Summary of Emiratus Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda Talk

Philosophy and Social Research: An Introduction

The literal meaning of the word philosophy is ‘Love of Wisdom.’

In premodern philosophy, there was an emphasis on wisdom, whereas in modern
philosophy of science, the emphasis is in knowledge. Knowledge either as an end- in – itself,
or as instrumentalist knowledge.

Among early philosophers, methods to gain or create knowledge included:

  • Deep contemplation
  • Critique and refutation of existing knowledge claims
  • Individual or group instruction
  • Observation of the world
  • Debate and discussion

Knowledge creation in the modern world is not a monopoly of philosophers. There are
natural scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars engaged in the production of
knowledge.In the modern world, that is the world after roughly 17 th century, knowledge creation is a
highly professionalized and institutionalized vocation. Universities play a central role in
knowledge production in the modern world.“Institutionalized research’ has become the only legitimized path to create knowledge.That is why universities are expected to provide systematic training in research for emerging
That is also why universities are committed to provide knowledge and training in research
methodology to future researchers, knowledge creators.

What is research?

Research is an exercise in creation/ production of knowledge?In the classical world, knowledge creation has been the vocation of ‘philosophers’ and
‘thinkers’, and not ‘researchers.’That has been the case till the mid 19 th century, when modern universities began to
dominate the function of knowledge creation.Here, we must not confuse ‘methods’ with ‘methodology’. Un-entangling this confusion is
very important as a first step in approaching research as a knowledge creation.‘Methodology’ means ‘Science of Methods.’ Or ‘philosophical foundations, assumptions
and justifications of methods’, and (ii) logical reasoning chosen for the creation of
knowledge’ about the natural, social or human world.Thus, methodology answers two questions: (i) on what epistemological grounds have you
chosen a specific set of methods, or a combination thereof, in your research? (Empiricist?
Positivist? Post-positivist? Constructivist? Interpretationist? Realist? Feminist, Post-
modernist?(ii) What method of reasoning, or logic, have you opted in your approach to data, theory,
and interpretation? (Inductive, deductive or abductive?)Then, what is ‘Method’ in research? Methods are specific steps followed and techniques
employed to (I) gather data and evidence, and (ii) interpret them.All research methods employed in contemporary natural sciences, social sciences and
humanities have evolved in the debates among philosophers on issues of epistemology.These debates began during the early 17 th century with the invention of what has come to
be knows as ‘scientific method.’The earliest text that inaugurated discussions among philosophers on ‘method’ and ‘logic ‘
of scientific knowledge production was Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum (1620).Bacon critiqued and rejected the Aristotlean epistemology, its rationalist method “Logical
reasoning is the main source of knowledge and testing the validity of knowledge claims) and
deductive logic and replaced it with empiricism and inductive reasoning.Philosophical foundations of Bacon’s ‘scientific method’ was further developed by Rene
Descartes, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill.This was the begining of what came to be known as Empiricist Methodology in natural and
social sciences.The key assumption of empiricist methodology is: sensory perception or observation is the
only valid source of knowledge and method of verifying knowledge claims.The empiricist or ‘scientific method’ came to be adopted in the study of society during the
mid and late 19 th century. A French philosopher, August Comte, was the pioneer in this
exercise and he called the application of empiricism in sociology as ‘Positivism.’Empiricism and positivism are still the dominant methodological approaches in the natural
and human sciences, although they have been subjected to challenge and criticism.In the humanities, there are post-empiricist and post-positivist epistemologies and
methodologies. Constructivism and interpretivism are the two main post-empiricist/post-
positivist epistemologies in the humanities.All the research methods in natural, social and human sciences have philosophical roots.

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