International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

Series | Book | Chapter


Disruptive scientific change

Thomas Nickles

pp. 351-379


Much of the philosophical treatment of incommensurability is an artifactual response to internally generated philosophical problems rather than to the difficulties faced by scientists themselves. As a result, incommensurability and rupture have been mislocated at the level of scientists' differing beliefs and their disagreements about symbolic representations of nature, and that of corresponding failures to meet the foundational demands of one or another philosophy of language. Kuhn famously attacked the view that scientific progress is cumulative, but his revolutions — representational ruptures – are rare events, the sometime products of extraordinary science that threaten to bring inquiry to a halt. Whereas, when we examine scientific practice at the frontier, even in "normal science," we find that scientists not only cope but also thrive on the unstable ground found there. Theory rupture is causally neither necessary nor sufficient for the disruption of scientific practice. Indeed, alternative practices are sometimes the stimulus for radical theory change. We can read Kuhn himself as emphasizing practice over representations and (certainly) rules, but Kuhn's discussion is limited to a few cases, pre-World War II. In the final sections I invite consideration of alternative patterns of disruption by comparing some scientific examples with non-Kuhnian sorts of disruption that occur in business life – which, like science, is highly competitive and places a premium on innovation.

Publication details

Published in:

Soler Léna, Sankey Howard, Hoyningen-Huene Paul (2008) Rethinking scientific change and theory comparison: stabilities, ruptures, incommensurabilities?. Dordrecht, Springer.

Pages: 351-379

DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-6279-7_24

Full citation:

Nickles Thomas (2008) „Disruptive scientific change“, In: L. Soler, H. Sankey & P. Hoyningen-Huene (eds.), Rethinking scientific change and theory comparison, Dordrecht, Springer, 351–379.