HomeLUMINAvol. 22 no. 1 (2011)

Developments in Thomas Kuhn’s Theory of Perception of Similarity Relationships in Science

Douglas I. O Anele

Discipline: Philosophy, Social Science



By 2012, it would be 50 years since the first edition of Thomas S. Kuhn’s provocative magnum opus, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was published. Some of the contentious views expressed in that work, such as the essential role of perception of similarity relations in the acquisition and consolidation of scientific knowledge, the notion that revolutions in science lead to incommensurability and partial communication across the revolutionary divide, the noncumulative nature of the conceptual hiatus between the developmental stages separated by scientific revolutions etc, are still being debated by scholars. As a contribution to the debate on Kuhn’s philosophy of science, this paper focuses on developments in the theory of scientific perception and cognition which Kuhn developed in deliberate opposition to logical positivism and falsificationism. Kuhn, it must be said, articulated his distinctive doctrines with the “rationality” claims of positivists and falsificationists concepts. He dissected the weaknesses of those claims, and presented a theory he hoped would liberate science from what he saw as the procrustean bed built for it by the rationalists. To contexualise Kuhn’s ideas on scientific learning through perception, the paper undertakes a brief critique of selected epistemological schools of thought in the philosophy of science. It discusses Kuhn’s theory on the role of perception of learned similarity relationships in the world-constituting activity of scientists. The paper investigates the development of the theory by Paul Hoyningen-Huene, Nancy Nercessian and Howard Margolis to further substantiate the claim that shared neural reprogrammable pattern-recognition processes, not adherence to explicit rules and definitions, constitute the major epistemological strategy in the scientific cognition of reality. Finally, the paper argues that, contrary to Kuhn’s hyperbolic interpretation of communication difficulties across the revolutionary divide, cognitivist analysis of conceptual change and its aftermath shows that scientists can operate fluently with new theories and the old ones they replace.