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Paradigm shift

The meaning of «paradigm shift»

A paradigm shift, a concept identified by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, is a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline. Even though Kuhn restricted the use of the term to the natural sciences, the concept of a paradigm shift has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events.

Kuhn presented his notion of a paradigm shift in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

Kuhn contrasts paradigm shifts, which characterize a scientific revolution, to the activity of normal science, which he describes as scientific work done within a prevailing framework or paradigm. Paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.[1]

Kuhn acknowledges having used the term "paradigm" in two different meanings. In the first one, "paradigm" designates what the members of a certain scientific community have in common, that is to say, the whole of techniques, patents and values shared by the members of the community. In the second sense, the paradigm is a single element of a whole, say for instance Newton’s Principia, which, acting as a common model or an example... stands for the explicit rules and thus defines a coherent tradition of investigation. Thus the question is for Kuhn to investigate by means of the paradigm what makes possible the constitution of what he calls "normal science". That is to say, the science which can decide if a certain problem will be considered scientific or not. Normal science does not mean at all a science guided by a coherent system of rules, on the contrary, the rules can be derived from the paradigms, but the paradigms can guide the investigation also in the absence of rules. This is precisely the second meaning of the term "paradigm", which Kuhn considered the most new and profound, though it is in truth the oldest.[2]

The nature of scientific revolutions has been studied by modern philosophy since Immanuel Kant used the phrase in the preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason (1787). Kant used the phrase "revolution of the way of thinking" (Revolution der Denkart) to refer to Greek mathematics and Newtonian physics. In the 20th century, new developments in the basic concepts of mathematics, physics, and biology revitalized interest in the question among scholars.

In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn explains the development of paradigm shifts in science into four stages:

A common misinterpretation of paradigms is the belief that the discovery of paradigm shifts and the dynamic nature of science (with its many opportunities for subjective judgments by scientists) are a case for relativism:[10] the view that all kinds of belief systems are equal. Kuhn vehemently denies this interpretation[11] and states that when a scientific paradigm is replaced by a new one, albeit through a complex social process, the new one is always better, not just different.

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