PARADIGMATIC CHANGE AND SOCIAL THEORY
As an illustration, we can compare a fundamental assumption of scientists and a parallel assumption of sociologists and Examine the differences. For science we will examine the assumption of the truth of scientific theories as it was assumed both during the Newtonian and the Einsteinian paradigms in science. Nearly concurrent with these paradigms is the sociological assumptions of the major source of social determinants. First, in the Pre-Darwinian period of Smith comte and Marx and then in the post Darwinian period of Weber, Durkheim, and Sorokin.
One underlying premise of the Newtonian Paradigm was the absolute truth of scientific laws. It was this premise that created the dilemma that prompted Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. In the face of his firm belief that it was impossible for anyone to derive pure truth through the power of reason, how could one account for the absolute truth of Newtonian physics. This fundamental premise was so strongly held that for a scientist to postulate laws that violated this absolute truth, as Joseph Agassi said that Michael Faraday did, was to face isolation. Despite the fact that even considering the accuracy of the equipment available to Newton, there was ample evidence that his laws were not only just close approximations, but even impossible to confirm, they were taken for absolute truth. Apparent errors were simply chalked up to imprecision in measurement.
Coincident with the latter period of the Newtonian paradigm was the sociological Pre-Darwinian period, of Smith, comte and Marx. If we apply Kuhn's definition of paradigms to this period we find that It was a fundamental assumption of all three of these schools that social systems were historically determined. Much of the power of this assumption was derived from the same source that Newtonian absolutism was, that is the transfer of ultimate power from god to nature that was also concurrent with that period. The difference was that for science the somewhat dubitable proposition was bolstered by the success of Newtons equations as they were applied to normal life, on the other hand, these assumptions made by Marx, comte and Sorokin were just assumptions derived both from the general culture of the period and the success science was achieving at the time.
The link to science was through the underlying meaning of these assumptions. What Adam Smith called an "invisible hand" and what Marx Called an "alien force" were not derived from magic or some external force acting on men. These were the inevitable outcome of normal human intercourse. They were the historically determined resultant of undiscovered laws of human social conduct, laws they assumed to be just as deterministic as Newtons laws of physics. comte's positivism is essentially a direct statement of these assumptions. In fact, in his essay on comte, John Stuart Mill made the point that comte's progressive historical description of human social development not only was historically inevitable, but was an expression of one of the major assumptions of his time. If we were to develop a "paradigm" of social theory, these are the elements it would be developed out of. The elements that make up the "scientific paradigm" in Kuhn's work were theories, methods, and procedures that had been tried in the crucible of scientific problem solving and had one way or another withstood the test. The underlying assumptions of social theory were either culturally developed or borrowed from the scientific tradition. They had never been put to such tests.
These assumptions, being fundamental to the schools of thought became underlying factors of the theories of each. At the same time they were never questioned, they were not part of the fields subject matter. These assumptions, and all others that scientists or sociologists share in this manner, constitute the reigning paradigm. Normal science, in Kuhn's view, is the application of this paradigm to the solving of puzzles within their particular field. Discoveries or theories which violate the paradigm are anomalies which are rejected unless they are too obvious or too important, then they become sources of paradigm stress. Theories which solve intractable problems and relieve these stresses through a reevaluation of the basic paradigm become threshold points for revolutionary science or paradigm change. Because all of the theories in every field which shares the paradigm depend on the assumptions of the paradigm, they must all be adjusted to the new assumptions, this causes dramatic changes in extant theories.
In Kuhn's view, science abounds with these periods. Einsteinian physics, for example, did not overthrow Newtonian since all of Newtons equations are just as valid today as they were then as long as we take the problems of relativity into consideration. However, the assumption of the absolute truth of scientific facts, one of the fundamental assumptions of Newtonian science, has for all time been refuted.
Social theory has its parallels, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution essentially refuted historical determinism by making the prime determinant of change competition and the struggle for survival instead of historical inevitability. For Weber, Durkheim and Sorokin, social and cultural forces were the battlefields of these evolutionary struggles and therefore the underlying determinants of social and cultural structures.
The point is, that Kuhn's paradigmatic approach can be applied to social theory as well as to the physical sciences to show the extent that some mechanisms of change in sociological thought are parallel to those in the physical sciences. In other words, we could develop a strong support for a "Pre-Darwinian" paradigm that stressed the work of Marx and comte for example, and a "Post Darwinian" paradigm that stressed the work of Weber, Durkheim, and Sorokin. But the success of these sociologists was not due to their adherence to these assumptions. The success of these men was due more to their insight into the effects of these assumptions on people and their willingness to follow these intuitions to their logical conclusion.
I personally question Ritzers use of the term paradigm for the kind of approach he is making because it leads to the impression that social factists, social behaviorists, and social definitionists are all working in different fields, studying separate and distinct structures when in fact they are studying the same phenomena, just using different tools. Social systems, that is the totality of human interactions, are complex. If we study social classes, or social symbols, we are dealing with different levels of a complex social system as well as our abstracted simple systems. More often than not the extent of our abstracted system is determined by the problems we are studying rather than the structure of reality. Whether a sociologist uses theories that deal with social facts, social behavior, or social definitions depends on which approach offers the best promise of solution for the problems he is working on. The result is that nearly every social thinker can be placed in any of the categories depending on which of his works you concentrate on.