Orientation 101: Definitions and Other Essential Extraneous Notes

Janice M. Morse



                “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

                “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

                “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (1871/2015)

Before we go any further, let us make it clear about what we are talking about, and briefly define concepts, frameworks, theories, philosophical underpinnings, paradigms, components, and parts of all these, so that by the end of this book, we will know exactly the structure of knowledge and the role of each.


A paradigm is a worldview of science, a perspective that is generally accepted as true. Paradigms encompass widely accepted theories and determine which facts are “knowledge claims.” “They structure future research: determining which facts are theoretically salient; defining what constitutes a paradox and what questions urgently need to be examined and what kinds of evidence are considered meaningful” (Geddes, 2010, p. 7). Seven major scientific revolutions have involved substantial conceptual change: those of Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Darwin, the development of quantum theory, and the theory of plate tectonics (Thagard, 1999, p. 51).

Paradigms fall (or fail) sometimes because of their own internal contradictions, and their inability to deal with inconvenient facts thrown up by the world … They may be “overthrown by well organized, coherent, mobilized oppositions” and when this happens, a period of chaos and contention follows (Geddes, 2010, p. 6).

This means that paradigms are very hard to identify when you are living them. But once society moves on, they are easy to spot. Let us interrupt this chapter by looking at a paradigm: the diseases caused by masturbation.



Find and read Engelhardt (1974).

Engelhardt’s article is important because the underlying theory on which the research is based is clearly inaccurate today, with our 20–20 hindsight. In this case, those who believed in the causative links between insanity and madness, had a theory, a research design, and an intervention—all of which were shown to be inaccurate.


A paradigm is often considered a global perspective, that is generally accepted and relatively abstract and generalizable. For instance, the current paradigm about obesity is that people are responsible for their weight, can lose weight if they “work at it” if given enough incentive, and that diet and inadequate exercise are the primary causes of obesity. This perspective may change over time (i.e., a paradigm shift) as we learn more about the complexities of obesity.


Philosophy deals with systems of ideas, beliefs, values, opinions, or principles based on an overall understanding of the system of existence and the universe. It deals with a basic set of principles of the discipline and logical reasoning. A philosophical system provides a particular view or outlook. Moral philosophy deals with principles of human behavior and ethics.

Philosophy enables one to theorize, explain, reason, or argue for a particular position. Epistemology is the nature and scope of knowledge; ontology is the study of the nature of being and becoming, existence or reality.


A phenomenon is a collection of behaviors, occurrences, or experiences that are observable or recordable. Phenomena are not as well understood or developed as a concept. Sometimes they are labeled, but often not well defined nor are the characteristics well described.

Further, a phenomenon may be a behavior that is recognizable, but has not been analyzed to describe the process, nor developed into a concept or subconcepts. The sub-concepts contained within the phenomenon are not specifically identified, and the researchers have not analyzed “what is going on.”


Assumptions are the taken-for-granted, underlying, suppositions. They may form the premise underlying the theory or research.


A domain is an area of study, or the scope of the topic or phenomenon.


A model is a “simplified representation of a process. Its purpose is to illuminate a basic logic underlying a process that might not be perceptible from observation of the entire complicated reality overlaid, as all reality is, with multitudinous irrelevant details” (Geddes, 2010, p. 32). A model may be a schematic (diagrammed) or a scaled physical representation. A model should illuminate the process that had not been evident before; it aids in communication.


There are many definitions of “concept.” A concept is a mental image, a “conceptualization” of a thing, a collection of behaviors, or an idea. It is a representation of reality in one’s mind.

A concept must have the following components:

         A label: we must name it to know what we are talking about.

         A definition: The definition must be clear, and one that we may recognize. The label and the definition are generally agreed upon, and allows us to communicate with others.

         Attributes—or characteristics of the concept. These are present in every instant of the concept, and they make the concept what it is. It was an Aristotelian rule that all attributes must be present in every case in order to identify the concept, although some philosophers believe that this is not necessary. They believe that the presence of most of the attributes is adequate for the concept to be identified.

Let us start with an easy example. If I speak of a table, we envision a piece of furniture with a flat top and legs of a height that allow you to sit at the table. Tables usually have four legs, but some may have only one (e.g., a pedestal table). And other tables, such as a conference table, may have more than four legs. But the flat top and the legs are the attributes of a table.

Now, a table is used to put things on, but if we have a table in our article, it is a structure for us to put things “on” or into—we have borrowed one of the attributes from a table as a piece of furniture, and used it to name a tool for our writing. Or we may have a tabletop mountain, that is, a mountain with a flat top, borrowing the attribute of the flat tabletop to describe the top of the mountain. Note we are using the attribute to conceptualize—in the mental image sense—not as an attribute of components of articles or of mountains.

Therefore, it is the attributes that make the concept the concept. Although that all must be present in the concept, these attributes may be present in different “strengths,” and this makes for different forms and uses of a concept. In one type of the concept, some of the attributes may be stronger than the others, and this pattern may differ in other types of the concept.

         All concepts have a boundary, that is, a limit beyond which the concept is no longer an example of that particular concept. Near the boundary, the attributes become weak or when another concept overlaps, the attributes of the second overlapping concept are shared with other concepts, so that it may be difficult to recognize which attributes belong to which concept. For this reason, researchers analyzing concepts always begin their study examining the clearest, purest, and most represented example of the concept they can find.

         Antecedents: Antecedents are conditions that precede the concept and give rise to the concept. For example, attraction may be an antecedent to love.

         Outcomes: In addition, all behavioral concepts have outcomes, or behaviors that consistently follow the occurrence of the concept.

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Mar 15, 2018 | Posted by in NURSING | Comments Off on Orientation 101: Definitions and Other Essential Extraneous Notes

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