I have seen the word paradigm described as:

The way any individual perceives, understands, and interprets the surrounding world

and it doesn't sit right with me. My understanding was that paradigm was to mean "the way things are modelled globally", rather than on an personal basis. I have looked up the word in a few online dictionaries and on Wikipedia which seems to suggest that it's:

A typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model

which is not too dissimilar from the meaning that I have been told, but I think subtly different in the direction that it seems to be looking. I.e the common usage suggests that the model is derived by others and given to the individual as a way of explaining a complex issue, where as the way I have been told it is the individuals own method of understanding.

Is the reading I have recently been given significantly incorrect and if it is what is a better word to describe that?

  • Both sources are correct; words can have multiple meanings. From dictionary.com, definitions 2. and 3. respectively: dictionary.com/browse/paradigm
    – user180089
    Jul 14, 2016 at 14:04
  • @V0ight I see what you say but both 2 and 3 are about a shared model, i.e. "an example serving..." and "assumptions,... accepted by members of ... shared by members of " rather than a way of an individual understanding it independently of a group
    – Whinja
    Jul 15, 2016 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


I think there are two ways to use the word: subjectively and objectively.

Your first definition is using it in a subjective context. It's describing a personal paradigm. Two different people can view the world using two (or more!) different paradigms.

Your second definition is using it in an objective context. It's describing a global paradigm. This describes a system from the outside. However, it should be noted that even with this definition, you can describe a system using multiple paradigms.

Maybe subjective and objective aren't exactly the right words: maybe local and global? Internal and external? The point is that you can have paradigms of both sorts, and that's not a contradiction.

Compare it to the noun model, which can have similar internal/external uses. You can have a mental model that says tomatoes don't taste good, and I can have a mental model that says tomatoes are delicious. We can also talk about a model that describes tomatoes as fruits, or another model that describes them as vegetables. You can have multiple models at different levels, just like you can have multiple paradigms at different levels.

  • But by using the words "any individual" followed by an acceptable definition of paradigm surely changes if form a definition of paradigm to one of personal paradigm?
    – Whinja
    Jul 15, 2016 at 11:03
  • @Whinja Maybe, but in any case it's still a paradigm, personal or otherwise. If you have red hair and I have brown hair, we both still have hair. And if you say you have hair, nobody stops you and says "wait, you don't have hair.. you have red hair!" Jul 15, 2016 at 12:17

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