Theory Defined

A scientific theory is a set of related assumptions that allows scientists to use logical deductive reasoning to formulate testable hypotheses. This definition needs further explanation. First, a theory is a set of assumptions. A single assumption can never fill all the requirements of an adequate theory. A single assumption, for example, could not serve to integrate several observations, something a useful theory should do.

Second, a theory is a set of related assumptions. Isolated assumptions can neither generate meaningful hypotheses nor possess internal consistency—two criteria of a useful theory.

A third key word in the definition is assumptions. The components of a theory are not proven facts in the sense that their validity has been absolutely established. They are, however, accepted as //'they were true. This is a practical step, taken so that scientists can conduct useful research, the results of which continue to build and reshape the original theory.

Fourth, logical deductive reasoning is used by the researcher to formulate hypotheses. The tenets of a theory must be stated with sufficient precision and logical consistency to permit scientists to deduce clearly stated hypotheses. The hypotheses are not components of the theory, but flow from it. It is the job of an imaginative scientist to begin with the general theory and, through deductive reasoning, arrive at a particular hypothesis that can be tested. If the general theoretical propositions are illogical, they remain sterile and incapable of generating hypotheses. Moreover, if a researcher uses faulty logic in deducing hypotheses, the resulting research will be meaningless and will make no contribution to the ongoing process of theory construction.

The final part of the definition includes the qualifier testable. Unless a hypothesis can be tested in some way, it is worthless. The hypothesis need not be tested immediately, but it must suggest the possibility that scientists in the future might develop the necessary means to test it.

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