How do ontology, epistemology and methodologies fit together? What is post-modernism and fuzzy logic? Class notes

Today in class we talked about the concepts of ontology, epistemology, and methodology and how they interact within paradigms. So effectively the class was following up on what we researched since last lesson clarifying it .

We also tried to define what post-modernism is (which is certainly hard to do), as well as what fuzzy logic is.


It asks the question: What exists?  What is real? Ontology basically looks at our beliefs of what exists.

This relates to what we said last week. The majority of people will believe something is real but others won’t and they will say what we see is in our imagination e.g. Most of us believe the roof of old St John is red, but some people might not agree that the roof it red.

We all exist on a continuum regarding our ontological position. There are two extremes realism and nominalism with the middle ground being constructivism.


More detail about the ontological positions:

Realism – Objective reality: If someone was 100% realist then they would think a $20 bill is just a bit of green plasticised paper. Something is real, it exists but they don’t consider the value that society has placed on it.

The more scientific your background the m0re likely you are to have a realist ontological position. The realism ontological position generally concentrates on testing and proving/disproving theories.

Also it is important to note it is way more convenient to be a realist as it is a more socially accepted view.

Nominalism – Subjective reality: This ontological position believes nothing exists unless we as an individual imagine it.  If we were 100% nominalist we would believe that the only things that exist are things that we as individuals constructed.

The more artsy you are the more likely you are to be in the nominalism end of the ontological continuum.

Constructivism – This is the middle ground between the extremes of realism and nominalism. Constructivism believes things that we believe as existing are just constructs of human society. For example the government which is just a societal construct for a group of people that govern us, or money which is an object or concept that has been given a value by society.

This is seeing socially constructed reality. e.g. what we see around us has been constructed by us socially as a group. This group could be huge, human race, or small, a family who believes something exists.

Money is a good example of a socially constructed reality, because society has decided it has a value.

If we are dealing with something that is socially constructed then we as a society can change something. e.g. can devalue our currency. The government sets the socially constructed reality. Here we are trying to discover things, and build theories.

I was thinking that another example of how society can change societal reality is through free speech and the freedom to protest this is how the societal reality of slavery was stopped in 19th century Britain for example.

In research we need to realize that we move along the ontological position continuum


It asks how do we know?

In other words epistemology is the theory of knowledge. In terms of research it is how do we know things.

Again as with ontology epistemic positions exist along a continuum but our epistemic position is related to our ontological position.

Epistemological positions

Positivism: This is the belief that things exist (so it links in with the realist ontological position) and it believes there are methods we can use to prove things exist. The methodology we use with realism and positivism are a quantitative approach using numbers, measurement, observation. i.e. the use of statistics.

Interpretivism: This epistemic position links in with the constructivism ontological position and it believes that to understand social constructs you have to to interpret what people are saying, and doing. The problem with this is that your own bias is coming into play.

The methodology to perform research in the world of constructivism and interpretivism is  qualitative (the data you are collecting is primarily words, e.g. survey (surveys ask the same question in multiple ways to check if you are answering correctly and have understood the question), observations (observing peoples use of technology to observe if they are having issues that may not have been elicited by using a survey), focus groups, analyze literature, case studies). All the time we’re doing this we try to bring in the objectivism.

Antipositivism: This epistemic position links in with the nominalism ontological position (which again believes things can only exist subjectively for example if you have a pain in your knee it can’t be measured but you hope the person your saying you have a pain in your knee to has had a similar experience and so can relate and empathize). It is the opposite of positivism.

The methodology to perform research in the world of nominalism and antipositivism is  through creativity:  e.g. art, books, poems, fine art, pictures, music.   It is trying to share subjective things.

Research paradigms

A paradigm is a way of thinking about the world, based on ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions.

We combine the relevant ontological and epistemic positions (I mentioned which ontological and epistemic positions were linked together above)

There are three main research paradigms:

Scientific paradigm –  Also can be called modernism. It is a paradigm that says things do have a reality, and it is possible to prove it. This is a very Western perspective, which has been spread across the world through Western technology. It is based on the realist ontological position and positivist epistemic position.

Social scientific paradigm  – This is systematic research, because you follow a plan of research which is not necessarily repeatable because it is dealing with people. However the bigger the sample size then the more likely the results are to be repeatable, because statistically speaking a larger sample size produces a more repeatable mean results. It is based on the constructivist ontological position and interpretist epistemic position.

 Creative paradigm – This is the creative or emotive research, trying to prove a subjective reality. We won’t be concentrating much on this research paradigm in this class. It is based on the nominalist ontological position and antipositivism epistemic position.

The problem when trying to apply one of these research paradigms to IT research such as when we are building an IT artifact (e.g. OS, application, programming language) is it doesn’t really fit under any particular research paradigm, because it requires both qualitative and quantitative research. So a new research paradigm was conceived:

Design science research paradigm – It is a way of looking at and evaluating something that has been built. It identifies the problem ->  design a solution -> build a solution ->  evaluates the solution.

e.g. problem – How to teach database to beginners

Solution New solution to teach db to students

Build solution : Build teaching resources

Evaluate it – Evaluate the teaching answers

This paradigm is used in IT, engineering and education.

This research paradigm uses a combination of quantitative, qualitative research methodologies

Post-modernism: What is it?

As soon as you try to define something you are not being post modernist any more. Post-modernism comes back to quantum physics, the revelation light can be wave and particle at the same time.

To anyone coming from the realist ontological position to say something can be two things when you look at it, cuts away at their ontological position and its associated quantitative methodology.

Post modernism is the questioning of the certainty of modernism and the acceptance everyone can be right, because the world does not exist in binary.

It started in late 19th century, which was when the scientific paradigm (modernism) was at its peak.

It questions and challenges the norm, such as challenging the gender binary of male and female. Another way to challenge modernism (scientific paradigm) is through constructivism (social scientific paradigm) as it acknowledges what are accepted truths are based on society believes.

Fuzzy logic

It allows computers to think of shades of grey, not black and white. It will have a huge affect in A.I. as we want A.I. to think along perspectives (along a continuum) which is how humans think. Only then will we have something truly intelligent.

Fuzzy logic allows computers to make the decisions like humans based on non-quantitative data. It allows computers to make decisions based on words. It took a long time to be accepted in the West as a lot of computer science believed in binaries (modernism) but now it is being used in Western technological breakthroughs.

Fuzzy set – Knowledge in real world

Fuzzy rules – Fuzzy logic rules

An example of fuzzy rule application is how driver-less cars know how to continuously brake, applying different amount of break to apply at a specific time.

Why is all this theory useful for RES701?

What you want to design/build will require a different research paradigm. i.e. if you are going to build a new system then you’ll want to use the design science research. So you’ll probably won’t do a lot of the context (analyzing literature) you’ll do more designing the solution, building it, and testing it.

When analyzing a source you should identify the ontological position the author was in, then check if the epistemology and methodology match the ontological position. If they don’t match then it is unlikely to be a credible source.

i.e. You have to identify what it is they want to know, and then what did they do to find that out and if they don’t match and so it is unlikely to be credible.

Unless the writer of the academic literature states the limitations of their research and what their biases are.

For or research it is a good idea to state what our bias was as this makes it easy for the reader as they don’t have to try to elicit your bias from your writings.

Take away message of the class was: There are different research paradigms we should use based on what we want to know, so basically its similar to SYD701 where we are learning that some systems development methodologies are better suited to the development of some systems than others.


One thought on “How do ontology, epistemology and methodologies fit together? What is post-modernism and fuzzy logic? Class notes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s