Book Reviews

The Nature of Science

Science  14 Dec 1962:
Vol. 138, Issue 3546, pp. 1251-1253
DOI: 10.1126/science.138.3546.1251


It is not for a historian of science to pass judgment on the central critique of Kuhn's essay, since that is directed to science itself. A few reservations may be ventured, however, of a sort which the author of so searching a discussion will certainly expect, the more so since, in his own terms, he proposes nothing less than a revolution in our concept of science, if not of nature. But it is not clear to me that anyone really holds the view of science which he would demolish. I for one find a great deal more in this book to agree with than might be expected in an exponent of a counterrevolutionary school. The argument depends very heavily on the viability of the terms—paradigm, normal science, revolution, anomaly, crisis, and the like. So it has been with many a philosophy of history from Comte to Toynbee. So it has been with many a chapter in the history of science—phlogiston, calorie, ether—and the student of either of these genres (which Kuhn, like Comte, combines) will have learned to be wary of mistaking the terms he gives his subject for its elements, the definitions for the happenings. The argument sometimes comes perilously close to circularity: that is, normal science does not aim at novelty, ergo what is novel is not normal science but an anomaly. On strictly historical grounds, moreover, strong cases might be made for considering books like Newton's Principia and Lavoisier's Traité élémentaire as summaries of a heritage rather than as models shaping the future. The reader may be referred, for example, to E. J. Dikjsterhuis's treatment of Newton in his recently translated Mechanization of the World Picture, where it appears that Newton himself did not adumbrate the laws of motion in the sense in which they were fundamental to classical physics. For example, the proportionality of force to the product of mass into acceleration was imported into the second law in the development of analytical mechanics, not forced upon a school by a revolutionary law-giver. Newton was thinking of impact.

Still, there are not many books which find one making eager jottings in the margin, nor fortunately need one act on these; one may instead, and indeed in candor must, await the full development that Kuhn intends to provide. Mean-while there can be only admiration for the erudition, the scholarship, the fidelity, and the seriousness that the enterprise reflects on every page. One is safe in predicting that whatever the final success, there will be no petty faults to find. Every historian, moreover, will surely applaud one recurrent and fundamental emphasis, which is that the development of science must be set into the context of a Darwinian historiography and treated as a circumstantial evolution from primitive beginnings rather than the ever closer approach to the telos of a right and perfect science. It is odd, and Kuhn is absolutely right about this, that by instinct scientists tend to see it the latter way. At least their students do, and who else could be responsible for that?.