When and how do scientific theories change

Knowledge culture and communication
2. Scientific revolution


In the FNZ, the perception of nature and the methods and social practices of knowledge acquisition changed fundamentally. This was seen as a “revolution” that was more fundamental and more consequential than all political revolutions of the FNZ, and seen in it the “origin of modernity”. In particular, the "Copernican turn" (Nikolaus Kopernikus, "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium", 1543), i.e. the formulation of the heliocentric worldview, is considered a key event. This corresponds to the fact that the protagonists of this change, especially in the 17th century, saw themselves as radical innovators. The more recent research, however, emphasizes that it was a long-term and contradicting process, not a linear process of progress towards ever "truer" knowledge.

Image sources: ideas of the cosmos

  • The Ptolemaic Cosmos
  • The Copernican System


2.1.1. "Scientific Revolution" according to Thomas S. Kuhn


2.1.1. "Scientific Revolution" according to Thomas S. Kuhn 

The implementation of the Copernican worldview and Newtonian physics is considered a model of a "scientific revolution". Since Kuhn, the sociology of knowledge has assumed that scientific change does not take place as a gradual, linear increase in a treasure trove of knowledge, but rather as the replacement of one scientific “paradigm” by another. A paradigm is a set of methods, terms, categories and problem-solving procedures that always controls the perception and interpretation of phenomena and generates certain questions and not others. "Normal science" consists in solving the questions posed by the established paradigm. The increase in anomalies (discoveries the paradigm cannot explain and problems it cannot solve) leads to a phase of uncertainty in which different theories compete until a new paradigm can prevail and establish itself as "normal science" . The new paradigm is not "truer" than another, but solves the more relevant problems. With the replacement of the scientific paradigm by another, not only the scientific methods and questions change, but the whole worldview. ( Kuhn, structure)


© 2003 by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger • mail: [email protected]