Objectivity: False Leads from T. S. Kuhn on the Role of the Aesthetic in the Sciences

  • Joseph Margolis
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 182)


There is a great muddle quite innocently generated by T. S. Kuhn’s candor in trying to fathom what contributes to what he calls a “paradigm shift” or the incipient stages of supporting a potentially “new paradigm”. Kuhn says straight out, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that: first, the usual arguments in favor of a new paradigm (those he had himself explored up to the point of raising the question) “concern the competitors’ ability [that is, the old and the new paradigms] to solve problems”; second, where new paradigms begin to gain ground, this criterion is often, puzzlingly, “neither individually nor collectively compelling”; hence, third, “other arguments, rarely made entirely explicit . . . appeal to the individual’s sense of the appropriate or the aesthetic — the new theory [being] said to be ‘neater’, ‘more aesthetic’, ‘more suitable’, or ‘simpler’ than the old”. Kuhn speaks of “the importance of these more subjective and aesthetic considerations”, but warns us against the suggestion “that new paradigms triumph ultimately through some mystical aesthetic”.1 Kuhn was able to offer a variety of cases in which the ability of the new paradigm “to solve problems” could not have been decisive: the dispute regarding Copernicus and Ptolemy, for instance, and that regarding Priestley and Lavoisier being the best known. (It was Popper’s charge that Kuhnian “paradigm shifts” almost never occur and that “‘normal’ science is [not] normal”.)2


Theory Choice Scientific Revolution Real General Natural Beauty Aesthetic Consideration 
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  1. 1.
    Kuhn, T. S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. enlarged (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 155–158.Google Scholar
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    See Popper, K., ‘Normal science and its dangers’, in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 52–54.Google Scholar
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    also, Gombrich, E. H., ‘The “what” and the “how”: perspective representations and the phenomenal world’, in R. Rudner and I. Scheffler (eds.), Logic of Art: Essays in Honor of Nelson Goodman (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972).Google Scholar
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    Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chapter 10.Google Scholar
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    See Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,‘Postscript — 1969.’Google Scholar
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    See Margolis, J., ‘Wittgenstein’s “forms of life”: A cultural template for psychology’, in M. Chapman and R. A. Dixon (eds.), Meaning and the Growth of Understanding: Wittgenstein’s Significance for Developmental Psychology (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1987)Google Scholar
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    Kuhn, The Essential Tension, pp. 321–322.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of the matter, see Margolis, J., The passing or Peirce’s realism’, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society XXIX, 1993.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Margolis
    • 1
  1. 1.Temple UniversityUSA

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