Kuhn's Wrong Turning Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (forthcoming 2002)

Keywords: Kuhn, scientific revolutions, empiricism, naturalism, incommensurability, reference


Why, despite his enormous influence in the latter part of the twentieth century, has Kuhn left no distinctively Kuhnian legacy?  I argue that this is because the development of Kuhn's own thought was in a direction opposite to that of the mainstream of the philosophy of science.  In the 1970s and 1980s the philosophy of science took on board the lessons of externalism as regards reference and knowledge, and became more sympathetic to a naturalistic approach to philosophical problems.  Kuhn, on the other hand, started out with a strong naturalistic streak, employing non-philosophical disciplines, primarily psychology, in order to build his accounts of scientific change and the nature of observation and scientific thought.  But by the 1970s Kuhn's work had taken on a much more purely philosophical, a priori, tone.  His explanation of incommensurability moved from a psychological explanation to one embedded in the philosophy of language.  Increasingly he gave his outlook a Kantian gloss.  I suggest, nonetheless, that Kuhn's most valuable contribution is to be found in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and not in his later work, and that the naturalistic direction of the former has important links with connectionist research in cognitive science that deserve further study.