The Structure of Scientific Revolutions | Study Guide

Thomas Kuhn

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Study Guide." Course Hero. 6 Feb. 2018. Web. 16 Dec. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2018, February 6). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 16, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)



Course Hero. "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Study Guide." February 6, 2018. Accessed December 16, 2018.


Course Hero, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed December 16, 2018,

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions | Chapter 5 : The Priority of Paradigms | Summary



Kuhn's main objective in this chapter is to sketch the general character of scientific inquiry. To that end he distinguishes and identifies connections between "rules, paradigms, and normal science." A theory is illustrated by its "conceptual, observational, and instrumental applications." These, Kuhn asserts, become "the community's paradigms, revealed in its textbooks, lectures, and laboratory exercises." Paradigms of mature science are easy enough to discern. After all, they are concrete scientific achievements. Their rules, however, are not. By this assertion Kuhn signals a paradigm is not identical with, or reducible to, a set of rules that dictate scientific activity. Insofar as a paradigm is a model for problems and activities, it does not specify rules that govern how to approach or solve those problems. Moreover, although the two are distinct, "the coherence of the research tradition" can be understood in terms of the rules that guide its activity. For this reason they need to be articulated.

The difficulty of identifying these rules, however, is "a source of continual and deep frustration." This is partly because they are learned through their applications, rather than in the abstract. Integrated as they are with their use, scientists find it difficult to articulate them. The need for rules becomes pressing, however, when disagreements over interpreting the paradigm arise.

The priority of paradigms over the rules that govern normal science is established by their centrality in the scientific community that has been built around it, and their prominence in the education of future scientists. Kuhn thinks it is a mistake to prioritize the rules that govern specific activity over paradigms. As models, paradigms unite disparate research activities in ways rules cannot.


This chapter highlights an interesting feature of science as an activity rather than a theory. Kuhn points out science education generally involves learning by doing. So intimately connected is the scientist with their activities, it isn't obvious to them how to distance themselves from those activities.

This observation leads to an interesting point about scientific practice's pragmatic nature. Part of Kuhn's point seems to be rules make sense only when one already has a model one is attempting to imitate. Rules without a direction are something like laws without justice. This may be why Kuhn believes rules do not come to the fore unless the paradigm is "insecure." Instead, he seems to be interested in conceiving of science as a series of interconnected practices and traditions with rules that emerge naturally.

The core of this chapter seems to be an argument against one of the aspects in which science has traditionally been conceived, namely as a rational and rule-governed activity. In other words scientists consciously observe and apply rules. Instead, Kuhn claims science is a social activity—practitioners' training and experience within a paradigm determine the rules governing their activity. Practice precedes rules. Another way to explain it is scientific work proceeds coherently without active attention to the rules governing it.

Here again, a comparison to logic may be useful. Most people go through life reasoning fairly successfully without any formal study of what it means to reason well or poorly. They use logic, rather than pay attention to what they are doing. It's something like the difference between being aware, and being aware of being aware. In other words one can be conscious without being self-conscious—that is, aware of themselves being aware. This is not to say scientists are ignorant of the rules that direct their methods and activities, but rather they are focused on the activities themselves, not the rules they follow.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!