Epistemology definition Research Essay

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Epistemology is a word that describes an overarching perspective on how the world works and how people perceive reality. Knowledge acquisition requires study, and the researcher can choose the best methodology to employ. It can also be defined as the study of information, including how it is produced, received, and communicated. People need to consider what they know, how they learned it, and what it signifies in terms of epistemology. Five epistemologies—positivism, constructivism, post-structuralism, post-positivism, and post-modernism—are evaluated in this essay. By analyzing the five epidemiological paradigms, it will be possible to understand the nature of knowledge and judge whether it can be justifiable or sufficient. The areas to be discussed include the origins and evolution of each epistemology, contributors, applications, and the limitations of each epistemology. This will help in understanding every paradigm and determining if knowledge is justifiable or sufficient. Epistemology is studied under qualitative research with the researchers taking personal stance. Science is the only way of establishing truth and understanding the world better. For instance, positivism is the affirmation that scientific explanation is the only reliable knowledge. More so it asserts that such knowledge can only be derived from positive affirmation of theories through firm scientific methods. These include the techniques for exploring experiences based on assembling evidence, which should be empirical, observable and measurable as well as be subject to explicit ideologies of reasoning.

Key words: epistemology, positivism, constructivism, post-structuralism, post-positivism, post-modernism.


Epistemology can be defined as the investigation of nature of knowledge, which helps in acquisition of knowledge and promotion of the ability of humans to differentiate truths and falsehoods. Modern epistemology deals with differentiation of empiricism and rationalism in which in the former knowledge is acquired through reasoning while in the latter acquisition of knowledge is through experiences (Marmot, 2017). Epistemology is crucial since it deals with how human beings think, especially the use of senses and development of concepts in human minds. It also matters to atheist as it helps them to argue their views on matters related to religion, miracles, scriptures, and revelations. There are several sources of knowledge such as intuitive knowledge, authoritarian, logical, and empirical (De Gialdino, 2009). There are various types of epistemologies, which include positivism, constructivism, post-structuralism, post-positivism, and post-modernism that are applicable in various areas.


The term positivism can be traced in the late 18th century and is related to natural sciences, which include chemistry, physics, and mathematics. It emphasizes on facts rather than speculation or simply it rejects metaphysics. According to positivism, the goal of knowledge is description of phenomena experienced by individuals and science must stick to only things that to can observe and measure (Comte, 1974). Positivism has five principles, which include the research which is intended to explain and predict and there are no differences in the logic of inquiry across sciences. Science should be free of value and must be judged only by logic while common sense should not be allowed to bias the research findings since science is different from the common sense (Marmot, 2017). In addition, science has to be empirically apparent via human senses. Inductive reasoning should be used to develop the hypothesis to be tested for the period of the research process.

Origin and Evolution

The origin of is known to have developed in the early 19th century by the French sociologist and philosopher Augustine Comte, 1798-1857 (Comte, 1974). According to the doctrine, the term "positivism" is derived from the term positive, which indicates objective approach to the study of humanity that shares much in common with the technique engaged in the natural sciences. The positive and the final scientific phase considers the individual right of the human as more important than the rule of any one individual. Comte's belief was that theology and metaphysics ought to be substituted by hierarchy of sciences that is mathematics at the base and sociology being at the top.

Prominent Contributor

The main contributor to the theory was Augustine Comte (1798-1857). For Comte, Scientific method tended to substitute the metaphysics in philosophy of science as well as in the history of thought. According to his law of Universal rule, the society appears to go through three progressive stages in the pursuit for the truth (Comte, 1974). They include the theological period, which attributes everything to God's reference and here, the divine will consider the human rights. The metaphysical, which is the post-humanist phase, holds the universal rights of humanity to be the most essential.

Application in Health Care Management

Positivism has been applied in sociological research by ensuring a process that is practical, testable, observable, and tangible for accurate inferences (De Gialdino, 2009). It can be applied in understanding health issues such as Asthma through empirical research to determine the groups at risk of the disease. The experiment carried out in various groups such as children or the elderly can give reliable results after scientific analysis.


One limitation is that positivism tends to believe in the basis for knowledge and thoughts must be dependent on the scientific method but does not give room for emotions and feelings as they are in the consciousness of people. It is not possible to observe consciousness yet it is an important aspect of humanity.


Constructivism argues that knowledge is actively built up by the cognizing object and not passively received through senses or communication. Epistemological constructivism argues that knowledge is constructed and is contingent with human perception, convention, and social experience (Golinski, 2008). Cognition plays the role of adaptation and helps an individual to understand that the experimental world does not lead to discovery of an objective ontological reality (Matthews, 1993).

Origin and Evolution

Constructivism originated from Kant's idea of rationalism and empiricism, which explains that the subject does not have any direct access to external reality and can only acquire knowledge through use of fundamental in-built cognitive principles, which help in organizing experiences (Mackenzie, 2011). Constructivism evolved to oppose objectivism philosophy and embraces the belief that human beings can have knowledge of the truth about the natural world, which is not mediated by scientific estimations with varying degrees of validity and accuracy.

Prominent Contributors

The theory was first developed by Jean Piaget who came up with genetic epistemology that explains child developmental stages (Golinski, 2008). Others such a Heinz Von Forester have elaborated on the theory explaining that the nervous system cannot absolutely differentiate between perception and hallucination. Maturana and Varela developed the theory further arguing that knowledge is a component necessary for the autopoiesis processes, which characterize living organism. The mechanisms of constructivism are unlimited to higher level learning, as they tend to pervade every evolutionary process (Lu, Wang, & Zhao, 2011). It rejects any direct verification of knowledge by making comparison on the constructed model with the outside world and concentrates on the subjects' way of choosing between various constructs in order to elect the right one.

Application in Healthcare Management

Constructivism can be applied in generalizing on deaths resulting from health conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (Mackenzie, 2011). It helps in explaining disease diversity and prevalence to various groups. For instance, a researcher can use constructivism to argue that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has outcomes that largely depend on cause and age through observing its prevalence (Mackenzie, 2011). Constructivism epistemology is applied in psychology especially in the education sector and psychotherapy. For instance, critical constructivism emphasizes on the exaggerated influence of political and cultural norms in the construction of knowledge, views about reality, and consciousness. It allows for social change, especially when one understands critical constructs epistemology in education.


The limitation of constructivism epistemology is that it assumes the concept of truth to be socially constructed reducing it to relativism (Lu, Wang, & Zhao, 2011). This implies that something, which is considered by a certain society to be true, may be considered false in another society.


Post-structuralism refers to the work of the twentieth century in France, which criticizes some themes structuralism while retaining themes such as rejection of self-sufficiency and interrogation of binary oppositions constituting structuralism structures. The proponents of the epistemology include Jacques Derrida, Gills Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Jean Baudrillard, and Julia Kristeva (Mackenzie, 2011). The scholars argue that post-structuralism is considered historical as it emphasizes use history in analyzing descriptive concepts. In this case, it entails studying the manner in which cultural concepts have changed over time seeking to understand the concepts as understood y present readers.

Origin and Evolution

Post-structuralism originated in France in the 1960s aimed at criticizing structuralism. For instance, in a lecture by Jacques Derrida in 1966, a thesis was presented which claimed that there was a rupture in intellectual life. The lecture was titled "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" an event that Derrida described as a kind of play. Another work was published in 1967 titled "The Death of the Author" announcing the metaphorical event (Lu, Wang & Zhao, 2011). His arguments were that any literary text had multiple meanings and the death of the author was the beginning of the reader. The theory bases its arguments on theoretical vision whose starting point is language and significance.

Prominent Contributors

One prominent contributor to this epistemology was Michel Foucault in his research in the field of human sciences, archaeology, and genealogy. His research is very important in understanding the nature of knowledge and how it is acquired (Mackenzie, 2011). Another contributor is Jacques Derrida who contributed influential post-structuralism whose thesis was about rupture in intellectual life and emphasized on structure and play.

Applications in Healthcare Management

Post-structuralism is applicable in HCM in accessing the patients with psychoanalytic problems such as depression by studying their conscious thoughts. The theorist will argue that the unconscious was structured like a language and its working could not be accessible by the conscious thought (Mann, 1994). A medical professional will, therefore, decide on methods that will enable the patient to bring the thoughts in the unconscious to the conscious mind and deal with them.


Post-structuralism position on relativism tends to describe differences and see things as open to varying interpretations instead of evaluating them against an underlying truth. In this case, people are free to make own conclusions depending on choices, which can lead to discourse.


The emphasis is placed in inferential statistics which and researchers believing the validity of the assigned probabilities. The paradigm does not focus on certainties in understanding of knowledge. Patton (2015) argues that in post-positivism, one cannot ignore discretionary judgment and it is impossible for one to provide the proof for causality with certainty. The reason is that the paradigm is more concerned with human beliefs and various methods of research are needed for theory testing to enable understanding of how the world works. Post-positivism tried to improve on positivism ideals elaborate on the best research methods to help in understanding knowledge.

Origin and Evolution

Post-positivism is an epistemology of the 19th century proposed by Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and a linguist known as Ferdinand de Saussure (Mann, 1994). Nietzsche failed to support the arguments of positivism, thus, contributed a lot to the new paradigm by arguing that all scientific facts result from interpretations. Therefore, the nature of knowledge according to post-modernism depends on interpretations by individuals

Prominent Contributors

One contributor to the theory was a German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who criticized existing philosophies in Europe. He criticized psychological diagnoses, which expose false consciousness interfering with individuals' received ideas (Mann, 1994). He rejected ideas of self-sufficiency of the structures argued by structuralism. Post-structuralism may also be termed as post-phenomenologism. This argues against the idea that knowledge is acquired by pure experience.

Application in HCM

Post-positivism facilitates studying of how knowledge is produced and eliminates the possibility of biases and misinterpretations of patients' health results. This can reduce the possibility of misdiagnoses or medical errors that can ruin a patient's health or lead to death. Since it emphasizes on qualitative and quantitative healthcare research it can help to manage various illnesses by adopting recommendations given by various studies.


One limitation is that post-positivism does not concentrate on validation of research through testing but instead, it emphasizes on interpreting data. This can lead to inaccuracies if the researcher does not find out whether arguments are applicable through testing.


The theory suggested various approaches that can be applied in social research. The theory followed the modernism paradigm when industrialization and mass production occurred in various parts of the world (Mann, 1994). It argues that truth is relative meaning that every individual has a right to find out whether a certain preposition is true or not and not depend on others' ideas. It denies the existence of objective reality as well as objective moral values.

Origin and Evolution

Post-modernism traces its roots in the 1970s during the era of the postmodernism movement. The term was first coined by Lyotard in 1984 in which he described reality as a kaleidoscope of stories (Scotland, 2012). If one tilts, it presents a story, and if tilted again it gives a different story. The movement focused on individual's decisions of choice, cultural norm, lifestyle, as well as fashion. The influencers of the theory were Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. The philosophers were against modernism to adopt post-industrial condition.

Prominent Contributors

The contributors of postmodernism were Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Francis Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida. Foucault stated that knowledge can be produced through the operations of power and changes that have occurred in historical periods (Scotland, 2012). An American contributor to post-modernism named Richard Rorty criticized the thought as the mirror of reality or external world. They contributors argued that people are developing a new language game that focuses on celebrating a world consisting of ever-changing relationships.

Applications in HCM Limitations

Post-modernist perspective is applied in healthcare and medicine in occupational therapy. It supports for scientific knowledge, skills, and practice in various fields such as healthcare. It challenges specialists' knowledge, thus, it is essential for understanding health and sickness through subjective interpretation (Golinski, 2008). Healthcare workers must reflect on their knowledge and oppose any medical practices, which tend to limit choice.


The main limitation of post-modernism deals with the current generational distress but does not formulate possible solutions to the mentioned distresses.


Epistemology helps in understanding worldviews, which assists in differentiating beliefs from opinions as well guiding individuals towards action. The epistemologies discussed in this paper are very important in understanding knowledge. Epistemology is the foundation of knowledge and helps to determine the methodologies and methods to use in research. Each of the epistemologies has its history, the prominent contributors, application in healthcare, as well as limitations. People interested in studying certain healthcare issues can use epistemology during the research process. If one is not conscious of his/her epistemology, then he/she has no formal training and may not understand critical theories, which are needed to produce reliable and valid results.


Comte, A. (1974). The positive philosophy of Auguste Comte (H. Martineau, Trans.). New York: AMS Press. (Original work published 1855).

De Gialdino. (2009). Ontological and epistemological foundations of qualitative research, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(2). Retrieved from http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1299/3163#g2

Golinski, J. (2008). Making natural knowledge: Constructivism and the history of science, with a new preface. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Lu, X.M., Wang, W., & Zhao, C.H. (2011). Revelation of constructivism theory in pathophysiology teaching. China Higher Medical Education, 6, 007.

Mackenzie, J. (2011). Positivism and constructivism, truth and 'truth'. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(5), 534-546. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00676.x

Mann, J. (1994). A gentle introduction to structuralism, postmodernism and all that. Retrieved from https://philosophynow.org/issues/10/A_gentle_introduction_to_structuralism_postmodernism_and_all_that

Marmot, M. (2017). Social justice, epistemiology, and health inequalities. European Journal of Epistemiology, 32(7), 537-546.

Matthews, M.R. (1993). Constructivism and science education: Some epistemological problems. Journal of Science Education and Technology 2(1): 359-370.

Patton, M.Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: integrating theory and practice: the definitive text of qualitative inquiry frameworks and options. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Scotland, J. (2012). Exploring the philosophical underpinnings of research: Relating ontology and epistemology to the methodology and methods of the scientific, interpretive, and critical research paradigms. English Language Teaching, 5(9). https://doi.org/10.5539/elt.v5n9p9

July 15, 2023
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