Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 January 2022
The aim of this paper is to examine in detail the similarities and dissimilarities between Werner Heisenberg's account of closed theories and Thomas Kuhn's model of scientific revolutions. My analysis draws on a little-known discussion that took place between Heisenberg and Kuhn in 1963, in which Heisenberg, having just read Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, compares Kuhn's views to his own account of closed theories. I conclude that while Heisenberg and Kuhn share a holist conception of theories, a revolutionary model of theory change, and even a notion of incommensurability, their views diverge fundamentally when it comes to the issue of scientific realism. I show that, contrary to popular opinion, Heisenberg is not an instrumentalist, but rather a pluralistic realist.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2004 meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. I would like to thank Mélanie Frappier for many stimulating discussions about Heisenberg's closed theories, as well as the editor and a blind referee for many helpful comments. Much of the research for this paper was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. SES-0240328, and I would also like to thank Boston University's Humanities Foundation for support while this paper was completed. I am also grateful to Michael Leach of Harvard University's Physics Research Library for permission to quote from the Archive for the History of Quantum Physics.