Re: What is a 'paradigm'?

Alfred Lang (
Wed, 25 Mar 1998 07:50:35 +0100

Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 07:50:35 +0100
From: Alfred Lang <>
Subject: Re: What is a 'paradigm'?

Dear Christopher, Zoom Bob, and others interested,

let me suggest that the use of the term "paradigm" in the sense of a
particular perspective or pattern of basic scientific conceptions or
orientations, a pattern that could as well and often is, simultaneously
or in succession, be laid out otherwise, is roughly two centuries older
than was said here on the list.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the highly original physicist-philosopher,
in 1789, wrote in considering the history of sciences, that scientific
method and teaching often separates what occurs in nature unseparated.
And that this be OK if we were careful enough to bring the separated
together again. On the other hand, this separation could also be
considered often to be fertile in that the hypothetically conceive of
another topic. He calls it a "rule of invention" (Erfindungsregel") or
"paradigm-method" which, however, is not helpful for the fool. And he
goes on urging that we should attempt to find entirely new ways of
dealing with the most established issues, particulary with those that
appear to be definitive. The tracks or grooved ways, he says, are
something good; but if nobody were willing to walk besides the tracks,
we would know little of the world. As an example, the Copernican system
is a paradigm suitable to guide research in anthropology etc. The
paradigm is to be placed somewhere between facts and theories and is
seen to be an essential part of science. (The main reference is
Sudelbuecher K #312-314; I cannot say how much of the idea has been
promulgated in correspondence and in print at what time.)

This is, in effect, the essencee of Kuhn's notion of paradigm, minus
the revolution feature. The latter appears often too dramatic to be
very true. By the way, it is evident that Lichtenberg's respective
ideas have been known to Wittgenstein whose reflexions in turn must
have influenced Kuhn. For Wittgenstein, a paradigm supports, perhaps is
essential for a community of (scientific) practice to work; it is a
general kind of Sprachspiel, a form of thinking and presenting. It
cannot be tested for truth.

In my view, the notion of paradigm insists on the insight that no
science does investigate facts but rather phenomena taken in a certain
way or perspective. An explicit paradigm attempts to characterize any
one particular certain way.

All the best, Alfred

Alfred Lang, Psychology, Univ. Bern, Switzerland ---

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