Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

I see ontology and methodology as very connected terms. Ontology, to me, is the study of being, looking at what exists in the world, and what it means that something exists, or as Jonathan Grix would define it, “what is out there to know?”[1] It can be difficult to grasp this concept when just looking at a definition, but I find it easier to understand in application. For example, objectivists see the world as stable and unaffected by us, its actors.[2] On the other hand, constructivists believe we are a part of the world and indivisible from it. Complex ideas like war, poverty, peace, and more are real but only exist concurrently with us.[3] Methodology is how a researcher goes about researching an aspect of ontology. I think of methodology as a researcher’s ‘plan of attack’ on a given research topic. It lays out how the researcher will approach a topic and work to study it.


I believe, as a result of upbringing, experiences, and other influences, that humans inherently have certain biases, whether they be implicit or explicit. Because of this, I do not think that any researcher is truly an objective observer. Every piece of knowledge that a researcher gains from their work, I believe, is influenced by their biases, but that knowledge can also create new biases in that person. As for implications of these beliefs, I feel as though biases are less likely to influence research when looking at information through a neopositivist point a view because there is not a focus on situated knowledge, but more so on measurability.[4] With my current research topic, looking at the intersection of scientific evidence and religiosity, most of my work will be dealing with invisible structures and underlying beliefs. I will have to investigate deep-rooted distrust in science due to religious beliefs and how that influences environmental policy made in very religious countries. While measurability is not the easiest with these areas of study, I still feel a neopositivist approach will be the most effective in looking at what certain religions and governments have done to combat climate change. My topic is slightly challenging to confront as I have to look at things from a slightly more interpretivist point of view when looking at how exactly different religious leadership feels about environmental science and try to not let any underlying biases I may have on certain religious beliefs, and then from a more neopositivist point of view when studying the statistics and science of the overall effect these religions have had on repairing the environment.


[1] Jonathan Grix, “Introducing Students to the Generic Terminology of Social Research,” Politics 22, no. 3 (2002): 180.

[2] Aaron Boesenecker. The Philosophy of Science: Discovering Our Intellectual Commitments, PPT Presentation, SISU-206 Research, 2019.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Andrew Abbott. Methods of Discover: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004): 43.


5 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers”

  1. Hi, Carly! I really liked how you applied the terms ontology and methodology when explaining them. This helps me to better understand the concepts and how they relate to research in the real world.
    I also agree with you that because of past experiences all humans carry biases with them even throughout research. In my opinion, this makes every researcher unable to be an “objective observer”. Because of this, I think it is very important for research to be constantly reevaluating their methods and methodology to ensure that despite these biases, the research has validity. I think that validity is crucial to retain in any research circumstance because without it the research has no merit.
    My research is also looking at the role of religion in the international system, specially its role in conflict resolution. I agree that finding measurement for these invisible structures may be hard to measure, but I like that you are opening to using different perspectives throughout your research. I am very excited to see where your research takes you!

  2. I totally agree that ontology and methodology are easier to grasp through application, and I think the readings we have had so far have helped make these concepts less daunting. I liked how you describe the influence of bias in positivist work, which is something I’m personally still figuring out. In regard to looking at certain aspects of your topic through an interpretivist lens, while also looking at others through a positivist lens, I feel the same way about my own project. I am interested in learning more about how your project (as well as others in our class or in academia as a whole) straddle the line between positivism and interpretivism. One thing that has helped me is thinking about the importance of context in both areas of thought. I think (or at least I hope) that there could be a balance between measurability and context within one research project, it just depends on the assumptions you’re making about the social world beforehand. If you’re a positivist, you see the social world as a stable entity governed by natural laws or patterns, thus you can form hypotheses, test them, and produce generalized conclusions, but you can still consider the context when forming your hypotheses, choosing your variables, or analyzing your data. I’m wondering if it’s possible for context to take the form of not only prior scholarship you use to build your research, but also maybe even control variables–things important to look at, but not necessarily what your project is focusing on. Is it possible to view the social world and the researcher as inseparable while also giving the benefit of the doubt or authority/integrity to the researcher’s ability to observe it?

  3. Hi Carly – I absolutely love the idea of methodology being a “plan of attack”! I agree with the idea that even the introduction of new knowledge can often lead to the creation of new biases. However, I do wonder if it could be argued that the introduction of new knowledge can also feed into already pre-existing biases to therefore strengthen any preconceived notions the researcher may have? I ask this only because I feel like both are very plausible occurrences and both can have dangerous implications to research if left unchecked.

    With regards to your own research, I must admit that I don’t know very much about the topic (which, might I add, is super cool) but from what I can glean, I agree with your assessment of using a neopositivist approach. While the measurability factor is undeniable, I think it could definitely be an interesting comparative analysis with a variety of factors being examined to see how they relate to your topic. On a final note, I’m really excited to see where your research goes and learn more about the topic as well! Good luck!

  4. Hi Carly, your post has definitely made me think in a different way due to your assertion of neopositivist research forcing the inherently bias researcher to be less biased. Before reading that I didn’t think about objectivity in that way. You state that in regard to bias in neopositivist research, “there is not a focus on situated knowledge, but more so on measurability.” While I agree with you I also wonder if measurability can be bias in how we measure. This may sound far-fetched, but are there different things we may measure and assign value based on our bias. But furthering on that, even if there is inherent bias, that doesn’t take away from the information found. Nevertheless, your post made me think quite differently, so thanks for sharing!

  5. Carly — overall you’ve given us a very good discussion of your understanding of some of the core philosophy of science concepts as well as some good thoughts on where you fall with your own knowledge commitments. You’ve also received some *excellent* thought-provoking comments from others in the class, so be sure to consider the questions/comments that Savannah, Paroma, Caroline, and Ben have provided as you continue to reflect on your own philosophical wagers.

    In your post you note that, given your topic area, you feel that “…a neopositivist approach will be the most effective in looking at what certain religions and governments have done to combat climate change.” I would push back on this logic a bit. “Efficacy” isn’t really the right frame to use in thinking about your philosophical wagers and the tradeoffs or implications of taking a given approach. Any given topic can be investigated from most any philosophical position in an effective way. The bigger and broader question here concerns the kinds of knowledge claims that you think are valid and that you would aim to make. Are you inclined to uncover the big unwritten rules and regularities that govern the social world, or are you inclined to think that the social world is so fundamentally different from the natural world that such laws and regularities do not exist (and thus the aim should be to generate different types of knowledge)?

    The idea of “bias” also came up in your post and the comments here (as it has in others). Instead of “bias” I would suggest that “assumptions” is probably a more accurate term for what you are discussing. The idea of “bias” implies some sort of deliberate slant to the research process, whereas our ontological and epistemological assumptions are more subconscious and involuntary. Moreover, wouldn’t the very idea of following a deliberate methodology — a systematic set of transparent procedures that can be assessed on their internal validity (no matter what one’s ontological and epistemological commitments might be) be the best way to counter any biases that the researcher might carry?

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