Normal Science and the Role of Crises

Normal scientific endeavor can suggest beneficial refinements to a given paradigm, but because the paradigm defines normal science itself, the paradigm’s essential components stand beyond normal science’s refining the influence (Kuhn 46–47, 66, 73, 128–29). In other words, although normal science may suggest refinements of the reigning paradigm that account for the observed difficulties, these refinements, by definition, can only be ad hoc accretions rather than systemic revisions (Kuhn 68–71, 75, 78, 86–87; cf. Hung 78–79).

To provoke a change in a paradigm under which normal science operates, a crisis that demonstrates a “pronounced failure” of the previously accepted paradigm is required (Kuhn 67, 74–75, 77, 92, 97–98; cf. Thiselton 711). A crisis usually follows persistent failure to resolve sufficiently problematic difficulties that a current paradigm raises on that paradigm’s own terms (Kuhn 67–68; cf. Ricoeur 271). Alternatively, when a body of ad hoc problem solutions becomes too substantial to ignore, a crisis still occurs, and this crisis may symptomatically produce several different articulations of the current paradigm that struggle to salvage the paradigm in the context of the necessary body of qualifications (Kuhn 70–71, 83–84).

Therefore, difficulties with a given paradigm by themselves do not necessarily induce a crisis; rather, to induce a crisis these difficulties must be perceived as assaulting the paradigm’s essential components or as having too great a practical significance to ignore (Kuhn 81–82; cf. Hung 16–18).1 Although a new paradigm may be foreshadowed in normal scientific work performed under an old paradigm, this foreshadowing may well be ignored in the absence of a crisis that provides scientists with sufficient motivation to reject the old system and adopt a new one (Kuhn 75, 86).


1 Kuhn also suggests that additional, normal scientific research may aggravate previously small problems until they become too problematic to resolve, but this manner in which difficulties with a paradigm may cause a crisis appears to have its crisis-causing effect because it constitutes a subset of one of these other two categories (Kuhn 81).

In this post:

Beyond Kuhn
Edwin Hung
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Paul Ricoeur
Paul Ricoeur
Thiselton on Hermeneutics
Anthony Thiselton

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