Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, paradigm shifts, and crises: Analysing recent changes in the approach to contractual interpretation in South African law

Authors Franziska Myburgh

ISSN: 1996-2177
Affiliations: Senior Lecturer in the Department of Private Law, University of Stellenbosch
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 134 Issue 3, 2017, p. 514 – 542


Using Thomas Kuhn’s framework of scientific revolutions, this article considers the current state of contractual interpretation in South African law. Despite the view of some that Natal Municipal Pension Fund v Endumeni Municipality 2012 (4) SA 593 (SCA) and Bothma-Batho Transport (Edms) Bpk v S Bothma & Seun Transport (Edms) Bpk 2014 (2) SA 494 (SCA) reflect a paradigm shift in interpretation, recent judgments delivered on behalf of the Supreme Court of Appeal suggest otherwise. A similar retreat from Lord Hoffman’s approach in Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society [1998] 1 WLR 896 is evident in English law. This contribution argues that it is premature to state that a paradigm shift has indeed occurred in the South African approach to contractual interpretation: the imposition of a new approach in the absence of debate about fundamentals circumvents a necessary prerequisite, according to Kuhn, for a true paradigm shift.