What are the best research philosophies in academia?

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.

Critical Realism

Supporters of critical realism claim that reality is much more than our senses allow us to see, preferring to focus on the bigger picture.

Critical realism advances historical knowledge

Critical realism accounts for a more complete and well-rounded account of history due to its focus on how individual perspective contributes to the whole story.

Critical realism strives for objectivity

Critical realism is a research philosophy which acknowledges the inherent bias in human observations of the world. This realisation that all humans are biased is used to create greater objectivity in research.


Interpretivism is a subjectivist philosophy that focuses on studying the people and the meanings they create.

Interpretivism is innovative

May create new, richer understandings and interpretations of social worlds and contexts

Interpretivism uses smaller data samples

Using fewer sources allows for a more targeted approach and a specific focus of interest. It also allows the researcher to look more closely at the details of the evidence and avoid other academic fields.

Interpretivism is subjective

Focuses on the people and interprets findings though their eyes.


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

Positivism uses large data samples

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.


Postmodernism is a subjectivist philosophy, that emphasizes the role of language and aims to give voice to alternative or deprecated views.

Postmodernism is innovative

Postmodernism challenges mainstream theories and the powers that write them to bring about new conclusions.


Pragmatism focuses on making scientific progress using a variety of methods.

Pragmatism is practical

Uses a variety of research methods according to the research question.

Analytic philosophy

Analytic philosophy is a methodological approach to philosophy based on argumentation and rigor.

Analytic philosophy can be incremental

Because the standards for rigor are more or less widely shared in a common paradigm, there is more of a sense of objective achievement. This implies that certain positions are seen as 'stable'.
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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 09:26 UTC