I like to look up words like this in my 1895 copy of Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of the English Language.
However this simple definition of par'a-digm has emcompassed a whole new meaning since the times when I went to school and is actually a word called paradigm. Ahh, life used to be so simple. It's a wonder that Einstein ever came up with the "Theory of Relativity" with a passe' definition such as this...G:
To answer the question, we need to observe the way the word ‘paradigm’ has been
used, trying to extract its meaning from its usage. To do that, let’s first go back to
Plato and Aristotle, since they seem to be the oldest sources elaborating on the
concept of paradigm.
In his talk at EGS, Giorgio Agamben mentions the work of Victor Goldschmidt,
The Paradigm in Plato’s Dialectics, published in 1947. From his account of the book,
it’s understood that usage of the word ‘paradeigma’ in Plato’s book is peculiar, in the
sense that sometimes the paradigm acts from sensible things to ideas, whereas
sometimes it acts from ideas to the things. To quote Agamben, Goldschmidt makes
the following analysis regarding Plato’s use of the word ‘paradeigma’:
Goldschmidt shows that in the paradigm, the generality or the idea does not
result from a logic consequence by means of induction from the exhaustive
enumeration of the individual cases. Rather it is produced by the comparison
by only one paradigm, one singular example, with the object or class that the
paradigm will make intelligible.
Then Agamben continues with an attempt at giving an interpretation of the last
section of Book VI of Plato’s The Republic , with regard to paradigms.
In Rhetorics  1356b, Aristotle states that an example (‘paradeigma’) is (a kind
of) rhetorical counterpart of dialectic induction. Then in 1357b, he states regarding to
Its relation to the proposition it supports is not that of part to whole, nor
whole to part, nor whole to whole, but of part to part, or like to like.
This is to say that we have deduction which goes from the universal to the
particular, induction (in its modern meaning) which goes from the particular to the
universal, and we have the paradigm (example) going from particular to particular
. Then Aristotle goes on to say:
When two statements are of the same order, but one is more familiar
(knowable) than the other, the former is an "example (Gr. paradeigma)."
What is interesting in this statement is that although he does not categorically
distinguish between the participants of the ‘being an example’ relationship which he
mentions to be a binary one, but he says that the relationship itself is anti-symmetric,
and this anti-symmetry redeems one of the participants as being called ‘example’ or
‘paradigm.’ Furthermore, he says that the paradigm is more knowable than the other
participant, but does not discuss this issue any further.
And we now have...WIKIPEDIA
Since the late 1960s, the word paradigm (IPA: /ˈpærədaɪm/) has referred to thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context. Initially, the word was specific to grammar: the 1900 Merriam-Webster dictionary defines its technical use only in the context of grammar or, in rhetoric, as a term for an illustrative parable or fable. In linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure used paradigm to refer to a class of elements with similarities. The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines it as "a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.
 Scientific paradigm
Historian of science Thomas Kuhn gave this word its contemporary meaning when he adopted it to refer to the set of practices that define a scientific discipline during a particular period of time. Kuhn himself came to prefer the terms exemplar and normal science, which have more exact philosophical meanings. However, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as:
- what is to be observed and scrutinized
- the kind of questions that are supposed to be asked and probed for answers in relation to this subject
- how these questions are to be structured
- how the results of scientific investigations should be interpreted
Alternatively, the Oxford English Dictionary defines paradigm as "a pattern or model, an exemplar." Thus an additional component of Kuhn's definition of paradigm is:
- how is an experiment to be conducted, and what equipment is available to conduct the experiment.
Thus, within normal science, the paradigm is the set of exemplary experiments that are likely to be copied or emulated. The prevailing paradigm often represents a more specific way of viewing reality, or limitations on acceptable programs for future research, than the much more general scientific method.
An example of a currently accepted paradigm would be the standard model of physics. The scientific method would allow for orthodox scientific investigations of many phenomena which might contradict or disprove the standard model; however grant funding would be more difficult to obtain for such experiments, in proportion to the amount of departure from accepted standard model theory which the experiment would test for. For example, an experiment to test for the mass of the neutrino or decay of the proton (small departures from the model) would be more likely to receive money than experiments to look for the violation of the conservation of momentum, or ways to engineer reverse time travel.
One important aspect of Kuhn's paradigms is that the paradigms are incommensurable, which means that two paradigms can not be compared to each other. A new paradigm which replaces an old paradigm is not necessarily better, because the criteria of judgement depend on the paradigm.
A more disparaging term groupthink, and the term mindset, have very similar meanings that apply to smaller and larger scale examples of disciplined thought. Michel Foucault used the terms episteme and discourse, mathesis and taxinomia, for aspects of a "paradigm" in Kuhn's original sense.
Simple common analogy: A simplified analogy for paradigm is a habit of reasoning or, the box in the commonly used phrase "thinking outside the box". Thinking inside the box is analogous with normal science. The box encompasses the thinking of normal science and thus the box is analogous with paradigm. "Thinking outside the box" would be what Kuhn calls revolutionary science. Revolutionary science is usually unsuccessful, and only rarely leads to new paradigms. When they are successful they lead to large scale changes in the scientific worldview.
 Paradigm shifts
Main article: Paradigm shift
Paradigm shifts tend to be most dramatic in sciences that appear to be stable and mature, as in physics at the end of the 19th century. At that time, physics seemed to be a discipline filling in the last few details of a largely worked-out system. In 1900, Lord Kelvin famously stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged the very simple set of rules laid down by Newtonian mechanics, which had been used to describe force and motion for over two hundred years. In this case, the new paradigm reduces the old to a special case In the sense that Newtonian mechanics is still a good model for approximation for speeds that are slow compared to the speed of light.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn wrote that "Successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science." (p.12) Kuhn's idea was itself revolutionary in its time, as it caused a major change in the way that academics talk about science. Thus, it caused or was itself part of a "paradigm shift" in the history and sociology of science.
Philosophers and historians of science, including Kuhn himself, ultimately accepted a modified version of Kuhn's model, which synthesizes his original view with the gradualist model that preceded it. Kuhn's original model is now generally seen as too limited.
Kuhn himself did not consider the concept of paradigm as appropriate for the social sciences. He explains in his preface to "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" that he concocted the concept of paradigm precisely in order to distinguish the social from the natural sciences (p.x). He wrote this book at the Palo Alto Center for Scholars, surrounded by social scientists, when he observed that they were never in agreement on theories or concepts. He explains that he wrote this book precisely to show that there are no, nor can be, any paradigms in the social sciences. Mattei Dogan, a French sociologist, in his article "Paradigms in the Social Sciences," develops Kuhn's original thesis that there are no paradigms at all in the social sciences since the concepts are polysemic, the deliberate mutual ignorance between scholars and the proliferation of schools in these disciplines. Dogan provides many examples of the inexistance of paradigms in the social sciences in his essay, particularly in sociology, political science and political anthropology.
 Paradigm Paralysis
Perhaps the greatest barrier to a paradigm shift, in some cases, is the reality of paradigm paralysis, the inability to see beyond the current models of thinking.
 Paradigm as the "Gestalt of a Weltanschauung"
Another perspective to the concept of what a paradigm is, is that a Paradigm is the Gestalt (organized whole) of the three main branches of philosophy that forms a "Weltanschauung" (German for 'Worldview')
Uses of the concept paradigm in the understanding of Kuhn and others, are mostly unclear and ambiguous analogies — ignotum per ignotius (the unknown explained by means of the more unknown), or obscurum per obscurius (the unclear explained by means of the more unclear) — to other concepts like the model.
Kuhn defines a paradigm as: “an entire constellation of beliefs, values and techniques, and so on, shared by the members of a given community”(Kuhn). This definition by Kuhn appears in the 1969 postscript to his original book, because originally the use of the term paradigm was not clearly defined. Besides this definition Kuhn mentioned another sense of use he had: a Paradigm also “denotes one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science” [Ibid]. The term remains imprecise due to the different uses it is given.
Paradigms could be described from a structural perspective. Paradigms operate on different levels; the macro, meso and micro levels of the paradigm's structure. The levels address the fundamental structure of the paradigms, rather than its chronological-historical categorization or the etymological use, as used by most disciplines. The levels of paradigms are always present and not limited to these categories. They assist in an understanding of the functioning of a paradigm.
In the macro' level, a cognizance of the basic assumption to the question: ‘what can be understood’ is required. The question is: "Can it in reality be assumed that the essences of ideal things could be known at all, as in Plato's and Aristotle's use of the theory of ideas? Besides the essentialistic approaches of these two philosophers, is it not possible that "the things themselves reveal themselves as they are", analysed in Heidegger's fundamental ontology? The assumption we make in answering these questions will predispose the perception that determines the way we ask the question about how we come to knowledge.
In the meso level, the question is how the macro level influences and forms the resulting theory of knowledge. “Is only deductive-delimited knowledge of human perception available to man, or is man open to an inductive-comprehensive understanding of the world?”. If man is open to inductive knowledge, where does it originate? The assumption on the macro level is the basis for this assumption. All philosophical efforts since the pre-socratics are essentialistic. An ontological approach seeks to evade the essences of things, requiring the things themselves to reveal them as they are.
In the micro level, the consequent perception of the two preceding levels, answering the questions of what is in the world and how the world is understood, is used in a practical way of doing. Is the praxis built on multiple ‘laws of conduct’ (ethic), or is it a fundamental and constant encounter with the open world as a different way of perception? Such a different perception is an 'affective awareness'. Previous and current understanding of perception is limited to essentialistic categories of limitation. 'Affective awareness' is by nature open and unlimited, inductive and not limited to 'sense perception'.
So a paradigm is a view of reality that is a 'Gestalt' resulting from the three branches of philosophy; metaphysics, epistemology and ethics (see Encyclopædia Britannica: Branches of Philosophy):
(1) a metaphysical assumption of what could be known (refer to the pre-Socratics Parmenides and Heraclitus). It forms the basis for:
(2) a conception of epistemological knowledge acquisition. This is the essentialistic line of thinking essentialism from Plato, Aristotle and Popper vs. the ontological line of thinking (ontology) opened up by the 'uncertainty principle' of Heisenberg's quantum theories to Heidegger's 'Fundamental Ontology'. This in turn is the basis for the:
(3) praxis in an ethic for living.
It is obvious that the three branches of philosophy describe the structure of a paradigm. None of the branches of Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics can be left out for understanding paradigms. Together they describe a 'Gestalt', akin to a spiral (not a mere circular) movement, forming Hermeneutical understanding.
The result is that Hermeneutics can not be reduced to an interpretation of something in context of the text itself in a mere 'hermeneutic circle'; it is a developmental cycle that involves:
(a) "Wahrnehmung" as an 'affective awareness', which is more than mere sense perception. The method toward an affective awareness is through 'ontological understanding'. It forms the principles behind a paradigm, conceived as either the Heraclitean 'flux' (Heraclitus) or the Parmenidean 'one' (Parmenides). This principle is perceived as the relation of the limited to the unlimited. Meta-ethical 'principles', like the golden ethical rule of “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you”, are formed here.
(b) "Verstehen" as the analysis of 'being' to reach understanding of the 'self'. Here the building of, or coming to, a theory of knowledge is achieved, determined by the assumptions in my metaphysical 'belief' of the nature of reality in (a). These assumptions necessarily tend to a predominantly inductive or mainly deductive theory of knowledge acquisition, which is reflected in my epistemology. Messo-ethical 'norms', like the sanctity of human life and freedom, are formulated at this level.
(c) "Ethos" is the attempt to form the world we live in, by growing an 'attitude' or participation in a mutually structured reality. All those who choose to participate in this reality, do it by 'taking responsibility for personal actions' in a social environment. More concrete micro-ethical 'codes of conduct', like monogamy and what we consider to be 'true and correct behaviour', is systematised into our 'dogma' at this level.
(d) "Praxis" is doing the 'right' thing. It is the behaviour resulting from systematising (a), (b) and (c) into a Gestalt, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. This behavioural level is again the basis for "Wahrnemung", repeating the cycle on a new level. Most important is to understand that this cycle does not now start from the previous position of departure. There is a 'new awareness' of the praxis due to the previous stages in the cycle. The next cycle of "Wahrnemung" is elevated from the previous level of affective awareness to a deeper understanding. This is the basis for a new understanding of development. Development is far more than a 'mechanistic' process, by definition mechanistic processes all function and are 'essentially' closed systems. Development is by definition dependent on an inductive element. Another important point is that there is no start or end point in the cycle, every stage is on an elevated level from its previous position. Contrasted to that, a circle has a start and an end, which has actually no development; it is only a reaffirmation of what was before in a stagnant fundamentalism.
Thus, a Paradigm can only be understood in the context of a Hermeneutical cycle within the Structure of the Paradigms. It supersedes mere interpretation or just bringing understanding. It implies that Paradigms are developmental by nature, moving in a hermeneutical cycle instead of a process of recurring mechanistic circles. Describing a paradigm as an era, epic, model, weltanschauung, or any other term is hardly more than merely renaming the concept of a paradigm to some other known concept, risking to be a tautological swapping of terms.
Secondary source: '"Paradigm Development in Systematic Theology"', Dissertation at the University of South Africa (UNISA) by Lando L Lehmann, Nov 2004. Description: - Direct Download when Description does not work: PDF (1.01 MiB)
 Other uses
Handa, M.L. (1986) introduced the idea of "social paradigm" in the context of social sciences. He identified the basic components of a social paradigm. Like Kuhn, Handa addressed the issue of changing paradigm; the process popularly known as "paradigm shift". In this respect, he focused on social circumstances that precipitate such a shift and the effects of the shift on the social institutions, including the institution of education. This broad shift in the social arena, in turn, changes the way the individual perceives reality.
Another use of the word paradigm is in the sense of Weltanschauung (German for world view). For example, in social science, the term is used to describe the set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality and responds to that perception. Social scientists have adopted the Kuhnian phrase "paradigm shift" to denote a change in how a given society goes about organizing and understanding reality. A “dominant paradigm” refers to the values, or system of thought, in a society that are most standard and widely held at a given time. Dominant paradigms are shaped both by the community’s cultural background and by the context of the historical moment. The following are conditions that facilitate a system of thought to become an accepted dominant paradigm:
- Professional organizations that give legitimacy to the paradigm
- Dynamic leaders who introduce and purport the paradigm
- Journals and editors who write about the system of thought. They both disseminate the information essential to the paradigm and give the paradigm legitimacy
- Government agencies who give credence to the paradigm
- Educators who propagate the paradigm’s ideas by teaching it to students
- Conferences conducted that are devoted to discussing ideas central to the paradigm
- Media coverage
- Lay groups, or groups based around the concerns of lay persons, that embrace the beliefs central to the paradigm
- Sources of funding to further research on the paradigm
The word paradigm is also still used to indicate a pattern or model or an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype. The term is frequently used in this sense in the design professions. Design Paradigms or archetypes, comprise functional precedents for design solutions. The best known references on design paradigms are Design Paradigms: A Sourcebook for Creative Visualization, by Wake, and Design Paradigms by Petroski.
This term is also used in cybernetics. Here it means (in a very wide sense) a (conceptual) protoprogramme for reducing the chaotic mass to some form of order. Note the similarities to the concept of entropy in chemistry and physics. A paradigm there would be a sort of prohibition to proceed with any action that would increase the total entropy of the system. In order to create a paradigm, a closed system which would accept any changes is required. Thus a paradigm can be only applied to a system that is not in its final stage.