Philosophy of science: paradigms

In the last tutorial we discussed Karl Popper’s falsificationism. In this tutorial, we will discuss another view on how science is conducted. This view comes from Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn rejected Popper’s strict falsificationism as a true representation of science. He rejected it because it is ahistorical. Kuhn argued that the vast majority of scientific theories and scientific discoveries were not found through a strict falsificationist approach. And if they did, they would have been discarded way too early.

An example of this has been given by A. F Chalmers. Chalmers explains that Issac Newton’s theory of gravitation resulted in failed predictions of Uranus’ orbit. If Newton were to act in Popper’s way, he should have discarded his theory. However, Newton put forward what Popper would have seen as an Ad Hoc hypothesis that there must be another planet that caused the change in Uranus’ orbit. And Newton was right, because years later that planet was discovered: Neptune.

Kuhn believes, according to Chalmers, that science goes through a cycle of paradigms. The paradigm cycle is: agreed scientific theory, crisis, revolution, new agreed scientific theory.

Agreed scientific theory

In this stage, a scientific field will have an agreed theory all scientists adhere to. When there a failed predictions, they are assumed to be human error; anomolies; things requiring amendments; and so on.


A crisis is the stage where the agreed scientific theory involves so many failed predictions and inconsistencies that it can no longer be explained away. At this stage, the theory must be discarded.


The revolution is stage where a new theory is put forward which can be as predictably powerful as the discarded theory, but also does not possess the problems the previous theory had that caused the crisis.

New agreed scientific theory

Once the revolution is complete, the new theory becomes the new agreed scientific theory. And the cycle begins again. Kuhn believes this is how science makes progress, since each new theory improves upon the old one, even though it will be inevitably go through its own crisis and be discarded.

If you want to read about this in more detail, I recommend the book ‘What is this thing called Science?’ by A. F Chalmers, which is available in the link below:

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Andrew Tulloch

I have a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and Sociology, with a Political Science minor. I also have an honours degree in Philosophy. I am currently studying for my PhD in Philosophy.

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