Kuhn and the Historiography of Science

Alexander Bird

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


This article discusses Kuhn conception of the history of science by focussing on two respects in which Kuhn is an historicist historian and philosopher of sci- ence. I identify two distinct but related aspects of historicism in the work of Hegel and show how these are also found in Kuhn’s work. First, Kuhn held tra- dition to be important for understanding scientific change and that the tradi- tion from which a scientific idea originates must be understood in evaluating that idea. This makes Kuhn a historicist in a sense we may call conservative (drawing on Mannheim). Secondly, Kuhn held that there is a pattern to the development of science. In the light of the fact that he held scientific change to be law-like, we can call this second aspect of Kuhn’s historicism determinist (in a parallel with Marx). I discuss the relationship of Kuhn’s historicist historiography to the philosophical purposes he had for his history of science, namely to refute a conception of scientific progress as driven towards increasing truth by something like ‘the scientific method’. I argue that while this determinism refutes certain positivist conceptions of scientific change, it also requires internalism—the view that the causes of scientific change come from within science, not from outside. Consequently, Kuhn historiography of science contrasts with that implicit in much of post-Kuhnian science studies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50 Years On
EditorsAlisa Bokulich, William Devlin
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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