Normal science

Normal science, identified and elaborated on by Thomas Samuel Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,[1] is the regular work of scientists theorizing, observing, and experimenting within a settled paradigm or explanatory framework.[2] Regarding science as puzzle-solving, [3] Kuhn explained normal science as slowly accumulating detail in accord with established broad theory, without questioning or challenging the underlying assumptions of that theory.

The route to normal science

Kuhn stressed that historically the route to normal science could be a difficult one. Prior to the formation of a shared paradigm or research consensus, would-be scientists were reduced to the accumulation of random fact and unverified observations, in the manner recorded by Pliny the Elder or Francis Bacon,[4] while simultaneously beginning the foundations of their field from scratch through a plethora of competing theories.

Arguably at least the social sciences remain at such a pre-paradigmatic level today.[5]

Normal science at work

Kuhn considered that the bulk of scientific work was that done by the 'normal' scientist, as he or she engaged with the threefold tasks of articulating the paradigm, precisely evaluating key paradigmatic facts, and testing those new points at which the theoretical paradigm is open to empirical appraisal.[6]

The breakdown of consensus

For the normal scientist anomalies represent challenges to be puzzled out and solved within the paradigm. Only if an anomaly or series of anomalies resists successful deciphering long enough and for enough members of the scientific community will the paradigm itself gradually come under challenge, and perhaps be subjected to a paradigm shift.[7]

In this way however, according to Kuhn, normal science possesses a built-in mechanism that ensures the relaxation of the restrictions that previously bound research, whenever the paradigm from which they derive ceases to function effectively. [8]


Karl Popper has criticised Kuhn's view of normal science as excessively conservative and dogmatic[9]—though whether Kuhn is prescriptive or merely descriptive here is open to doubt. Popper, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Toulmin and Watkins have also questioned whether the contrast between normal science versus revolutionary science is as stark as portrayed by Kuhn.[10]

See also


  1. J. Childers/G. Hentzi eds., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 110
  2. Childers, p. 84
  3. T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970) p. 35-42
  4. Kuhn, p. 10-22
  5. A. Rosenberg, Philosophy of Science (2005) p. 149
  6. Kuhn, p. 25-8
  7. Kuhn, p. 52-78
  8. Kuhn, p. 181
  9. R. J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (2011) p. 69-70
  10. Bernstein, p. 70

Further Reading

W. O. Hagstrom, The Scientific Community (1965)

External links

Paradigms and normal science

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