Kuhn,naturalism,and the positivist legacy Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (2004)


I defend against criticism the following claims concerning Thomas Kuhn: (i) there is a
strong naturalist streak in The structure of scientific revolutions,whereby Kuhn used the
results of a posteriori enquiry in addressing philosophical questions; (ii) as Kuhn’s career as
a philosopher of science developed he tended to drop the naturalistic elements and to replace
them with more traditionally philosophical, a priori approaches; (iii) at the same time there
is a significant residue of positivist thought in Kuhn,which Kuhn did not recognise as such;
(iv) the naturalistic elements referred to in (i) are the most original and fruitful elements of
Kuhn’s thinking; (v) the positivistic elements referred to in (iii) vitiated his thought and
acted as factors in preventing Kuhn from developing the naturalistic elements and from following
the path taken by much subsequent philosophy of science. Preston presents an alternative
reading of Kuhn which emphasizes the Wittgensteinian elements in Kuhn. I argue
that this alternative view is,descriptively,poorly supported by the textual evidence and the
facts of the history of philosophy of science in the twentieth century. I provide some defence
of the naturalistic approach and related themes.

Keywords: Kuhn; Naturalism; Positivism; Preston