AskDefine | Define nomothetic

Dictionary Definition

nomothetic adj : relating to or involving the search for abstract universal principles [ant: idiographic]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings




  1. (Rare): Legislative; enacting laws; as, a nomothetical power.

Extensive Definition

Nomothetic literally means "proposition of the law" (Greek derivation) and is used in both philosophy (see also Nomothetic and idiographic) and in psychology and in law with differing meanings. In psychology, nomothetic measures are contrasted to ipsative or idiothetic measures, where nomothetic measures are measures that can be taken directly by an outside observer, such as weight or how many times a particular behavior occurs, and ipsative measures are self-reports such as a rank-ordered list of preferences.
In theories of personality, the following could be categorized as nomothetic theories: Carl Jung's Psychological Types, Eysenck's three factor model, the Big Five personality traits, and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.
In sociology, nomothetic explanation presents a generalized understanding of a given case, and is contrasted with idiographic explanation, which presents a full description of a given case.
In anthropology, nomothetic refers to the use of generalization rather than specific properties in the context of a group as an entity.
In law nomothetic propositions are those which are in fact law strictu sensu. That is, a nomo thesis (legal position) is an invariable "fact of life" and is invariable and cannot be other than it is. Legal science is generally not considered nomothetical in late modernity though some scholars in antiquity and in the middle ages seemed to believe that law, or at least some laws, were nomothetic (see natural law).
In general humanities usage, "nomothetic" may be used in the sense of 'able to lay down the law,' 'having the capacity to posit lasting sense' , e.g., 'the nomothetic capability of the early mythmakers' or 'the nomothetic skill of Adam, given the power to name things.'
The Nomothetic Fallacy
One important use of the word "Nomothetic" is in the term "Nomothetic Fallacy" which is the belief that naming a problem effectively solves it. For example, in applied psychology a patient may learn that his or her sad mood is termed, "depression" and is considered a mental disorder. Naming the problem can bring such relief (relief of personal responsibility or hope of treatability) that the client feels their depression is cured. This relief may improve the patient's mood temporarily, but it is unlikely to fix the social, situational or internal factors that originally led to the depression. The problem has been named and the client feels that awareness of the problem solves or ought to solve it, but in reality the problem remains, unsolved.
nomothetic in German: Nomothetik
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