Paradigms and Rules

Assuming a paradigm’s community desires consistency, their general paradigm will dictate specific rules for the community’s research (i.e., means for investigation and standards for evaluation; Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 43, 48, 94; cf. Achinstein 413; Thiselton 711). Yet, these rules do not themselves provide coherence to a given tradition of normal science (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 44). Rather, these rules are interpretations of an antecedent paradigm that causes a given, normal-scientific tradition to cohere (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 43–44, 46).1

Yet, Kuhn elsewhere argues that “[e]xplicit rules, when they exist, are usually common to a very broad scientific group, but paradigms need not be” (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 49; italics added), which might seem to suggest a different derivational order than the one just mentioned. Still, Kuhn makes the assertion just quoted explicitly to support his contention that paradigms logically precede rules (Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 49). The rules common to broad, scientific groups, therefore, appear to be rules dictated by the more general “macro-paradigm” to which “science” and “scientists” hold, although these categories themselves contain substantial variegation. For instance, as currently practiced, “modern science” generally presupposes as valuable things like “accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, fruitfulness, explanatory power, and plausibility” (Achinstein 413; cf. Kuhn, Essential Tension 321–22). Consequently, when Kuhn speaks of rules that characterize a broader group than do paradigms, he apparently intends to designate slightly different referents for these key terms than he does at other points in his argument. That is, the more globally acknowledged rules derive from the broader scientific community’s shared (macro-)paradigm, which Kuhn leaves in silent opposition to the narrower paradigms, which he explicitly mentions, and which characterize individual, normal-scientific communities.


1 Upon receiving numerous critiques about apparent imprecision in his use of the term “paradigm,” Kuhn subsequently clarifies the concept’s nuances in precisely this fashion. No one, exhaustive paradigm exists. Rather, the scientific community as a whole shares a certain paradigm with a minimal set of characteristics, and various scientific sub-communities hold paradigms that contain additional characteristics and that compete with the paradigms of other groups (Kuhn, Essential Tension 294).

In this post:

Science Rules
Peter Achinstein
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thiselton on Hermeneutics
Anthony Thiselton

“Normal” Science

Within a given, normal-scientific tradition, the reigning paradigm directs research by suggesting which experiments and data are relevant to resolving a given problem and which are irrelevant (Kuhn 18, 24, 34). The paradigm also guides new and more specific theory articulation, and the paradigm permits practitioners in a given field to dispense with rearticulating the field’s foundations in each new work they produce (Kuhn 18–20, 23, 34). Thus, a paradigm entails promises about problems that it will resolve and new achievements that it will enable, and normal science, the process in which most scientists work for most of their careers, demonstrates how these promises actually operate (Kuhn 23–24, 30, 35–42). In all cases, however, the paradigm of a given, normal-scientific tradition definitively determines the research that is performed within that paradigm—“to desert the paradigm is to cease practicing the science it defines” (Kuhn 34, 46). Yet, a paradigm is susceptible to various articulations as long as these diversions self-confessedly work from and toward what the paradigm’s community considers to be sufficient common ground (Kuhn 46–47, 73; cf. Hung 62–70; see also Carson 88–89).


In this post:

D. A. Carson
D. A. Carson
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Beyond Kuhn
Edwin Hung

Maturing Scientific Communities

As young scientists routinely obtain, through education, their introduction into mature, scientific communities, young scientific communities may require some time to mature and develop their communities’ paradigms (Kuhn 11). During this early phase, nascent scientific communities typically involve different schools of thought that seek “relevant” facts somewhat individualistically according to whatever paradigms they find most influential from other areas of thought (Kuhn 15–17). Typically, one of these “pre-paradigm schools” will triumph over the others at some point and usher in a community’s paradigmatic period (Kuhn 17–18). The precise point of transition from nascent to mature scientific community is seldom easily identifiable, but neither is this transition completely obscured because of the notable advances achieved in the move from the pre-paradigm period into the paradigm period. Instead, a general, historical period can typically be identified in which this transition occurred for any given, mature field (cf. Kuhn 21–22).


In this post:

Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn

Paradigms and Communities

In Thomas Kuhn’s analysis, new paradigms attract adherents from older alternatives by producing sufficiently unprecedented achievements, but these new paradigms still leave work to be done because of the new problems that they create or the new issues they suggest (Kuhn 10, 17–18, 80). Yet, the community that accepts a given paradigm implicitly judges the problems that the paradigm introduces to be less severe than those that it resolves (Kuhn 23).

Paradigms define specific, scientific communities, and young scientists gain entrance into a mature scientific community by learning to operate within that community’s paradigm (Kuhn 10–11). Conversely, those who refuse to accept a paradigm in ascendancy in a given field may be excluded from that field’s discourse (Kuhn 19, 104). Thus, a paradigm forms its adherents and their work into a relatively cohesive, identifiable tradition of “normal science” within which individuals rarely disagree over their paradigm’s fundamental attributes (Kuhn 11).


In this post:

Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn

Kuhn and Popper

Thomas Kuhn acknowledges that Sir Karl Popper’s work earlier in the twentieth century somewhat anticipated his own view of science (Kuhn, Essential Tension 267). Nevertheless, Kuhn also identifies two meaningful distinctions that his work has vis-à-vis Popper’s (Worrall 66–71). First, Kuhn perceives favorably deep commitments to normal scientific traditions because these traditions (1) encourage substantive study of very specific issues and (2) prepare the way for scientific revolutions (Kuhn, Essential Tension 268; cf. Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 28, 65). Second, Kuhn prefers to consider paradigmatic revolutions in terms of a process of competition rather than falsification as the newly accepted paradigm may itself also eventually be replaced (Kuhn, Essential Tension 268; Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 2, 8, 12, 151–52).


In this post:

Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Nickles
Thomas Nickles

Kuhn and Kant

In the later half of the twentieth-century, Thomas Kuhn reappropriated and significantly adapted Immanuel Kant’s qualifications of empirical science (Kuhn, Essential Tension 336–37; Kuhn, Since Structure 103–104, 264). First published in 1962, Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions replaced Kant’s transcendental truths of reason with theoretical ‘paradigms’ (cf. Kuhn, Since Structure 264). This understanding puts Kuhn in an interesting position from which to shed light on the hermeneutical dimensions of biblical studies. Naturally, there have been some recent qualifications and objections to this application that deserve attention.

From Kant’s occasional language about intellectual ‘revolutions’ (e.g., Kant 19–26), Kuhn certainly does appear to derive his application of the concept. Yet, for Kant these revolutions typically move interpretations of empirical observations into greater conformity with reason’s transcendent truths. By contrast, for Kuhn, these revolutions result in the adoption of a new paradigm, which may itself eventually be discarded when another paradigm comes to appear preferable (cf. Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions 2, 12, 151–52). In his later work, however, Kuhn has discarded this term ‘paradigm’ because other authors have appropriated it in such diverse manners that the term has become too difficult for him to use precisely (Kuhn, Since Structure 221).


In this post:

Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn