, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 445–465

The Cognitive Structure of Scientific Revolutions



For historical epistemology to succeed, it must adopt a defensible set of categories to characterise scientific activity over time. In historically orientated philosophy of science during the twentieth century, the original categories of theory and observation were supplemented or replaced by categories like paradigm, research program and research tradition. Underlying all three proposals was talk about conceptual systems and conceptual structures, attributed to individual scientists or to research communities, however there has been little general agreement on the nature of these structures. Recent experimental research in cognitive science has considerably refined the theory of concepts. Drawing upon the results of that research, philosophers can construct more concrete and empirically defensible representations of conceptual systems. I will suggest that this research supports a modest and useful sense of both normal and revolutionary science, not as epistemological continuities or discontinuities, but as particular patterns of conceptual change.


  1. Andersen, H., Barker, P., & Chen, X. (2006). The cognitive structure of scientific revolutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arabatzis, T. (2006). Representing electrons: A biographical approach to theoretical entities. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Barker, P. (2001a). Kuhn, incommensurability and cognitive science. Perspectives on Science, 9, 433–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barker, P. (2001b). Incommensurability and conceptual change during the copernican revolution. In P. Hoyningen-Huene & H. Sankey (Eds.), Incommensurability and related matters (pp. 241–273). Boston: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  5. Barker, P. (2002). Constructing Copernicus. Perspectives on Science, 10, 208–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barker, P. (2007). Towards a cognitive history of the Copernican revolution. Organon, 35, 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barker, P. (2009). The Hypotyposes orbium coelestium (Strasbourg, 1568). In M. A. Granada & E. Mehl (Eds.), Nouveau Ciel Nouvelle Terre–La Révolution Copernicienne dans l’Allemagne de la Réforme (1530–1630) (pp. 85–108). Paris: Les Belles Lettres.Google Scholar
  8. Barker, P. (2011). The reality of Peurbach’s orbs. In P. J. Boner (Ed.), Change and continuity in early modern cosmology (pp. 7–32). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Barker, P., Chen, X., & Andersen, H. (2003). Kuhn on concepts and categorization. In T. Nickles (Ed.), Thomas Kuhn (pp. 212–245). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Barker, P., & Goldstein, B. R. (1994). Distance and velocity in Kepler’s astronomy. Annals of Science, 51, 59–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Barsalou, L. W. (1992). Frames, concepts and conceptual fields. In A. Lehrer & E. Kittay (Eds.), Frames fields and contrasts: New essays in semantical and lexical organization (pp. 21–74). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  12. Bouillaud, I. (1645). Astronomia philolaica opus novum, in quo motus planetarum per novam ac veram hypothesim demonstrantur. Paris: Simeon Piget.Google Scholar
  13. Buchwald, J. Z. (1985). From Maxwell to microphysics: Aspects of electromagnetic theory in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Chen, X. (2003a). Object and event concepts: A cognitive mechanism of incommensurability. Philosophy of Science, 70, 962–974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chen, X. (2003b). Why did Herschel fail to understand polarization? The differences between object and event concepts. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 34, 491–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chen, X. (2005). Transforming temporal knowledge: Conceptual change between event concepts. Perspectives on Science, 13, 49–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chen, X. (2007). Object bias and the study of scientific revolutions: Lessons from developmental psychology. Philosophical Psychology, 20, 479–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chen, X. (2010). A different kind of revolutionary change: Transformation from object to process concepts. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, Part A, 41, 182–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chen, X., & Barker, P. (2009). Process concepts and cognitive obstacles to change: Perspectives on the history of science and science policy. Centaurus, 51, 314–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Copernicus, N. (1543). De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Nuremberg: Petreius.Google Scholar
  21. Cowley, R. (ed.) (1999). What If? New York: American Historical Publications.Google Scholar
  22. Cowley, R. (Ed.). (2001). What If? 2. New York: American Historical Publications.Google Scholar
  23. Daston, L., & Gallison, P. (2007). Objectivity. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  24. Evans, J. (1998). History and practice of ancient astronomy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Gamow, G. (1931). The constitution of atomic nuclei and radioactivity. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  26. Gingerich, O. (1973). The role of Erasmus Reinhold and the Prutenic Tables in the dissemination of Copernican theory. Studia Copernicana, 6, 43–52.Google Scholar
  27. Gingerich, O., & Westman, R. (1988). The Wittich connection: Conflict and priority in late sixteenth century astronomy. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 78, Pt. 7. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.Google Scholar
  28. Goldstein, B. R. (1967). The Arabic version of Ptolemy’s Planetary Hypotheses. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 57, Pt. 4. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.Google Scholar
  29. Grant, E. (1994). Planets, stars and orbs: The medieval cosmos, 1200–1687. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Hahn, O. (1946). Nobel prize lecture, December 13, 1946. In: O. Hahn (Ed.), Mein leben (pp. 247–267). Bruckmann: Munich, 1968.Google Scholar
  31. Hoyningen-Huene, P. (1993). Reconstructing scientific revolutions: Thomas S. Kuhn’s philosophy of science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  32. Kepler, I. (1609). Astronomia nova. Heidelberg: G. Voegelinus.Google Scholar
  33. Kuhn, T. S. (1957). The Copernican revolution: Planetary astronomy in the development of western thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Kuhn, T. S. (1974). Second thoughts on paradigms. In F. Suppe (Ed.), The structure of scientific theories (pp. 459–482). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  36. Nersessian, N. J. (1984). Faraday to Einstein: Constructing meaning in scientific theories. Boston: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nersessian, N. J. (2008). Constructing scientific concepts. Boston: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  38. Noddack, I. (1934). Über das Element 93. Angewandte Chemie, 47, 653–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pedersen, O. (1993). Early physics and astronomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Proctor, R. N., & Shiebinger, L. (Eds.). (2008). Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Reinhold, E. (1551). Tabulae prutenicae coelestium motuum. Tübingen.Google Scholar
  42. Rheticus, G. J. (1540). Narratio prima. Danzig.Google Scholar
  43. Rhodes, R. (1986). The making of the atomic bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  44. Saliba, G. (2007). Islamic science and the making of the European renaissance. Boston: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of the History of ScienceThe University of OklahomaNormanUSA

Personalised recommendations