I had to revisit Kuhn for a thesis defence, and Ian Hacking’s introductory Essay is worth buying the new edition. I last read Kuhn in 1989, in preparation for my own defence. Hacking describes the debate about epistemology since it was first published, but also the evolution of Kuhn’s own thinking. In particular, some of the exploration of Structure has highlighted inconsistencies, particularly in the multiple uses of the word “paradigm”. The concept of ‘normal science’ and the process of scientific problem solving is also a useful one... how you get to normal science, how you build knowledge within a paradigm and how useful and limited that knowledge can be is central to the problem of the social sciences, which were not part of the epistemological framework of Kuhn’s generation of physics-grounded historical philosophers. I think what I concluded thinking about Hacking’s essay on Kuhn, and Abbot (2001) Chaos of Disciplines, is that--at least for the social sciences--too many paradigms and too many concurrent revolutions in scientific thinking fragment knowledge and empirical problem-solving and leave us rudderless rather than progressing. Whether it is better to be “lost, but making good progress” (like the old patrol report) or floundering in the slough of critical theory and equal rejection of all paradigms is something I haven’t figured out yet.
David Last, 8 August 2013