Definitions of Some Paradigms

Some Common (Super) Paradigms


  • Concerned with observable behavior, and not with the subjective aspects of human behavior, such as consciousness, intention, cognition, meaning, motivation, etc.
  • Tends to be reductive or reductionistic, deterministic, mechanistic, and positivistic (see other definitions, below).
  • Focus on simple cause and effect.

Constructivism (Cognitivism)

  • Unobservable events, such as inferring, problem solving, and other cognitive processes are of primary concern.
  • Tends to be holistic, organic, and relativisitic.
  • Causes and effects are complex and situated within multiple contexts.


  • Is typically used with various modifiers, such as biological determinism. Refers to causal relations used to explain all phenomena. Everything is governed absolutely by causal laws. Intelligence is due to genetic make-up is an example of a deterministic claim (biological determinism). In this example, individual effort and social context have no bearing on intelligence.


  • Based on supposition that experience is the only source of knowledge. Attempts to base claims on quantitative, empirical evidence.


  • Attempts to explain complex phenomena by looking at the interactions among all factors within the context of the whole.
  • Explanations contend with interactions, interrelationships, and the whole context.
  • Parts can only be understood from the perspective of the whole.
  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts… parts can be understood only from the perspective of the whole.
  • Understanding requires contending with complexity.


  • Closely associated with the traditional “scientific method.”
  • Deals only with observable and measurable phenomena.
  • Emphasis of defining one truth.
  • The scientific method and truth are objective.


  • truth is what works
  • validity needs to be proven*


  • The tendency to explain complex phenomena by means of a single factor.
  • Also used to refer to the action of reducing the explanations of complex phenomena to one or a few micro-level processes without considering the interactions among processes or the whole phenomenon.
  • Parts or specific processes are representative of the whole.
  • The sum of the parts are equal to the whole… understanding the parts allows us to understand the whole.
  • Understanding requires a simplification of processes.


  • Claims of truth are entirely dependent upon context.
  • Deals with phenomena that are observable and unobservable.
  • Multiple “truths” may exist, but truth is context dependent.
  • Truth and research methodology is subjective.

SEE: A philosophical map of the history of paradigms can be examined at: Philosophical Overview.

NOTE: “Proven” – Within the philosophy of science, no knowledge can be “proven,” but can be only “disproved.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License