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The Last Writings of Thomas S. Kuhn

Incommensurability in Science

A must-read follow-up to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, one of the most important books of the twentieth century. 

This book contains the text of Thomas S. Kuhn’s unfinished book, The Plurality of Worlds: An Evolutionary Theory of Scientific Development, which Kuhn himself described as a return to the central claims of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the problems that it raised but did not resolve. The Plurality of Worlds is preceded by two related texts that Kuhn publicly delivered but never published in English: his paper “Scientific Knowledge as Historical Product” and his Shearman Memorial Lectures, “The Presence of Past Science.” An introduction by the editor describes the origins and structure of The Plurality of Worlds and sheds light on its central philosophical problems. 

Kuhn’s aims in his last writings are bold. He sets out to develop an empirically grounded theory of meaning that would allow him to make sense of both the possibility of historical understanding and the inevitability of incommensurability between past and present science. In his view, incommensurability is fully compatible with a robust notion of the real world that science investigates, the rationality of scientific change, and the idea that scientific development is progressive.  

312 pages | 25 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

History of Science

Philosophy: American Philosophy

Philosophy of Science

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences


“A fascinating sketch of Kuhn’s mature thought. . . . The proponents of competing paradigms may practice their trades in different worlds, but, as Kuhn was at pains to stress in his last writings, sometimes those worlds are closer than we think.”

Paul Dicken | Los Angeles Review of Books

"The road from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to the drafts in Last Writings was, to a large extent, a long walk back—Kuhn’s attempt to clarify, revise, secure, and modify the ‘purple passages,' to dissociate himself and his book from the vulgar and the relativists. In one matter, however, he stuck firmly to a sentiment in the book that had given aid and comfort to the supposed ‘enemies of science.' You should not, Kuhn had written, think that scientific change brought practitioners ‘closer and closer to the truth.'"

Steven Shapin | London Review of Books

"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) by philosopher of science Kuhn is ‘indispensable reading for every well-educated person,’ writes philosopher Mladenović in her introduction to this collection. She presents unpublished drafts of a reworking of Structure’s philosophical framework, with the texts of two lectures not previously published in English. Together, these explore whether historians can understand past scientific paradigms, even though these are incommensurable with present science."

Andrew Robinson | Nature

"Readers can see Kuhn grappling with the differences between his own needs, as a philosopher and historian, and the needs of current scientists. . . . When we 'transition between worlds' today, many of us habitually presume that, in disagreements, our opponents are simply lying. Of course, this happens sometimes. But more common, I think, are interactions involving the Kuhnian difficulties of translation. One of the enduring lessons from Thomas Kuhn is that of just how difficult it is to imagine the mental lives of others, and of just how easily truths can be lost in their transit from one mind to another."

David Kordahl | 3 Quarks Daily

"This book offers an editorial reconstruction of Thomas Kuhn's uncompleted final work, The Plurality of Worlds. . . Kuhn argues for a view of past and current science as empirically grounded and scientific change as rational, while retaining the insight that competing scientific paradigms are incommensurable. . . Recommended."


"Kuhn’s seminal 1962 history The Structure of Scientific Revolutions gets a posthumous follow-up in this complex volume. . . . Mladenović provides a comprehensive and thoughtful introduction to the work. . . . Philosophy lovers . . . will find plenty to chew on."

Publishers Weekly

“Combining Kuhn’s unfinished last book, The Plurality of Worlds, with two related works not previously available in English, and a substantial and illuminating introduction by editor Bojana Mladenović, The Last Writings of Thomas S. Kuhn will be received as an absolute gem by philosophers of science, as well as by the wide swath of academics across the social sciences and humanities who revere Kuhn.”

Cheryl Misak, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, author of "Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers"

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction
Editor’s Note
Thomas S. Kuhn: Scientific Knowledge as Historical Product
Abstract for “The Presence of Past Science (The Shearman Memorial Lectures)”
Thomas S. Kuhn: The Presence of Past Science (The Shearman Memorial Lectures)
    Lecture I: Regaining the Past
    Lecture II: Portraying the Past
    Lecture III: Embodying the Past
Abstract for The Plurality of Worlds: An Evolutionary Theory of Scientific Development
Thomas S. Kuhn: The Plurality of Worlds: An Evolutionary Theory of Scientific Development
    Part I: The Problem
        Chapter 1: Scientific Knowledge as Historical Product
        Chapter 2: Breaking into the Past
        Chapter 3: Taxonomy and Incommensurability
    Part II: A World of Kinds
        Chapter 4: Biological Prerequisites to Linguistic Description: Track and Situations
        Chapter 5: Natural Kinds: How Their Names Mean
        Chapter 6: Practices, Theories, and Artefactual Kinds
Editor’s Acknowledgments

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