Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn has provided in essay form his views on the nature of the scientific endeavor. It is a subject that Kuhn believes is little understood by the general public, by students of science, and even by scientists themselves. In particular, he challenges the beliefs that the development of science has been linear and cumulative and that science is characterized by complete objectivity. These beliefs, he says, are propagated by contemporary textbooks and by many popular writings of scientists. In the preface, he describes the intellectual route by which he came to his views.

The circumstances surrounding and leading to Kuhn’s writing of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions involved personal and institutional elements. In the late 1940’s, Kuhn was a graduate student in theoretical physics at Harvard University. He has stated that during his years of studying physics he developed a strong interest in the philosophical aspects of science. As an advanced graduate student, he became a teaching assistant in a group of new science courses for nonscience majors that Harvard was developing at that time.

In the years immediately following World War II, the faculty of Harvard University came to the conclusion that the postwar generation of Harvard students needed to be more broadly educated than their predecessors had been with regard to their cultural heritage. A new set of “general education” courses were devised, which included science. It was thought that a...

(The entire section is 635 words.)