View RSS Feed


On the Importance of Theory

Rate this Entry
Thinking aloud, so to speak...

There is a mindset prevalent among the politically interested that seem to segregate 'theory' from 'reality', as if to suggest these things are mutually exclusive, and that a focus on the former produces, or otherwise indicates, an aversion to the latter. Thus, this mindset tends to celebrate a regard for the latter while rejecting the significance of the former. I submit that this is an erroneous, and perhaps even a destructive mindset.

Without theory, 'reality' is little more than fallacy and ignorance. Theory is how we perceive, understand, explain, comprehend, and make sense of reality. Without theory, there is no knowledge, there is no truth, there is no fact; there are no questions to be asked, investigated, or answered. Theory precedes learning, and that is the purpose of theory: to learn, to understand, to comprehend, to explain, to know. Theory is the path to that which cannot exist without it, such as the aforementioned. So to reject theory while appealing to 'reality' in the same breath is entirely non sequitur--it is absolute nonsense; absurdity.

How can one hope to even dream of being successful, or changing circumstance if one does not have a theory with which to determine what might qualify as success, or what a more preferable circumstance might be, let alone how one might go about changing such circumstances. One needs to understand the theory behind the current 'reality' in order to successfully act, or change that 'reality', if changing that reality is a goal. Likewise, one needs to develop a theory for the change they wish to realize, if changing reality is a goal. But this 'reality' mindset favors 'action' over thought, as this mindset does not value theory in a significant or meaningful way--it is perceived as being an improper waste of time since 'action' alternatives are valued much, much higher. Yet, the paradox emerges again--how can any meaningful action be taken, let alone be believed to bring about change if theory is rejected, or marginalized?

The truth is, this mindset is contradictory to itself as it operates from theory, whether the one who operates from this mindset realizes it or not. Before one acts, or abstains from action, they develop a theory with which to guide their action, or inaction. So, this rejection--this devaluation--of theory becomes that much more nonsensical.

So, I would submit that we should all endeavor to be theoreticians before we presume ourselves to be acting agents of change. Because if we do intend to change circumstances, not just for ourselves, but also for countless others, and more to come, we had better be sure to have a very sound theory with which to guide our action, and thus the change we desire to see realized. This is not to say that one must devote some arbitrarily determined requisite amount of time, energy, or effort to matters of theory; but at the very least one might benefit from celebrating and deferring to theory just as much as they might celebrate 'action' or defer to 'reality'. Theory and reality are two halves of the same whole, and theory surely precedes action, so let's not continue pretending this symbiosis doesn't exist by necessity. And let's not continue pretending meaningful, lasting action is not entirely dependent on the fundamental theories that inspire it.