Essay:The Perry Theory is a pile of bunk

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Having been introduced to the "Perry Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development," or the Perry Theory, I commenced to write an article on the subject. However, I now find that this Wiki already has one, so I have created this as an essay instead.

Herein I argue that the Perry Theory is a pile of bunk, as the intellectual development of scientists does not follow the trajectory it lays out, while the intellectual development of bullshit artists does.

Along these lines, as an example of transformation I have a student, as he follows the model path, transitioning from a member of the reality-based community to a cdesign proponentsist.[1]


The Perry Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development is a model proposed to describe the changes through which college students are taken. More specifically, it posits that said students progress from being straight talkers to being expert bullshit artists.

The model was first made by William G. Perry in 1970, primarily based on research with male students. About a decade later, Mary Belenky rectified this gender imbalance by chipping in with some data from female students, producing the combined model described here.

It is presently used by some professors to determine how best to teach students in various stages of their college education.

The stages[edit]

The model posits four stages, or views of learning, taken by college students at various points in their careers. It lists certain "challenges" with the first three that apparently serve as an impetus for the student to move on to the next one.

Dualism, or Received Knowledge[edit]

The lowest stage of intellectual development. Knowledge is seen as "facts, information, and right answers;" instructors are seen as fact-feeders.

Example: A student exhibits being in this stage by saying such things as, "Creationism is a pile of bunk."

The challenges of this stage include an inability to complete "assignments that require independent thought."

Unfortunately, all those dumb scientists still persist in preferring facts, right answers, and received knowledge[2] to blather and run-arounds. Having to deal with reality on a daily basis obviously keeps them from the higher stages of intellectual development, and from having any independent thoughts at all.

Multiplicity, or Subjective Knowledge[edit]

In this next stage up from dualism, students learn that theories are not actually "right" or "wrong;" instead, they either "make sense" or do not "make sense." Who determines what opinions do or do not "make sense"? "Academics," of course. So this is an important first step: stop worrying about what's true or not and just do what the professor approves of.

Example: "People have a lot of different opinions about creationism, and they could work them out if they just listened to each other."

The challenges of this stage include an inability to grasp the "idea that some opinions are better than others." If you will remember, this idea was easily grasped when the student was in the "Received Knowledge" phase.

Relativism, or Procedural Knowledge[edit]

Another rung upward, students, retreating even further from reality, start to believe that "knowledge is not facts or right answers, nor is it anyone's opinion." This is supposed to have something to do with looking at the question from various angles, realizing that everything is more complex than it seems, introducing a need for "systematic analysis" and gathering evidence.

Unfortunately, the student has now jettisoned all ability to gather evidence, since facts are not admissible as "knowledge." Therefore, they pluck their so-called "evidence" out of the air and "analyze" it using a system of analysis that was probably made in much the same manner; with none of those pesky fact things getting in the way, they can really have a bullshit romp!

Example: Because the nature of humanity's origin story can have a number of implications both scientific and cultural, a range of paleontological, historical, and political factors need to be considered before the question can be fully understood.

There is one challenge in this phase: "Taking a position or choosing among alternatives." In other words, they cannot actually say anything. Evidence of this is present in the form of the Postmodernism Generator, which works in the manner of our quote generators to produce plausible "postmodern" essays randomly; see also the Sokal affair, in which a scientist submitted a nonsensical, but politically correct, paper to a journal and had it published.

Commitment in Relativism, or Constructed Knowledge[edit]

In this final phase, students learn, all over again, how to take a position on something. But they do it neatly within the framework of bullshit above described, which makes it possible to attempt to slip said positions past watchdogs.

Although students are still certain in the knowledge that knowledge is "uncertain," they now "have the courage to make commitments" — in other words, take all positions on faith for lack of any suitably conclusive evidence, and (as the name of the phase makes clear) make up a lot of "knowledge" that has been plucked out of the air, in lieu of gaining and reporting on factual knowledge.

Example: Expelled:Leader's Guide

There are no challenges or contradictions in this stage, of course, because it is completely perfect, the pinnacle of intellectual development.


  1. These examples were adapted, using only word substitutions, from a set made by a proponent of the theory.
  2. Or, as Newton put it, "standing on the shoulders of giants."

External links[edit]