What is ontology and how is it relevant to research?
Ontology is a field of philosophy, specifically the branch known as metaphysics, which deals with what one may consider to be the most pressing question in regards to our existence: What is it to ‘be’? What things actually ‘exist’ in this world and what things are actually figments of our or of a wider groups construction or imagination? Specifically, when considered within the bounds of the research field, we use the philosophical field of ontology to consider whether reality as we know it is a solid, definite experience that can be measured – a Positivists position – or if our understanding of reality is something that changes and morphs over time, instead of staying in a singular static setting – A constructivists position. Who is to say that one persons interpretation of the facts before them is more or less equal to the reality in which they exist? Ontology specifically relates to the interpretation of social constructs such as the The consideration of the ontology of a research investigation can be of considerable importance depending upon the matter which is being considered.
What is epistemology and how is it relevant to research?
Whilst ontology poses the wider question of if reality can be considered to be a static, non-changing constant or one that is modified through the perception of the individual or by the collective understanding of human society within it, epistemology hones in further in regards to identifying where our basis for accepting facts and knowledge as a whole to be true. Within the scientific field, one branch of epistemology reigns supreme – The emperical. Emperical epistemology states that the basis for any knowledge must lie in cold, hard ‘facts’ – That is, there must be a wealth of emperical, normally of quantatative nature, facts that can be used to prove the hypothesis put forward. Whilst emperical epistemology is by far the most used and, arguably, the most tangible and useable in research endeavours, the potential value of other forms of epistemology must be considered.
Intuitive knowledge, for example, is knowledge that is gleaned from the emotions and background of the individual experiencing the situation rather than concrete data supporting them. Intuition, faith and personal-beliefs can be thought to come from this position. Following on from beliefs is that of authoritarian knowledge, which is where the individual takes their understanding of knowledge from authorative sources, such as books, academic papers, holy books, supreme powers and so on. This can be of use to a researcher in the perspective of secondary research but should always be considered against personal emperical knowledge to avoid bias. Finally, logical knowledge stands as another example of an epistemology that is found heavily within the philosophical disciplines. This involves the usage of logical reasoning to create new knowledge out of this new found understanding. Often fundemental in the very development of fields, this type of epistomology can serve as the basis for further emperical research.
What is the connection between ontology and epistemology in a research context?
It can be thought that epistemology is a further development of the ideas put forward by the individuals understanding of ontology – To be able to understand where knowledge comes from, one must know what reality its self is first so that they may make the conclusion in regards to how they may find understanding of it. For example, should a research investigation be conducted in the field of electrical engineering, it would be expected that the research proposal will be working from the position that reality is but one reality that can be observed and recorded without fault, as electrical concepts and the field of mechanical physics on the whole can be shown to do. As such, it would then make logical sense that the epistemology for the investigation would be based around the study and collection of emperical data so that they may prove their hypothesis in a positivist fashion.
On the other hand, should an investigation in the field of educational psychology be undertaken, it will be considerably more likely that the researcher will factor in the fact that their primary sources of knowledge in regards to their research will come from other individuals who will all have different interpretations of the world around them that simply won’t come out as clean, emperical data. As such, the epsitemology for the research must be instead focused upon the collection of qualitative data and the processing of that information in a far broader sense than is possible with strictly emperical results.