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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 1975.  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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405 found
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  1. added 2018-12-09
    ‘Language, Truth and Reason’ 30years Later.Ian Hacking - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 43 (4):599-609.
    This paper traces the origins of the styles project, originally presented as ‘styles of scientific reasoning’. ‘Styles of scientific thinking & doing’ is a better label; the styles can also be called genres, or, ways of finding out. A. C. Crombie’s template of six fundamentally distinct ones was turned into a philosophical tool, but with a tinge of Paul Feyerabend’s anarchism. Ways of finding out are not defined by necessary and sufficient conditions, but can be recognized as distinct within a (...)
  2. added 2018-10-15
    Conceptual Development in Interdisciplinary Research.Hanne Andersen - 2012 - In Uljana Feest & Friedrich Steinle (eds.), Scientific Concepts and Investigative Practice. De Gruyter. pp. 3--271.
  3. added 2018-10-10
    Some Reflections on Experimental Incommensurability.Howard Sankey - 2008 - In Lena Soler, Howard Sankey & Paul Hoyningen-Huene (eds.), Rethinking Scientific Change and Theory Comparison. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 341-347.
    This is a comment on Lena Soler's 'The Incommensurability of Experimental Practices'.
  4. added 2018-10-04
    Incommensurability.Howard Sankey - 2006 - In Sahotra Sarkar & Jessica Pfeifer (eds.), The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. pp. 370-373.
    This is a short introductory discussion of the idea of incommensurability as it is used in the philosophy of science.
  5. added 2018-09-20
    Kuhn, Relativism and Realism.Howard Sankey - 2018 - In Juha Saatsi (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Scientific Realism. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 72-83.
    The aim of this chapter is to explore the relationship between Kuhn’s views about science and scientific realism. I present an overview of key features of Kuhn’s model of scientific change. The model suggests a relativistic approach to the methods of science. I bring out a conflict between this relativistic approach and a realist approach to the norms of method. I next consider the question of progress and truth. Kuhn’s model is a problem-solving model that proceeds by way of puzzles (...)
  6. added 2018-09-20
    Incommensurability and Theory Change.Howard Sankey - 2011 - In Steven Hales (ed.), A Companion to Relativism. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 456-474.
    The paper explores the relativistic implications of the thesis of incommensurability. A semantic form of incommensurability due to semantic variation between theories is distinguished from a methodological form due to variation in methodological standards between theories. Two responses to the thesis of semantic incommensurability are dealt with: the first challenges the idea of untranslatability to which semantic incommensurability gives rise; the second holds that relations of referential continuity eliminate semantic incommensurability. It is then argued that methodological incommensurability poses little risk (...)
  7. added 2018-09-20
    Scientific Realism and the Rationality of Science.Howard Sankey - 2008 - Ashgate.
    Scientific realism is the position that the aim of science is to advance on truth and increase knowledge about observable and unobservable aspects of the mind-independent world which we inhabit. This book articulates and defends that position. In presenting a clear formulation and addressing the major arguments for scientific realism Sankey appeals to philosophers beyond the community of, typically Anglo-American, analytic philosophers of science to appreciate and understand the doctrine. The book emphasizes the epistemological aspects of scientific realism and contains (...)
  8. added 2018-09-10
    Meta-Incommensurability Revisited.Hyundeuk Cheon - 2014 - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science 29 (2):243-259.
    A popular rejoinder to the potential threat that incommensurability might pose to scientific realism has been the referential response: despite meaning variance, there can be referential continuity, which is sufficient for rational theory choice. This response has been charged with meta-incommensurability, according to which it begs the question by assuming realist metaphysics. However, realists take it to be a rhetorical device that hinders productive discussion. By reconstructing the debate, this paper aims to demonstrate two things. First, there are unexpected commonalities (...)
  9. added 2018-07-17
    The (Lack of) Evidence for the Kuhnian Image of Science.Moti Mizrahi - 2018 - Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7 (7):19-24.
    In their reviews of The Kuhnian Image of Science: Time for a Decisive Transformation? (2018), both Markus Arnold (2018) and Amanda Bryant (2018) complain that the contributors who criticize Kuhn’s theory of scientific change have misconstrued his philosophy of science and they praise those who seek to defend the Kuhnian image of science. In what follows, then, I would like to address their claims about misconstruing Kuhn’s theory of scientific change. But my focus here, as in the book, will be (...)
  10. added 2018-05-31
    Incommensurability: An Overview.Howard Sankey - 1999 - Divinatio 10:135-48.
    Opening remarks delivered at "Incommensurability (and related matters)" conference, Hanover, June 1999.
  11. added 2018-05-28
    Incommensurability and Comparative Philosophy.Xinli Wang - 2018 - Philosophy East and West 68 (2):564-582.
    Comparative philosophy between two disparate cultural-philosophic traditions, such as Western and Chinese philosophy, has become a new trend of philosophical fashion in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Having learned from the past, contemporary comparative philosophers cautiously safeguard their comparative studies against two potential pitfalls, namely cultural universalism and cultural relativism. The Orientalism that assumed the superiority of the Occidental has become a memory of the past. The historical pendulum has apparently swung to the other extreme. The more recent (...)
  12. added 2018-05-13
    Specialisation, Interdisciplinarity, and Incommensurability.Vincenzo Politi - 2017 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 31 (3):301-317.
    Incommensurability may be regarded as driving specialisation, on the one hand, and as posing some problems to interdisciplinarity, on the other hand. It may be argued, however, that incommensurability plays no role in either specialisation or interdisciplinarity. Scientific specialties could be defined as simply 'different' (that is, about different things), rather than 'incommensurable' (that is, competing for the explanation of the same phenomena). Interdisciplinarity could be viewed as the co- ordinated effort of scientists possessing complemetary and interlocking skills, and not (...)
  13. added 2018-02-18
    The Demise of the Incommensurability Thesis.Howard Sankey - 2016 - In Moti Mizrahi (ed.), The Kuhnian Image of Science: Time for a Decisive Transformation? London and New York: Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 75-91.
    The paper briefly reviews the main formulations of the incommensurability thesis by Feyerabend and Kuhn, as well as the main criticisms leveled against it. The question is then raised of whether there is a "phenomenon" of incommensurability that has been "discovered". It is argued that there is no such phenomenon.
  14. added 2018-02-17
    Reference, Ontological Replacement and Neo-Kantianism: A Reply to Sankey.Paul Hoyningen-Huene & Eric Oberheim - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 40 (2):203-209.
    Contrary to Sankey’s central assumption, incommensurability does not imply incomparability of content, nor threaten scientific realism by challenging the rationality of theory comparison. Moreover, Sankey equivocates between reference to specific entities by statements used to test theories and reference to kinds by theories themselves. This distinction helps identify and characterize the genuine threat that incommensurability poses to realism, which is ontological discontinuity as evidenced in the historical record: Successive theories reclassify objects into mutually exclusive sets of kinds to which they (...)
  15. added 2018-02-17
    Taxonomy, Truth-Value Gaps and Incommensurability: A Reconstruction of Kuhn's Taxonomic Interpretation of Incommensurability.Xinli Wang - 2002 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (3):465-485.
    Kuhn's alleged taxonomic interpretation of incommensurability is grounded on an ill defined notion of untranslatability and is hence radically incomplete. To supplement it, I reconstruct Kuhn's taxonomic interpretation on the basis of a logical-semantic theory of taxonomy, a semantic theory of truth-value, and a truth-value conditional theory of cross-language communication. According to the reconstruction, two scientific languages are incommensurable when core sentences of one language, which have truth values when considered within its own context, lack truth values when considered within (...)
  16. added 2018-02-17
    Kuhn édenté: incommensurabilité et choix entre théories (translated by Michel Ghins).Tim Maudlin - 1996 - Revue Philosophique De Louvain 94 (3):428-446.
  17. added 2018-02-16
    The Intelligibility Objection Against Underdetermination.Rogério Passos Severo - 2012 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 16 (1):121-146.
    One of the objections against the thesis of underdetermination of theories by observations is that it is unintelligible. Any two empirically equivalent theories — so the argument goes—are in principle intertranslatable, hence cannot count as rivals in any non-trivial sense. Against that objection, this paper shows that empirically equivalent theories may contain theoretical sentences that are not intertranslatable. Examples are drawn from a related discussion about incommensurability that shows that theoretical non-intertranslatability is possible.
  18. added 2018-02-16
    Scientific Realism and the Semantic Incommensurability Thesis.Howard Sankey - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 40 (2):196-202.
    This paper reconsiders the challenge presented to scientific realism by the semantic incommensurability thesis. A twofold distinction is drawn between methodological and semantic incommensurability, and between semantic incommensurability due to variation of sense and due to discontinuity of reference. Only the latter presents a challenge to scientific realism. The realist may dispose of this challenge on the basis of a modified causal theory of reference, as argued in the author’s 1994 book, The incommensurability thesis. This referential response has been the (...)
  19. added 2018-02-16
    A Curious Disagreement: Response to Hoyningen-Huene and Oberheim.Howard Sankey - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 40 (2):210-212.
    In this response, doubts are expressed relating to the treatment by Hoyningen-Huene and Oberheim of the relation between incommensurability and content comparison. A realist response is presented to their treatment of ontological replacement. Further questions are raised about the coherence of the neo-Kantian idea of the world-in-itself as well as the phenomenal worlds hypothesis. The notion of common sense is clarified. Meta-incommensurability is dismissed as a rhetorical device which obstructs productive discussion.Keywords: Scientific realism; Incommensurability; Meta-incommensurability; Paul Hoyningen-HueneArticle Outline.
  20. added 2018-02-16
    A Rosa Multiflora by Any Other Name: Taxonomic Incommensurability and Scientific Kinds.Jeffrey K. McDonough - 2003 - Synthese 136 (3):337-358.
    The following paper attempts to explore, criticize and develop Thomas Kuhn's most mature -- and surprisingly neglected -- view of incommensurability. More specifically, it focuses on undermining an influential picture of scientific kinds that lies at the heart of Kuhn's understanding of taxonomic incommensurability; sketching an alternative picture of scientific kinds that takes advantage of Kuhn's partially developed theory of disciplinary matrices; and using these two results to motivate revisions to Kuhn's theory of taxonomic incompatibility, as well as, to the (...)
  21. added 2018-02-16
    Polanyi's Presagement of the Incommensurability Concept.Struan Jacobs - 2002 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (1):101-116.
    Kuhn and Feyerabend have little to say about the thought of Michael Polanyi, and the secondary literature on Polanyi's relation to them is meagre. I argue that Polanyi's view, in Personal knowledge and in other writings, of conceptual frameworks ‘segregated’ by a ‘logical gap’ as giving rise to controversies in science foreshadowed Kuhn and Feyerabend's theme of incommensurability. The similarity between the thinkers is, I suggest, no coincidence.
  22. added 2018-02-16
    ‘Paradigms Lost, or the World Regained’ —An Excursion Into Realism and Idealism in Science.Robert Nola - 1980 - Synthese 45 (3):317-350.
    Tensions between idealism and scientific realism have been resolved by an appeal to the theory/observation distinction. but many who support incommensurability reject the distinction in favor of a version of idealism, e.g., thomas kuhn who supports a version of relativist idealism in which the terms of a theory do refer, but only to a paradigm--relative world of entities. it is argued that the three kinds of idealism depend on a cluster theory of meaning for fixing the reference of scientific terms, (...)
  23. added 2017-07-07
    Kuhn, Pedagogy, and Practice: A Local Reading of Structure.Lydia Patton - 2018 - In Moti Mizrahi (ed.), The Kuhnian Image of Science: Time for a Decisive Transformation? Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
    Moti Mizrahi has argued that Thomas Kuhn does not have a good argument for the incommensurability of successive scientific paradigms. With Rouse, Andersen, and others, I defend a view on which Kuhn primarily was trying to explain scientific practice in Structure. Kuhn, like Hilary Putnam, incorporated sociological and psychological methods into his history of science. On Kuhn’s account, the education and initiation of scientists into a research tradition is a key element in scientific training and in his explanation of incommensurability (...)
  24. added 2017-06-29
    Scientific Progress and Incomensurability in Thomas Kuhn.André Luis de Oliveira Mendonça & Antonio Augusto Passos Videira - 2007 - Scientiae Studia 5 (2):169-183.
  25. added 2017-06-29
    Book Review:The Road Since Structure Thomas S. Kuhn, J. Conant, J. Haugeland. [REVIEW]Gurol Irzik - 2001 - Philosophy of Science 68 (4):573-.
  26. added 2017-06-29
    Translation and Scientific Change.Veikko Rantala - 1995 - In William E. Herfel, Wladyslaw Krajewski, Ilkka Niiniluoto & Ryszard Wojcicki (eds.), Theories and Models in Scientific Processes. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi. pp. 249--268.
  27. added 2017-06-28
    The Kuhnian Image of Science: Time for a Decisive Transformation?Moti Mizrahi (ed.) - 2018 - London: Rowman & Littlefield.
    More than 50 years after the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s seminal book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, this volume assesses the adequacy of the Kuhnian model in explaining certain aspects of science, particularly the social and epistemic aspects of science. One argument put forward is that there are no good reasons to accept Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis, according to which scientific revolutions involve the replacement of theories with conceptually incompatible ones. Perhaps, therefore, it is time for another “decisive transformation in the (...)
  28. added 2017-04-10
    Inconmensurabilidad Empírica: Un Enfoque Macrológico.Eugenio Moya Cantero - 1994 - Daimon: Revista Internacional de Filosofía 8:119-130.
  29. added 2017-02-16
    Scientific Revolutions, Specialization and the Discovery of the Structure of DNA: Toward a New Picture of the Development of the Sciences.Politi Vincenzo - 2018 - Synthese 195 (5):2267-2293.
    In his late years, Thomas Kuhn became interested in the process of scientific specialization, which does not seem to possess the destructive element that is characteristic of scientific revolutions. It therefore makes sense to investigate whether and how Kuhn’s insights about specialization are consistent with, and actually fit, his model of scientific progress through revolutions. In this paper, I argue that the transition toward a new specialty corresponds to a revolutionary change for the group of scientists involved in such a (...)
  30. added 2017-02-13
    La Teoría de la Inconmensurabilidad Entre Teorìas Científicas y El Carácter Històrico de la Ciencia.B. Sánchez Mujica - 1994 - Apuntes Filosóficos 6:197-204.
  31. added 2017-01-25
    Some Reflections on Experimental Incommensurability.Howard Sankey - 2008 - In Lena Soler, Howard Sankey & Paul Hoyningen-Huene (eds.), Rethinking Scientific Change and Theory Comparison. Springer. pp. 341-347.
  32. added 2017-01-25
    Conditions of Progress and the Comparability of Theories.Erhard Scheibe - 1976 - In R. S. Cohen, P. K. Feyerabend & M. Wartofsky (eds.), Essays in Memory of Imre Lakatos. Reidel. pp. 547--568.
  33. added 2017-01-22
    Observationality and the Comparability of Theories.Philip A. Ostien - 1974 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1974:271 - 289.
  34. added 2017-01-21
    Kuhn on Essentialism and the Causal Theory of Reference.Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen - 2010 - Philosophy of Science 77 (4):544-564.
    The causal theory of reference is often taken to provide a solution to the problems, such as incomparability and referential discontinuity, that the meaning-change thesis raised. I show that Kuhn successfully questioned the causal theory and Putnam's idea that reference is determined via the sameness relation of essences that holds between a sample and other members of a kind in all possible worlds. Putnam's single ‘essential' properties may be necessary but not sufficient to determine membership in a kind category. Kuhn (...)
  35. added 2017-01-21
    Paradigms.Daniel Goldman Cedarbaum - 1983 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 14 (3):173-213.
  36. added 2017-01-21
    Incommensurable Paradigms and Critical Idealism.J. Douglas Rabb - 1975 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 6 (4):343-346.
  37. added 2017-01-17
    Relativistic Frameworks and the Case for Incommensurability.Jean-Michel Delhôtel - 2018 - Synthese 195 (4):1569-1585.
    The aim of this paper is to address, from a fresh perspective, the question of whether Newtonian mechanics can legitimately be regarded as a limiting case of the special theory of relativity, or whether the two theories should be deemed so radically different as to be incommensurable in the sense of Feyerabend and Kuhn. Firstly, it is argued that focusing on the concept of mass and its transformation across the two varieties of mechanics is bound to leave the issue unsettled. (...)
  38. added 2017-01-17
    Incommensurability, Realism, and Meta-Incommensurability.Eric Oberheim & Paul Hoyningen-Huene - 1997 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 12 (3):447-465.
    The essay begins with a detailed consideration of the introduction of incommensurability by Feyerabend in 1962 which exposes several historically inaccurate claims about incommensurability. Section 2 is a coneise argument against causal theories of reference as used as arguments against incommensurability. We object to this strategy because it begs the question by presupposing realism. Section 3 introduces and discusses a hypothesis that w'e call meta-incommensurability which provides the reason for the wide-spread accusation of question-begging and use of circular argumentation among (...)
  39. added 2017-01-15
    Incommensurability, Comparability, and Non-Reductive Ontological Relations.José L. Falguera & Xavier Donato-Rodríguez - 2016 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 47 (1):37-58.
    We begin by highlighting some points related to Kuhn’s later thoughts on the incommensurability thesis and then show to what extent the standard version of the thesis given by the structuralist metatheory allows us to capture Kuhn’s ideas. Our main aim is to establish what constitutes the basis of comparability between incommensurable theories, even in cases of incommensurability with respect to theoretical and non-theoretical terms. We propose that comparability between incommensurable theories requires some connection between their respective ontologies that can (...)
  40. added 2017-01-15
    On the Historical Origins of the Contemporary Notion of Incommensurability: Paul Feyerabend’s Assault on Conceptual Conservativism.Eric Oberheim - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 36 (2):363-390.
  41. added 2017-01-15
    Semantic Incommensurability and Empirical Comparability: The Case of Lorentz and Einstein.Martin Carrier - 2004 - Philosophia Scientae 8:73-94.
  42. added 2017-01-15
    Characterizing Incommensurability on the Basis of a Contextual Theory of Language.Léna Soler - 2004 - Philosophia Scientae 8:107-152.
  43. added 2017-01-15
    The Incommensurability Problem: Evolution, Current Approaches and Recent Issues.Léna Soler - 2004 - Philosophia Scientae 8:1-38.
  44. added 2017-01-15
    Incommensurability and Dynamic Conceptual Structures.Hanne Andersen - 2004 - Philosophia Scientae 8:153-168.
  45. added 2017-01-15
    Kuhn, Naturalism and the Positivist Legacy.Alexander Bird - 2004 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35 (2):337-356.
    I defend against criticism the following claims concening Thomas Kuhn: (i) there is a strong naturalist streak in The structure of scientific revolutions, whereby Kuhn used the results of a posteriori enquiry in addressing philosophical questions; (ii) as Kuhn's career as a philosopher of science developed he tended to drop the naturalistic elements and to replace them with more traditionally philosophical a prior approaches; (iii) at the same there is a significant residue of positivist thought in Kuhm, which Kuhn did (...)
  46. added 2017-01-15
    Translation Failure Between Theories.Howard Sankey - 1991 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 22 (2):223-236.
  47. added 2017-01-14
    What Second Order Science Reveals About Scientific Claims: Incommensurability, Doubt, and a Lack of Explication.Michael Lissack - 2017 - Foundations of Science 22 (3):575-593.
    The traditional sciences often bracket away ambiguity through the imposition of “enabling constraints”—making a set of assumptions and then declaring ceteris paribus. These enabling constraints take the form of uncritically examined presuppositions or “uceps.” Second order science reveals hidden issues, problems and assumptions which all too often escape the attention of the practicing scientist. These hidden values—precisely because they are hidden and not made explicit—can get in the way of the public’s acceptance of a scientific claim. A conflict in understood (...)
  48. added 2016-12-21
    Wittgenstein, Davidson, and the Myth of Incommensurability.Stan Stein - 1993 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 23 (sup1):181-221.
    (1993). Wittgenstein, Davidson, and the Myth of Incommensurability. Canadian Journal of Philosophy: Vol. 23, Supplementary Volume 19: New Essays on Metaphilosophy, pp. 181-221.
  49. added 2016-12-08
    A Structural Analysis of the Phlogiston Case.Maria Caamaño - 2009 - Erkenntnis 70 (3):331-364.
    The incommensurability thesis, as introduced by T.S. Kuhn and P.K. Feyerabend, states that incommensurable theories are conceptually incompatible theories which share a common domain of application. Such claim has often been regarded as incoherent, since it has been understood that the determination of a common domain of application at least requires a certain degree of conceptual compatibility between the theories. The purpose of this work is to contribute to the defense of the notion of local or gradual incommensurability, as proposed (...)
  50. added 2016-12-08
    The Cognitive Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Hanne Andersen, Peter Barker & Xiang Chen - 2006 - 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 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 revolution, (...)
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