Scientific revolutions, specialization and the discovery of the structure of DNA: toward a new picture of the development of the sciences

Synthese 195 (5):2267-2293 (2018)
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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 transition. I will clarify the role of the scientific community in revolutionary changes and characterize the incommensurability across specialties as possessing both semantic and methodological aspects. The discussion of the discovery of the structure of DNA will serve both as an illustration of my main argument and as reply to one criticism raised against Kuhn—namely, that his model cannot capture cases of revolutionary yet non-disruptive episodes of scientific progress. Revisiting Kuhn’s ideas on specialization will shed new light on some often overlooked features of scientific change.


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Vincenzo Politi
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Citations of this work

The emergence of objectivity: Fleck, Foucault, Kuhn and Hacking.Luca Sciortino - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 88 (1):128-137.
Specialisation and the Incommensurability Among Scientific Specialties.Vincenzo Politi - 2019 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 50 (1):129-144.
Beyond Structure: New Frontiers of the Philosophy of Thomas Kuhn.Vincenzo Politi & Yafeng Shan - 2023 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 36 (2):81-86.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Otto Neurath.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.David Bohm - 1964 - Philosophical Quarterly 14 (57):377-379.

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