What can cognitive science tell us about scientific revolutions?



Published 23-09-2012
Alexander Bird


Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions is notable for the readiness with which it drew on the results of cognitive psychology. These naturalistic elements were not well received and Kuhn did not subsequently develop them in his pub- lished work. Nonetheless, in a philosophical climate more receptive to naturalism, we are able to give a more positive evaluation of Kuhn's proposals. Recently, philosophers such as Nersessian, Nickles, Andersen, Barker, and Chen have used the results of work on case-based reasoning, analogical thinking, dynamic frames, and the like to illuminate and develop various aspects of Kuhn's thought in Structure. In particular this work aims to give depth to the Kuhnian concepts of a paradigm and incommensurability. I review this work and identify two broad strands of research. One emphasizes work on concepts; the other focusses on cognitive habits. After contrasting these, I argue that the conceptual strand fails to be a complete account of scientific revolutions. We need a broad approach that draws on a variety of resources in psychology and cognitive science.

How to Cite

Bird, A. (2012). What can cognitive science tell us about scientific revolutions?. THEORIA, 27(3), 293–321. https://doi.org/10.1387/theoria.6391
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Kuhn, cognitive science, incommensurability, scientific revolutions