Serious intellectual history and intellectual biography consist in more than presenting a chronological set of textual summaries, even if some of those texts are parts of debates. Any number of serious historical narratives cum explanations of, say, the emergence of SSR, might be grounded on such a chronological archive as Marcum provides, but they would have to go quite a bit further, in terms of interpretation and analysis of the agendas, resources in play, problems and struggles of Kuhn and his key interlocutors.
For example, Marcum's treatment of Alexandre Koyré is peremptory, consisting of several brief mentions at different chronological points (11, 26, 38, 75, 112). We learn little about what Koyré was trying to do, and how Kuhn struggled within and beyond Koyré's dispensation. It is perhaps not well known that in the late 1960s and early 1970s Kuhn would summon his first year Princeton HPS graduate students to a meeting with him on their first day. To this gathering he would bring his tattered copy of Koyré's Études Galiléennes, the 1939 edition. (Of course there was no English translation until 1978.) He would hold it up and pronounce, "Nobody is getting out of here until they have read this." Kuhn meant nobody would graduate who did not come to understand Koyré (and Kuhn himself) as practitioners of textual analysis and internalist history of science writing.
Kuhn was devoted to Koyré: He took up and pluralized Koyré's notion of the centrality of metaphysics -- the metaphysics of any given real science need not be Galileo and Copernicus's watered down neo-Platonism. Kuhn searched for what Koyré's notion of ruptural revolution lacked, to wit, an explanation of what it was about science dynamics that led to and shaped revolutions (enter eventually normal science). Kuhn shared and disseminated Koyré's disdain for doctrines of scientific method as keys to scientific practice and the shape of the history of the sciences. He also less fortuitously was led by Koyré's catastrophism to downplay the creativity of normal science, the role of small but significant discoveries in science, and to miss the dynamics of what we might call the politics of experiment. Koyré is not just one amongst many items in a chronology; he was the single most important resource and constraint (I do not use the language of 'influences') in the making of the younger Kuhn's practice as an historian and in setting his problematic, for better and worse as it turned out.
I was a graduate student of Kuhn at Princeton 1969-73, followed by a year as his colleague in the HPS Program there. Like almost all the Program's graduate students I was in the 'history side' of the Program and formally a member of the Princeton History Department. In addition I was a participant, from the late 1970s in the evolution of 'post-Kuhnian' history of science (and sociology of scientific knowledge). What happened in these domains, say in the generation after about 1980, gets almost no mention.--John A. Schuster reviewing James A. Marcum, Thomas Kuhn's Revolutions: A Historical and an Evolutionary Philosophy of Science?, Bloomsbury, 2015, at NDPR.
John Schuster is (even when wrong) an interesting and sophisticated Descartes scholar. His fascinating review of Marcum's book on Kuhn provides many insights into both Kuhn's teaching at Princeton and Kuhn's impact on the development of the distinct American disciplinary contours of late twentieth century history of science (and work on HPS and sociology of knowledge more generally). But it also exhibits a common historiographic fallacy. Because he writes from the vantage point of "Serious intellectual history and intellectual biography," it is especially important the fallacy. The fallacy I am about to describe also shows up in philosophy (especially in students of Rawls, Strauss, Cavell, Wittgenstein, etc.). It has two distinct, but connected elements.
- A PhD student mistakenly takes how his (revered) teacher (Y) teaches his own work X as (trumping) evidence for (a) how Y arrived at X or (b) what Y thinks important about X while writing X or, more surprisingly, what (c) Y thinks really important about X.
- The teacher (Y) is a founder of a school of thought (and often the student does not even recognize it as such) or a key agent in discipline formation.
On (1): there are many aims in graduate teaching of philosophy. But it would be really surprising if (a) or (b) are part of them. Even if a teacher were sincerely interested in sharing his/her biographical details, it does not follow that such post facto comments are reliable. Memory is a tricky faculty, especially when there is an audience around; it is simply not to be trusted. It is very odd that a trained historian would fail to recognize this point. (To be clear Schuster explicitly denies an interest in "influence" (that is (a), but he does think he can discern something like (b).)
It is admittedly more plausible that the teaching reflects what X thinks is important about Y. But even here one cannot assume this. The art of teaching consists, in part, of guiding another toward the truth (Good, etc.). What is emphasized in teaching, and here I'll add a rhetorical 'significant tecahing,' is emphasized for pedagogic purposes not for revealing one's estimation of significance. This is especially so when we consider (2).
On (2) a teacher who founds a school or the players in a discipline, always submerges something of significance in order to allow for puzzles, problems, the sense of achievable aims. Such a teacher also tends to create a tacit hierarchy within the school, but about that some other time more. Such a teacher creates shared bits of background knowledge (say Rawls on the history of philosophy) that are not just hoops to jump through ("Nobody is getting out of here until they have read this,") but ways to see the project. That is to say, we can assume that such a teacher did not teach all of the most significant bits of his own achievement.
This is not to deny that Koyré is a non-trivial figure in contextualizing and understanding Kuhn. But from Kuhn's teaching we cannot infer that he is the "single most important" such figure. There are other reasons to doubt this claim, but that's for another occasion.