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 But it might also be because Kuhn’s thought, although revolutionary in its time, has since been superseded.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. We are all Copernicans—yet almost everything Copernicus believed we now disbelieve. In this paper I shall examine the development of Kuhn’s thought in connection with changes in the philosophy of science during the second half of the twentieth century. Now that philosophy in general, philosophy of science in particular, is in a post-positivist era, we all share Kuhn’s rejection of positivism. But we do not, for the most part, share Kuhn’s belief in incommensurability, or his scepticism about truth and objective knowledge. Just as in Copernicus’ case, Kuhn initiated a revolution that went far beyond what he himself envisaged or even properly understood.
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