Philosophy of Scientific Knowledge

What are the goals of science? Is science the only reliable method for finding out about the world? If not, how else do we come to know truth?

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As a collective institution and discipline, science has the challenging and broad objective of producing explanations for phenomena in the natural world. It seeks to create knowledge and understanding, regardless of application. Often science has been used to resolve issues and overcome challenges facing human society. Ponterotto (2005) defines science as a “systematic quest for knowledge” (p. 127). However, the philosophy of science is focused on a comprehensive investigation to understand underlying concepts and paradigms which are assumed to provide organization and framework to the social world.

The paradigms of science include reliance on quantitative and qualitative methods of research. There is a significant debate on the reliability and strengths of each of these individual research paradigms. Quantitative methods are based on recordable data and control of empirical variables, focusing on measurement and analysis. Meanwhile, qualitative methods are any empirical processes that describe and interpret experiences and observations based on the context of the experiment (Ponterotto, 2005). This leads to the differences between “hard” and “soft” science. “Hard” science relies on definitive and verifiable knowledge, most often based on quantitative methods. However, “soft” is based on input and qualitative aspects that seeks to provide applied and useful value. Therefore, quantitative natural sciences often have more validity increasingly over qualitative social sciences, where results are difficult to reproduce (Grajales & Gonzalez, 2008).

Acquiring knowledge and truth in science is based upon set standards of the scientific method and underlying assumptions of the scientific approach. These include recognition of regularity and order in the natural world, the human capability of knowing, natural causes for phenomena, and reliance on perceptions through senses (Grajales & Gonzalez, 2008). However, there are other ways of knowing which may be inherently true. These ways simply lack the rigor and high standards that apply to scientific research. There is no hypothesis or experimental process that is documented and verified. Other ways of knowing can include artistic or professional skills, philosophical and ethical knowledge that guides decision-making. Truths based on life experiences or intuition collected over the years can serve as a powerful tool of knowledge. These aspects of knowledge creation cannot be classified under the annals of science due to lack of reliability and verification. However, with the increasing capabilities of science and technology (i.e., biotechnology), there are infinite possibilities to classify the usually abstract ways of searching for knowledge.

As an educator, the concept of soft, qualitative knowledge is familiar to me as part of the social sciences. Although the conflicting and opposing nature of the research perspectives exists, there is an increasing belief that both can provide significant input to the value and validity of science. Scholarly research often includes both quantitative and qualitative knowledge for any subject matter. Furthermore, disciplines such as education, begin to utilize interpretations of science in a manner that combines hard and soft knowledge for the betterment of practice. For the most part, a bilateral approach to research methodology creates more scientific value. My personal view of science, both natural and social, are necessary for the development of human society, our technological capabilities, and improvement of lives. However, science should be approached with significant consideration in order to create standards of ethics and quality for research methodology. Knowledge should be inherently correlated with the truth and when manipulated for personal or financial gain, can cause tremendous damage to reliability and reputation of science.

How does the AERA definition of research agree and/or conflict with these goals?

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The AERA discusses educational research as a concept based on empirical traditions of social sciences. It includes scholarship utilizing qualitative and quantitative methods, reviews and critiques of others’ research, traditions, and practices, as well as scholarship based in humanities. The AERA is guided by principles that research should be warranted (adequate evidence provided) and transparent (an explicit statement of logic and activities during research) (AERA, 2006). The concepts of transparency, openness, and reproducibility have always been critical to science as a discipline. These aspects affect the credibility and the values of science, enhancing verification and trust rather incentives for innovation common in the modern world of scientific research (Nosek et al., 2015).

The research and reporting standards of the AERA are divided into eight categories. These include problem formulation, design and logic, sources of evidence, measurement and classification, analysis and interpretation, generalization, ethics in reporting, and format specifications (AERA, 2006). The framework is meant to create expectations and guidelines for competent empirical research in the education field. It places the responsibility upon the researcher to adhere to the standards, ranging from methodological traditions to forms of presentation. As a result, this move adds significant reliability, verifiability, and acceptance to education research as a science. There is an inherent method to the development and substance of the research which leads to empirical data supported by concrete evidence. The published research in the discipline attains a new level of significance and quality. The AERA standards strongly correlate to the goals of science in general. They seek to optimize the research process to avoid any discrepancies or fallacies. Furthermore, the primary purpose is to identify important forms of scholarship in social research and guide them towards an empirical perspective.

This leads to the discussion of what is good education research. The AERA undeniably adds standard and methodology to it, one of the most commonly criticized components of any social research. However, as Hostetler (2005) states, quality research is as much a question of ethics as it is of procedures. A significant aspect of any scientific research is the conclusions derived in the end. Therefore, as educators, the aim of research should consider the ethical question of people’s well-being. A competent approach to research aims to develop a connection between the methodological and ethical conceptions and justifications. Therefore, a cooperative approach should be considered for moral education within the context of education (Hostetler, 2005).

I believe that education is moving in the correct direction as a discipline. The evidently powerful impact of education on students serves as a motivation to improve the quality of methods. There are numerous issues and challenges that must be addressed within the education sector. This requires cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including parents, policymakers, and school boards. Any changes and implementations will face scrutiny for their validity. The presence of standards significantly increases the possibility of improvement. It is important to consider that as a social science, knowledge of education is created through observation and experience. Therefore, there should be an increased focus on supporting the morality and ethical standpoint of education research. Any methodologies which transfer from research into actual practice are undoubtedly going to impact other human beings. It is of the utmost importance to consider the well-being of other humans as part of the justification for research.


AERA. (2006). Standards for reporting on empirical social science research in AERA publications. Educational Researcher, 35(6), 33-40.

Grajales, T. E., & Gonzalez, S. (2008). Theory of development towards a new concept of research. Journal of Research on Christian Education, 17, 153-172.

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Hostetler, K. (2005). What is “good” education research? Educational Researcher, 34, 16-21.

Nosek, B. A., Alter, G., Banks, G. C., Borsboom, D., Bowman, S. D., Breckler, S. J.,… Yarkoni, T. (2015). Promoting an open research culture. Science, 348(6242), 1422-1425. Web.

Ponterotto, J. G. (2005). Qualitative research in counseling psychology: A primer on research paradigms and philosophy of science. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 126-136.

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