Paradigms – Criticism and Subjectivity

LOGO FINALQuality IS…a shared set of assumptions with a purpose.

Why aggregate concepts and principles by providing rules for their application?

If paradigms are understood, the meaning of quality will follow.


In the context of criticism and subjectiveness, of significance, is a white paper written by Margaret Masterman called The Nature of a Paradigm. Masterman (1910-1986), was a British linguist and philosopher, most known for her pioneering work in the field of computational linguistics and especially machine translation, referred to as artificial intelligence in some circles.

 I believe she confirmed my suspicions that a paradigm is subjective in nature by rather emphatically stating that he (Kuhn) makes paradigm-elucidation genuinely difficult for the superficial reader.  On her counting, Kuhn used “paradigm’ in not less than twenty-two different senses in his book in 1962. The twenty-two “different senses” were strong indications of paradigm subjectiveness. Kuhn knew and understood the subjective aspect of a paradigm.

Willis Harman (August 16, 1918 – January 30, 1997) an American engineer, social scientist, academic, futurist, writer, visionary and author of An Incomplete Guide to the Future (1970) had this perspective. He wrote; a paradigm is “the basic way of perceiving, thinking, valuing, and doing associated with a particular vision of reality. A dominant paradigm is seldom if ever stated explicitly; its exists as unquestioned, tacit understanding that is transmitted through culture and to succeeding generations through direct experience rather than being taught.” Is Harmon just saying in another way that we are dealing with a high level of subjectiveness? If we can’t state it explicitly then how do we even know it exists? How do we shift it?

Masterman called Kuhn’s book “scientifically perspicuous and philosophically obscure”. Masterman is highly critical of Kuhn but in spite of that criticism, she takes his concepts and expands them in a very didactic fashion. She sees a Kuhn paradigm as a set of scientific habits that form the basis for successful problem-solving which may be characteristically; intellectual, verbal, behavioral, mechanical, or technological.  In Masterman’s reality, any or all of the characteristics may apply depending on the type of problem which is being solved. I believe that Masterman identified what she would agree was indeed a paradigm. For her, a paradigm preceded theory.   For Kuhn, the current accepted theory, that has undergone unprecedented change, is the paradigm. Following are her thoughts taken directly from her white paper. She felt that Kuhn’s paradigm was sociological in nature as opposed to philosophical.

The only explicit definition of paradigm, in fact, which Kuhn ever gives, is   in terms of these habits, though he lumps them all under the name of concrete scientific achievement. “Normal science’, he says (p.10), means ‘research based upon one or more past scientific achievements that some particular community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice’.  These achievements are (i) ‘sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity’, and (ii) ‘sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to solve. Achievements that share these two characteristics I shall henceforward refer to as a paradigm’. Thus, by assigning the central place, in real science, to a concrete achievement rather than to an abstract theory, Kuhn, alone among philosophers of science puts himself in a position to dispel the worry which besets the working scientists confronted for the first time with professional philosophy of science, ‘How can I be using a theory which isn’t there?’

Masterman sees Kuhn’s sociological paradigm as prescient to theory because it is something concrete and observable: i.e. a set of habits. Kuhn as well as other theorists closely associated a paradigm with a theory.  For the purposes of this book and as the third component of a ConPriDigm™ the paradigm will indeed precede theory and…become theory.

Next post – another perspective from Joel Barker, a consultant, teacher and advertizing executive, his clients included IBM, Monsanto, General Mills and more.

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Acknowledgements: Willis Harman Margaret Masterman