By Alexander Bird
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In this chapter I shall discuss the descriptive aspect of his project, and in the next I shall examine the explanatory claim. Kuhn himself did not clearly distinguish between the two elements of his project, instead combining the two as a single picture of science and its workings. 1 Since this theoretical, explanatory concept is frequently used in his descriptions of scientific change, it can be difficult to assess his descriptive claims. For example, if we define normal science as “a period of scientific research governed by a paradigm”, and define revolutionary science as “research that is not normal”, then it becomes tautologous to explain scientific 29 Thomas Kuhn revolutions as the overthrowing of paradigms.
Normal science is not the only state in which science may find itself, and a state of normal science will not last indefinitely. Practitioners of normal science may discover that certain problems are intractable and resist solution within the paradigm. In the course of normal science new phenomena may be discovered that cannot be explained using the resources of the paradigm. Such problems and phenomena are anomalies. In the case of Ptolemy’s Almagest, astronomers in the fifteenth century became more fully aware of the failure of fit between that system and observation.
Kuhn regards normal science not as testing the core theory but as testing the scientists. 13 While Kuhn and Hoyningen-Huene are probably right as regards testing, the claim about confirmation does not follow as quickly as the latter seems to think. While the most powerful confirmations are those that might, beforehand, have turned out to be refutations, it is also true that perfectly good confirmations can occur without a corresponding possibility of falsification. Speaking generally, existential hypotheses can be confirmed by observations that would not have falsified those hypotheses had they turned out otherwise.
Thomas Kuhn by Alexander Bird