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


In the past doubt has been cast of the effectiveness of short term therapies on the grounds that they could not be addressing the "real problems" of individuals that could only be resolved over long periods of time.

Politics and society

In politics, the concept of gradualism is used to describe the belief that public policy ought to be modified in small, discrete increments rather than abrubt 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 Machiavellan politics. Martin Luther King Jr. was opposed to the idea of Gradualism in the 1960's. The government wanted to slowly try to integrate Africans 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 28th, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

Evolution 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).

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