Ontology, Epistemology, and Multiple Methods
Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Forthcoming
43 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 20 Jun 2011
Date Written: 2009
Epistemologies and research methods do not exist in metaphysical vacuum. This is to say that they are both, supported by (or presumed by), and support (or presume) fundamental ontologies. A discussion of the epistemological foundations of "multi-method" research in the social sciences - in as much as such research claims to unearth "causal" relations - therefore cannot avoid the ontological presuppositions or implications of such a discussion. "Multi-method" research is therefore also "multi-ontological". But though there isn't necessarily a perfect correspondence between ontology, epistemology, and methodology, they do constrain each other. As such it is possible to make methodological choices that are at odds with one's (implicit) ontology or argue from an ontology that is inconsistent one's choice of methods. Yet lack of recognition of this fact has hampered methodological discussions in political science, especially with respect to the discussion on the merits of multi-method research. The ontology implicitly accepted in such discussions is "reductionist" and "regularist", i.e. one which respectively defines causes in terms of non-causal relations and states of affair and affirms that such non-causal relations are regularities in nature. This paper will argue that any attempt to fit "multi-method" research (where "multi-method" signifies some combination of inferential statistics and case studies) within this narrow ontology is destined to fail since such a metaphysics logically cannot accord case studies a necessary or sufficient role in the in the establishment of causal relations. In other words, in the context of "multi-method" research the role of case studies is rendered superfluous under this ontology, with the result that the use of multiple methods cannot be logically - rather epistemologically - justified. However there are metaphysical positions within the ambit of an empiricist philosophy of science that can accommodate multiple methods without contradiction. The paper will discuss two such ontologies and suggest ways in which they might allow the establishment of a coherent epistemological foundation for multi-method research, however, within a decidedly empiricist philosophy of science.
Keywords: Ontology, Epistemology, Philosophy, Methods, Causality, Social Sciences
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