Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Rediscovering Einstein's legacy: How Einstein anticipates Kuhn and Feyerabend on the nature of science

Volume 57, June 2016, Pages 17–26
Special Issue: Reappraising Feyerabend


Einstein uses ‘incommensurable’ to describe challenges to comparing theories over a decade before Feyerabend and Kuhn.
Kuhn and Feyerabend develop Einstein's views, albeit in different directions.
Einstein describes revolutions as conceptual replacements, endorsing ‘Kant-on-wheels’ metaphysics in and ‘world change’.
Kuhn and Feyerabend were inspired by Einstein's methodological and philosophical reflections.


Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend promote incommensurability as a central component of their conflicting accounts of the nature of science. This paper argues that in so doing, they both develop Albert Einstein's views, albeit in different directions. Einstein describes scientific revolutions as conceptual replacements, not mere revisions, endorsing ‘Kant-on-wheels’ metaphysics in light of ‘world change’. Einstein emphasizes underdetermination of theory by evidence, rational disagreement in theory choice, and the non-neutrality of empirical evidence. Einstein even uses the term ‘incommensurable’ specifically to apply to challenges posed to comparatively evaluating scientific theories in 1949, more than a decade before Kuhn and Feyerabend. This analysis shows how Einstein anticipates substantial components of Kuhn and Feyerabend's views, and suggests that there are strong reasons to suspect that Kuhn and Feyerabend were directly inspired by Einstein's use of the term ‘incommensurable’, as well as his more general methodological and philosophical reflections.


  • Einstein;
  • Feyerabend;
  • Incommensurability;
  • Kant;
  • Kuhn;
  • Underdetermination