Sunday, September 12, 2010


In re-reading Quentin Skinner's classic "Meaning and Understanding in History of Ideas" I was struck that Skinner welds together a Witgensteinian philosophy of language (and Anscombian philosophy of action) with Kuhnian philosophy of science (All acknowledged in the text). (Given the intellectual proximity of Kuhn and Cavell something of this sort can also be found in Kuhn's writings.) The resulting therapeutic aims for the (contingency in, contingency out model supplied to the) historical sciences are only mildly to my liking, but about that some other time. Here my question is does anybody know if in all the writings on Kuhn anybody has targeted or clearly diagnosed the Wittgenstein appropriation of Kuhn or the Wittgensteinian elements in Kuhn?


  1. According to network theory, contingency in, spontaneous order network with power law distributions out.

  2. Vasso Kindi wrote a few articles on this topic, for example: Kindi, V., (1995), Kuhn & Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigation of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Athens: Smili editions; or Kindi, V., (2006), “The Relation of History of Science in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Kuhn’s Later Philosophical Work”, Perspectives on Science, vol.13, no 4. (there's a link to a pdf of this one on her site: ).
    John Preston discusses this similarity as well, I think it was in his "Bird, Kuhn, and positivism", but if I remember right, he even has a whole book now (forthcoming? now sure!) on this topic.
    I've always found Kuhn's (especially later) writings to have a lot of late Wittgenstein's elements. Sometimes he even explicitly uses Wittgensteinian terminology, e.g. "a form of life".

  3. Eric,

    This might be obvious, but Kuhn is pretty explicit about his appropriation of LW on rule-following in Structure. I don't have my copy handy, or I'd give you direct references--I *think* it's the chapter titled, "The Priority of Paradigms."

  4. Rupert Read also has a book and a number of articles on Kuhn and Wittgenstein where he also contrasts it with the (Neo-)Kantian reading of for instance Hoyningen-Huene. E.g.
    Kuhn doesn't make it easy on the interpreter since, especially in later writings such as collected in "The Road Since Structure" he borrows terms from various traditions in order to illuminate on his views (Wittgenstein, Kant, Heidegger). In these later writings he explicates and substantiates notions such as world-change and incommensurability very much in language-philosophical (and also transcendental philosophical) terms and less in gestalt-psychological terms. This puts off the more naturalistic readers of Kuhn such as Alexander Bird (he speaks of his "wrong turning").

  5. I normally say that Kuhn is to Wittgenstein what Foucault is to Heidegger. In both cases, we are talking about a detailed historical illustration of a philosophical point. There are differences of both style and substance between all four. But these differences also map onto the analogy I'm drawing: the differences between Kuhn and Wittgenstein are like the differences between Foucault and Heidegger.

    It's not too far fetched to say that Kuhn-Wittgenstein marks the historicization of anglo-American epistemology, and Heidegger-Foucault marks the historicization of its "continental" counterpart. Or, perhaps more precisely, we can apply Barry Smith's distinction between "German" and "Austrian" philosophy. The former got us from Kant, through phenomenology to "discourse"; the latter got us from Kant, through logical positivism, to "paradigms".

    I know sweeping gestures like this are not everyone's cup of tea. But it's how I organize my canon, anyway.

  6. Thanks gang. Yeah Rupert was, i think, working on that book when he visited Chicago (when I was there--he has probably returned); there the late and much missed John Haugeland (and James Conant) regularly explored Kunt's Wittgensteinian roots (and synthesize it with Heidegger, in fact).
    After a night's sleep, I guess what I am really after is if anybody has criticized Skinner in the manner that folk have criticized Kuhn.

    Thomas, I am not above sweeping gestures (at least on blogs). Yet, as Skinner reminds the reader (without wishing to speak of anticipations, which hè rejects as an absurd historical category), Gombricz (who was Austrian) predates Kuhn. So that fits your story. Of course, according to Skinner so does Collingwood, who can't be called Austrian in your sense. Moreover, much of Kuhn can also be found in Talcott Parsons, who gets it from Weber. anyway, Hegel is oddly missing from your story.

  7. If you want Hegel in, Eric, here he comes: Thomas says we go from Kant to Logical Positivism, but that is too big a jump. In between we have the German idealists of which Hegel is seen as the most prominent (and certainly the most influential) representative, and LP was first and foremost a response to them. So its Kant --> Hegel --> LP, in dialectical fashion.

    By the way, is it not Hegel who 'historicised' philosophy on the Continent rather than Heidegger and Foucault?

    --> F.A. Muller

  8. In my view, Hegel fits in on a line between Kant and phenomenology, not Kant and positivism: Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Foucault. The other line goes: Kant, Bolzano, Brentano, Frege, Wittgenstein, Kuhn.

    I know this doesn't make the gesture convincing. In general, I think Hegel is "overrated" as a canonical figure. His historical importance is without dispute, but most the effect he had on, say, Foucault is mediated by Heidegger. (Those who really read Hegel, though, generally detect that I'm out of my depth there...)

  9. Wait, how do you end up with Husserl not in a line with Brentano? And how do you end up with Frege after Brentano, of all people? Does Frege ever mention Brentano? This also puts the author of "On The Several Senses of Being in Aristotle" in a different line than the fellow who claimed it awakened the Seinsfrage in him, which can't be right.

    After Frege/Husserl the genealogy looks standard, but I can't buy that there can be separate "Austrian" and "German" strands that don't just run back together by the time you hit Husserl/Frege. (I grant that Bolzano's interesting work is very different from German Idealism, as was Brentano's.)

    I also have trouble with any genealogy of historicism which doesn't mention Marx. If someone was mediating Hegel to Foucault, it wasn't Heidegger (who barely read Hegel).

  10. Wittgenstein's idea is that the world consists of facts (facts being asserted propositions), not of objects or simple concepts. Wittgenstein poses about human reality: 'the world is the totality of facts, not of things'.

    In similar way Kuhn poses that the world is a totality of paradigms, not a physical reality based on metaphysical laws that can be finetuned in science

  11. My new book on WITTGENSTEIN AMONG THE SCIENCES also pursues this line further - I think you will find the opening section (1.1) especially salient.