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Thomas Samuel Kuhn’s Epistemological Relativism


Thomas Samuel Kuhn is one of the most famous proponents of scientific revolutions. He influenced academic as well as social circles by postulating a term that is widely used today, the paradigm shift. This is after claiming that the scientific revolution does not follow a linear or a continuous progression path. To this end, Kuhn argues that science’s approach to paradigm shift was initially considered as invalid.

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He also postulates that scientific truth cannot be attained through objective criteria alone. There should be an agreement in the scientific community regarding scientific truth. This brings in the subjective aspect of scientific truth.

Kuhn’s first edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolution published in 1962 has been viewed as an attack on objectivity (Scheffler 112). This has put Kuhn in a ‘self-refuting’ position (Scheffler 112). This is a controversy or in other words, epistemology relativism (Siegal 88). The controversy is made obvious when Kuhn denies the charges in his second edition claiming that he believes in the progress achieved in the scientific field. These are inconsistent remarks that need to be viewed critically.

In this paper, the author is going to differentiate between ‘universal’ and ‘epistemology’ that is derived from local relativism. The author will as well point out the circumstances under which the self-refuting charges are evident. Although Kuhn himself did not make this distinction, it is important to view it here since it will shed more light on this argument. The author will further examine Kuhn’s text especially the postscript of his second edition. This author argues that Kuhn’s defense regarding scientific progress makes him vulnerable as far as the self-refuting relativism charge is concerned. Finally, the author will regard Kuhn as a self-referential scholar despite his protests regarding the charges.

Relativism vs. Objectivity

A relativist would argue that truth in a given field is disregarded as time progresses. Scheffler (145) opposes relativism and refers to it as “……..(a) commitment to fair controls over assertion” (145). Objectivity enters the picture at this juncture. In this case, an individual regards his view as superior to that of his rivals. He regards himself as being more reasonable than others. Objectivity and relativism are seen to correlate with each other and there is repulsion between the two concepts.

In other words, both terms cannot be true at the same time. With this in mind, do we rate Kuhn as a relativist or not? Some will disagree with this and state that he should not be associated with relativism. On the contrary, Kuhn is a scholar who poses different or alternate perceptions of truth (Meiland 101). Some postulate that he is just a local relativist and he should not be associated with self-refutation (Doppelt 186).

Kuhn Reactions

Kuhn bares it all when he states that “…….scientists do not have paradigm (and as such) they are not in a position to discuss objectively with their ‘disagreement’ because it only refers to common evidence” (Kuhn 148). He argues that the struggle to outdo paradigm is not the kind of war that can be intercepted by evidence (Kuhn 148). He continues to argue that one cannot force a conversion from one position to the other as far as a paradigm is concerned (Kuhn 150-151). He tries to engage the authenticity of his scientific school of thought by arguing that to move from old to a new paradigm, one should practice an independent constraint. In this case, a new form of paradigm absorption will be incorporated into the scientific realm.

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Philosophers’ View

Kuhn is seen as trying to avoid the truth by his colleagues in the scientific field. This makes it necessary to criticize Kuhn’s views of relativism as stated in his second edition. Progress at this juncture lacks “ground or essential element” (Kuhn 151). He derives most of his generalizations from its ontology as opposed to predictions of epistemology theory. He cannot avoid the charge of relativism as a result of this (Gestalt 23).

Many philosophers will not be convinced by this argument as far as self-refuting is concerned. Here, Kuhn is perceived as his elusive power. This gives room for reconstruction. In this case, Kuhn is supposed to take a stand and either accept the charge of relativism or the charge of self-referential that is inconsistent throughout his essays. This is important given that it will strengthen the arguments made by scholars in this field (Gestalt 128).

Gestalt (129) argues that an individual can view the universe from different perspectives after the paradigm has been altered. We have to practice to see the world. We should not view the universe as it is (Gestalt 98). Kuhn intervenes by stating that we only need to view the world within the paradigm. For example, he postulates that light existed as a particle before it became a wave in motion. This is true given that he is supporting the motion. But when viewed critically, it is obvious that he is only twisting the motion to support his evidence.


Kuhn controversies have tied him and we cannot postulate that he is associated with relativism. To this end, we cannot determine whether he will accept other people’s critiques or whether he is only using the incoherent principle locally. But one thing is obvious; Kuhn is raising the eyebrows of those in his field and also those in other fields. It is, therefore, true that Kuhn is indeed engulfed in a kind of inconsistency. But in a way, he can get out of this inconsistency.

Works Cited

Doppelt, Gerald. Kuhn’s Epistemological Relativism: Interpretation and Defense. New York: Oxford Press, 1998.

Gestalt, S. Beyond Objectivism and Relativism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

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Meiland, Jack. Objectivity in Science: Philosophy of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Scheffler, Israel. Science and Subjectivity. New York: Harper & Row, 1998.

Siegal, Harvey. Objectivity in Science: Philosophy of Democracy. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Thomas Samuel Kuhn’s Epistemological Relativism'. 2 May.

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