The Last Writings of Thomas S. Kuhn: Incommensurability in Science (Hardcover)
A must-read follow-up to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, one of the most important books of the twentieth century.
This book contains the text of Thomas S. Kuhn’s unfinished book, The Plurality of Worlds: An Evolutionary Theory of Scientific Development, which Kuhn himself described as a return to the central claims of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the problems that it raised but did not resolve. The Plurality of Worlds is preceded by two related texts that Kuhn publicly delivered but never published in English: his paper “Scientific Knowledge as Historical Product” and his Shearman Memorial Lectures, “The Presence of Past Science.” An introduction by the editor describes the origins and structure of The Plurality of Worlds and sheds light on its central philosophical problems.
Kuhn’s aims in his last writings are bold. He sets out to develop an empirically grounded theory of meaning that would allow him to make sense of both the possibility of historical understanding and the inevitability of incommensurability between past and present science. In his view, incommensurability is fully compatible with a robust notion of the real world that science investigates, the rationality of scientific change, and the idea that scientific development is progressive.
About the Author
Thomas S. Kuhn (1922–96) was the Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include The Essential Tension; Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894–1912; and The Copernican Revolution.
Bojana Mladenović is professor of philosophy at Williams College. She is the author of Kuhn’s Legacy: Epistemology, Metaphilosophy, and Pragmatism.
“A fascinating sketch of Kuhn’s mature thought. . . . The proponents of competing paradigms may practice their trades in different worlds, but, as Kuhn was at pains to stress in his last writings, sometimes those worlds are closer than we think.”
— Paul Dicken
"The road from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to the drafts in Last Writings was, to a large extent, a long walk back—Kuhn’s attempt to clarify, revise, secure, and modify the ‘purple passages,' to dissociate himself and his book from the vulgar and the relativists. In one matter, however, he stuck firmly to a sentiment in the book that had given aid and comfort to the supposed ‘enemies of science.' You should not, Kuhn had written, think that scientific change brought practitioners ‘closer and closer to the truth.'"
— Steven Shapin
"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) by philosopher of science Kuhn is ‘indispensable reading for every well-educated person,’ writes philosopher Mladenović in her introduction to this collection. She presents unpublished drafts of a reworking of Structure’s philosophical framework, with the texts of two lectures not previously published in English. Together, these explore whether historians can understand past scientific paradigms, even though these are incommensurable with present science."
— Andrew Robinson
"Readers can see Kuhn grappling with the differences between his own needs, as a philosopher and historian, and the needs of current scientists. . . . When we 'transition between worlds' today, many of us habitually presume that, in disagreements, our opponents are simply lying. Of course, this happens sometimes. But more common, I think, are interactions involving the Kuhnian difficulties of translation. One of the enduring lessons from Thomas Kuhn is that of just how difficult it is to imagine the mental lives of others, and of just how easily truths can be lost in their transit from one mind to another."
— David Kordahl
"This book offers an editorial reconstruction of Thomas Kuhn's uncompleted final work, The Plurality of Worlds. . . Kuhn argues for a view of past and current science as empirically grounded and scientific change as rational, while retaining the insight that competing scientific paradigms are incommensurable. . . Recommended."
"Kuhn’s seminal 1962 history The Structure of Scientific Revolutions gets a posthumous follow-up in this complex volume. . . . Mladenović provides a comprehensive and thoughtful introduction to the work. . . . Philosophy lovers . . . will find plenty to chew on."
— Publishers Weekly
“Combining Kuhn’s unfinished last book, The Plurality of Worlds, with two related works not previously available in English, and a substantial and illuminating introduction by editor Bojana Mladenović, The Last Writings of Thomas S. Kuhn will be received as an absolute gem by philosophers of science, as well as by the wide swath of academics across the social sciences and humanities who revere Kuhn.”
— Cheryl Misak, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, author of "Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers"