AskDefine | Define paradigm

Dictionary Definition



1 systematic arrangement of all the inflected forms of a word
2 a standard or typical example; "he is the prototype of good breeding"; "he provided America with an image of the good father" [syn: prototype, epitome, image]
3 the class of all items that can be substituted into the same position (or slot) in a grammatical sentence (are in paradigmatic relation with one another) [syn: substitution class]
4 the generally accepted perspective of a particular discipline at a given time; "he framed the problem within the psychoanalytic paradigm"

User Contributed Dictionary



Established 1475-85 from paradīgma, from παράδειγμα (parádeigma, pattern). See .


  • /ˈpær.ə.daɪm/


  1. An example serving as a model or pattern.
  2. In the context of "linguistics": A set of all forms which contain a common element, especially the set of all inflectional forms of a word or one of its grammatical category.
    • boy, boy’s, boys, boys’ is the paradigm of boy.
  3. A system of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality.


model or example
grammatical inflections
way of thinking
  • Catalan: paradigma
  • Czech: paradigma
  • Dutch: paradigma, denkkader
  • Finnish: paradigma, maailmankatsomus
  • French: paradigme
  • Icelandic: hugarfar
  • Polish: paradygmat
  • Portuguese: paradigma
  • Russian: парадигма


  • pedialite Paradigm
  • American Heritage 2000
  • WordNet 2003

Extensive Definition

Since the late 1960s, the word paradigm () has referred to thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context. Initially, the word was specific to grammar: the 1900 Merriam-Webster dictionary defines its technical use only in the context of grammar or, in rhetoric, as a term for an illustrative parable or fable. In linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure used paradigm to refer to a class of elements with similarities. The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines it as "a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.

Scientific paradigm

Historian of science Thomas Kuhn gave this word its contemporary meaning when he adopted it to refer to the set of practices that define a scientific discipline during a particular period of time. Kuhn himself came to prefer the terms exemplar and normal science, which have more exact philosophical meanings. However, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as:
  • what is to be observed and scrutinized
  • the kind of questions that are supposed to be asked and probed for answers in relation to this subject
  • how these questions are to be structured
  • how the results of scientific investigations should be interpreted
Alternatively, the Oxford English Dictionary defines paradigm as "a pattern or model, an exemplar." Thus an additional component of Kuhn's definition of paradigm is:
  • how is an experiment to be conducted, and what equipment is available to conduct the experiment.
Thus, within normal science, the paradigm is the set of exemplary experiments that are likely to be copied or emulated. The prevailing paradigm often represents a more specific way of viewing reality, or limitations on acceptable programs for future research, than the much more general scientific method.
An example of a currently accepted paradigm would be the standard model of physics. The scientific method would allow for orthodox scientific investigations of many phenomena which might contradict or disprove the standard model; however grant funding would be more difficult to obtain for such experiments, in proportion to the amount of departure from accepted standard model theory which the experiment would test for. For example, an experiment to test for the mass of the neutrino or decay of the proton (small departures from the model) would be more likely to receive money than experiments to look for the violation of the conservation of momentum, or ways to engineer reverse time travel.
One important aspect of Kuhn's paradigms is that the paradigms are incommensurable, which means that two paradigms can not be compared to each other. A new paradigm which replaces an old paradigm is not necessarily better, because the criteria of judgement depend on the paradigm.
A more disparaging term groupthink, and the term mindset, have very similar meanings that apply to smaller and larger scale examples of disciplined thought. Michel Foucault used the terms episteme and discourse, mathesis and taxinomia, for aspects of a "paradigm" in Kuhn's original sense.
Simple common analogy: A simplified analogy for paradigm is a habit of reasoning or, the box in the commonly used phrase "thinking outside the box". Thinking inside the box is analogous with normal science. The box encompasses the thinking of normal science and thus the box is analogous with paradigm. "Thinking outside the box" would be what Kuhn calls revolutionary science. Revolutionary science is usually unsuccessful, and only rarely leads to new paradigms. When they are successful they lead to large scale changes in the scientific worldview.

Paradigm shifts

Paradigm shifts tend to be most dramatic in sciences that appear to be stable and mature, as in physics at the end of the 19th century. At that time, physics seemed to be a discipline filling in the last few details of a largely worked-out system. In 1900, Lord Kelvin famously stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged the very simple set of rules laid down by Newtonian mechanics, which had been used to describe force and motion for over two hundred years. In this case, the new paradigm reduces the old to a special case In the sense that Newtonian mechanics is still a good model for approximation for speeds that are slow compared to the speed of light.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn wrote that "Successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science." (p.12) Kuhn's idea was itself revolutionary in its time, as it caused a major change in the way that academics talk about science. Thus, it caused or was itself part of a "paradigm shift" in the history and sociology of science.
Philosophers and historians of science, including Kuhn himself, ultimately accepted a modified version of Kuhn's model, which synthesizes his original view with the gradualist model that preceded it. Kuhn's original model is now generally seen as too limited.
Kuhn himself did not consider the concept of paradigm as appropriate for the social sciences. He explains in his preface to "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" that he concocted the concept of paradigm precisely in order to distinguish the social from the natural sciences (p.x). He wrote this book at the Palo Alto Center for Scholars, surrounded by social scientists, when he observed that they were never in agreement on theories or concepts. He explains that he wrote this book precisely to show that there are no, nor can be, any paradigms in the social sciences. Mattei Dogan, a French sociologist, in his article "Paradigms in the Social Sciences," develops Kuhn's original thesis that there are no paradigms at all in the social sciences since the concepts are polysemic, the deliberate mutual ignorance between scholars and the proliferation of schools in these disciplines. Dogan provides many examples of the inexistance of paradigms in the social sciences in his essay, particularly in sociology, political science and political anthropology.

Paradigm Paralysis

Perhaps the greatest barrier to a paradigm shift, in some cases, is the reality of paradigm paralysis, the inability to see beyond the current models of thinking.
Examples include Galileo's theory of a heliocentric universe, the discovery of electrostatic photography, xerography, and the quartz clock.

Paradigm as the "Gestalt of a Weltanschauung"

Another perspective to the concept of what a paradigm is, is that a Paradigm is the Gestalt (organized whole) of the three main branches of philosophy that forms a "Weltanschauung" (German for 'Worldview')
Uses of the concept paradigm in the understanding of Kuhn and others, are mostly unclear and ambiguous analogies ignotum per ignotius (the unknown explained by means of the more unknown), or obscurum per obscurius (the unclear explained by means of the more unclear) — to other concepts like the model.
Kuhn defines a paradigm as: “an entire constellation of beliefs, values and techniques, and so on, shared by the members of a given community”(Kuhn). This definition by Kuhn appears in the 1969 postscript to his original book, because originally the use of the term paradigm was not clearly defined. Besides this definition Kuhn mentioned another sense of use he had: a Paradigm also “denotes one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science” [Ibid]. The term remains imprecise due to the different uses it is given.
Paradigms could be described from a structural perspective. Paradigms operate on different levels; the macro, meso and micro levels of the paradigm's structure. The levels address the fundamental structure of the paradigms, rather than its chronological-historical categorization or the etymological use, as used by most disciplines. The levels of paradigms are always present and not limited to these categories. They assist in an understanding of the functioning of a paradigm.
In the macro level, a cognizance of the basic assumption to the question: ‘what can be understood’ is required. The question is: "Can it in reality be assumed that the essences of ideal things could be known at all, as in Plato's and Aristotle's use of the theory of ideas? Besides the essentialistic approaches of these two philosophers, is it not possible that "the things themselves reveal themselves as they are", analysed in Heidegger's fundamental ontology? The assumption we make in answering these questions will predispose the perception that determines the way we ask the question about how we come to knowledge.
In the meso level, the question is how the macro level influences and forms the resulting theory of knowledge. “Is only deductive-delimited knowledge of human perception available to man, or is man open to an inductive-comprehensive understanding of the world?”. If man is open to inductive knowledge, where does it originate? The assumption on the macro level is the basis for this assumption. All philosophical efforts since the pre-socratics are essentialistic. An ontological approach seeks to evade the essences of things, requiring the things themselves to reveal them as they are.
In the micro level, the consequent perception of the two preceding levels, answering the questions of what is in the world and how the world is understood, is used in a practical way of doing. Is the praxis built on multiple ‘laws of conduct’ (ethic), or is it a fundamental and constant encounter with the open world as a different way of perception? Such a different perception is an 'affective awareness'. Previous and current understanding of perception is limited to essentialistic categories of limitation. 'Affective awareness' is by nature open and unlimited, inductive and not limited to 'sense perception'.
So a paradigm is a view of reality that is a Gestalt resulting from the three branches of philosophy; metaphysics, epistemology and ethics (see Encyclopædia Britannica: Branches of Philosophy):
(1) a metaphysical assumption of what could be known (refer to the pre-Socratics Parmenides and Heraclitus). It forms the basis for:
(2) a conception of epistemological knowledge acquisition. This is the essentialistic line of thinking essentialism from Plato, Aristotle and Popper vs. the ontological line of thinking (ontology) opened up by the 'uncertainty principle' of Heisenberg's quantum theories to Heidegger's 'Fundamental Ontology'. This in turn is the basis for the:
(3) praxis in an ethic for living.
It is obvious that the three branches of philosophy describe the structure of a paradigm. None of the branches of Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics can be left out for understanding paradigms. Together they describe a 'Gestalt', akin to a spiral (not a mere circular) movement, forming Hermeneutical understanding.
The result is that Hermeneutics can not be reduced to an interpretation of something in context of the text itself in a mere 'hermeneutic circle'; it is a developmental cycle that involves:
(a) "Wahrnehmung" as an 'affective awareness', which is more than mere sense perception. The method toward an affective awareness is through 'ontological understanding'. It forms the principles behind a paradigm, conceived as either the Heraclitean 'flux' (Heraclitus) or the Parmenidean 'one' (Parmenides). This principle is perceived as the relation of the limited to the unlimited. Meta-ethical 'principles', like the golden ethical rule of “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you”, are formed here.
(b) "Verstehen" as the analysis of 'being' to reach understanding of the 'self'. Here the building of, or coming to, a theory of knowledge is achieved, determined by the assumptions in my metaphysical 'belief' of the nature of reality in (a). These assumptions necessarily tend to a predominantly inductive or mainly deductive theory of knowledge acquisition, which is reflected in my epistemology. Messo-ethical 'norms', like the sanctity of human life and freedom, are formulated at this level.
(c) "Ethos" is the attempt to form the world we live in, by growing an 'attitude' or participation in a mutually structured reality. All those who choose to participate in this reality, do it by 'taking responsibility for personal actions' in a social environment. More concrete micro-ethical 'codes of conduct', like monogamy and what we consider to be 'true and correct behaviour', is systematised into our 'dogma' at this level.
(d) "Praxis" is doing the 'right' thing. It is the behaviour resulting from systematising (a), (b) and (c) into a Gestalt, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. This behavioural level is again the basis for "Wahrnemung", repeating the cycle on a new level. Most important is to understand that this cycle does not now start from the previous position of departure. There is a 'new awareness' of the praxis due to the previous stages in the cycle. The next cycle of "Wahrnemung" is elevated from the previous level of affective awareness to a deeper understanding. This is the basis for a new understanding of development. Development is far more than a 'mechanistic' process, by definition mechanistic processes all function and are 'essentially' closed systems. Development is by definition dependent on an inductive element. Another important point is that there is no start or end point in the cycle, every stage is on an elevated level from its previous position. Contrasted to that, a circle has a start and an end, which has actually no development; it is only a reaffirmation of what was before in a stagnant fundamentalism.
Thus, a Paradigm can only be understood in the context of a Hermeneutical cycle within the Structure of the Paradigms. It supersedes mere interpretation or just bringing understanding. It implies that Paradigms are developmental by nature, moving in a hermeneutical cycle instead of a process of recurring mechanistic circles. Describing a paradigm as an era, epic, model, weltanschauung, or any other term is hardly more than merely renaming the concept of a paradigm to some other known concept, risking to be a tautological swapping of terms.
Secondary source: '"Paradigm Development in Systematic Theology"', Dissertation at the University of South Africa (UNISA) by Lando L Lehmann, Nov 2004. Description: - Direct Download when Description does not work:

Other uses

Handa, M.L. (1986) introduced the idea of "social paradigm" in the context of social sciences. He identified the basic components of a social paradigm. Like Kuhn, Handa addressed the issue of changing paradigm; the process popularly known as "paradigm shift". In this respect, he focused on social circumstances that precipitate such a shift and the effects of the shift on the social institutions, including the institution of education. This broad shift in the social arena, in turn, changes the way the individual perceives reality.
Another use of the word paradigm is in the sense of Weltanschauung (German for world view). For example, in social science, the term is used to describe the set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality and responds to that perception. Social scientists have adopted the Kuhnian phrase "paradigm shift" to denote a change in how a given society goes about organizing and understanding reality. A “dominant paradigm” refers to the values, or system of thought, in a society that are most standard and widely held at a given time. Dominant paradigms are shaped both by the community’s cultural background and by the context of the historical moment. The following are conditions that facilitate a system of thought to become an accepted dominant paradigm:
  • Professional organizations that give legitimacy to the paradigm
  • Dynamic leaders who introduce and purport the paradigm
  • Journals and editors who write about the system of thought. They both disseminate the information essential to the paradigm and give the paradigm legitimacy
  • Government agencies who give credence to the paradigm
  • Educators who propagate the paradigm’s ideas by teaching it to students
  • Conferences conducted that are devoted to discussing ideas central to the paradigm
  • Media coverage
  • Lay groups, or groups based around the concerns of lay persons, that embrace the beliefs central to the paradigm
  • Sources of funding to further research on the paradigm
The word paradigm is also still used to indicate a pattern or model or an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype. The term is frequently used in this sense in the design professions. Design Paradigms or archetypes, comprise functional precedents for design solutions. The best known references on design paradigms are Design Paradigms: A Sourcebook for Creative Visualization, by Wake, and Design Paradigms by Petroski.
This term is also used in cybernetics. Here it means (in a very wide sense) a (conceptual) protoprogramme for reducing the chaotic mass to some form of order. Note the similarities to the concept of entropy in chemistry and physics. A paradigm there would be a sort of prohibition to proceed with any action that would increase the total entropy of the system. In order to create a paradigm, a closed system which would accept any changes is required. Thus a paradigm can be only applied to a system that is not in its final stage.


References and Links

  • Clarke, Thomas and Clegg, Stewart (eds). Changing Paradigms''. London: HarperCollins, 2000.ISBN 0-00-638731-4
  • Handa, M. L.(1986) "Peace Paradigm: Transcending Liberal and Marxian Paradigms" Paper presented in "International Symposium on Science, Technology and Development, New Delhi, India, March 20-25, 1987, Mimeographed at O.I.S.E., University of Toronto, Canada (1986)
  • Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Ed. Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN 0-226-45808-3
  • Masterman, Margaret, "The Nature of a Paradigm," pp. 59-89 in Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970. ISBN 0-521-09623-5
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, Univ. of Chicago, 2003, ISBN 0-85229-961-3
  • Dogan, Mattei., "Paradigms in the Social Sciences," in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 16, 2001)
  • Paradigm Presentation An interesting look at how a Paradigm is created
paradigm in Arabic: بارادايم
paradigm in Azerbaijani: Paradiqma
paradigm in Bulgarian: Парадигма
paradigm in Catalan: Paradigma
paradigm in Czech: Paradigma
paradigm in Danish: Paradigme
paradigm in German: Paradigma
paradigm in Spanish: Paradigma
paradigm in Esperanto: Scienca paradigmo
paradigm in Persian: پارادایم
paradigm in French: Paradigme
paradigm in Galician: Paradigma
paradigm in Ido: Paradigmo
paradigm in Italian: Paradigma
paradigm in Hebrew: פרדיגמה
paradigm in Hungarian: Paradigma
paradigm in Macedonian: Парадигма
paradigm in Dutch: Paradigma
paradigm in Japanese: パラダイム
paradigm in Korean: 패러다임
paradigm in Norwegian: Paradigme
paradigm in Low German: Paradigma
paradigm in Polish: Paradygmat
paradigm in Portuguese: Paradigma
paradigm in Romanian: Paradigmă
paradigm in Russian: Парадигма
paradigm in Slovenian: Paradigma
paradigm in Serbian: Парадигма
paradigm in Finnish: Paradigma
paradigm in Swedish: Paradigm
paradigm in Vietnamese: Mẫu hình
paradigm in Turkish: Paradigma
paradigm in Ukrainian: Парадигма
paradigm in Chinese: 范式

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

IC analysis, accidence, affix, affixation, allomorph, antetype, antitype, archetype, beau ideal, biotype, bound morpheme, classic example, conjugation, criterion, cutting, declension, derivation, difference of form, enclitic, epitome, example, exemplar, formative, free form, fugleman, fugler, genotype, ideal, imitatee, immediate constituent analysis, infix, infixation, inflection, lead, mirror, model, morph, morpheme, morphemic analysis, morphemics, morphology, morphophonemics, original, pattern, precedent, prefix, prefixation, proclitic, prototype, radical, representative, root, rule, standard, stem, suffix, suffixation, theme, type, type species, type specimen, urtext, word-formation
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1