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< Back to question What are the best research philosophies in academia? Show more Show less

The term research philosophy refers to a system of beliefs and assumptions about the development of knowledge. In layman’s terms, a research philosophy is the choice a researcher makes on how to pursue his research, consciously or subconsciously. Scholars have identified five of the most prominent research philosophies in academia, however, choosing one is a matter of debate.

Positivism Show more Show less

Positivism focuses on the observable reality and aims to produce law-like generalisations.
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Positivism supports objectivity

Positivist research methods use empirical evidence, such as data and statistics, which reveal objective truths. Numbers don't lie, they merely show what is there.
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The Argument

Positivism is a branch of philosophical research that only employs science and maths to prove its theories. It can, therefore, be argued that positivism is the best approach to academic research because it focuses on hard facts and empirical evidence, like data and statistics rather than subjective human observation, to reveal the true nature of society[1]. It is positivism’s staunch adherence to scientific methods of research which renders it superior, as it does not rely on the subjectivity of human observation for proof of existence. Positivists work under the assumption that if something exists then it must be able to be proved through data and statistics. If it cannot, then that thing must not exist[2]. The positivist reliance on hard sciences means that they are able to draw near-absolute conclusions which leaves little room for debate. This renders it a superior research methodology because it leaves little room for contradiction. Numbers have no bias and they don’t lie. The facts and figures they employ result in definite conclusions of true, false, or meaningless.[2]. Its adherence to practical evidence introduces objectivity to the study because it actively excludes evidence with it tainted by human emotion and bias – that is, subjectivity. Positivism gives no weight to human subjective observations which are not backed by data and statistics, arguing that proof can only come from objective observations. This quantitative methodology removes human judgment and bias from the research, ensuring that results represent what is really there rather than what the researcher thinks is there.

Counter arguments

Opponents of positivism would point out that not everything in the world, especially in the social world, can be systematically categorised. There are aspects of society that cannot be understood and explained with numbers and figures. Sometimes there is a need for qualitative evidence.[3] This is especially relevant in social science because humans are neither controllable nor predictable. It is almost impossible to create controlled human environments and to do so would get in the way of finding the truth. This is because controlling the environment alters human behaviour, especially when they are being observed. This is known as the Hawthorne effect.[4] Moreover, controlling environments for experiments on society is highly unethical.


[P1] Positivist research methods rely only on numbers and data for proof. [P2] Positivism excludes theoretical and metaphysical evidence based on human objectivity. [P3] Positivism assumes that if something exists it will be proved by objective mathematical or logical evidence. [P4] The absence of human bias and subjectivity results in concrete rather than theoretical conclusions.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] Humans are inherently unpredictable and uncontrollable.




This page was last edited on Wednesday, 24 Jun 2020 at 20:51 UTC


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