Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

Though we are not to repeat the definitions provided in class, I find it necessary to at least provide a definition to present a basis for my ability to articulate my understandings of both ontology and methodology. Ontology, as described in class, is an individual’s idea of the world and the knowledge that world can generate. [1] I understand ontology as the first step of self-realization in research.  Some under the influence of neopositivism believe the world is governed by universal rules, that if researched can be shown and applied to other situations. [2] Interpretivists believe that the social world is unlike the natural world and therefore can not be studied in the same way. [3] Once you understand your world-view you better understand your approach to research. Ontology is a great way to unbox what you think in a way you previously have not done so clearly. Methodology, though a different subject, continues the debate between the two views presented above. I understand methodology to be inherently derived from one’s ontological view for it is the logic of deciding what specific methods to use in order to collect data and analyze that data correctly in regard to one’s specific research.

In regard to the ability to be an objective observer, the answer is not so black and white. Sure, any individual has inherent biases due to the environment they were raised. Yet to claim that this hinders their ability to be objective in the research of the social world is too generalizing. I recognize that – in the context of research – an individual may form questions and conduct research with a bias they might not even know they have. Though, I wonder if this distorts the research entirely that it is not useful. So yes, I recognize that we all have inherent biases, yet I wonder how far the claim of lack of objectivity goes in regard to the validity of research of the social world.

Research and the ability to make valid knowledge claims stretches far beyond the physically tangible, or what is commonly perceived as “science.” For example, racism can not always be seen. Sure, we think about the Klu Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, but racism as an integral part of the American society is not inherently tangible. Nevertheless there are a vast amount of research and valid knowledge claims made about racism. To be specific, a study by Bertrand and Mullainathan found that black sounding names are 50% less likely to get a call back on a job interview than a white sounding name. [4] This proves racism’s intangibility but undeniable devastating effects.


  1. Aaron Boesenecker, “Philosophy of Science,” Video, 15:47, Posted by Aarron Boesenecker.
  2. Andrew Abbott. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 43.
  3.  Ibid.
  4. Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan. “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?,” American Economic Review v94(4,Sep), 991-1013.


  1. Abbott, Andrew. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.
  2. Bertrand, Marianne and Sendhil Mullainathan. “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?,” American Economic Review v94(4,Sep), 991-1013.
  3. Boesenecker, Aaron. “Philosophy of Science.” Video, 15:47. Posted by Aarron Boesenecker.

3 thoughts to “Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers”

  1. Hey Ben, I feel like your post raises some very interesting questions! The part that stood out to me the most was when you said “I recognize that we all have inherent biases, yet I wonder how far the claim of lack of objectivity goes in regard to the validity of research of the social world”. You then go on to cite a neo-positivist example of social science research studying racism which you consider valid. My initial thought for a split-second was to appreciate the validity of the quantitative results but still felt that not all knowledge/data could be represented in that form. I then caught myself and remembered that neo-positivist research can be qualitative as much as it can be quantitive. I think its interesting to see how an ontology permitting the “measurement” of the social world is not as limiting as it seems. At the same time, I wonder what you think about the purposes of both neo-positivist and interpretivist research. Do you think that interpretivist simply exaggerate the lack of objective truth? Or do you think that the two perspectives aren’t comparable in terms of what is the “correct” or “incorrect” way to go about doing research because they simply have different purposes and objectives in mind? I’m interested to hear what you think!

    1. Hi Muhammed, thanks for the comment! The two questions you pose have definitely made me think. In regard to the first, yet using your second, I don’t think interpretivist research exaggerates lack of objective truth because they find have a different way of finding that truth. Al I meant to say was that the social world can be looked at objectively; yes your bias may play a role, but I wonder how much of a role. Does it completely invalidate your research or is it just an aspect of it? But to answer your question directly I don’t think interpretivists exaggerate in all circumstances, yet in the instance of objectivity based off of bias they may want to revisit the research on a case by case basis or they themselves might be too generalizing (as they critique neopositivists to be). In regards to comparison, I understand that their fundamental differences make it hard to compare, yet I do believe that different parts of each type of research may create good knowledge where the other falls short.

  2. Ben — overall you have a very good post here giving us an overview of how you understand (and connect to) core concepts in the philosophy of science as well as where you stand with some of your knowledge commitments. I appreciate the nuance that you drew in your second paragraph as you discuss the ideas of objectivity and bias. All to often the discussion of these concepts is very cut/dry (either we can be unbiased or we’re all biased, etc.). The way that you’ve started to conceptualize these ideas is more productive for understanding what is at stake with our research and how we related to the social world. I would push a bit farther and ask what you think of (or how you would respond to) the main wager made by neopositivists: namely that the researcher may well be “biased” in some sense (indeed, not even the most die-hard of neopositivists would claim the ability to be completely objective!), but the very role of systematic, transparent, replicable procedures (methodology!) is to mitigate or eliminate such biases?

    The questions that Mohammad raised in his post are also very important to consider, and I like that fact that you have engaged with some additional thought and discussion. It will be important to keep thinking about these questions and the implications that they have for your own research (something you could have said a bit more about in your post) as you continue your work. Keep thinking about these questions as you reflect on your own philosophical wagers!

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