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Summary The idea that some scientific theories may be incommensurable was introduced by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend in 1962. In Kuhn's original discussion, the idea of incommensurability included semantic, perceptual and methodological components. By contrast, Feyerabend's discussion of incommensurability restricted it to the semantic sphere. The use of the term 'incommensurability' in the philosophy of science is a borrowing from mathematics, where it implies the absence of a common unit of measurement. Applied to the philosophy of science, it may be taken to mean that there are no shared standards by which competing theories are to be evaluated. In some contexts, it may be taken to mean that the content of competing theories is unable to be directly compared due to semantic variation between the theories.
Key works The original discussion of incommensurability by Feyerabend and Kuhn may be found in Feyerabend 1962 and Kuhn 1962.  For earlier discussion of meaning change, see Feyerabend 1957.   For later discussion by Feyerabend, see Feyerabend 1974, or later editions, e.g. Feyerabend 1993.  In later work, Kuhn introduced significant refinements of his version of incommensurability.  See especially Kuhn 1983.
Introductions Brown 1983; Brown 2005; Devitt 1979; Sankey 1993; Oberheim & Hoyningen-Huene ms
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  1. Peter Achinstein (1964). On the Meaning of Scientific Terms. Journal of Philosophy 61 (17):497-509.
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  2. Joseph Agassi (2003). Comparability and Incommensurability. Social Epistemology 17 (2 & 3):93 – 94.
  3. Evandro Agazzi (1985). Commensurability, Incommensurability, and Cumulativity in Scientific Knowledge. Erkenntnis 22 (1-3):51 - 77.
    Until the middle of the present century it was a commonly accepted opinion that theory change in science was the expression of cumulative progress consisting in the acquisition of new truths and the elimination of old errors. Logical empiricists developed this idea through a deductive model, saying that a theory T superseding a theory T must be able logically to explain whatever T explained and something more as well. Popper too shared this model, but stressed that T explains the old (...)
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  4. Juan Carlos Aguirre García (2008). Reply To: Is Incommensurability Incomparability? Discusiones Filosóficas 9 (13):113 - 125.
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  5. Amani Albedah (2006). A Gadamerian Critique of Kuhn's Linguistic Turn: Incommensurability Revisited. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 20 (3):323 – 345.
    In this article, I discuss Gadamer's hermeneutic account of understanding as an alternative to Kuhn's incommensurability thesis. After a brief account of Kuhn's aesthetic account and arguments against it, I argue that the linguistic account faces a paradox that results from Kuhn's objectivist account of understanding, and his lack of historical reflexivity. The statement 'Languages are incommensurable' is not a unique view of language, and is thus subject to contest by incommensurable readings. Resolving the paradox requires an account of incommensurability (...)
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  6. Maria Alegre (2001). On the Distinction Between Incommensurability and Inconsistency. Logica Trianguli 5:3-18.
    The aim of this paper is to analyse the differences between the notions of incommensurability and inconsistency. The concept of incommensurability taken into account is restricted to the one of non-trivial incommensurability, which, in turn, will be associated with local untranslatability. Logical, ontological, and epistemological differences between the two former notions will be depicted. It will be shown that incommensurability consists of a sort of non-contradictory opposition relation.
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  7. Douglas Allchin (1994). The Super Bowl and the Ox-Phos Controversy: "Winner-Take-All" Competition in Philosophy of Science. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1994:22 - 33.
    Several diagrams and tables from review articles during the Ox-Phos Controversy serve as an occasion to assess the nature of competition in models of theory choice in science. Many models follow "Super-Bowl" principles of polar, either-or, winner-take-all competition. A significant alternative highlighted by this episode, however, is the differentiation of domains. Incommensurability and the partial divergence of overlapping domains serve both as signals and context for shifting frameworks of competition. Appropriate strategies may thus help researchers diagnose the status of competition (...)
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  8. Valer Ambrus (1999). Is Putnam's Causal Theory of Meaning Compatible with Internal Realism? Journal for General Philosophy of Science 30 (1):1-16.
    Putnam originally developed his causal theory of meaning in order to support scientific realism and reject the notion of incommensurability. Later he gave up this position and adopted instead what he called ‘internal realism’, but apparently without changing his mind on topics related to his former philosophy of language. The question must arise whether internal realism, which actually is a species of antirealism, is compatible with the causal theory of meaning. In giving an answer I begin with an analysis of (...)
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  9. H. Andersen, P. Barker & X. Chen (1998). Kuhn's Theory of Scientific Revolutions and Cognitive Psychology. Philosophical Psychology 11 (1):5-28.
    In a previous article we have shown that Kuhn's theory of concepts is independently supported by recent research in cognitive psychology. In this paper we propose a cognitive re?reading of Kuhn's cyclical model of scientific revolutions: all of the important features of the model may now be seen as consequences of a more fundamental account of the nature of concepts and their dynamics. We begin by examining incommensurability, the central theme of Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions, according to two different (...)
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  10. Hanne Andersen (2010). Edwin H.-C. Hung Beyond Kuhn. Scientific Explanation, Theory Structure, Incommensurability and Physical Necessity. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61 (1):237-239.
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  11. Hanne Andersen (2006). The Cognitive Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Cambridge University Press.
    Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions became the most widely read book about science in the twentieth century. His terms 'paradigm' and 'scientific revolution' entered everyday speech, but they remain controversial. In the second half of the twentieth century, the new field of cognitive science combined empirical psychology, computer science, and neuroscience. In this book, the recent theories of concepts developed by cognitive scientists are used to evaluate and extend Kuhn's most influential ideas. Based on case studies of the Copernican (...)
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  12. Hanne Andersen (2004). Incommensurability and Dynamic Conceptual Structures. Philosophia Scientiae 8 (1):153-168.
    One important problem concerning incommensurability is to explain how theories that are incommensurable can nevertheless compete. In this paper I shall briefly review Kuhn’s account of the difference between revolutionary and non-revolutionary conceptual developments. I shall argue that his taxonomic approach and the no-overlap principle it entails does not suffice to distinguish between revolutionary and non-revolutionary developments. I shall show that his approach builds mainly on analyses of feature correlations, and that it is necessary to include explanations of these feature (...)
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  13. Hanne Andersen (2000). Learning by Ostension: Thomas Kuhn on Science Education. Science and Education 9 (1-2):91-106.
    Significant claims about science education form an integral part of Thomas Kuhn's philosophy. Since the late 1950s, when Kuhn started wrestling with the ideas of ‘normal research’ and ‘convergent thought’, the nature of science education has played an important role in his argument. Hence, the nature of science education is an essential aspect of the phase-model of scientific development developed in his famous The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, just as his later work on categories and conceptual structures takes its starting (...)
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  14. Hanne Andersen, Peter Barker & Xiang Chen (1996). Kuhn's Mature Philosophy of Science and Cognitive Psychology. Philosophical Psychology 9 (3):347 – 363.
    Drawing on the results of modem psychology and cognitive science we suggest that the traditional theory of concepts is no longer tenable, and that the alternative account proposed by Kuhn may now be seen to have independent empirical support quite apart from its success as part of an account of scientific change. We suggest that these mechanisms can also be understood as special cases of general cognitive structures revealed by cognitive science. Against this background, incommensurability is not an insurmountable obstacle (...)
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  15. G. Andersson, Die Wissenschaft Als Objektive Erkenntnis & In E. Agazzi (2001). Incommensurability Bibliography. In Paul Hoyningen-Huene & Howard Sankey (eds.), Incommensurability and Related Matters. Kluwer. 303.
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  16. Will Angelette (2002). Rationality, Emotion, and Belief Revision: Waller's Move Beyond CBT & REBT. International Journal of Philosophical Practice 1 (3).
    Sarah Waller proposes that cognitive therapists and philosophical counselors ought to consider the feelings of the client of paramount importance in belief system change rather than the rationality of the belief system. I offer an alternative strategy of counseling that reinstates the place of rational belief revision while still respecting the importance of emotions. Waller claims that, because of the problem of under-determination, the counseling goal of rational belief revision can be trumped by the goal of improved client affect. I (...)
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  17. Theodore Arabatzis (2001). Can a Historian of Science Be a Scientific Realist? Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2001 (3):S531-.
    In this paper I address some of the problems that the historical development of science poses for a realist and discuss whether a realist construal of scientific activity is conducive to historiographical practice. First, I discuss, by means of historical examples, Ian Hacking's defense of entity realism. Second, I try to show, drawing on Kuhn's recent work on incommensurability, that the realism problem is relevant to historiography and that a realist position entails a particular historiographical strategy, which faces problems. Finally, (...)
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  18. S. K. Arun Murthi & Sundar Sarukkai (2009). Multisemiosis and Incommensurability. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 23 (3):297-311.
    Central to Kuhn's notion of incommensurability are the ideas of meaning variance and lexicon, and the impossibility of translation of terms across different theories. Such a notion of incommensurability is based on a particular understanding of what a scientific language is. In this paper we first attempt to understand this notion of scientific language in the context of incommensurability. We consider the consequences of the essential multisemiotic character of scientific theories and show how this leads to even a single theory (...)
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  19. Warren Oliver Asher (1985). Reference and Theory Change: The Impact of the Theory of Reference on the Incommensurability Problem. Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
    The thesis concerns the claim that competing scientific theories are, in important cases, "incommensurable". It has been argued that since theoretical terms derive their meaning from the theory in which they occur, the transition from one theory to another involves significant changes in the meanings of terms. The absence of common meanings has been taken to preclude the possibility of logical and evidential comparisons between competing theories. Furthermore, since such theories are not then alternative accounts of the same domain, standard (...)
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  20. Babette Babich (2003). Paradigms and Thought Styles: Incommensurability and its Cold War Discontents From Kuhn's Harvard to Fleck's Unsung Lvov. Social Epistemology 17:97-107.
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  21. Babette E. Babich (2003). From Fleck's Denkstil to Kuhn's Paradigm: Conceptual Schemes and Incommensurability. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (1):75 – 92.
    This article argues that the limited influence of Ludwik Fleck's ideas on philosophy of science is due not only to their indirect dissemination by way of Thomas Kuhn, but also to an incommensurability between the standard conceptual framework of history and philosophy of science and Fleck's own more integratedly historico-social and praxis-oriented approach to understanding the evolution of scientific discovery. What Kuhn named "paradigm" offers a periphrastic rendering or oblique translation of Fleck's Denkstil/Denkkollektiv , a derivation that may also account (...)
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  22. Babette E. Babich (2003). Kuhn's Paradigm as a Parable for the Cold War: Incommensurability and its Discontents From Fuller's Tale of Harvard to Fleck's Unsung Lvov. Social Epistemology 17 (2 & 3):99 – 109.
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  23. Anthony Dominick Baldino (1996). Incommensurability and Epistemology: An Essay on Scientific Theory Choice. Dissertation, Columbia University
    The thesis of the incommensurability of competing scientific theories, as it has been formulated and defended by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, implies the following: there will be competing scientific theories between which there will exist no neutral perspective from which to evaluate the merits of those theories with regards to truth. If this thesis were true, it would threaten what I take to be basic epistemic values, the values of seeking truth and avoiding error. To pass from one theory (...)
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  24. Franz Balsiger & Alex Burri (1990). Sind Die Klassische Mechanik Und Die Spezielle Relativitätstheorie Kommensurabel? Journal for General Philosophy of Science 21 (1):157-162.
    In its first part, this paper shows why a recently made attempt to reduce the special theory of relativity to Newtonian kinematics is bound to fail. In the second part, we propose a differentiated notion of incommensurability which enables us to amend the contention that the special theory of relatively and Newtonian kinematics are “incommensurable”.
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  25. Franz Balsiger & Alex Burri (1990). Sind Die Klassische Mechanik Und Die Spezielle Relativitätstheorie Kommensurabel? Journal for General Philosophy of Science 21 (1):157 - 162.
    Are Classical Mechanics and the Special Theory of Relativity Commensurable? In its first part, this paper shows why a recently made attempt to reduce the special theory of relativity to Newtonian kinematics is bound to fail. In the second part, we propose a differentiated notion of incommensurability which enables us to amend the contention that the special theory of relatively and Newtonian kinematics are "incommensurable".
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  26. Aristides Baltas (2004). On the Grammatical Aspects of Radical Scientific Discovery. Philosophia Scientiae 8 (1):169-201.
    Radical scientific discovery and the associated radical “paradigm change” are treated here as following from the disclosure of what I call background ‘assumptions’. These are taken as more or less equivalent to the “hinge propositions” that Wittgenstein discusses in his On Certainty. On this basis, various issues connected to meaning variance, theory change, incommensurability and so forth, are discussed. It is shown that Kuhn’s overall account need not, with qualifications, imply either idealism or relativism while rationality and scientific progress can (...)
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  27. W. Balzer (1989). On Incommensurability in Imre Lakatos and Theories of Scientific Change. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 111:287-304.
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  28. W. Balzer (1985). What is Incommensurability. Kant-Studien 76 (2):196-213.
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  29. W. Balzer (1985). Incommensurability, Reduction, and Translation. Erkenntnis 23 (3):255 - 267.
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  30. Nimrod Bar-Am (2003). The Dusk of Incommensurability. Social Epistemology 17 (2 & 3):111 – 114.
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  31. Peter Barker (2001). Kuhn, Incommensurability, and Cognitive Science. Perspectives on Science 9 (4):433-462.
    : This paper continues my application of theories of concepts developed in cognitive psychology to clarify issues in Kuhn's mature account of scientific change. I argue that incommensurability is typically neither global nor total, and that the corresponding form of scientific change occurs incrementally. Incommensurability can now be seen as a local phenomenon restricted to particular points in a conceptual framework represented by a set of nodes. The unaffected parts in the framework constitute the basis for continued communication between the (...)
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  32. Peter Barker (2001). Incommensurability and Conceptual Change During the Copernican Revolution. In Paul Hoyningen-Huene & Howard Sankey (eds.), Incommensurability and Related Matters. Kluwer. 241--273.
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  33. Barry Barnes (1994). Cultural Change—the Thought-Styles of Mannheim and Kuhn. Common Knowledge 3 (2):65.
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  34. Pierluigi Barrotta (1998). Contemporary Philosophy of Science in Italy: An Overview. [REVIEW] Journal for General Philosophy of Science 29 (2):327-345.
    The paper analyses the development of some themes in the contemporary philosophy of science in Italy. Section 1 reviews the dabate on the legacy of neopositivism. The spread of the philosophy of Popper is outlined in Section 2, with particular regard to the problem of the vindication of induction. Section 3 deals with the debate on the incommensurability thesis, while Section 4 examines its consequences on the possible relationships between historical and epistemological studies of science. The last section is devoted (...)
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  35. Andreas Bartels (2001). Incommensurability and its Roots in Nature. Philosophia Naturalis 38 (1):25-36.
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  36. Andreas Bartels (1995). Chains of Meaning: A Model for Concept Formation in Contemporary Physics Theories. Synthese 105 (3):347 - 379.
    The rationality of scientific concept formation in theory transitions, challenged by the thesis of semantic incommensurability, can be restored by theChains of Meaning approach to concept formation. According to this approach, concepts of different, succeeding theories may be identified with respect to referential meaning, in spite of grave diversity of the mathematical structures characterizing them in their respective theories. The criterion of referential identity for concepts is that they meet a relation ofsemantic embedding, i.e. that the embedding concept can be (...)
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  37. D. Batens (1983). The Relevance of Theory-Ladennes and Incommensurability, and a Survey to the Contributions to This Issue. Philosophica 31:3-6.
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  38. Diderik Batens (1983). Incommensurability is Not a Threat to the Rationality of Science or to the Anti-Dogmatic Tradition. Philosophica 32.
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  39. Diderik Batens (1983). The Relevance of Theory-Ladenness and Incommensurability. Philosophica 31.
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  40. Carol Bayley (1995). Our World Views (May Be) Incommensurable: Now What? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 20 (3):271-284.
    In focusing their view on Kuhn, Robert Veatch and William Stempsey ignore alternative sources of insight from other voices that could help move us beyond incommensurability. Richard Rorty and Helen Longino, for example, offer another view of science and objectivity with constructive insight for the practice of science and medicine. Keywords: positivism, relativism, scientific knowledge, incommensurability, Kuhn, Rorty, Longino CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this?
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  41. Jelena Berberović (1997). Rationality, Language, Incommensurability. Theoria 40 (2):65-78.
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  42. Richard J. Bernstein (1984). Part Two: Science, Rationality, and Incommensurability. In Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. University of Pennsylvania Press. 51-108.
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  43. Nicholas W. Best (2015). Meta-Incommensurability Between Theories of Meaning: Chemical Evidence. Perspectives on Science 23 (3).
    Attempting to compare scientific theories requires a philosophical model of meaning. Yet different scientific theories have at times—particularly in early chemistry—pre-supposed disparate theories of meaning. When two theories of meaning are incommensurable, we must say that the scientific theories that rely upon them are meta-incommensurable. Meta-incommensurability is a more profound sceptical threat to science since, unlike first-order incommensurability, it implies complete incomparability.
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  44. Mario Biagioli (1990). The Anthropology of Incommensurability. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 21 (2):183-209.
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  45. Soazig Le Bihan (2004). Saving Incommensurability: Semantic Theory of Meaning or Semantic Theory of Science? Philosophia Scientiae 8 (1):97-105.
    Carrier’s paper is mainly a defence of incommensurability as “a sensible notion”, on the basis of the context theory of meaning. I shall here discuss his semantic reconstruction of the notion. His argument consists in exhibiting cases where incommensurability is instantiated thanks to a symmetrical proof of untranslatability, based on a distinction between two determinants of the meaning of a concept. I shall mainly show that a logical asymmetry in the distinction hinders the argument from achieving its goal. I shall (...)
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  46. A. Bird (2012). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and its Significance: An Essay Review of the Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. [REVIEW] British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 63 (4):859-883.
    Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the most cited books of the twentieth century. Its iconic and controversial nature has obscured its message. What did Kuhn really intend with Structure and what is its real significance? -/- 1 Introduction -/- 2 The Central Ideas of Structure -/- 3 The Philosophical Targets of Structure -/- 4 Interpreting and Misinterpreting Structure -/- 4.1 Naturalism -/- 4.2 World-change -/- 4.3 Incommensurability -/- 4.4 Progress and the nature of revolutionary change -/- 4.5 (...)
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  47. Alexander Bird, Kuhn and Philosophy of Science in the Twentieth Century.
    Thomas Kuhn was undoubtedly the strongest influence on the philosophy of science in the last third of the twentieth century. Yet today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century it is unclear what his legacy really is. In the philosophy of science there is no characteristically Kuhnian school. This could be because we are all Kuhnians now. But it might also be because Kuhn’s thought, although revolutionary in its time, has since been superseded. In a sense both may be true. (...)
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  48. Alexander Bird (2012). What Can Cognitive Science Tell Us About Scientific Revolutions? Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 27 (3):293-321.
    Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions is notable for the readiness with which it drew on the results of cognitive psychology. These naturalistic elements were not well received and Kuhn did not subsequently develop them in his published work. Nonetheless, in a philosophical climate more receptive to naturalism, we are able to give a more positive evaluation of Kuhn’s proposals. Recently, philosophers such as Nersessian, Nickles, Andersen, Barker, and Chen have used the results of work on case-based reasoning, analogical thinking, dynamic (...)
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  49. Alexander Bird, Thomas Kuhn. Philosophical Quarterly.
    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is one of the most cited academic books of all time. His contribution to the philosophy science marked not only a break with several key positivist doctrines but also inaugurated a new style of philosophy of science that brought it much closer to the history of science. His account of the development of science held that science enjoys periods of stable growth punctuated by revisionary revolutions, to which he added the controversial ‘incommensurability thesis’, that theories (...)
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  50. Alexander Bird (2007). Incommensurability Naturalized. In L'ena Soler, Howard Sankey & Paul Hoyningen-Huene (eds.), Rethinking Scientific Change and Theory Comparison. Spinger. 21--39.
    In this paper I argue that we can understand incommensurability in a naturalistic, psychological manner. Cognitive habits can be acquired and so differ between individuals. Drawing on psychological work concerning analogical thinking and thinking with schemata, I argue that incommensurability arises between individuals with different cognitive habits and between groups with different shared cognitive habits.
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