RPP #3: Philosophical Wagers

I personally understand ontology as being the principle behind the ontological argument of religious philosophy. Of course, this argument also can serve to confuse (as it is more an argument about the opposite of being as opposed to being), but whenever I hear the term ontology I think about this example of ontology in practice. I see ontology as the umbrella structure from under we develop much of our social theory studied today, designed to explain why we as individuals perceive situations in the way that we do. I understand methodology as making up the way that we approach any activity that requires a combination of factors in a study, particularly one that requires a specific order of the methods to complete. Methodology extends well out of only the realm of pure academia, but also to any applicable activities we may enjoy in our personal, social, or even political lives. Booth argues that two of the reasons we write are to understand (related to ontology), and to improve our research skillset (related to methodology) [1].

I believe that while objective observations are often interesting to read and draw generalizations from, complete objectivity is impossible. It seems to me that every year more and more articles are published displaying the failure of the objectivity of certain “universal standards,” whether they be GDP, IQ, Standardized Testing, etc. However, there are some measurements that I see as helpful in a positivist lens. Comparing social structures that allow us to understand the world better as level can be explained with positivism. In Chapter Two of the Methods of Discovery, Abbott writes that interpretivism argues that life is only the context in which it lies [2]. While I agree with this quote in principle, I feel that “life” can be extended to apply to larger structures or institutions under the lens of positivism. For example, while happiness is often seen as subjective at the individual level, I believe that using happiness as a standard of measurement and comparison between nation-states can be productive. This perspective will likely lead my research to models of analysis regarding social structures such as economic class or institutions and their relations to individuals.

In Interpretive Research Design, the authors write that an “…orientation toward contextuality before anything else is important to consider” [3]. However, there are other positions to analyze aside from individual context. Collections of individuals often form general ideas about their identity and how they interact with other groups. I believe that- while every individual may have their own heuristic and/or nuance that they add to their interpretation of reality- the way that the groups interact can be studied and potential conclusions can be drawn about causation (based in historical fact).

[1] Wayne Booth et al. The Craft of Research. (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2016). pp. 3-26.

[2] Andrew Abbott. Methods of Discovery. (W.W. Norton & Company: New York, NY, 2004). pp. 3-40.

[3] Peregrine Schwartz-Shea and , Dvora Yanow. Interpretive Research Design. (Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames, 2011). Chapter 3.



Author: Price

I am a student at the American University School of International Service pursuing a degree in International Affairs.

2 thoughts on “RPP #3: Philosophical Wagers”

  1. Hi Price! Great post. I agree with your conclusion about the ability to find general trends or understandings of how groups interact, despite individuals having nuanced perspectives. This is a tension I also find when I think about generalization vs contextualization. I think there are general rules and understandings one can find in research, but I don’t know if those general rules can always be applied on a very specific, individual level. I think this same tension is present in your discussion of objectivity. I would argue that the failures of the measures you mentioned (like GDP) is not that they themselves can’t be objective, but rather that certain considerations have been left out because those that developed them were biased. But these measures can be corrected by making them more encompassing, and therefore more objective. Objectivity is the goal that can and should be worked to as researchers add on to previous work.

  2. Price — you’ve given us a good discussion of your understanding of some of the main philosophy of science concepts as well as an idea of where you stand with regard to your own knowledge commitments. I like the way that you have brought out some nuance in the “objectivity vs. subjectivity” debate — a debate that is often oversimplified — in your second paragraph. Keep reflecting on these questions (and the comments/suggestions from Claire) as you continue to think about your own philosophical wagers.

    As you think about this question of objectivity, how would you respond to (or think about) 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?

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