Practice can be explained with theory, but what can theory be explained with?

I would say that theory can only be affected directly by the reality itself. However neither one of us experiences the reality directly, that's why when I think about this framework I wonder how people are so confident in just "blindly" believing our theories are right.

Ironic as it is, the most rational people are the most irrational?

I wonder if it is possible to re-calibrate what I've just said to make it sound less ironical and paradoxical...

  • Try some literature from Ethnomethodology (in particular the work of Harold Garfinkel). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnomethodology Sep 25, 2015 at 23:13
  • The question in the title and the question in the body seem different to me. To the question in the title, the answer is "theory" (or if you prefer meta-theory but that's also theory). / The first question in the body is going to be partially opinion based and partially definition-based. And then from there on, it's not really a question for us...
    – virmaior
    Sep 26, 2015 at 9:33
  • To put it another way, if you intend to ask a question, please pick one and ask that. The rest seems to be a mix of personal philosophy and random remarks.
    – virmaior
    Sep 26, 2015 at 9:34

2 Answers 2


The correct answer is: practice.

Praxis is to theoria as theoria is to praxis. Theory is inferred from practice, and practice confirms theory. This is the basic hypothetico-deductive model of science, and the relation is not circular but dialectical and progressive. In Kant's justification of scientific knowledge, experience or experiment "in practice" acts as the empirical boundary to justified rational hypotheses "in theory."

Of course, there are innumerable complications. As Einstein supposedly remarked: In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice they are not.

  • You do need something to separate how Alchemy works from how Chemistry works. Alchemy's dialectic really was circular, Chemistry's isn't. Chemistry's theory is reliable, Alchemy's wasn't. So the basis of the reliability of the theory depends upon something other than this mutual confirmation, which is present in both cases. Popper suggests that the allowed forms in the dialectic are different. In an age of science, we forget how long we held theories that did not advance, and to what degree that was just fine with everyone.
    – user9166
    Sep 26, 2015 at 16:56
  • I agree, mine is just a short answer. You can have a metatheory in relation to the "theory's" set of hypotheses as those are to "practice," in some sense. Sep 26, 2015 at 17:41

From a Kuhnian point of view, the reliability of theory depends upon the system by which it is negotiated.

Kuhn proposes that theories are based upon paradigms, which are simply slightly more general theories. But paradigms are agreed upon by communities, and get re-evaluated on a regular basis when a truly new idea cannot fit with the existing course of the theories currently in use. So the negotiation process by which the community dismantles old paradigms and vets new ones is the basis of the reliability of the theory.

Science as system, then, is the producer of theories. But science itself is not a theory, it is a political process. Paradigms are judged by a broader philosophical construct that relies upon human intuition and negotiation to evaluate what is more likely to be productive and what is less likely.

Of course, that political process is going to depend upon human experience, and that is related to practice.

But the basis for negotiating paradigms is not the practice itself, only the experience of practicing. Otherwise we would never abandon an old paradigm no matter how hard it got to use it. Practice would always encourage the retention of the theory upon which it is based, and ad-hoc rejection of ideas that don't fit. But we have witnessed historically how paradigms shift.

For instance, Galileo's argument that physics needs to have a single set of rules for near and far objects, for mundane and celestial observations, was a paradigm shift. It took away the foundation upon which astronomers to that time based their calculations, presuming the circularity of celestial orbits, but using different conic sections for flight paths near the ground.

A critical mass of people needed to be convinced that this unified system was intuitively more likely to net better results in the long run, (without seeing what it was going to look like when it was finished) or folks would never have given up the precision of the existing system of epicycles that had been worked out over centuries before then (and would never have started working on theories based on Galileo's new assumption).

We have some historical record of how this actual process happens, and a revival of the History of Science in the 1960's led to interesting theories about how things work when a science is reformulating its own basic theories. A very detailed and interesting account of Galileo's success is laid out in Feyerabend's "Against Method" (with strong emphasis on its political nature, and its lack of objectivity). And shorter accounts of many other paradigm renegotiations are recounted in Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (with less political spin).

  • Yes, this is an important elaboration. We might say historical "paradigm" is to theory as "theory" is to practice. A determinant. We could also add "metatheories," securing scientific "theories," such as those attempted by Russell and the logical positivists. The paradigm might be described as a historical "set of practices" cemented into place by consistently operating technologies and instruments. While Kuhn and Feyerabend are great, the cultural contingencies get way overplayed in the wrong hands. The science flows within some riverbed of "reality." Sep 26, 2015 at 17:57

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