Kuhn by Alexander Bird

Cover of a biography of Thomas Kuhn.

Thomas Samuel Kuhn (July 18, 1922 – June 17, 1996) was an American intellectual who wrote extensively on the history of science and developed several important notions in the philosophy of science.

LifeEdit

Descendant of a [Jewish family, Kuhn was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to Samuel L. Kuhn, an industrial engineer, and Minette Stroock Kuhn. He obtained his bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard University in 1943, his master's in 1946 and Ph.D. in 1949, and taught a course in the history of science there from 1948 until 1956 at the suggestion of Harvard president James Conant. After leaving Harvard, Kuhn taught at the University of California, Berkeley in both the philosophy department and the history department, being named Professor of the History of Science in 1961. In 1964 he joined Princeton University as the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Philosophy and History of Science. In 1979 he joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy, remaining there until 1991.

Kuhn was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1954, and in 1982 was awarded the George Sarton Medal in the History of Science. He was also awarded numerous honorary doctorates.

He suffered cancer of the bronchial tubes for the last two years of his life and died Monday June 17 1996. He was survived by his wife Jehane R. Kuhn, his ex-wife Kathryn Muhs Kuhn, and their three children, Sarah, Elizabeth and Nathaniel.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)Edit

Thomas Kuhn is most famous for his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR) (1962) in which he presented the idea that science does not evolve gradually toward truth, but instead undergoes periodic revolutions which he calls "paradigm shifts." The enormous impact of Kuhn's work can be measured in the revolution it brought about even in the vocabulary of the history of science: besides "paradigm shifts," Kuhn raised the word "paradigm" itself from a term used in certain forms of linguistics to its current broader meaning, coined the term "normal science" to refer to the relatively routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within a paradigm, and was largely responsible for the use of the term "scientific revolutions" in the plural, taking place at widely different periods of time and in different disciplines, as opposed to a single "Scientific Revolution" in the late Renaissance.

In France, Kuhn's conception of science has been related to Michel Foucault (with Kuhn's paradigm corresponding to Foucault's episteme) and Louis Althusser, although both are more concerned by the historical conditions of possibility of the scientific discourse - which Judith Butler calls "the limits of acceptable discourse". Thus, they do not consider science as isolated from society as they argue that Kuhn does. In contrast to Kuhn, Althusser's conception of science is that it is cumulative, even though this cumulativity is discontinuous (see his concept of "epistemological break") whereas Kuhn considers various paradigms as incommensurable.

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