Theory ladenness

"The theory ladenness of observation"
From a previous student in my class Science, Truth and Bias (Phi 375)

Theory-ladenness is a concept that is very important in understanding why people think the way they do and agree or disagree with certain paradigms. 'Theory-ladenness' means loaded with theory. The word 'theory laden' refers to observations or perceptions, not people, paradigms, or theories.

Any situation as a whole is directly influenced by the perspectives and background assumptions the individual involved brings to the observation setting. These perspectives and background assumptions are correlated to the educational training she or he attained during previous experience. Training is of great importance to the concept of theory ladenness. It is training that helps people choose which paradigms fit their life style and sculpts their mind into seeing the world in a certain way.

An example of this concept of theory ladenness may go as follows. A young man named Tom, who is in his later educational years, decides that he wants to pursue the field of psychology and become a psychologist. During graduate school, one of his professors stresses Freudian theory to the class and Tom finds truth and validity in this way of thinking. Tom previously thought that he was going to follow an eclectic style in his career as a psychologist, finding truth in bits and pieces of numerous theories. However, after the impression that this professor made on Tom, he has decided to become a strict Freudian follower.

Tom's career as a psychologist takes off and his first client comes into the session with Tom and immediately lights a cigarette. The two begin to chat and the cigarette eventually dies out. The client seems a little nervous and begins to bite his finger nails ravenously. As conversation progresses, Tom notices the client begin to play with his lip. Tom has now begun to think that perhaps some conflict took place during the oral stage of this person's childhood, because of the constant attention this person gave towards his mouth. He began to develop a treatment plan based on this diagnosis.

Tom observed and analyzed this clinical situation in the fashion he did because he bought into a particular paradigm. He was trained to observe and think in a Freudian manner. Another individual with different training would not have observed and noted what Tom did.

Training is the most important factor in the concept of theory-ladenness. This process begins at birth and continues throughout an individual's lifetime. Background assumptions, education, and experience drive the way we think and how we perceive things. All throughout life, but more so during childhood, we are influenced by significant others. These significant others influence our behaviors and also our cognitive processes forming a basis for the way we view the world.
Created by Kathryn Russell
SUNY Cortland - Philosophy
Last modified on 2-13-01