All 2 entries tagged Epistemology

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August 04, 2015

Research Paradigm or Worldview

Follow-up to What is axiology and how does it relate to ontology and epistemology? from CES PHD Support Group

Special guest

As you may know, our last meeting (on the 25th June) we had a special guest; Dr Michael Hammod who graciously agreed to join us for a discussion about research in general and the topic of research paradigm in specific.

This is a quick account of the key themes that were raised during that discussion:

The terminology

By now, I think you know that:

Epistemology means the study of knowledge and it comes from the Greek ἐπιστήμη, epistēmē, meaning "knowledge, understanding", and λόγος, logos, meaning, "study of").

Ontology means the study of reality, existence and being. From the Greek ὄν, on (gen. ὄντος, ontos), i.e. "being; that which is", which is the present participle of the verb εἰμί, eimi, i.e. "to be, I am", and -λογία, -logia, i.e. "science, study, theory"

Methodology means the study of methods applied in a field of study. From the French méthodologie. Surface etymology is method + -ology

A matter of disconnect or consistency

Sometimes, there is a disconnect between the way people write about these concepts and what they actually do. Which means that introducing these terms (specifically epistemology and ontology) causes confusion as much as it helps. This is especially true when the researcher spends a lot of time worrying about his/her epistemological and ontological frameworks.

Having said that, this is not a problem per se. But it could snowball and cause a set back in. so for now I will call it a complication.

Dr Hammond advises that researchers can counter this complication by trying to be consistent and not worry too much about the labels. Coming up with the label is a hard job to do especially that there is no consensus on what the terms actually mean. Take Case study for example, a classic example of a term that stands for many meanings.

But how does being consistent actually come to be in reality? Well if you self identify as an Interpretivist your questions would focus a lot about people’s perceptions and feelings. You can’t really be an Interpretivist and then question your data for an answer in the form of an ultimate truth.

Do not overthink it

cuttyCrotty talks about not bothering talking about ontology! He advises researchers to talk about epistemology. The reasoning for this is that there’s not much to add to your ontology that you can’t say under your epistemology. (see Michael J Crotty: The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process Paperback – 26 Aug 1998)

So for example: your hierarchical paradigm might look something like this

Ontology: Objectivism

Epistemology: Positivism

Methodology: Experimental methods

This is all very fine and dandy if you believe in objective facts. But when it comes to Interpretivism it gets more complicated. Say for example that your epistemology is Social Constructivism. First of all you have to beware that Social Constructivism means a lot of things to different people. It stands as a sociological theory and a theory of knowledge with major contributors including the likes of Vygotsky, Foucault, Wittgenstein and Habermas. Secondly figuring out the ontology that goes with that is a complicated dilemma.

A great tip

Dr. Hammond advises us to think about how the research questions reflect overarching ideas about the world. This is specifically correct for the research questions. Then try to be consistent with the question you ask and with your view of the world.

Practically speaking, theses are rarely if not never are torn apart over ontology and epistemology, so no need to over worry about it.

Is it Paradigm or Worldview

Finally, so far I have used the term “paradigm” and “research paradigm” to refer to what is essentially a worldview. It might as well be called the Worldview or Stance. This might be especially appropriate in social sciences. So, if you prefer to say my Research Stance or Worldview is this and that instead of Research Paradigm that’s fine. Personally, I will continue using the term “Paradigm” just to be consistent.

June 03, 2015

What is axiology and how does it relate to ontology and epistemology?

Follow-up to Researcher’s paradigm from CES PHD Support Group

axioAccording to Encyclopaedia Britannica

Axiology, (from Greek axios, “worthy”; logos, “science”), also called Theory Of Value, the philosophical study of goodness, orvalue, in the widest sense of these terms. Its significance lies (1) in the considerable expansion that it has given to the meaningof the term value and (2) in the unification that it has provided for the study of a variety of questions—economic, moral, aesthetic, and even logical—that had often been considered in relative isolation.

But how does axiology sit within other elements of the research paradigm? namely ontology and epistemology

In order for us to be able to understand the different meanings of each of these lovely terms, we need a historical prospective.

I was able to find references to four major eras of human understanding of reality and knowledge generation. We will call these eras of realism.

  1. Plato & Aristotle (Sanzio)The first era of realism is called the idealism period. This era existed at the time of Socrates. According to idealism, reality or ontology is spiritual, epistemology is about rethinking tried and true ideas, and axiology is about the absolute and the eternal. Socrates believed that man is a temporal being.
  2. The second era of realism was popularized by Aristotle. Here reality is both objective and measurable and not spiritual, epistemology is through the use of senses, while axiology is based on nature’s laws and thus could be acquired. The Aristotelian teachings of realism are referred to as essentialism.
  3. The third era was the first of two radical ages; pragmatism. Pragmatists were very strict about what they accepted and they rejected. Any factors of ontology, epistemology and axiology that were to be included in their work (or even considered) have to be found useful; otherwise, they were instantaneously dropped. A philosophy stemming from the pragmatism stance was Progressivism. Progressivism was proposed by our much beloved hero John Dewey. Dewey instructed public schools to teach only what is of interested to students. Everything that is not regarded as useful was thrown away.
  4. Finally, the fourth era and the second radical age is Existentialism, which was born after WW2. According to Existentialism, reality is subjective (very daring indeed!), epistemology is only a personal pursuit or quest loaded with choice and axiology was the expression of freedom.

So in short, ontology, epistemology and axiology used to mean different things in different times of history according to how people generally perceived the world and regarded knowledge as being created. Not very helpful? Here's somthing

Dr. Marcia Hills and Dr. Jennifer Mullett (from the University of Victoria, Canada) wrote a very useful account defining Paradigm, Ontology, Epistemology And Axiology. Here is what they had to say about these concepts and how they relate to research (these were directly copied from their article):

Defininitions of Paradigm, Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology and Methodology in research context

Participatory Paradigm

A paradigm is "a set of basic beliefs (or metaphysics) that deals with ultimates or first principles. It represents a worldview that defines, for its holder, the nature of the world, the individual’s place in it, and the range of possible relationships to that world and its parts, as , for example, cosmologies and theologies do" (Guba & Lincoln, 1994, p. 105). Guba & Lincoln made a significant contribution in articulating four differing worldviews of research - positivist, post positivist, critical, and constructivist- based on their ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions. Heron and Reason (1997) argue for a fifth worldview – a participatory paradigm. Community-based research is situated within this paradigm and also embraces the ideology and methodology of co-operative inquiry created by Heron & Reason (1988; 1994; 1996; 1997).

A participatory paradigm rests on the belief that reality is an interplay between the given cosmos, a primordial reality, and the mind. The mind "creatively participates with [the cosmos] and can only know it in terms of its constructs, whether affective, imaginal, conceptual or practical" (Heron, p.10) "Mind and the given cosmos are engaged in a creative dance, so that what emerges as reality is the fruit of an interaction of the given cosmos and the way the mind engages with it" (Heron & Reason, 1997 p. 279). As Skolimowski (1992) states; "we always partake of what we describe so our reality is a product of the dance between our individual and collective mind and "what is there", the amorphous primordial givenness of the universe. This participative worldview is at the heart of the inquiry methodologies that emphasize participation as a core strategy", (p.20).

Subjective–Objective Ontology

Ontology refers to the form and nature of reality and what can be known about it (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). In contrast to orthodox research that utilizes quantitative methods in its claim to be value free (but which is more accurately described as valuing objectivity), and many qualitative approaches that value subjectivity, community based research endorses a subjective-objective stance.

An subjective-objective ontology means that there is "underneath our literate abstraction, a deeply participatory relation to things and to the earth, a felt reciprocity" (Abram, 1996, p. 124). As Heron and Reason (1997) explain, this encounter is transactional and interactive. "To touch, see, or hear something or someone does not tell us either about our self all on its own or about a being out there all on its own. It tells us about a being in a state of interrelation and co-presence with us. Our subjectivity feels the participation of what is there and is illuminated by it", (p.279). So community-based research is interested in investigating people’s understandings and meanings as they experience them in the world.


Epistemology refers to the nature of the relationship between the knower and the what can be known. Guba & Lincoln (1994) claim that orthodox science, because of its belief in a "real" world that can be known, requires the knower to adopt a posture of objective detachment in order "to discover how things really are" (p.108). There is a presumption that the knower and the known are separate and independent entities that do not influence one another. There is a search for the "truth"; for the facts in objective and quantifiable terms which holds empirical data in the highest esteem.

In contrast, community-based research rests on an extended epistemology that endorses the primacy of practical knowing. In community-based research, the knower participates in the known and that evidence is generated in at least four interdependent ways – experiential, presentational, propositional, and practical (Heron & Reason, 1997; Heron, 1996).


In addition to considering the three defining characteristics of a research paradigm suggested by Guba and Lincoln –ontology, epistemology and methodology, - Heron and Reason argue that an inquiry paradigm also must consider a fourth factor –axiology.

Axiology deals with the nature of value and captures the value question of what is intrinsically worthwhile? The fourth defining characteristics of a research paradigm, axiology, puts in issue "values of being, about what human states are to be valued simply because of what they are" (Heron & Reason, 1997, p. 287). The participatory paradigm addresses this axiological question in terms of human flourishing. Human flourishing is viewed as a "process of social participation in which there is a mutually enabling balance, within and between people, of autonomy, co-operation and hierarchy. It is conceived as interdependent with the flourishing of the planet ecosystem" (Heron, 1996, p. 11). Human flourishing is valued as intrinsically worthwhile and participatory decision-making and is seen as a means to an end "which enables people to be involved in the making of decisions, in every social context, which affect their flourishing in any way" Heron, 1996, p. 11).


One methodology that is particularly well suited to community-based research is co-operative inquiry (Heron, 1996; Reason, 1994). Co-operative inquiry is a participatory action methodology that does research with people not on to or about them. This methodology engages people in a transformative process of change by cycling through several iterations of action and reflection. Co-operative inquiry consists of a series of logical steps including; identifying the issues/questions to be researched, developing an explicit model/framework for practice, putting the model into practice and recording what happens and, reflecting on the experience and making sense out of the whole venture (Reason, 1988). Therefore, evidence about what constitutes "best practice" is generated by people examining their practices in practice and reflecting on these practices.

You have read alot, here's a funny comic


  • Abram, D. (1996), The spell of the sensations. New York: Pantheon
  • Arif, M. (2007). Baldrige theory into practice: a generic model. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(2), 114–125.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Guba E., & Lincoln, Y., (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y (Eds.) Handbook on qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage. 105-118.
  • Hills, M and Mullett, J., (2000). Community-Based Research: Creating Evidence-Based Practice for Health and Social Change. in Proceedings of the Qualitative Evidence-based Practice Conference, Coventry University - May 15-17 2000, Coventry, UK.
  • Heron, J. (1996) Co-operative inquiry. London: Sage.
  • Heron, J. & Reason, P. (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry. 3 (3) 274-294.
  • Reason, P. (Ed). (1988) Human Inquiry in Action. London: Sage.
  • Reason, P. (Ed). (1994). Participation in Human Inquiry. London: Sage
  • Skolimowski, H. (1992). Living philosophy: Eco-philosophy as a tree of life. London: Arkana

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