Lecture (6)-Research Philosophies and Ethics
Transcript Lecture (6)-Research Philosophies and Ethics
Research Ethics and Philosophies
Institute of Professional Studies
School of Research and Graduate Studies
Outline of Presentation
Research Ethics to whom and from whom?
Ethical Principles in Research
Some Philosophical Issues
In conducting social science research, social scientist
inevitably interact with people.
As we interact with other people as social scientists we must
give attention to their rational concerns and emotional needs
which in one way or the other will shape their responses to
We need to recognize that our research procedures involve
people who deserve as much respect for their well-being as
we do for ours. Thus, we should practice our discipline
What is Ethics in Research?
As a matter of concern, ethics in research addresses the
application of moral principles and/or ethical standards to human
actions within the research process.
Two question may be used to determine whether an action/inaction
is ethical in research or not.These are:
1. Is it possible to restore the subject to his or her original condition?
2. Has the subject been subjected to unreasonable stress or risk without
his or her knowledge?
Beyond these questions there are some ethical principles that need to be
Basic Ethical principles for the
protection on human rights
The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects
of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, in the United States, has
establish three basic ethical principles to follow that will protect
human subjects.These are:
Respect for persons: Treating persons as autonomous agents
and protecting those with diminished autonomy;
Beneficence: Minimizing possible harms and maximizing
Justice: Distributing benefits and risks of research fairly.
These broad principles have been translated into specific
Ethical Principles Cont’d
Knowledge is the foundation of human progress and it is
the pursuit of this in research that justifies our research or
investigations and gives us some claim to the right to
influence others to participate in our research.
In the pursuit of the knowledge therefore we should be
committed to achieving valid results that we can
objectively and honestly claim represent the true picture.
Ethical Principles Cont’d
Honesty and Openness
The scientific concern for validity also requires that
scientists be open in disclosing their methods and honest in
presenting their findings.
To assess the validity of a researcher’s conclusions and the
ethics of their procedures, you need to know exactly how
the research was conducted. This means that articles or
other reports must include a detailed methodology section,
perhaps supplemented by appendices containing the
research instruments or Web sites or an address where
more information can be obtained.
Ethical Principles Cont’d
Protecting Research Participants
Ethical guidelines emphasized by most professional social science
organizations concerning the treatment of human subjects include:
1. Research should cause no harm to subjects.
2. Participation in research should be voluntary, and therefore
subjects must give their informed consent to participate in the
3. Researchers should fully disclose their identity.
4. Anonymity or confidentiality must be maintained for individual
research participants unless it is voluntarily and explicitly
5. Benefits from a research project should outweigh any foreseeable
Research philosophy relates to the development of
knowledge and the nature of that knowledge.
Research philosophies describe the researcher’s
perceptions, beliefs or assumptions about the nature
of reality and truth (knowledge of that reality),
Importance of Research
They can influence the way in which the research is undertaken,
from design through to conclusions.
It is therefore important to understand and discuss these
philosophies in order that approaches congruent to the nature and
aims of the particular inquiry are adopted, and to ensure that
researcher biases are understood, exposed, and minimized.
The philosophy you adopt is more likely to be influenced by
practical consideration. However, the main influence is likely to be
your particular view of the relationship between knowledge and the
process by which it is developed.
Research Philosophies Cont’d
There are three major ways of thinking about
Epistemology concerns what constitute acceptable knowledge in a field of
Epistemology considers views about the most appropriate ways of
enquiring into the nature of the world (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe and
Jackson, 2008) and ‘what is knowledge and what are the sources and
limits of knowledge’ (Eriksson and Kovalainen, 2008).
Blaikie (1993) describes epistemology as ‘the theory or science of the
method or grounds of knowledge’ expanding this into a set of claims or
assumptions about the ways in which it is possible to gain knowledge of
reality, how what exists may be known, what can be known, and what
criteria must be satisfied in order to be described as knowledge.
Three kinds of research philosophies can be identified. Blaikie
(2000) describes them as the ‘research paradigms’.
2. Realism and
If your research philosophy reflects the principles of positivism then
you will probably adopt the philosophical stance of the natural
scientist which is characterised by the testing of hypothesis
developed from existing theory (hence deductive or theory testing)
through measurement of observable social realities.
The positivist assumes that:
the social world exists objectively and externally
ii. knowledge is valid only if it is based on observations of
iii. universal or general laws exist (or that theoretical models can
be developed that are generalisable)
iv. It is possible to explain cause and effect relationships which lend
themselves to predicting outcomes.
Realism is another epistemological position which relates to
scientific enquiry just like positivism. The essence of realism is
that what the senses show us as reality is the truth: that objects
have an existence independent of the mind.
Two forms of realism need to b explained:
Direct realism: which says that what you see is what you get:
what we experience through our senses portrays the world
Critical realism: which says that what we experience are
sensations, the images of the things in the real world, not the
Interpretivists argue that the social world of business and
management is far too complex to lend itself to theorising by
definite “laws” in the same way as the physical sciences.
This position is described by Hatch and Cunliffe (2006) as antipositivist and by Blaikie (1993) as post-positivist since it is
contended that there is a fundamental difference between the
subject matters of natural and social sciences.
The focus of the researcher is on understanding the meanings and
interpretations of ‘social actors’ and to understand their world
from their point of view, is highly contextual and hence is
not widely generalisable (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill,
Interpretivism comes from two intellectual traditions:
Phenomenology and symbolic interactionism
Phenomenology refers to the way in which we as humans
make sense of the world around us.
In symbolic interactionism we are a continual process of
interpreting the social world around us in that we interpret the
actions of others with whom we interact and this interpretation
leads to adjustment or our own meanings and actions.
Ontology is concerned with nature of reality. Blaikie (1993)
describes the root definition of ontology as ‘the science or study
of being’ and develops this description for the social sciences to
encompass ‘claims about what exists, what it looks like, what
units make it up and how these units interact with each other’.
In short, ontology describes our view (whether claims or
assumptions) on the nature of reality, and specifically, is this an
objective reality that really exists, or only a subjective reality,
created in our minds.
There are two aspects of ontology:
The first is objectivism which portrays the position that social
entities exist in reality external to social actors concerned with
The second is aspect is subjectivism which holds that social
phenomena are created from the perceptions and consequent
actions of those social actors concerned with their existence.
Axiology is the branch of philosophy that studies judgements
about value. The role that your own values play in all stages of
the research process is of great importance if you wish your
research results to be credible.
Heron (1996) argues that our values are the guiding reasons of
all human action. He further argues that research demonstrates
axiological skill by being able to articulate their values as a basis
for making judgements about what research they are
conducting and how they go about doing it.