The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

General Theory

In 1962 Thomas S. Kuhn published his controversial book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he presented a characterization of the process of science.

In Kuhn's view a group of investigators start the process of normal science by adopting a framework or paradigm for scientific investigation. Scientists strive to solve the puzzles which the paradigm of science presents them. In this way normal science develops a body of theoretical and empirical knowledge based on the accepted paradigm. An example of a paradigm is classical mechanics which physicists accepted from the 17th until the end of the 19th as the main paradigm in physics. In the development of normal science researchers strongly resist accepting any work outside the established paradigm.

As normal science develops, an increasing set of anomalies develops. These anomalies are problems which the paradigm can not solve and examples which contradict the theory. One example is that the speed of light is independent of the classical frame of reference.

Then a brilliant scientist proposes a new paradigm which can explain the anomalies and answer new questions. In physics these new paradigms were the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Once scientists accept the new paradigms, normal science shifts to the new paradigms. This does not necessarily mean that the old paradigms are discarded, but their domain of relevance is restricted. For example, classical mechanics has good explanatory powers until you approach the speed of light or work with masses so small you are down at the molecular level.



Since the 1870s the dominant paradigm in microeconomics has been marginal analysis. It is important to understand what assumptions are assumed in this paradigm.

_____ 1. In production:
_______ a) technology is assumed given.
_______ b) we examine the consequences of profit
__________maximization, not how producers maximize profits

_____ 2. In consumption:
_______ a) tastes are assumed given.
_______ b) we examine the consequences of utility
__________maximization, not how consumers select
__________ their market baskets.

While the assumptions of the neoclassical microeconomic paradigm are very strong, the neoclassical microeconomic paradigm achieves very powerful results. Demand functions arise as the first order conditions of the calculus optimization models for production and consumption.

Today there is an increasing number of problems with the neoclassical microeconomic paradigm. First, it is questionable that humans have the capability to instantaneously solve the optimization problems posed by the neoclassical model. Experimental research by economists and psychologists is generating an increasing number of anomalies.

Second, with a high rate of technological advance assumption a) is questionable in both production and consumption. Finally we should be asking how producers try to maximize profits and how consumers select their market baskets in order to understand how economic agents adjust in an economic environment of constant technological change.

Developing a new paradigm which is accepted as a replacement for the neoclassical microeconomic paradigm will get you a Nobel Prize. In developing such a paradigm remember that the existing paradigm must fit in the new paradigm as a special case.


The paradigms in macroeconomics have never been as widely accepted as those of microeconomics. In the macroeconomics semester we shall examine five.

_______ 1. Classical (Monetary)
_______ 2. Keynesian
_______ 3. Supply side
_______ 3. Social Choice Theories
_______ 4. Neoclassical

Most of our effort will be understanding the classical and Keynesian paradigms. We will than examine supply side economics. At the end of the course we will consider the Buchanan's social choice critique of Keynesian economics and how the neoclassical assumptions negate the Keynesian model. What we will focus on is that the ability of the government to influence the economy varies widely depending on what paradigm you accept. Empirical knowledge in macroeconomics is not based on good experimental design.