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Kuhn's paradigm

 

Explanations > Social Research > Articles > Kuhn's paradigm

Pre-paradigmatic stage | Normal science | Extraordinary science | See also

 

Science assumes that there is only one truth about a given subject, for example that the laws of gravity are universal and do not change on Thursdays or when you are on Mars.

Science historian Thomas Kuhn described how a single truth or paradigm dominates a field of science at any one time, and that serious change in science occurs as one paradigm competes with (and overcomes) another.

For example Newton's laws held sway for many years until they were shown not to apply in sub-atomic situations. Quantum physics arose as an explanation of what happens in these microscopic situations.

Pre-paradigmatic stage

In the pre-paradigmatic stage there is confusion as multiple paradigms are put forward by different schools of thought. Scientists may disagree vociferously with one another as they propose and support their individual theories.

Over time, as the ideas compete, scientists cluster around a small set of paradigms (often two), each trying to support their own ideas and destroy the opposing paradigms. Eventually, one paradigm wins through and becomes the dominant principle.

Normal science

Most science is 'normal science', in which scholars accept the dominant paradigm of the day, performing experiments that test and prove its efficacy in a range of situations. New explanations may extend the paradigm but do not change its fundamental nature.

In this way, the paradigm may grow with many extensions to explain the various exceptional cases that are not easily covered by the original paradigm. 

Extraordinary science

Eventually a new and perhaps simplified paradigm is explored and proposed which challenges the existing paradigm. New methods may be used as new theories are proposed and proven. This work is outside of the canon of normal science and assumes that the dominant paradigm is probably not fully true in certain circumstances.

See also

Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd edition), Chicago: University of Chicago Press

 

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