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theory-ladenness of observation

Theory-ladenness of observation holds that everything one observes is interpreted through a prior understanding of other theories and concepts. Whenever we describe observations, we are constantly utilizing terms and measurements that our society has adopted. Therefore, it would be impossible for someone else to understand these observations if they are unfamiliar with, or disagree with, the theories that these terms come from.

An example of this could be given for determining an object's acceleration. If someone is to understand the measurement of 2 miles per second squared, he needs an understanding of the concepts of distance, time, and velocity. Our observation of how much something is increasing in speed depends on our previous knowledge of these theories. As a result, such an observation is said to be theory-laden.

--Adam White


Kerrigan, Catherine E. “Walking the Pattern: Experience and Theory Choice” 23 March 2004. 1993.

Millum, Joe. “The theory-ladenness of observation - some examples and consequences.” Computing in the Humanities and Social Sciences. 23 March 2004. University of Toronto. 24 Sept. 2004.

“Theory Ladenness of Observation.” Committee for Philosophy and the Sciences. 23 March 2004. University of Maryland. 1 Dec. 1998.