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Process theory is a commonly used form of scientific research study in which events or occurrences are said to be the result of certain input states leading to a certain outcome (output) state, following a set process.

Process theory holds that if an outcome is to be duplicated, so too must the process which originally created it, and that there are certain constant necessary conditions for the outcome to be reached. When the phrase is used in connection with human motivation, process theory attempts to explain the mechanism by which human needs changes. Some of the theories that fall in this category are expectancy theory, equity theory, and goal setting.

In management research, process theory provides an explanation for 'how' something happens and a variance theory explains 'why'.

Some theorists claim that all natural processes have complex phases in which the output state of the process is not determined by the input states of the processes. The condition is defined by Robert Rosen as being "complex".[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Historical FallacyEdit

Central to process theory is the rigorous avoidance of the "historical fallacy", also known as the "psychological fallacy". It has been defined as: “A set of considerations which hold good only because a completed process is read into the content of the process which conditions this completed result." [1] In other words, the fallacy is committed when it is read into a process that which comes about only as a result of that process.

Surgence in philosophyEdit

Western science emerged out of philosophy. It is notable that ancient and Enlightenment era Western philosophy completely overlooked the power of process in producing effects. For instance, Plato imagined "forms" and the atomists imagined "atoms" (in their original Greek sense) as fully explaining reality in its "current state." The problem with such accounts of "current state" reality is that we are left with our theoretical entities to account for.

In the 19th century, science began to part with this old "entity-centric" view in favor of processes. One of the earliest is Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. It was followed by the Big Bang theory and plate tectonics. In these theories, complex "current states" can be explained in terms of processes that occurred over time — generally evolving from simpler more primordial states. One of the advantages of process theories is that they avoid endless regress of explanations, as complex states arise from simpler states.

Only very recently has this thinking begun to enter philosophy. (See Alfred North Whitehead.) Rather than accounting for experience through hypothetical entities and forces (such as matter and energy) philosophers are beginning to postulate an evolution of experience itself — resulting in fewer "working parts" and surprising degrees of explanatory power. What was taken to be the result of matter and energy (the effect as presented in human experience) is then simply reassigned as a piece in a perceptual process. This is still a new and radical view and is not as of yet the general consensus, but it does appear to be persisting as an alternative worldview.

See alsoEdit


  1. (John Dewey in The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology, 1896)
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