Axiology is a branch of philosophy that studies value judgments. Specifically, axiology is concerned with assessing the role of the researcher’s own value in all phases of the research process.
Axiology mainly refers to the objectives of the research. This branch of research philosophy tries to clarify whether one tries to explain or predict the world, or only seeks to understand it.
In simple terms, axiology focuses on what is valued in research. This is important because values affect the way in which research is carried out and what is valued in the results of the research.
When addressing the axiology aspect of research philosophy in your qualitative research, you should disclose your values in the study and report your values and biases. In the same way you should consider the value-laden nature of the information collected in the field.
Definitions of Paradigm, Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology and Methodology in the context of research
What is a paradigm
A paradigm is “a set of basic beliefs (or metaphysics) that deals with ultimaries or first principles. It represents a vision of the world that defines, for its possessor, the nature of the world, the individual’s place in it, and the range of possible relationships with that world and its parts. For example, cosmologies and theologies” (Guba & Lincoln, 1994, p. 105).
Paradigms are perhaps one of the most controversial terms in qualitative research. While some authors and methodologists use the term to denote a set of methods or methodologies, others claim that the term has many uses.
Guba and Lincoln made an important contribution by articulating four different worldviews of research —positivist, postpositivist, critical, and constructivist—based on their ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions. Heron and Reason (1997) defend a fifth worldview: a participatory paradigm. Community-based research falls within this paradigm and also adopts the ideology and methodology of cooperative research created by Heron and Reason (1997).
In this regard, Guba and Lincoln analyze four research paradigms: positivism, postpositivism, critical theory and constructivism. They begin with a critique of overqualification and the received view of knowledge, pointing out issues such as the nature of facts loaded with theory and values and the relationship between the researcher and the object of the research.
Evolution to the Participatory Paradigm
In this way, a participatory paradigm is based on the belief that reality is an interaction between the given cosmos, a primordial reality, and the mind. The mind “engages creatively with [el cosmos] and can only know it in terms of its constructions, whether affective, imaginary, conceptual or practical” (Heron, 1997 p.10). “The given mind and cosmos are engaged in a creative dance, so that what emerges as reality is the fruit of an interaction of the given cosmos and the way the mind engages with it” (Heron & Reason, 1997 p. 279).
It has gone from a standardized and descending paradigm of things to a diversified and upward paradigm of people. This implies a transfer of power from the “superiors” – people, institutions, and disciplines that have been dominant – to the “inferiors” – people, institutions, and disciplines that have been subordinate. The numerous labels and schools of participatory approaches in research and development tend to obscure the underlying changes in philosophy and practice.
We always participate in what we describe, so that our reality is the product of the dance between our individual and collective mind and what is there, the primordial amorphous delivery of the universe. This participatory worldview is at the heart of research methodologies that emphasize participation as a central strategy.
Ontology refers to the form and nature of reality and what can be known about it (Guba and Lincoln, 1994). In contrast to orthodox research that uses quantitative methods in its claim to be value-free (but more accurately described as an assessment of objectivity), and many qualitative approaches that value subjectivity, community-based research supports a subjective-objective stance.
Ontology helps researchers recognize the extent to which they can be sure of the nature and existence of the objects they investigate. For example, what “truth statements” can a researcher make about reality? Who decides the legitimacy of what is “real”? How do researchers deal with different and conflicting ideas about reality?
By way of example, realistic ontology refers to the existence of a single reality that can be studied, understood and experienced as a “truth”; there is a real world independent of human experience. For its part, relativistic ontology is based on the philosophy that reality is built within the human mind, so that there is no “true” reality. Instead, reality is “relative” depending on how individuals experience it at a given time and place.
A subjective-objective ontology means that there is “beneath our literary abstraction, a deeply participatory relationship with things and with the earth, a felt reciprocity” (Abram, 1996, p. 124). As Heron and Reason (1997) explain, this meeting is transactional and interactive. “Touching, seeing or hearing something or someone doesn’t speak to us of our self alone or of a being out there on its own. It speaks to us of a being in a state of interrelationship and co-resistance with us. Our subjectivity feels the participation of what is there and is illuminated by it”, (p.279). Therefore, community-based research is interested in investigating people’s understandings and meanings as they experience them in the world.
Epistemology refers to the nature of the relationship between the knower and what can be known. Guba and Lincoln (1994) assert that orthodox science, because of its belief in a “real” world that can be known, requires the connoisseur to adopt a posture of objective distancing to discover how things really are. It is presumed that the knower and the known are separate and independent entities that do not influence each other. There is a search for truth; of the facts in objective and quantifiable terms that holds in high esteem the empirical data.
By examining the relationship between a subject and an object we can explore the idea of epistemology and how it influences research design. Objectivist epistemology starts from the basis that reality exists outside, or independently, the individual mind. Objectivist research is useful for providing reliability (consistency of the results obtained) and external validity (applicability of the results to other contexts).
Constructionist epistemology rejects the idea that objective “truth” exists and is waiting to be discovered. Instead, “truth,” or meaning, arises in and from our commitment to the realities of our world. That is, the “real world” does not preexist regardless of human activity or symbolic language.
Subjectivist epistemology refers to the idea that reality can be expressed in a series of systems of symbols and language, and that it is molded to suit the purposes of individuals, so that people impose a meaning on the world and interpret it in a way that makes sense to them. The value of subjectivist research lies in revealing how an individual’s experience shapes their perception of the world.
In addition to considering the three defining characteristics of a research paradigm suggested by Guba and Lincoln –ontology, epistemology and methodology-, Heron and Reason argue that a research paradigm must also consider a fourth factor: axiology.
Axiology deals with the nature of value and grasps the question of the value of what is intrinsically worth. The fourth defining characteristic of a research paradigm, axiology, calls into question “the values of being, about which human states should be valued simply for what they are” (Heron & Reason, 1997, p. 287). The participatory paradigm addresses this axiological question in terms of human flourishing.
Human flourishing is seen as a “process of social participation in which there is a mutually enabling balance, within and between people, of autonomy, cooperation and hierarchy. It is conceived as interdependent with the flowering of the planet’s ecosystem” (Heron, 1996, p. 11). Human flourishing is valued as intrinsically valuable and participatory decision-making, and is considered a means to an end that allows people to participate in decision-making, in all social contexts, that affect their flourishing in some way.
A methodology is a system of general principles and ways of organizing and structuring theoretical and practical activity, and also the theory of this system. Genetically, the methods date back to a distant past, when our distant ancestors acquired, generalized and transmitted to new generations their skills and means to influence nature, ways of organizing work and communication. When philosophy emerged, methodology became a special target of cognition and could be defined as a system of socially approved rules and norms of intellectual and practical activity.
These rules and norms had to conform to the objective logic of events, to the properties and laws of phenomena. The problems of accumulation and transmission of experience required a certain formalization of the principles and precepts, techniques and operations of the activity.
It is important to order the relationship between philosophical methodology and the complex hierarchy of general and activity-specific scientific forms and techniques in material and intellectual production organized at various levels. At the philosophical level, methodology actually functions not in the form of a rigid system of norms, “prescriptions” and techniques – such an interpretation would inevitably lead to dogmatism – but as a general system of assumptions and guidelines of human activity, the worldview being the most vital of these.
Dialectical and historical materialism is such a general system. The world view provides the assumption and basis of the methodology. Philosophy cannot, for example, give physics specific methods for studying quantum mechanics. But it deals with the general approach to the discovery of truth in physics. It is not concerned with the “tactics” of the investigative process, but with strategy in the battle for truth.
How is axiology situated within other elements of the research paradigm?
In order to understand the different meanings of each of these charming terms, we need a historical perspective.
We have been able to find references to four great eras of human understanding of reality and the generation of knowledge. We’ll call them eras of realism.
Plato and Aristotle (Sanzio) the first era of realism is called the period of idealism.
This era existed in the time of Socrates. According to idealism, reality or ontology is spiritual, epistemology consists of rethinking proven and true ideas, and axiology in the absolute and the eternal. Socrates believed that man is a temporary being.
Second period of realism was popularized by Aristotle.
Here reality is objective and measurable and not spiritual, epistemology is through the use of the senses, while axiology is based on the laws of nature and could therefore be acquired. The Aristotelian teachings of realism are called essentialism.
Third era was the first of two radical eras: pragmatism.
The pragmatists were very strict about what they accepted and rejected. All the factors of ontology, epistemology and axiology that should be included in his work (or even considered) had to be useful; otherwise, they were instantly discarded. A philosophy derived from the position of pragmatism was progressivism. Progressivism was proposed by our much-loved hero John Dewey. Dewey instructed public schools to teach only what was of interest to students. Everything that was not considered useful was discarded.
Finally, the fourth era and the second radical era is Existentialism, which was born after World War II.
According to Existentialism, reality is subjective (very daring, by the way!), epistemology is only a personal search or full of choice and axiology was the expression of freedom.
So, in short, ontology, epistemology, and axiology used to mean different things at different times in history depending on how people generally perceived the world and considered knowledge to be created.
Axiological concerns permeate research. Two general examples are:
What makes a researcher good (e.g., unbiased, curious, attentive, diligent, etc.); and
What is a worthwhile science (e.g., correlational, causal, problem-centered, hypothesis-centered, experimental, applied, private, public, etc.).
A concrete example is the formation of research questions, as they are created and promulgated on the basis of personal, scientific and other commitments; for example, what is valued as a research question and result.
Moreover, these issues are multidimensional, for example;
In what context is the research placed (paradigmatic influences)?
What are the philosophical values chosen and why (research orientation)?
Why is a specific research (research approach) chosen? and
What statements are made (and suggestions to professionals)?” (Biedenbach and Jacobsson 2016)
Axiology, then, is part of the general utility of philosophy for thinking about interdisciplinary research.
Bringing together ontology, epistemology and axiology: normative philosophical commitments
Patterson and Williams (1998) use the ideas of the philosophy of science to present a model of science that, at the time, advanced the debate on social science within the management of natural resources. Only part of your model is discussed here.
They argue that science has, in part, a normative structure. Thus, the realization of “X” type of scientific research is supported by “Y” set of normative philosophical commitments.
These philosophical compromises include theories about:
The nature of reality and what actually exists (ontology)
The relationship between the knower and what is known (epistemology)
What we value (axiology)
The strategy and justifications in the construction of a specific type of knowledge (methodology), in relation to the individual techniques (method/s).
Taken together, the set of philosophical commitments forms a metatheric structure that can help to better understand research as a phenomenon in itself.
Complexity in Scientific Research
Another layer of complexity is that “X” type of scientific research can involve multiple normative philosophical commitments, especially when it is structured by a particular community of researchers who say that their collection of philosophical commitments and practices constitutes a science.
Thus, some communities of researchers rigorously monitor their science by dogmatically controlling research. They do this with a set of very well-defined and normally implicit and therefore opaque policy commitments. In contrast, certain research communities tolerate diverse, disorderly, or explicitly stated sets of normative philosophical commitments (hello interdisciplinary!).
However, it should be borne in mind that normative commitments are applied with a high degree of generality, essentially at the level of worldview (e.g. rationalist; relativistic) and of research paradigm or tradition (e.g. interpretiveism, positivism/empiricism, critical research).
Diversity of the Phenomena Involved
Although regulatory commitments are an integral part of research, at the lower level of individual research programmes (e.g. specific theories, methodologies and methods by which researchers carry out individual research projects in the “real world”), the diversity of the phenomena involved makes the implementation of regulatory commitments as described here problematic; there are too many additional attributes that could be compared.
Therefore, the difficult part of applying this heuristic is to extract and make explicit the normative commitments that operate in higher degrees of generality. Notwithstanding the above, this may include taking into account how theories, methodologies, and disciplinary methods come closer to form the most obvious parts of the research work and which can infer what normative commitments lie behind these various choices.
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You may also be interested in: Research Ethics
Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.),
Handbook of qualitative research (pp.105-117). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Heron, J., & Reason, P. (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry, 3, 274-294.
Abram, B. (1996): “Re-vision. The Centrality of Time for an Ecological Social Science Perspective”. In Lash, S., Szerszynski, B., & Wynne, B. (eds.). Risk, Environment, and Modernity. London, Sage, pp. 84-103.
Heron, J. ( 1996). Cooperative inquiry: Research into the human condition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Patterson, M. and Williams, D. (1998). Paradigms and problems: The practice of social science in natural resource management. Society and Natural Resources, 11,3: 279-295.