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the aggregate of the techniques or procedures used in the solution of specific problems for the practical or theoretical mastery of aspects of the real world. A set of procedures for operating specific equipment; the techniques of scientific research and presentation of material; the techniques of artistic selection, generalization, and evaluation of material from the standpoint of a given aesthetic ideal—all these may serve as methods. The philosophical method is used to construct and substantiate a system of philosophical knowledge. The method employed in Marxist-Leninist philosophy is the materialist dialectic.
Method has its roots in practical activity. From the very beginning, man’s practical actions have had to conform to the properties and laws of reality and to the objective logic of those things with which man has come in contact. By becoming objects of conscious reflection, these forms of activity became sources for the methods of thinking, and the development and differentiation of the latter (especially in relation to scientific development) ultimately led to the study of methods, methodology.
The scientific method comprises chiefly scientific theories that have been tested in practice: any such theory essentially functions as a method in the construction of other theories in the same or even in other fields of knowledge or as a method that determines the nature and sequence of experimental activity. Therefore, the difference between method and theory actually is of a functional character: as a theoretical result of prior research, method acts as a starting point and condition for subsequent research.
Although the problem of method was discussed by the classical philosophers, who first pointed out the interdependence of the result and the method of cognition, the systematic development of cognitive methods and their study began only in modern times, with the rise of experimental science. It was experimentation that required strict methods yielding unambiguous results. Since that time the development and improvement of methods have been the most important aspect of all scientific progress.
The modern system of scientific methods is as diverse as science itself. The number of different classifications of methods attests to this fact. We speak, for example, of experimental methods, of methods of processing empirical data, of methods of constructing and verifying scientific theories, of methods of presenting scientific results (the division of methods, which is based on the division of the stages of research). Under a different classification methods are divided into the philosophical, the general scientific, and the specialized scientific. Another classification is based on the difference between the methods for the qualitative and quantitative study of the real world. Of great importance to contemporary science is the classing of methods as a function of the forms of causality—that is, into completely deterministic and probabilistic methods. The growing interrelation of the sciences has led to ever wider use of the results, models, and methods of some sciences in other, relatively less developed sciences (for example, the application of physical and chemical methods in biology and medicine); this gives rise to the problem of methods of interdisciplinary research. The increasingly high level of abstraction in modern science has posed the important problem of interpretation of the results of research, especially of research conducted with extensive use of formalized means. For this reason methods of interpreting scientific data are being specially elaborated.
Such a diversity of scientific methods and the creative nature of scientific thought make it extremely difficult, if at all possible, to construct a unified theory of scientific methods in the strict sense of the word—a theory that would give a complete and systematic description of all existing and possible methods. Therefore, the true object of methodological analysis is not the formulation of such a theory but the investigation of the general structure and typology of existing methods, the ascertaining of their main lines of development, and the study of the interrelation of various methods in scientific investigation.
One aspect of the last problem is the role of philosophical methods in scientific cognition. As scientific development has shown, these methods, which are not always explicitly taken into account by the researcher, are of decisive significance in determining the outcome of the investigation, since they determine the general direction of the investigation and the principles of the approach to the object under study, and are the starting point for a world-view [weltanschauliche] assessment of the results obtained. As the history of cognition, especially modern cognition, has shown, only the dialectic and materialism are adequate philosophical methods.
In its methodological role materialism tears away the veil of the supernatural from complex phenomena in nature, society, and the human consciousness. Materialism orients science toward the discovery of natural, objective relations and forces the scientist to remain grounded in reliably established facts. The dialectic is the scientific method of materialist philosophy and of all science as a whole, since the dialectic comprises the most general laws of cognition. The dialectic as a method is the real logic of substantive creative thought, which reflects the objective dialectic of reality itself. Consciously set at the foundation of theoretical thinking, the materialist dialectic frees science of one-sidedness and arbitrariness in the selection and explanation of facts. When the dialectic is used, all problems become historical in character, and the study of development becomes the key principle of modern science. Finally, the dialectic is oriented toward the discovery of and methods of resolving contradictions in perception as well as in reality itself.
Philosophical methods usually “work” in science not directly but through the mediation of other, more concrete methods. For example, the principle of historicism as a universal method elaborated by philosophy is reflected in biology by the theory of evolution—the methodological foundation of contemporary biological disciplines; in astronomy, the same principle gave rise to a set of cosmogonic hypotheses. In social cognition, historical materialism fulfills the function of a method for all the social sciences. Methods of a general scientific character—comparison, analysis, and synthesis; idealization; generalization; the progression from the abstract to the concrete; induction and deduction —are also specific for each individual science.
An important feature of the present stage of scientific development is the substantial growth in the role of constructive aspects in scientific knowledge. The nature of the problems of modern science is such that more and more often modern science does not simply reflect various aspects of reality but projects reality in conformity with specific goals. This necessitates an extensive elaboration of methods of cognition, especially formal methods, and, in particular, mathematical methods. Accordingly, the special study of the logical structure of formal methods is also further elaborated. The fast-growing popularity of the simulation method, which in general is a clear example of the truly heuristic role of the cognitive method, is one expression of the increased constructiveness of knowledge.
A. G. SPIRKIN
Different classes may define methods with the same name (i.e. methods may be polymorphic). The term "method" is used both for a named operation, e.g. "PRINT" and also for the code which a specific class provides to perform tha t operation.
Most methods operate on objects that are instances of a certain class. Some object-oriented languages call these "object methods" to distinguish then from "class methods".
In Smalltalk, a method is defined by giving its name, documentation, temporary local variables and a sequence of expressions separated by "."s.