Generally speaking, a social theorist is a person who seeks to understand the social world by means of reason and rational thought. Some social thinkers attempt to understand the world from a philosophical standpoint driven by abstract thinking. Abstract thinking allows for creative and innovative thought processes. Other social thinkers attempt to explain the world from a rational standpoint. These scientifically driven theorists seek validity of their theories through empirical research and data analysis and interpretation. It should be understood that all forms of social inquiry are valuable in the pursuit of knowledge and in presenting credible explanations of the world in which we live. Classical social theorists (for example, Marx, Simmel, Weber, and Durkheim) were influenced by the ideas of earlier philosophers, such as Kant and Hegel. These early philosophers in turn were influenced by social thinkers that preceded them, such as the ancient Greek philosophers (like Aristotle and Plato). In other words, all social thinkers are influenced by those who came before them. Logic, if nothing else, dictates this reality. Current social thinkers are influenced by the works of those people to whom they were exposed. Students of social theory today are in turn influenced by contemporary social thinkers. We all benefit from the knowledge of others. For example, it is not necessary to reinvent the law of gravity, it has already been established. We move on from the knowledge that can be treated as "givens" in order to make new discoveries. The discoveries of today will be treated as "givens" in the future. This is all a part of the "chain of knowledge." As a result of this "chain of knowledge," contemporary social theorists extend, alter, modify, and/or reject the ideas of those who preceded them. In classical social theory, the focus is on individual theorists. There are many obvious reasons for this focus. Here are three reasons: First, social thinkers of the classical period were few in number. Second, rights to education had not been extended to the masses, leaving most of them illiterate and unable (or too busy) to read the ideas of others. The lack of educational opportunities also meant that there were very few people who had a chance to go to college where they could develop their own academic skills. Third, the lack of publication opportunities and a near non-existent mass media meant that few social thinkers would have an outlet for their ideas. As a result, the masses had no access to their works. By the twentieth century this was all changing. More and more people entered college. Publication opportunities increased. Social thinkers with diverse ideas found audiences. Today, there is an abundance of people who claim to be social thinkers. Consequently, it is impossible to review all the social thinkers that some would like included--especially in an already comprehensive contemporary social theory book such as this one. As a result of the great proliferation of social theorists and the lack of a number of quality "grand theorists" in the modern era, contemporary social theory is divided into "schools of thought." This is easily understood when one realizes that in the social sciences, and sociology in particular, the fields have become very broad, but areas of specialty among individuals have become very narrow. Because of the large number of thinkers in the contemporary era, theorists who share similar interests or perspectives are grouped together into "schools of thought." Consequently, contemporary sociological theory has become dominated by "schools of thought" rather than by single theorists. This is either good or bad depending on one's perspective. Nonetheless, it is the reality of current sociological social theory. Furthermore, there are those who place a great emphasis on paradigm distinctions. Paradigms represent collective schools of thought that can be lumped together. Ever sinTim Delaney is the author of 'Contemporary Social Theory: Investigation and Application', published 2004 under ISBN 9780131837560 and ISBN 0131837567.