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Kuhn and Wittgenstein: The Paradigm Priority Problem, Relativism and Incommensurability

Wagner Oliveira

Abstract: For dropping the incommensurability idea elaborated at the time of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn dismisses the concept of “revolution”. The incommensurability involved the incomparability of theories. In this new environment, the revolution is replaced by conceptual reformulation and the incommensurability becomes occasional. The linguistic turn in Kuhn’s thought involves conceptual changes whose aim is to get around the accusation of relativism that the former notion of incommensurability arouses. The most fundamental effect of these conceptual reformulations is the commitment to a traditional conception of semantics. It changes the comprehension of the historical and social nature of the foundations of the changes that scientific knowledge goes through. The comparison between the answer to the problem of paradigm priority attributed by Kuhn to Wittgenstein and Wittgenstein by himself shows that the basis of the normative nature of paradigm commitment is an essentialist concern. In the second half of this paper, I will evaluate Kuhn’s manner of getting around the problems of incommensurability in contrast to Wittgenstein’s view of philosophy dealing with similar issues in On Certainty. This enables one to essay answers to the problems of incommensurability without relativism or any commitment to a traditional conception of semantics. These contrasts show how far Kuhn’s new theory of science departs from the Wittgensteinian inspiration and abandons the point of view of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The development of these two halves makes it possible to indicate reasons to believe that questions concerning the theory and history of science can benefit largely from a grammatical exploration, which gives rise to a theory of science inspired by Wittgenstein’s thought, as Mauro Condé suggests.
Keywords: incommensurability / Kuhn / Wittgenstein / relativism / conception / Structure of Scientific Revolutions

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