Welcome to another post from RES701 and its continuing quest to destroy our minds.

Today we will be looking at some questions posed to us.  The questions come from a blog post on the RES300 blog, that post is titled ‘Difficult Questions’ and it’s not joking…. So lets get stuck in…

What is ontology? How is it relevant to research?

As always, lets begin with the Dictionary Definition:

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.

Well, that doesn’t help me at all….  Luckily though, I managed to find a wonderful website called Philosophy Now, they have a great article ‘Ontology for Beginners’, here.

Basically Ontology looks at the nature of existence, what exists and what only appears to exist, and everything in-between.

Lets start by breaking it down into two main ‘ISM’s’ – REALISM and IDEALISM

REALISM – a view that everything exists even when no-one is looking at it. You know the old one about the tree in the forest falling and still making a noise even if no-one is there.  Seems like common sense doesn’t it, of course the tree makes a noise (and maybe squashes some squirrels), but not everyone see its that way, oh no, say hello to the IDEALISTS.

IDEALISM – in philosophy an idealist is someone who thinks that the whole world has been created by the mind, be that our own mind (this view is easy to comprehend), or the mind of some god (this view is NOT easy to comprehend).  To an idealist everything that exists is actually just imagined in some crazy dream, which seems wholly plausible to someone like myself who has crazy dreams all the time.

SOLIPSISM – This is the branch of idealism that argues the whole world doesn’t exist at all and is just a figment of YOUR imagination.   I mean think about it, what have you got to prove that the world is real anyway? Dreams feel pretty real when we’re inside them, so what if this is all a dream and we’re just a brain in a jar like Steve Martin in 1983 classic movie.  Even if someone is standing telling us that we’re a brain in a jar, well, we’re not going to believe them are we?

This get a little hard to figure, I mean I exist, I know that because I am inside my own head, so obviously you, reading this don’t exist, but you know what, I think you’ll probably disagree.  However, the real question here is is: Who put me in this jar and who is tending to it, and why?

RELATIVISM – So this one makes more sense to me, Relativism argues that the world is real it just looks and behaves differently when you look at it from different angles. Presumably everyone is looking at it from different angles and so they are all going to see something slightly different. I like this. What I like even more is an extension of this thinking, Postmodernism.

POSTMODERNISM – Argues that there is one world and everyone see it differently depending on their own perceptive organs. Now I like this a lot, I think it makes sense. Example, my dog definitely sees the world differently to me.  She wanders around on the same daily walk as me and I’m sure she is living in a slightly different dimension sometimes. She has a completely different sensory perception to me, I just wish she cared what a moving car is.

Anyway, how is all this relevant to research.  Well, I guess depending on your views on Ontology (and you WILL have views on Ontology whether you know what it is or not  – I guess the default view is Realism), your view of the world will be affected somewhat and any research will be subject to bias in some way, human nature.


What is espistemology? How is it relevant to research?

I like this description:

Epistemology is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief. It analyzes the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims. It is essentially about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.

Espistemology defines how we think, we use it to determine true from false using a proper method of evaluation, there are various elements at our disposal, the balance of each differ from individual to individual.

So, What are the key elements of a proper Epistemology?

  • Our senses are valid, and the only way to gain information about the world.
  • Reason is our method of gaining knowledge, and acquiring understanding. Logic is our method of maintaining consistency within our set of knowledge.
  • Objectivity is our means of associating knowledge with reality to determine its validity.
  • Concepts are abstracts of specific details of reality, or of other abstractions.

Every individual will have their own balance of these elements and depending on this balance one could say they have either a good or bad Espistemology.  A persons Espistemology could be said to represent their ability to seperate truth from false and so represents their personal ‘take’ on reality.


What is the connection between ontology and epistemology in a research context?

When we talk about Ontology we are talking about WHAT IS TRUE

When we talk about Espistemology we are talking about ways of distinguishing WHAT IS TRUE.

When we research something, we are looking for THE FACTS.  But we have already said above that an idealist thinks there is no such thing as a shared reality and everything only exists in some crazy dream, so how can there be any ‘FACTs’??

Surely someone with a good Espistemology balance, will be able to come to a solid conclusion on what they see are the facts of the universe.  Whether they have come to the correct conclusions is anyone’s guess though…  BIAS