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Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Epistemologists concern themselves with a number of tasks, which we
might sort into two categories.

First, we must determine the nature of knowledge; that is, what does it mean to say that someone knows, or fails to
know, something? This is a matter of understanding what knowledge is, and how to distinguish between cases in
which someone knows something and cases in which someone does not know something. While there is some
general agreement about some aspects of this issue, we shall see that this question is much more difficult than one
might imagine.

Second, we must determine the extent of human knowledge; that is, how much do we, or can we, know? How can
we use our reason, our senses, the testimony of others, and other resources to acquire knowledge? Are there limits to
what we can know? For instance, are some things unknowable? Is it possible that we do not know nearly as much as
we think we do? Should we have a legitimate worry about skepticism, the view that we do not or cannot know
anything at all?


Epistemology as a branch of philosophy deals with the sources of knowledge. Specifically, epistemology is
concerned with possibilities, nature, sources and limitations of knowledge in the field of study. Alternatively,
epistemology can be branded as the study of the criteria by which the researcher classifies what does and does not
constitute the knowledge.

In research philosophy there are many different sources of knowledge. Sources of knowledge related to business
research in particular can be divided into the following four categories:

1. Intuitive knowledge is based on intuition, faith, beliefs etc. Human feelings plays greater role in intuitive
knowledge compared to reliance on facts.

2. Authoritarian knowledge relies on information that has been obtained from books, research papers,
experts, supreme powers etc.

3. Logical knowledge is a creation of new knowledge through the application of logical reasoning.

4. Empirical knowledge relies on objective facts that have been established and can be demonstrated.

Research process may integrate all of these sources of knowledge within a single study. For example, intuitive
knowledge can be used in order to select a specific problem to be explored within a selected research area, whereas
authoritative knowledge is gained during the process of literature review. Moreover, logical knowledge is generated
as a result of analyzing primary data findings, and conclusions of the research can be perceived as empirical

Epistemology has many branches and include essentialism, historical perspective, perennialsm, progressivism,
empiricism, idealism, rationalism, constructivism and others. Empiricism and rationalism can be specified as the two
major constructing debates within the field of epistemological study that relates to business studies. Empiricism
accepts personal experiences associated with observation, feelings and senses as a valid source of knowledge,
whereas according to rationalism relies on empirical findings gained through valid and reliable measures as a source
of knowledge.

The table below describes important aspects of epistemologies of the main research philosophies related to business
Research philosophy Epistemology: the researchers view regarding what constitutes acceptable knowledge

Either or both observable phenomena and subjective meanings can provide acceptable knowledge dependent upon
the research question.
Focus on practical applied research, integrating different perspectives to help interpret the data

Only observable phenomena can provide credible data, facts.

Focus on causality and law-like generalisations, reducing phenomena to simplest elements

Observable phenomena provide credible data, facts.

Insufficient data means inaccuracies in sensations (direct realism). Alternatively,

phenomena create sensations which are open to misinterpretation (critical realism).

Focus on explaining within a context or contexts

Subjective meanings and social phenomena.

Focus upon the details of situation, a reality behind these details, subjective meanings motivating actions

Epistemology of popular research philosophies in business research

My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance contains
discussions of theory and application of research philosophy. The e-book also explains all stages of the research
process starting from the selection of the research area to writing personal reflection. Important elements of
dissertations such as research philosophy, research approach, research design, methods of data collection and data
analysis are explained in this e-book in simple words.

John Dudovskiy

Ontology and Epistemology

Ontology: The branch of metaphysics (philosophy concerning the overall nature of what things are) is concerned
with identifying, in the most general terms, the kinds of things that actually exist. In other words addressing the
question: What is existence? and What is the nature of existence? When we ask deep questions about "what is the
nature of the universe?" or "Is there a god?" or "What happens to us when we die?" or "What principles govern the
properties of matter?" we are asking inherently ontological questions.

Epistemology: The branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge itself, its possibility, scope, and
general basis. More broadly:How do we go about knowing things? or How do we separate true ideas from false
ideas? or How do we know what is true? or "How can we be confident when we have located 'truth'?" "What are
the systematic ways we can determine when something is good or bad?"

So ontology is about what is true and epistemology then is about methods of figuring out those truths.

The split between Plato and Aristotle is both ontological and epistemic. The split between religion and science is
both ontological and epistemic. For example, religion and science offer two very different ontologies (theories
about what is out there) and epistemology (ways to figure out what is out there). And the split between Plato and
Aristotle matches exactly the split between religion and science...and you should leave this class understanding why
and how!