Planck's principle

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In sociology of scientific knowledge, Planck's principle is the view that scientific change does not occur because individual scientists change their mind, but rather that successive generations of scientists have different views.

This was formulated by Max Planck in 1950:[1]

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. . . . An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.

— Max Planck, Scientific autobiography, 1950, p. 33, 97

Planck's quote has been used by Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and others to argue that scientific revolutions are non-rational, rather than spreading through "mere force of truth and fact".[2][3][4][5] It has been described as Darwinian rather than Lamarckian conceptual evolution.[6]

Whether age influences the readiness to accept new ideas has been empirically criticised. In the case of acceptance of evolution in the years after Darwin's On the Origin of Species age was a minor factor.[2] Similarly, it was a weak factor in accepting cliometrics.[7]


  1. ^ Planck, Max K. (1950). Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers. New York: Philosophical library.
  2. ^ a b Hull DL, Tessner PD, Diamond AM (17 November 1978). "Planck's Principle". Science. 202 (4369): 717–23. doi:10.1126/science.202.4369.717.
  3. ^ T. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1970. p. 151
  4. ^ P. Feyrabend, in Criticism and the growth of knowledge, I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1970, p. 203
  5. ^ Pierre Azoulay, Christian Fons-Rosen, Joshua S. Graff Zivin: Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time? 2015, doi:10.3386/w21788.
  6. ^ John T. Blackmore (1978). "Is Planck's 'Principle' True?". British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 29 (4): 347–349. JSTOR 687097.
  7. ^ Arthur M. Diamond, Jr. (December 1980). "Age and the Acceptance of Cliometrics". The Journal of Economic History. 40 (4). JSTOR 2120004.