Reviewing Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ – Chapter 6

The sixth chapter in Kuhn’s book ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is titled ‘Anomaly and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries’. Kuhn gives the example of Thomas Priestley and his ‘discovery’ of Oxygen. The discovery of Oxygen is undoubtedly an important one. Kuhn playfully moves around the history of the discovery of Oxygen showing the futility of pinning it down to the discovery at a certain point in time by means of a simple act. Instead he argues that there must be another means of conceptualising this. The identification and characterisation of Oxygen occurred not in isolation but in the context of contemporary theory. It was through the change in theory that the significance of Oxygen came to be appreciated. In effect it was a network of scientists that collectively brought about the discovery of Oxygen combining both the experimental and conceptual elements necessary for this accomplishment. Kuhn gives other examples. Continuing with his division of science into normal science and revolutionary science, he argues that normal science restricts the focus of the scientist towards confirmation. However this very process highlights anomalies and it is these anomalies that form the basis for revolutionary science. Revolutionary and normal science can be considered to be activities at different levels of a theoretical hierarchy. The implication is that even when activities are geared towards one level of that hierarchy they lead necessarily to changes at other layers of the hierarchy (and perhaps in an unpredictable way). Kuhn gives the example of an experiment involving the presentation of playing cards to subjects. One of the playing cards would be distinct but unless they were looking for this, the subjects didn’t register it consciously. When they were challenged on this after the presentation a small minority of the subjects would become confused about what they had seen and Kuhn hints at what is to come later in the book. By looking at the material in this way, Kuhn offers us insights into the underlying mechanisms of science as well as offering the potential to look at alternative approaches.


Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Narrated by Dennis Holland. (Paperback originally published in 1962). Audible. 2009.


For a review of the Introduction see here.

For a review of Chapter 1 see here.

For a review of Chapter 2 see here.

For a review of Chapter 3 see here.

For a review of Chapter 4 see here.

For a review of Chapter 5 see here.

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