Thomas Kuhn's the Structure of Term Paper

  • Length: 11 pages
  • Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy
  • Type: Term Paper
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Excerpt from Term Paper :

What they had regarded as the most certain of all theories turned out to be in need of serious revision. In reaction, they resolved never again to bestow their faith in scientific truth unconditionally. Skepticism, not certainty, became their watchword. (ibid)

The implication of Kuhn's work was that science was seen to be dependent on history. It was no longer superior to historical analysis but could only be understood within the context of history. This too is another post-modern concept which is very important in deconstruction theory. "Philosophers therefore turned to a more serious study of history than they would have considered desirable even a few years earlier. They also learned more about the internal workings of the sciences than their earlier, much more abstract epistemological approach would ever have justified or even tolerated." (ibid)

3. Postmodern thought

Thomas Kuhn's groundbreaking work in the field of the philosophy of science is often quoted as a cardinal factor in the development of post modern and post-structural thought. While the consequences - and the differences - between the theory of paradigm shift and postmodernism are complex and intricate there are a number of central issues that outline this relationship. One of the cardinal concepts is the idea of non-linear progression which is a fundamental phrase used in postmodern discourse.

The key to understanding the relationship between Kuhn's work and modern art as well as post-structure linguistic theory lies in the term irrational and the attack on a logocentric view of reality. Non-linearity means that advancement in science takes place in a non-logical, seemingly irrational way. The idea of a nonlinear world and a non-logocentric vision are essential aspects in understanding the works of postmodern and post-structural philosophers like Derrida and Lacan.

Another possibility that was opened up by Kuhn's work was that due to the relative nature of scientific knowledge, science becomes just another 'fiction' which could be deconstructed or shown to be built up of contingent precepts and context-related perceptions of reality.

As Kuhn's interpretation took hold, a new generation of historians of science turned to examine the social contexts in which science had been pursued; favorite topics included the institutions of science, and sophisticated analyses of science and religious belief. In the history of medicine in particular this was complemented by Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1977) and the Order of Things (1970), which fertilized a growing perception that medicine in the past might have more to do with other aspects of life and conduct in the past than with medicine in the present.

Boon 38)

This aspect is strengthened by the central fact that from this point-of-view science is no longer seen objectively but rather as essentially subjective. Scientific theory is viewed as relative to the scientist or researchers' particular position and orientation in time and space.

The scientist's observations are already profoundly affected by a congeries of subjective elements. His point was simply that the encompassed and embedded subject is always surrounded by certain horizons, the forestructure of the inquiring interpreter, which inexorably and profoundly affect the researcher's understanding of the 'observed facts'. Because of the essential Vorverstandnis of the scientist, Kuhn concluded that there was no "basic vocabulary consisting entirely of words which are attached to nature in ways that are unproblematic and, to the extent necessary, independent of theory."


3.1 What is Postmodern?

In order to fully comprehend the implications of Kuhn's theories one has to understand how postmodernism developed from modernism. Many people are confused by the term postmodern. It has become a term that is bandied about in intelligent conversation, while many people use it loosely to mean almost anything new and innovative. Postmodernism is related to the term 'modernism'. Post means to come after. In other words, postmodern thought is that which comes after or develops from modernistic thought. Firstly one has to understand modernism.

Modernism refers to a certain period of western cultural, artistic and sociological history. This period covers the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - including the devastating effects of the First Word War on European consciousness.

Coupled with events like war were discoveries in science and other disciplines which overturned centuries of belief and convention. One needs only think of Einstein and relativity theory and Freud and the theory of the unconscious, in this regard. Freud's theory of the unconscious opened up a new world of previously unimagined human experience and led to a new perception of the self as well as new art and art forms. Karl Jung continued this idea and developed the theory of archetypes that suggests that all humanity, across cultural and racial barriers, share a common memory. There were many other historical, philosophical and scientific changes during this period. The common factor here is that all these events led to a deep and radical questioning of the status quo. The world and the view of reality that had been generally dominant in western society for centuries were questioned and overturned.New disciplines and particularly new art forms emerged as a reaction to the old ways of seeing things. Some of the major figures that helped to change and redefine literature were Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Proust, Mallarme, Kafka, and Rilke. In this context we can understand the relevance of Kuhn's views of science as a relative system of knowledge.

Postmodernism is in actuality a further radicalization of modernism. Thinkers and philosophers felt that modernism itself had certain restrictions and that modernistic thought still relied on basic foundational concepts that were tied to the past. For example, a central area of concern for many philosophers, like Jacques Derrida, was that modernistic thinking still took place in a linear and rational framework. In other words, people were changing the outer aspects but not the basic precepts and concepts that form the foundations of old thought. Linear thinking is essentially thinking in a cause and effect way - in a straight line. Non-linear thinking, which began to be supported by science and in particular physics, started to gain academic respectability. Theories like Curved Space and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, all led to more questioning of the foundations of modern thinking. Scientists began to question their belief in the possibility of pure objectivity and experiments were undertaken that proved that the experimenter had a direct physical effect on the experiment. In other words, there was no way in which subjectivity could be absolutely separated from objectivity. It becomes obvious how the theories put forward by Kuhn would fit into this context of relativity questioning. This also applies to the main characteristics of postmodern thinking which is that the world is seen as a much more complex and uncertain place. Reality is no longer fixed or determined. All truth within a postmodern context is relative to one's viewpoint or stance. The world is a representation. In other words, it is a fiction created from a specific point-of-view only, and not a final truth.

Derrida, one of the chief exponents of post-structuralism, coined a term called 'deconstruction' which means a philosophical method of looking for weak points in modern thinking and established ways of perception. The 'master narratives' or established viewpoints are scrutinized for inconsistencies or 'fissures; in the way western thinking takes place.

As a term Postmodernism is difficult to define as it covers a wide range of disciplines and general areas of thought. These include art, architecture, literature and technology. There are however a number of central characteristics that help us to understand the foundations of the postmodern. Firstly, like modernism, postmodernism rejects all boundaries. This rejection includes the boundaries between different forms and genres of art. The art development of bricolage and pastiche are examples of this. Secondly, there is a concentration on fragmentation and discontinuity as well as ambiguity. The postmodern focuses on a de-structured, de-centered humanity. What this really means is that the idea of disorder and fragmentation, which were previously regarded as negative qualities, are seen as an acceptable representation of reality by postmodernists. Modernism considered the fragmented view of human life as bad or tragic, while postmodernists rather celebrate this seemingly meaningless view of the world. It is an acceptance of the chaos that encourages a play with meaning. Postmodernism also accepts the possibility of ambiguity. Things and events can have two different meanings at the same time. A more rigid rational and logocentric or linear approach tries to avoid or reduce ambiguity as much as possible. Postmodern thought sees simultaneous views not as contradictory but as an integral part of the complex patterning of reality.

It is within the above context that we can see the work of Kuhn. His theory of science as a relative enterprise and not as a sequential logocentric view of reality is concomitant with the general position taken in postmodern thought and art.


Bernstein, Richard J. Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.

Boon, Timothy. "Making the Modern World" History Today Aug. 2001: 38. Questia. 10…

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