In academia, conducting research requires an understanding, or at least an attempt in understanding the terms and implications of ontology and epistemology (Vanson, 2014). Ontology is a philosophical branch of study that deals with abstract entities and in particular with the theory of nature, being, existence (Mariam-Webster, 2017). Sometimes people disagree on how to conduct research. The differences might not be about principles or ideologies, yet about epistemological assumptions. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the study (or theory) of knowledge. It examines the nature of knowledge, the rationality of belief, and justification (Stanford, 2005). It aims to question us about not only how knowledge can be acquired but to what extent something can be known. Concerned with the nature of truth and if or how the truth can be known for sure and understood by individuals (McCauley, 2015), one of the fundamental questions in epistemology is how knowledge differs from opinion or belief? This is key to a successful research as one needs to understand and differentiate findings with assumptions.
At the beginning of any academic research students and practitioners are encouraged to study such theories to reflect on the personal philosophical position in research (Vanson, 2014). To elaborate on this subject, two main ideas are revolving around the theory of knowledge that must be considered, rationalism and empiricism (Patel, 2015). Both philosophical movements arose nearly simultaneously during the Age of Reason and Age of Enlightenment (Mastin, 2008) of the 17th and 18th centuries. Since there are many notable differences between the two philosophical ideas, one can conclude that they are opposites; in rationalism, knowledge is learnt based on intellect and deductive reason, as opposed to sensory experience or any religious teachings (Mastin, 2008). Nevertheless, for a successful major project, thesis, or academic research, inductive and deductive methods are more beneficial by contrast to reflecting on rationalistic or empirical outcomes (Lopes, 2015). Following the footsteps of researchers and philosophers such as French Rationalist, René Descartes, German Idealists, Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (Mastin, 2008) it is favourable to “also seek for the identification of principles towards the best understanding of the natural and social phenomena” (Lopes, 2015).
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Mastin, L. (2008) British Empiricism. [Online]. 2008. The Basics of Philosophy. Available from: http://www.philosophybasics.com/movements_british_empiricism.html [Accessed: 28 June 2017].
Mastin, L. (2008) Rationalism. [Online]. 2008. The Basics of Philosophy. Available from: http://www.philosophybasics.com/movements_rationalism.html [Accessed: 28 May 2017].
McCauley, A. (2015) What is Epistemology? [Online]. 26 January 2015. YouTube. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oXlh_ArEGU [Accessed: 28 May 2017].
Merriam-Webster (2017) Ontology. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. [Online]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ontology [Accessed: 28 May 2017].
Patel, S. (2015) The research paradigm – methodology, epistemology and ontology – explained in simple language. [Online]. 15 July 2015. Available from: http://salmapatel.co.uk/academia/the-research-paradigm-methodology-epistemology-and-ontology-explained-in-simple-language [Accessed: 28 May 2017].
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2008) Epistemology. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [Online]. Available from: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/ [Accessed: 28 May 2017].
Vanson, S. (2014) What on earth are Ontology and Epistemology? [Online]. 22 August 2014. The Performance Solution. Available from: https://theperformancesolution.com/earth-ontology-epistemology/ [Accessed: 28 May 2017].