What is Theory? – from Chafetz

LOGO FINALQuality IS…a recipe for connecting patterns.

Why seek criteria that will lead to a coherent quality theory with explanatory power?


But, what is theory?  I can assure the reader that a definitive prescription does not exist and there is a vast warehouse of scholarly opinions. Let us foretaste scholarly thoughts about theory in the following description by citation.

“Like maps, theories, are conceptual systems (Jaccard & Jacoby, 2010:15) that bring order to the experienced world (Dubin, 1978:6:) through the use of assumptions, definitions of concepts and a series of propositions (Chafetz, 1978:81) that attempt to describe an idea ( Reynolds, 1971:43).”

Let us expand the thoughts of each author in the citation.

What is Theory? –  Janet Saltzman Chaftez, author of A Primer on the Construction and Testing of Theories in Sociology.

  • Theories are systems of explanation; they help to answer the question “why?”
  • A typical theory is comprised of assumptions, definitions of concepts, several propositions which collectively purport to explain some aspect of reality.
  • Assumptions are statements accepted as known and not subject to direct verification.
  • Theories consist of concepts whose definitions are often built upon one another and thus comprise a system of interrelated concepts.
  • Probably the best means available to avoid a major problem often encountered in definitions is to employ the age old form develop by Aristotle.  An Aristotelian definition consists of two parts. The first part, called the genius proximum tells what the phenomenon in question shares with a larger class of phenomena.  The second part, genus specifica, tells what is peculiar to phenomena in question.
  • Concepts provide the content and building blocks of theory that consist of words that are relatively high in level of abstractness.
  • Concepts play a critical role in theories and careful attention must be paid to their development and precise definition; solid edifice cannot arise from weak, faulty or carelessly put together building blocks.
  • Explanation, the reason for all theories, is conveyed through a series of statements called propositions.
  • Propositions are the substance of theories.
  • A proposition is a statement that links two or more concepts by stating relationships.

My next post will explore – What is Theory? –  from the perspective of Robert Dubin, author of Theory Building, revised edition.