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[graj-oo-uh-liz-uh m] /ˈgrædʒ u əˌlɪz əm/
the principle or policy of achieving some goal by gradual steps rather than by drastic change.
Philosophy. a theory maintaining that two seemingly conflicting notions are not radically opposed, but are related by others partaking in varying degrees of the character of both.
Biology. a tenet in evolutionary theory maintaining that species evolve slowly and continuously over long periods of geological time.
1825-35, Americanism; gradual + -ism
Related forms
gradualist, noun, adjective
gradualistic, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for gradualism
  • gradualism in all matters was the obvious prescription.
  • The evolutionists, hamstrung by gradualism, will never explain the origin of consciousness or of language.
  • Phyletic gradualism seems implausible in light of the genetic evidence.
  • If the crisis drags on and claims more victims, gradualism could yet become more expensive than a more ambitious approach.
  • If the telecoms industry is anything to go by, this gradualism will fail.
  • In truth the prevailing mood is one of gradualism, not radicalism.
  • gradualism, rather than campaign objectives, was the first divisive point between the military and its civilian leadership.
British Dictionary definitions for gradualism


the policy of seeking to change something or achieve a goal gradually rather than quickly or violently, esp in politics
the theory that explains major changes in rock strata, fossils, etc in terms of gradual evolutionary processes rather than sudden violent catastrophes Compare catastrophism
Derived Forms
gradualist, noun, adjective
gradualistic, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for gradualism

1832, in abolitionist literature, as a disparaging term (opposed to immediatism), from gradual + -ism. Related: Gradualist.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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gradualism in Science
The theory that new species evolve from existing species through gradual, often imperceptible changes rather than through abrupt, major changes. The small changes are believed to result in perceptible changes over long periods of time. Compare punctuated equilibrium.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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gradualism in Culture

gradualism definition

The belief that changes in the Earth, such as the development of species, have taken place slowly, without sudden and violent transitions. (Compare punctuated equilibrium and catastrophism.)

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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