Gradualism is the belief that changes occur, or ought to occur, slowly in the form of gradual steps (see also incrementalism)

Politics and society

In politics, the concept of gradualism is used to describe the belief that change ought to be modified in small, discrete increments rather than abrupt changes such as revolutions or uprisings. Gradualism is one of the defining features of political conservatism and reformism. Congressmen are pushed to agree to gradualism according to Machiavellian politics.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was opposed to the idea of Gradualism in the 1960s. The government wanted to slowly try to integrate African-Americans and Caucasians into the same society, but many African-Americans believed it was a way for the government to put off actually doing anything about racial segregation:

"This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy." Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" delivered August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

Geology and biology

In the natural sciences, gradualism is a theory which holds that profound change is the cumulative product of slow but continuous processes, often contrasted with catastrophism. The theory was proposed in 1795 by James Hutton, a Scottish geologist, and was later incorporated into Charles Lyell's theory of uniformitarianism. Tenets from both theories were applied to biology and formed the basis of early evolutionary theory.

Charles Darwin was influenced by Charles Lyell's "Principles of Geology", which explained both uniformitarian methodology and theory. Using methodological uniformitarianism, which states that one cannot make an appeal to any force or phenomenon which cannot presently be observed (see catastrophism), Darwin theorized that the evolutionary process must occur gradually, not in saltations, since saltations are not presently observed, and extreme deviations from the usual phenotypic variation would be more likely to be selected against.

Gradualism is often confused with the concept of phyletic gradualism, a term coined by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge to contrast with their concept of Punctuated equilibrium, which is gradualist itself (but accepts that saltation can occur, even though it is not a necessary mechanism nor the main point).

Linguistics and language change

In linguistics, language change is seen as gradual, the product of chain reactions and subject to cyclic drift. [Henri Wittmann (1983). "Les réactions en chaîne en morphologie diachronique." "Actes du Colloque de la Société internationale de linguistique fonctionnelle" 10.285-92. [] ] The view that creole languages are the product of catastrophism is heavily disputed.


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  • gradualism — GRADUALÍSM s. n. concepţie potrivit căreia evoluţia speciilor se desfăşoară filetic, lent, continuu, prin generarea neîntreruptă de forme de tranziţie, rezultând în final specii noi. (< engl. gradualism) Trimis de raduborza, 15.09.2007. Sursa …   Dicționar Român

  • gradualism — gradualism. См. градуализм. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

  • gradualism — 1832, in abolitionist literature, as a disparaging term (opposed to immediatism), from GRADUAL (Cf. gradual) + ISM (Cf. ism). Related: Gradualist …   Etymology dictionary

  • gradualism — ☆ gradualism [gra′jo͞o əliz΄əm, gra′joo wəliz΄əm, gra′jə wəliz΄əm; ] often [gra′jooliz΄əm, gra′jəliz΄əm ] n. the principle of seeking to achieve social or political changes or goals gradually gradualist n., adj. gradualistic adj …   English World dictionary

  • gradualism — noun Date: 1835 1. the policy of approaching a desired end by gradual stages 2. the evolution of new species by gradual accumulation of small genetic changes over long periods of time; also a theory or model of evolution emphasizing this compare… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • gradualism — evolution with slow and steady rates of change as opposed to punctuated equilibrium, q.v …   Dictionary of ichthyology

  • gradualism — gradualist, n., adj. gradualistic, adj. /graj ooh euh liz euhm/ n. 1. the principle or policy of achieving some goal by gradual steps rather than by drastic change. 2. Philos. a theory maintaining that two seemingly conflicting notions are not… …   Universalium

  • gradualism — noun In evolutionary biology, belief that evolution proceeds at a steady pace, without the sudden development of new species or biological features from one generation to the next …   Wiktionary

  • gradualism — belief that things proceed by degrees Philosophical Isms …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • gradualism — n. practice of gradually bringing about change …   English contemporary dictionary

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