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- the philosophical evaluation of investigative techniques within a discipline; a concern with the conceptual, theoretical and research aspects of knowledge.
- the techniques and strategies employed within a discipline to manipulate data and acquire knowledge. Used in this narrow sense, methodology simply refers to the RESEARCH METHODS used by an investigator and does not question the validity or appropriateness of undertaking research.
In sociology, a central aspect of methodology l has been a comparison between sociology and the natural sciences. Natural science is often associated with the EXPERIMENTAL METHOD whereby one variable (the INDEPENDENT VARIABLE) is manipulated in a carefully controlled way. If consistent results are obtained, the scientist may draw conclusions about the cause and effects involved, or conclude that a previously made HYPOTHESIS is confirmed or denied. Since the experimental method is usually inapplicable in the social sciences, sociologists, therefore, have developed new techniques to achieve a degree of VALIDITY which corresponds to that of the natural sciences. DURKHEIM, for example, advocated the use of the COMPARATIVE METHOD, although this entails attempting to control a large number of variables. Alternatively, they have sought to develop methods which do not seek to emulate the natural science goal of scientific laws, but are more appropriate to the nature of social reality.
the study of the structure, logical organization, methods, and means of activity. Methodology, in this broad definition, is a necessary part of any activity, insofar as the latter becomes the object of consciousness, learning, and rationalization.
Normative methodology deals with the directions and norms that determine the nature and sequence of specific kinds of activity; descriptive methodology is concerned with the description of completed activities. In both cases the basic function of methodology is to organize and regulate the process of cognition or to serve as a control in the practical transformation of an object. In modern literature on the subject, methodology is usually understood in a narrower sense as the scientific method, that is, the study of the structure, forms, and means of scientific inquiry. The scientific method describes the components of scientific research—its object, the subject matter of analysis, the tasks and problems of research, and the complete set of research methods necessary for solving a given problem. The scientific method also deals with the sequence of procedures in the problem-solving process.
The most important applications of the scientific method lie in the formulation of the problem (it is here that researchers most often commit methodological errors that lead to pseudo-problems or that considerably hamper the achieving of results), the precise determination of the subject of investigation, the formulation of a scientific theory, and the verification of the achieved result from the standpoint of its truth, that is, the correspondence between the result and the subject of investigation.
The rudiments of methodological knowledge can be observed even in the early stages of cultural development. For example, in ancient Egypt geometry took the form of methodological directions that determined the sequence of measuring procedures in the division and redistribution of land. Ancient Greek philosophy first dealt with the problem of the conditions for gaining knowledge; Aristotle, who considered the logical system that he created to be an organon—a universal instrument for acquiring true knowledge—made the most significant contribution to the analysis of this problem. On the whole, however, the problems of methodology did not occupy an independent place in the system of knowledge until modern times; these problems were considered part of the study of natural philosophy or logic.
The father of methodology proper was the English philosopher F. Bacon, who first proposed the idea of equipping science with a system of methods and who elaborated this view in his Novum organum. His formulation of the inductive, empirical approach to scientific knowledge was also of great importance for the subsequent development of methodology. Since that time the problem of method has become one of the central problems in philosophy. Initially, it wholly coincided with the problem of the conditions for achieving truth, and its discussion was severely burdened with concepts from natural philosophy. Adhering to the thesis, which is correct in itself, that only a true method leads to true knowledge, many modern philosophers tried to discover this true method. They assumed that the only true method was simply hidden from direct observation and only needed to be discovered, clarified, and made generally accessible. The logical structure of the method did not yet present a problem for them.
The next step in the development of methodology was taken by the French thinker Descartes. After formulating the problem of cognition as the problem of the relation between subject and object, Descartes first raised the question of the specific nature of thought and of its irreducibility to the simple and direct reflection of reality; thus arose the special and systematic discussion of cognition, that is, the question of how true knowledge can be achieved—on what intellectual grounds and by what methods of reasoning. Methodology began to serve as the philosophical foundation of cognition. Another direction in the specialization of methodology was associated with English empiricism, chiefly with the studies of Locke, who advanced the sensualist theory of knowledge, and Hume, who substantiated empiricism by criticizing theoretical knowledge from the standpoint of skepticism; here the intensified search for methods applicable to experimental science was given philosophical support.
Until the German philosopher Kant, however, the problems of methodology were interwoven with the theory of knowledge. Kant was the first to substantiate the special status of methodological knowledge by making a distinction between the constitutive and regulative principles of cognition, that is, a distinction between the objective content of knowledge and the form by means of which it is organized into a system. This gave rise to the analysis of knowledge as a specific activity with its own particular forms of internal organization. Work in this direction was continued by J. Fichte, whose philosophy was an attempt to construct a universal theory of activity. In idealistic philosophy, the analysis of knowledge culminated with Hegel’s system, which is essentially a methodology of the rationalized activity of the absolute spirit and the derivative, according to Hegel, activity of human cognition. The objectively most important result obtained by German classical idealism in the study of the problems of methodology consisted in the emphasis placed on the role of the dialectic as a universal method of cognition and of intellectual activity in general.
It was precisely this result that was retained and given a fundamentally new materialist interpretation in Marxist-Leninist philosophy. Dialectical materialism was the last stage in the formation of the philosophical foundations of the scientific method. Dialectical materialism arose during a period of widespread scientific progress, when theoretical natural science had begun to rid itself of natural philosophical speculations; it was based on the concrete scientific study of the basic forms of the motion of matter. Dialectical materialism was a new type of philosophy—the science of the most general laws governing the development of nature, society, and thought, and, as such, the general methodology of scientific investigation. The most important aspect of Marxist-Leninist methodology is that it is not only an instrument for gaining theoretical knowledge, but it also provides the means for the revolutionary transformation of reality based on the principles of scientific communism. Hence, Marxism-Leninism was the first philosophy to embody the ideal of attaining a universal methodology governing the activity of socially developed man. Its dual orientation toward scientific theory and practice enables Marxism-Leninism to play an ever increasing role in social practice and spiritual and cultural life, assuming the role of a universal methodology.
The rapid growth of methodological research and its expanding role in scientific inquiry have been characteristic of scientific development in the 20th century. There are two reasons for this. First, scientific knowledge assimilated increasingly complex objects of natural and social reality. This raised the level of scientific abstraction and decreased the purely descriptive nature of science; consequently, the problem of the means of investigating and the ways of approaching the subject under study became a central problem and assumed a relatively independent place in the system of cognitive activity. Second, as a result of the modern scientific and technological revolution, scientific endeavor became a mass profession and this required the detailed regulation of the work of researchers at different levels to ensure scientific results in a standard form. These two circumstances have stimulated the development of research in methodology both in depth—that is, toward a more thorough elucidation of the fundamental principles and forms of scientific thought—and in breadth—in the direction of a scrupulous and special construction of a system of the means of scientific cognition.
In sum, modern science has at its disposal a powerful arsenal of extremely diverse means designed to solve the most varied problems. This in turn has given rise to a new situation in methodology: in beginning his research, the modern scientist is often faced with the necessity of choosing the most efficient methodological means or combination of means from some set of means. Finally, a particular group of related methodological problems arises as a result of the relation between science and practice—which is so typical of modern technology—in the solution of major complex problems, such as space projects and environmental protection measures. In this case it is necessary to call on specialists in many fields, which is done by constructing an appropriate subject of study (a composite synthetic model). With information about the subject basically incomplete and undetermined, it is also necessary to unite in a single system the theoretical concepts and solutions that can be achieved through practical intuition.
Thus, whereas previously methodology was primarily concerned with the philosophical basis of scientific cognition, methodology is now an internally differentiated, highly developed and specialized branch of knowledge. The emphasis on the means of cognition distinguishes methodology from the theory of knowledge, which investigates the cognitive activity as a whole and, especially, the substantive foundation of cognition. Methodology differs from the sociology of science and other branches of the science of science in its orientation toward internal mechanisms and the logic of the organization and advancement of knowledge. The essence and specific nature of methodology remain a subject of dispute because the place of methodological knowledge in science is still ambiguous: in the hierarchical organization of scientific knowledge, knowledge of a higher level of abstraction often performs methodological functions with respect to more concrete knowledge (for example, cybernetic concepts of control, information, and feedback play the role of methodological postulates in neurocybernetics, bionics, and computer technology). Moreover, science itself is essentially a methodological means for the practical activity of society. It is here that the general dialectic of the interaction of the end and means of activity becomes manifest: that which was the end in one system of activity becomes the means in another. However, the current problems of methodology are not exhausted by this transformation of means to ends and ends to means, since knowledge specially intended to perform methodological functions has become a reality.
The diversity of this knowledge is made evident by the existence of its several classifications. One of the most widely accepted, though somewhat arbitrary, divisions of methodological knowledge is into the substantive and the formal.
The substantive aspect of methodology includes such problems as the structure of scientific knowledge in general and of scientific theory in particular; the laws of the origin, function, and change of scientific theories; the conceptual framework of science and of its individual disciplines; the characteristics of the explanatory schemata used in science and the historical development of these schemata (in particular, the transition from the completely determinist schemata of the mechanist era to the functional, structural, and genetic explanatory schemata that are widely used in modern science); the principles of approaching the subject under study (for example, the elementarist and integral and systemic approaches); the structure and operational equipment of scientific methods; the conditions that fall within the scope of science; the limits of the applicability of the specific methodological means; and the methods of synthesizing the various theoretical concepts about the subject under study.
The formal aspect of methodology is related to the analysis of the language of science; the formal structure of the scientific explanation; the description and analysis of formal and formalized research methods, in particular, the methods used to formulate scientific theories and the conditions for the logical truth of these theories; and the typology of systems of knowledge.
It was precisely this set of problems that raised the question of the logical structure of scientific knowledge and established scientific methodology as an independent field of knowledge. The neopositivists, who first applied the methods of modern formal logic to the analysis of scientific knowledge, made a significant contribution to scientific methodology. However, in their philosophical-methodological interpretation of the results obtained, the neopositivists greatly exaggerated the formal aspect of methodology, ignoring the substantive aspect and the problem of the development of knowledge. Research in this field of methodology is now very closely related to research in the logic of science.
The division of methodology into different levels of methodological analysis is of fundamental importance. In general, a distinction is made between philosophical methodology and the methodology of specific sciences. Philosophical methodology does not exist as a special branch of philosophy—the entire system of philosophical knowledge performs methodological functions. As scientific development has shown, dialectical and historical materialism provides the most adequate philosophical basis for scientific knowledge. As methodology of science in general, the dialectic and materialism are equally important, and dialectical and historical materialism function as a methodology that deals with knowledge of human society. Because dialectical materialism directs the investigator toward discovery of an objective dialectics, which it expresses in laws and categories, it performs its heuristic role. The world-view (weltanschauliche) interpretation of scientific results, given from the standpoint of the dialectic and materialism, is also of very great methodological significance. On the philosophical level the methodology does not function as a rigid system of norms and “recipes” or technical procedures—such an interpretation would inevitably lead to the dogmatization of scientific knowledge—but rather as a system of premises and guidelines for cognitive activity. These include both substantive premises (the world-view foundations of scientific thought, the philosophical “picture of the world”) and formal premises (that is, those which pertain to the general forms of scientific thinking and to its historically defined categorical structure). One of the cardinal methodological problems that arise in this connection deals with the determination of the specific nature of various fields of knowledge, in particular the specific nature of knowledge in the humanities in comparison with natural scientific knowledge (for example, one must take into account the fact that in the humanities the values, class, and party affiliations of the investigator directly affect his approach and one must recognize the necessity of correctly interpretating the complex structure of purposeful human activity and its results).
Modern philosophical-methodological research has led to important discoveries concerning the functioning and development of cognition. These include the laws of the continuous succession of scientific theories (the correspondence principle); the discovery of a “paradigm” of thinking (that is, the aggregate of inexplicitly assigned regulatory principles) that is specific for each era of scientific development; the methodological features of artificial languages used in science; the specific nature of various kinds of scientific explanation; the methods of formulating scientific theories (such as the deductive, hypothetical-deductive, and genetic methods); and the characteristics of a number of methodological approaches in modern knowledge (such as the systemic approach, structuralism, cybernetic methods, and the methods of probabilistic thinking).
Since the 1950’s, the problems of the generation and succession of systems of knowledge have occupied a prominent place in the methodology of science. In particular, the English logician and philosopher K. Popper tried to explain this process on the basis of his falsifiability criterion, that is, the systematic refutation of existing theories. T. Kuhn, an American historian of science, viewed scientific progress in terms of scientific revolutions that lead to a radical change in paradigms (a term that he proposed) of scientific thought. I. Lakatos, an English mathematician and philosopher, proposed that scientific progress is based on the advancement and implementation of a specific sequence of research programs. An important aspect of the work of these and other researchers was the extensive criticism of the narrowness of the premises of the neopositivist concept of the methodology of science and its subject matter. In this regard, certain Soviet and foreign specialists worked out a concept of methodology based on the principle of activity. These specialists sought to represent methodology as a systematic theory of scientific research activity; they criticized Popper’s falsifiability criterion for its one-sided concept of the development of knowledge and Kuhn’s concept for its denial of continuity in the development of knowledge.
The methodology of specific sciences is divided into several levels: general scientific methodological concepts and trends; the methodology of individual sciences; and research methods and techniques. The first level, which is far from uniform in content, has developed very rapidly in the latter half of the 20th century. The rapid growth of this level has been due to the universalization of the means of cognition that made it easier to formulate scientific problems in a generalized way and the desire for synthesis—a trend that is becoming dominant in modern science.
Among the general scientific methodological concepts and trends are theories of the problem-content type, which directly describe existing phenomena from the standpoint of a well-defined methodological principle (such as W. I. Vernadsky’s concept of noosphere or theoretical cybernetics); universal conceptual systems (such as L. Bertalanflfy’s general theory of systems) that seek to discover universal concepts and categories of scientific thought through an analysis of science itself; and methodological (in the narrow sense of the word) concepts and disciplines (such as structuralism, structural-functional analysis, and systems analysis) that are either disciplines of modern applied mathematics or relatively rigidly organized sets of research procedures that are applied to a broad range of phenomena, or a combination of both.
The methodological functions of general scientific methodological concepts and trends are twofold: they either give scientific research a substantive orientation, which contributes to the construction of new objects of study (until now, for example, this role has been performed by the concept of noosphere in the study of problems dealing with the interaction of society and the environment) or they provide scientific research with an effective conceptual and mathematical apparatus of analysis.
By virtue of their general scientific character, these methodological concepts are quite closely related to philosophical methodology, although they do not by any means coincide with it. The functions of these concepts are limited by directing scientific research toward a definite object and providing it with specialized analytical apparatus; philosophical methodology invariably includes a world-view interpretation of the foundations of research and its results. However, the philosophical closeness and broad, general scientific character of modern trends in methodology lead to the important stress placed on philosophical premises. For example, one of the important foundations of the systems approach lies in its specific treatment of the principle of entirety. The development of the structuralist methodology requires a thorough examination of the relation between structure and history. Therefore, the philosophical interpretation of a methodology plays a dual role: on the one hand, it makes it possible to discover the bases of this methodology and its relation to the conflict of philosophical ideas; on the other hand, the development of new trends in methodology also raises new philosophical-methodological problems and requires further development of the philosophical aspect of methodology.
The interdisciplinary nature of the general scientific trends in methodology and their closeness to philosophical problems occasionally give rise to an unjustified tendency to universalize these trends and to elevate them to philosophical or even ideological concepts. The substantive basis of this tendency toward universalization lies in the incorrect identification of the methodology of philosophy with that of the specifically scientific aspects of methodology and the related attempts to interpret methodological definitions as applicable to all phenomena and to regard the methodological aims of a single trend in methodology as the absolute goal of all knowledge. Inparticular, such attempts at universalization occurred in the history of structuralism in the humanities; they have also been found in some interpretations of the systems approach. The constructive role of the materialist dialectic as the methodology of science lies in its demonstration of the unfoundedness of such attempts and its ability to determine the true potential and limits of each form of specific science (including general science) methodology.
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An example is The Yourdon methodology.