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Thomas Kuhn - Philosophy, Learning and ChangeThomas Kuhn - Philosophy, Learning and Change


Thomas Kuhn (1922-96)


American scientist (pictured right) and philosopher

Best known for his concept of paradigm shifts to describe revolutionary changes in thinking (see below).


His most famous book is...

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).


What did he say about learning and change?


1. “Paradigm”

The word he used to describe a subject or discipline like physics, history or geography.


2. “Paradigm shift”Thomas Kuhn - Philosophy, Learning and Change

This occurs when:

  • you see a paradigm (see point 1) in a revolutionary way.
  • old ideas are replaced by completely new ones.

Albert Einstien's (pictured right) Theory of Relativity had such an effect on physics.


3. Combine paradigms

Revolutionary ideas come from combining and understanding two different paradigms (“bilingualism”).

So people learn the most when they have the mental flexibility to apply a completely different subject (or paradigm) to the one they are studying.

Thomas Kuhn - Philosophy, Learning and Change 

4. Beware of fads and false prophets

Ideas may be accepted not because they are right, but because they are fashionable and supported by experts.

Instead critically evaluate what they say and seek the truth.

“Fashions fade but truth endures”, Kuhn said.

 Thomas Kuhn - Philosophy, Learning and Change

5. Learning must be worthwhile

Learning a subject (or paradigm) must be useful to you and other people.

So a vital question is:

How much does a subject solve our present and future problems?


Key quotes on change

When paradigms change, the world itself changes with them.

Fashions fade but truth endures

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