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Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the best known and most influential books of the twentieth century. Whether they adore or revile him, critics and fans alike have tended to agree on one thing: Kuhn's ideas were revolutionary. But were they?
Steve Fuller argues that Kuhn actually held a profoundly conservative view of science and how one ought to study its history. Early on, Kuhn came under the influence of Harvard President James Bryant Conant (to whom Structure is dedicated), who had developed an educational program intended to help deflect Cold War unease over science's uncertain future by focusing on its illustrious past. Fuller argues that this rhetoric made its way into Structure, which Fuller sees as preserving and reinforcing the old view that science really is just a steady accumulation of truths about the world (once "paradigm shifts" are resolved).
Fuller suggests that Kuhn, deliberately or not, shared the tendency in Western culture to conceal possible negative effects of new knowledge from the general public. Because it insists on a difference between a history of science for scientists and one suited to historians, Fuller charges that Structure created the awkward divide that has led directly to the "Science Wars" and has stifled much innovative research. In conclusion, Fuller offers a way forward that rejects Kuhn's fixation on paradigms in favor of a conception of science as a social movement designed to empower society's traditionally disenfranchised elements.
Certain to be controversial, Thomas Kuhn must be read by anyone who has adopted, challenged, or otherwise engaged with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
"Structure will never look quite the same again after Fuller. In that sense, he has achieved one of the main aims of his ambitious and impressively executed project."—Jon Turney, Times Higher Education Supplement
"Philosophies like Kuhn's narrow the possible futures of inquiry by politically methodizing and taming them. More republican philosophies will leave the future open. Mr. Fuller has amply succeeded in his program of distinguishing the one from the other."—William R. Everdell, Washington Times
Preface: Being There with Thomas Kuhn
I. The Pilgrimage from Plato to NATO
Episodes in Enbushelment
II. The Last Time Scientists Struggled for the Soul of Science
III. The Politics of the Scientific Image in the Age of Conant
IV. From Conant's Education Strategy to Kuhn's Research Strategy
V. How Kuhn Unwittingly Saved Social Science from a Radical Future
VI. The World Not Well Lost
Philosophy after Kuhn
VII. Kuhnification as Ritualized Political Impotence
The Hidden History of Science Studies
Posted May 10, 2000
This book is much more than an intellectual biography of Kuhn himself (who does not seem to have been a very interesting person) and even more than an intellectual history of the times in which Kuhn lived -- though it is closer to the latter. Rather, it is a systematic indictment of the ways in which Western culture - 'from Plato to NATO,' as Fuller himself puts it -- has suppressed the critical function of scientific inquiry. Kuhn is a major player here because he was very explicit that criticism of a ruling paradigm should happen only after it has accumulated so many unsolvable problems that even defenders of the paradigm are forced to ask the big questions about why they were interested in their particular domain of reality in the first place. Fuller argues that all the radical implications drawn from Kuhn's work over the last two generations have been largely spurious. Fuller shows this over and over again in many fields of inquiry. Kuhn was bred by a Harvard elite that was interested in stabilizing a world repeatedly threatened by war. The person to whom Kuhn dedicated his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was not only Harvard's president and the chief administrator of the US atomic bomb project in WWII, but he was also 'the brightest person' Kuhn ever met (quoted from Kuhn's last interview). This book really leaves you wondering how it was possible for so many supposedly intelligent people were so fooled for so long - after all, according to Fuller, philosophers and sociologists of science remain under the Kuhnian spell. In short, if Hegel needed a present-day advocate of the 'cunning of reason' in history, Fuller is his man. The book is incredibly documented - from both archives and esoteric texts - yet the writing remains lively throughout.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.