Conceptual Revolutions in Science

  • Stephen Toulmin
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 3)


By now, most analytical philosophers are accustomed to putting their thoughts about morals into a different box from their thoughts about science. By doing this, however, one may conceal the fact that, at the heart of both ethics and the philosophy of science, there lies a common problem — the problem of evaluation. Human conduct can be rated as acceptable or unacceptable, fruitful or misguided, can be approved of or judged inadequate. But so can human ideas, theories, explanations. And this is no simple play on words. In either case — whether moral or intellectual — we can inquire about the standards, criteria or other considerations involved in an evaluative appraisal, and about the bearing of those ‘considerations’ on the actual force and implications of the appraisal. So it is worth asking ourselves, from time to time, whether ethics and philosophy of science might not be more alike than they at present are.


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  1. 1.
    These correspond closely, indeed, to the ‘ideals of natural order’ of ‘paradigms’ — the term was borrowed from Wittgenstein — discussed in my 1960 Mahlon Powell Lectures at Indiana University, published in 1961 as Foresight and Understanding.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    R. G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1940, p. 73. (Italics not by Collingwood.)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Op. cit., p. 48.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Loc. cit.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Lewis Carroll’s famous article with this title in Mind N.S. 4 (1895) 278–80.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    R. G. Collingwood, op. cit., 93–98.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    T. S. Kuhn, ‘The Function of Dogma in Scientific Research’, in Scientific Change (ed. A. C. Crombie ), Heinemann, London 1963.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    T. S. Kuhn, ‘Logic of Discovery or Psychology or Research?’, to be published in The Philosophy of K. R. Popper (ed. P. A. Schilpp).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    What authentic intellectual change in science has been quite profound as to be a Kuhnian ‘revolution’? During the last three-hundred years, the only illustration Kuhn could confidently document in his book was the switch from the classical physics of Galileo, Newton and Maxwell to the 20th-century physics of Einstein and the quantum theory.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    A difficulty could be raised at this point, which will be discussed in a later chapter of the projected book. For the distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ factors applies clearly and cleanly only to ‘compact’ traditions, i.e. traditions which are the professional concern of coherent groups of men, sharing common aims, activities, and standards of judgment. In the case of more ‘diffuse’ traditions, it becomes less clear what exactly ‘internal’ factors are internal to. This connection between the structure of intellectual traditions and the structure of the professions which are their bearers is important, and needs close examination.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The novelties put forward for discussion within a ‘compact’ tradition are, of course, closely related to the past development of the tradition - at any rate, in most cases. (In this respect, intellectual evolution proceeds in a less ‘random’ and wasteful way than organic evolution.) It is the more drastic and dramatic changes in concepts which are more likely to find their sources outside the traditions in question: but these are, in the nature of the case, the exception, not the rule. The smaller the ‘mutations’ the more closely they are related to the previous course of the tradition.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company / Dordrecht-Holland 1967

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Toulmin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBrandeis UniversityUSA

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