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Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions at FiftyReflections on a Science Classic$
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Robert J. "Richards and Lorraine Daston

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226317038

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226317175.001.0001

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Aristotle in the Cold War: On the Origins of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Aristotle in the Cold War: On the Origins of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

(p.12) One Aristotle in the Cold War: On the Origins of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions at Fifty

George A. Reisch

University of Chicago Press

This chapter contextualizes Kuhn’s early thinking about science and philosophy in the first years of the cold war and, in particular, his formative “Aristotle experience,” his sudden realization that outmoded scientific texts and ideas could be sensible and intelligent when understood in the right ways. Kuhn’s mentor, Harvard University President James Bryant Conant, played a large role in Kuhn’s interpretation of this “shocking” experience and the way it informed the historiography in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This includes not only Conant’s historical writings about science but widespread interest in political conversions manifest during the same years in popular anxieties about Communist influence in the United States (including reports of mind control and brainwashing) and academic over the status and rights of Communist faculty. In Structure, it is argued, Kuhn took this conventional wisdom about the susceptibility of the human mind to ideological control and applied it creatively and ironically to our understanding of scientific progress: the dogmatic, ideological character of “normal science” is in fact essential for the progressive, revolutionary character of science’s history.

Keywords:   Thomas Kuhn, James Bryant Conant, Cold War, conversion experience, mind control, ideology, Aristotle experience

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