Theory knitting: An integrative approach to theory development

Philosophical Psychology 1 (2):153 – 170 (1988)
A close scrutiny of the psychological literature reveals that many psychologists favor a 'segregative' approach to theory development. One theory is pitted against another, and the one that accounts for the data most successfully is deemed the theory of choice. However, an examination of the theoretical debates in which the segregative approach has been pursued reveals a variety of weaknesses to the approach, namely, masking an underlying theoretical indistinguishability of theoretical predictions, causing psychologists to focus unknowingly on different aspects of the same phenomemon, and locking the theorist into a particular way of looking at a phenomemon. Although recent work in the philosophy of science has sought to develop a more satisfactory approach to theory development, this work also suffers from a variety of shortcomings. Work on intentionality and constructionism by philosophers of mind suggests an alternative to the segregative approach to theory development. We call this alternative the 'integrative' approach. In this approach one integrates the best aspects of a set of given theories with one's own ideas regarding the domain under investigation. Instead of emphasising those features that discriminate among theories, this approach seeks to identify those facets of competing theories that can provide a unified explanation of a given problem area.
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