I accept Thomas Kuhn’s definition of Revolution as a paradigm shift, however, unlike Kuhn, I believe that Kuhn’s definition of revolution is not only applicable to scientific revolutions. I do not categorize different types of revolutions, instead, I believe all revolutions can be attributed to what Kuhn describes as a shift in the normal science. Normal science is any science that relies on current foundational beliefs. For example, a current foundational belief of physics is gravity, so in this example, normal science is any science produced that relies on gravity to explain an observation. The foundational beliefs, known as paradigms, define what science is considered worth producing.
Seen more clearly with this diagram:
As seen in this diagram, revolution, for Kuhn, is the adaptation of a new normal science with a new paradigm. Foundational beliefs can only cause revolution if the anomalies in the normal science cannot be resolved. For instance, any physics discovery that disregards gravity might be considered false because people have such a strong belief that gravity exists, even if the discovery is of high magnitude. In Trouillot’s An Unthinkable History, he discusses how the Haitian Revolution is a “non-event,” because the Western paradigm did not even conceive of the idea that black slaves could rebel, because it did not fit into their conceptual scheme that African slaves were docile and unintelligent. Because of this, the Haitian revolution was rarely mentioned anywhere; it was an anomaly that could not be resolved, resulting in it almost disappearing from Western discourse and history.
An example of how a change in the normal science led to revolution can be seen in Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. Luther questioned the belief that the Pope could lessen people’s time in purgatory, arguing that if the Pope was all powerful, why would he not just remove purgatory. This anomaly in the paradigm thinking created a crisis that led to a paradigm shift, and the removal of the current paradigm allowed Luther to translate the bible into vernacular and promote a new denomination, which created a new paradigm that led to a new normal science. The new paradigm promoted personal prayer and paved the way for individuals who did not have church status to study religion and interpret the Bible.
The scientific revolution is the quintessential example of Kuhn’s definition of revolution because Kuhn specifically discusses scientific revolutions. The paradigm in astronomy was that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth, and astronomical knowledge was only valuable insofar as it relied on the geocentric model to make claims. However, with Copernicus and Galileo’s research on the heliocentric model, the current paradigm could not resolve the anomaly, and even as the Catholic church and prominent scientists declared their work heresy, as the Bible claims the Earth is the center of the solar system, the paradigm eventually collapsed as an increasing number of scientists agreed with the heliocentric model. This uprooted the paradigm, and much of the research conducted under the geocentric model became obsolete. The heliocentric model became the new paradigm, and normal science continued to be developed.
Another example of a revolution as a paradigm shift is philosopher John Locke’s thought experiment on the state of nature. He used the state of nature to prove that divine rule by monarchy is impossible. Locke imagined the world before a system of government and theorized that each person, had the right to life, liberty, and property. He then used this to prove every government’s job is to uphold these rights, and that citizens have the power to overthrow their leaders if they were not upholding their fundamental rights. This new way of thinking created a crisis in the current paradigm that monarchs are granted the right to rule by God. This challenge to the normal way of thinking paved the way for the American, French, and many other revolutions. This revolution created a new paradigm because it fundamentally changed the way some people view politics and changed what politics we consider valuable.
The last example I offer of revolution as a paradigm shift is a slower revolution that changed a paradigm over a long period of time. The civil rights movement is an example of revolution because it changed the long-standing paradigm of segregation as a valuable practice. Protests slowly began to change segregation, with successful movements like the sit-ins, and other non-violent methods to change the perception of segregation. This process created a crisis, in which society had to either refuse to change the paradigm and push back or concede to a paradigm shift and stop practices of segregation. Although there was initially a lot of resistance to the paradigm shift, people slowly started to concede, and it led to decreased segregation and the adoption of a new paradigm: the elimination of de jure segregation. Although there is still pushback today with de facto prejudice, the introduction of a crisis to the dominant paradigm continues to force people to shift their beliefs to escape push-back.
Critics of Kuhn’s work assume Kuhn believes the phase where normal science is valuable is bad, however, Kuhn does not offer any argument for whether revolution/normal science is good or bad. Kuhn merely observes the process of scientific revolutions, and each step is a necessary aspect of communities. I agree with Kuhn that revolutions are neither good nor bad, and that they are just a facet of human interactions. Kuhns work is especially valuable in teaching us that even our most inherent beliefs can sometime be false, because it takes an incredible anomaly to overturn a paradigm. Even the Haitian revolution could not change a paradigm, and it was a direct counterexample to the dominant paradigm. We must learn to examine revolutionary beliefs without over relying on our preconceived notions because, we might be incorrect, just too stubborn to realize it.