Philosophy in research: initial thoughts

The following is a continuation of ideas on responding to a question proposed to us by our tutors: ‘What do you understand by philosophy in research?’.

I understand philosophy as a tool or way of thinking about phenomena that we experience: a process of analysis and discussion. There are many different standpoints and values that could form the basis of these philosophies: these processes could be influenced by cultural paradigms or personal beliefs and ideas which are changeable according to era/ geographical location/ demographic context. So research into phenomena is therefore subject to all these changing philosophical influences and paradigms: if one is to think about something, there are many different processes of thought to use.

I should say that when I subsequently say a result is ‘true’ I mean ‘correct according to the values that it has set out to be measured against’.

So, I am thinking that a study could be ‘internally’ true to the values it has set out to ‘test’ against but if the external context changes i.e. time passes, or the cultural landscape changes profoundly: the study could subsequently be externally held ‘false’ or as the papers say ‘true at the time of going to press’…

Alternately, there are examples of empirical research by forward-thinking individuals that have used as-yet unaccepted methodologies or philosophies (but are internally ‘true’), that have initially been seen to be externally ‘un-true’ or ‘false’: only to be accepted in years to come as cultural acceptance of ideas develops (Galileo being an obvious popular example).

My impression is that the ‘truth’ of any studied conclusions can be internally correct according to the methodologies set out by that study, but externally ‘false’ i.e. not accepted or held true when measured alongside the values its audience. You can therefore have a study that can be correctly deemed as true and false depending on the context in which you assess a study (by its own values or those culturally accepted values).

When I write ‘culturally accepted’ I mean that even if a phenomena is proven to be ‘scientifically true’ according to the values it is measure itself against – these values may not be accepted by the culture to which it is presented. To me, this highlights the collaborative nature of research – not just the collaboration between peers, but the collaboration with the ‘audience’.

The argument therefore comes full-circle back to the philosophical tool of rhetoric and the art of discourse i.e. the ability of a study not to just be able to say that the conclusions are ‘true’ internally but to put forward a convincing and persuasive argument in order to become culturally accepted.

So in setting out a hypothesis and methodology to test or explore an idea or theory, one aims to garner answers or conclusions that can be held true to the values of the hypothesis posed (not necessarily ‘correct’): and the philosophical context or standpoint of that hypothesis will determine (or limit) the conclusions that can be truthfully deemed within the study i.e. according to its own values. It would appear that this does not mean that the conclusions are necessarily externally ‘true’ as this would depend on the cultural context (chronological, geographical, demographical) and the ability of the proposer to convince an audience of the truth of the idea as applied in a wider context.

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One Response to Philosophy in research: initial thoughts

  1. Pingback: What Is Philosophy? – Minister Raines

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