A Caveat to the Use of Theory

I must add a caveat to my last post.  I use theory in a pragmatic instrumentalist way, not in an absolute way.  Theory does have limits, an “everything in moderation” idea.  Alex Kosulin explained the potential problems when theory becomes over extrapolated in his 1992 Introduction to Vygotsky’s Thought and Language*

Tracing the evolution of psychoanalysis, reflexology, Gestaltism, and personalism, (Vygotsky) revealed a uniform pattern to their development, an aggressive expansion in a desperate attempt to attain methodological hegemony.  The first stage in the development of each of these systems is an empirical discovery that proves to be important for the revision of the existing views concerning some specific behavioral or mental phenomena.  In the second stage . . .the initial discovery acquires a conceptual form, which expands so as to come to bear on related problems of psychology.  Even at this stage the ties between the conceptual form and the underlying empirical discovery are eroded.  The third stage is marked by the transformation of the conceptual form into an abstract explanatory principle applicable to any problem within the given discipline.  The discipline is captured by this expanding explanatory principle. . . .At the fourth stage the explanatory principle disengages itself from the subject matter of psychology and becomes a general methodology . . . at which point, Vygotsky observed – it usually collapses under the weight of its enormous explanatory claims.

In other words; theoretical contexts are important and abstraction and extrapolation has its limits.

*Kozulin, A. (1992). Vygotsky in Context, in A. Kozulin (Ed.) Though and Language: Cambridge MA, MIT Press.

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