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History of Political Economy 33.4 (2001) 855-857

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Book Review

The Road since Structure:
Philosophical Essays, 1970–1993

For and against Method:
Including Lakatos's Lectures on Scientific Method and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence

The Road since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970–1993, with an Autobiographical Interview. Edited by James Conant and John Haugeland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. vii; 335 pp. $25.00; £16.00.

For and against Method: Including Lakatos's Lectures on Scientific Method and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence. Edited by Matteo Motterini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. xi; 451 pp. $34.00; £24.00.

The late Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) has sold more than a million copies since its publication thirty-nine years ago, and Scientific American has gone so far as to claim that it is “the most influential academic work of the second half of the twentieth century.” Like all great books, Structure paid a terrible price for its enormous success: its central thesis of the role of “paradigms” in science has been bowdlerized into the dependence of scientific research on weltanschauungen; its fundamental distinction between “normal” and “revolutionary” science has been widely misunderstood as a perfectly dispensable part of the total message; charges of sucking up to relativism and “mob psychology” have been a constant accompaniment of its fame; and most ironic of all, it was most enthusiastically acclaimed by an audience that Kuhn never addressed—in his own bitter words, “I used to say that if you go through college in science and mathematics you may very well get your bachelor's degree without having been exposed to the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. If you go through college in any other field you will read it at least once. That was not altogether what I had wanted” (282–83).

For all that, Kuhn had mostly himself to blame. The book was frequently vague in laying down its basic building blocks—“Paradigms was a perfectly good word until I messed it up” (298), Kuhn admitted—and the argument was both simplistic and grossly exaggerated (e.g., after a scientific revolution, the old and the new paradigms are “incommensurate”; it requires a “gestalt-switch” to appreciate the new paradigm, and only the young are capable of switching over; et cetera), a combination that is always fatal to a great book's ultimate reputation. Kuhn qualified many of his [End Page 855] assertions in the second and third editions of his book (1970, 1996)—“paradigms” became “disciplinary matrices”; “scientific revolutions” are said to take place not every few centuries, but every few years in subdisciplinary communities of perhaps no more than a dozen or so scientists; and the mutual incomprehension between scientists during periods of intellectual crisis became only a matter of degree—but by then the basic outlines of his first edition had been picked up by the radical student movement of the 1960s and that is all that is now remembered.

Do we learn anything about Kuhn's revisions from this collection of published papers that we could not have learned from the second edition of Structure and an earlier collection of papers, The Essential Tension (1977)? No, not really. Nevertheless, rereading these papers reminds us of Kuhn's admirable determination to wrestle with abiding philosophical and sociological problems in the historical study of science that even he felt that he had never solved satisfactorily: Is the incommensurability of rival paradigms a matter of linguistic structures, rather like trying to translate Shakespeare into Mandarin Chinese, or is it something deeper in the sense of rival epistemic visions (chaps. 2, 4 )? Is there progress in science in terms of ever greater verisimilitude and, if so, why has verisimilitude defied even qualitative measurement (chap. 5)? Are the social sciences profoundly different from the natural sciences in being grounded in intentional behavior, or are they just immature subjects, incapable of supporting normal, puzzle-solving research (chap. 10)?



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