Why the Scientific Revolution wasn’t a Scientific Revolution, and Why it Matters

Date: 
October 30, 2015 - 17:30 - 19:05
Building: 
Zrinyi u. 14
Room: 
412
Event type: 
Event audience: 
Presenter(s): 
Daniel Garber
CEU host unit(s): 
Department of Philosophy

Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions attempts to interpret scientific change on the model of a political revolution: a period of normalcy, followed by a crisis, that is resolved by a new regime, a new paradigm. This essay explores the appropriateness of this model for the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. When we examine the eclipse of Aristotelian natural philosophy, for a long while, if ever, it was not replaced by a single new paradigm. Rather, the “new” non-Aristotelian philosophy was actually a diverse group of thinkers, the “novatores” or “innovators” who agreed only in the rejection of Aristotelian natural philosophy but otherwise were quite diverse. This is important not only for understanding the historical period, but also because it reveals a flaw in Kuhn’s framework. It is important for political revolutions to be resolved: the stability of the life depends on it. But there is no reason why a scientific revolution needs to result in the adoption of a single new paradigm: in the scientific world, a diversity of competing alternatives, and not Kuhnian normal science may turn out to be the norm.Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions attempts to interpret scientific change on the model of a political revolution: a period of normalcy, followed by a crisis, that is resolved by a new regime, a new paradigm. This essay explores the appropriateness of this model for the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. When we examine the eclipse of Aristotelian natural philosophy, for a long while, if ever, it was not replaced by a single new paradigm. Rather, the “new” non-Aristotelian philosophy was actually a diverse group of thinkers, the “novatores” or “innovators” who agreed only in the rejection of Aristotelian natural philosophy but otherwise were quite diverse. This is important not only for understanding the historical period, but also because it reveals a flaw in Kuhn’s framework. It is important for political revolutions to be resolved: the stability of the life depends on it. But there is no reason why a scientific revolution needs to result in the adoption of a single new paradigm: in the scientific world, a diversity of competing alternatives, and not Kuhnian normal science may turn out to be the norm.