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Positivism vs Interpretivism


A paradigm in science represents a set of concepts, facts, including theories and other natural phenomena that constitute legitimate contributions to a specific field. In research, there are various paradigms that can be alluded to as sources of knowledge and it is vital to discuss some of them to gain a deeper understanding into the discussion topic (Žukauskas, Vveinhardt & Andriukaitienė, 2018). In essence, the essay primarily focuses on two paradigms that are widely referred to as sources of knowledge. For instance, positivism is one of the concepts that helps provide a clear view of information about the world and other things (Alharahsheh & Pius, 2020). Equally, interpretivism forms a major source of knowledge ad it is vital to examine main arguments as presented by various researchers (Alharahsheh & Pius, 2020). The first part of the paper compares and contrasts the positions taken by both the interpretivists approach and the positivist strategy as a source of knowledge (Clarke, 2009). The second part will critically explore positivism and establish key facts that make it an outstanding option. Part C will explore how positivism can be evaluated to ascertain its ability to serve as a source of and approach towards learning.

Part A: Positivism Vs Interpretivism

It is vital to explore the concept of positivism as it is widely applied as a source of knowledge or as an approach towards conducting research. Positivism is a concept that ontologically embraces naïve realism while adopting an objective approach epistemologically (Clarke, 2009). Positivists believe that the existence of the real world is independent of human minds and they are defined by nature, fact and that there is only one interpretation of reality. It is important to note that the approach presumes that there is one interpretation of reality and it is factual and open for any individual to observe it (Levers, 2013). Positivists value objectivity and assert that the reality of the world is free and independent of human mind, staying separately and importantly, unaffected (Walsham, 1995). In essence, positivism assumes that individuals or human beings have no power or influence of nature and other things that exist. Researchers or earners should be detached from any happenings as reality exists and should be observed openly (Alharahsheh & Pius, 2020). Positivists believe external reality exists and that it can be observed through experiments and other approaches. The main point of positivists is to uncover laws that govern human behavior in society. Equally, research conducted by positivist must be quantified, measurable, reliable and valid.

On the other hand, interpretivism argues that it is human beings who shape the world around them and that the study of knowledge should go beyond theory and observes emotions, feelings and other important aspects that people value (Howell, 2013). Individuals are not just puppets who allude to external forces without questioning the same as positivists believe. The main purpose of the interpretivist approach is to identify or gain a deeper insight into the lives of people and ascertain why they exhibit certain behavior in society (Hasan, 2016). It is also important to note that interpretivists believe that qualitative methods are best suited to explore and provide more interaction time with respondents (Levers, 2013). Quantitative methods cannot provide a solution towards the same as it is the case with qualitative approaches. In essence, interpretivists believe in human understanding and perception about the real world while positivists believe that external reality shapes society.

It is important to explore basic differences and similarities between the two paradigms in philosophy to establish one that is best suited to serve as a source of knowledge. For instance, a general focus on social research for the two paradigms indicates that positivists assume that nature or external forces shape the world including human beings (Howell, 2013). Interpretivists reject the idea and assume that it is human beings who shape the world around them and not the other way round. Equally, it is important to focus on research methods that each of the two paradigms applies in exploring the nature of science and reality (Goldkuhl, 2012). Interpretivism believes that qualitative approaches can help gain or collect more information as it provides much time for interaction within society (Howell, 2013). On the other hand, positivists believe that it is through measurable and quantifiable measures that information can be collected regarding reality. One important similarity that can be noted about the two paradigms is the idea that both value reliability and representativeness for greater validity (Levers, 2013). Both methods are applied as a strategy towards studying nature and human beings in society, becoming functional parts s sources of knowledge. In essence, there are many differences between the two approaches and much research should be done to ascertain the most appropriate paradigm.

In my opinion, positivism presents a better approach towards studying or analyzing a concept in society. To some extent, it is nature or external reality that has affected or shaped behavior in society significantly (Clarke, 2009). The contribution of human input cannot be ignored towards the same but the major objective is to uncover laws that influence human behavior and society in general. The concept was first introduced by the philosopher Auguste Comte who believed in scientific experiments as an approach to study human behavior. It is important to note that some happenings in the world are beyond human ability and the need to understand how some situations come to existence requires a positivist approach (Heshusius & Ballard, 1996). Positivism forms the most reliable approach that can be utilized to study and understand various phenomena in society in a significant manner.

Part B: Positivism and Recent Debates

It is important to explore the historical development as an approach towards gaining knowledge in society. The idea of positivism was first introduced by a French philosopher Auguste Comte who asserted that there s an external force that impacts the natural world independent of humans (Gage, 1989). The initial aim of the philosopher is to develop a paradigm that could fit all practices involving scientific studies. The initial idea was that human cannot be studied and that experiments and other scientific approaches can be used to study various phenomena in the natural world. The paradigm wars that erupted came to be due to criticism that the approach did not consider humans as part of the natural world (Payne & Payne, 2004). The claimed neutrality in scientific research and nature cannot be validated or guaranteed by former positivists and that led to increased criticism from other philosophers. The paradigm believes in measurable and quantifiable research as a way of increasing reliability and validity. The physical world is affected by an external force that is beyond human influence or effect (Heshusius & Ballard, 1996). The formation and study of social sciences in most occasions is supported by the idea of empiricism where results must be presented as a way of evaluating the outcomes. In essence, the development of positivism presented an opportunity for humans to study the natural world and its relationship with society.

The criticism that positivism received challenged individuals to explore the discussion topic and find better quantifiable means to study science (Howell, 2013). Paradigm wars that existed were an opportunity for each philosopher to present logical arguments that can help- educational research develop. For instance, Hume (2000) assumes that natural science can be better understood through experimentation and observation of the same to gain an insight into reality. Genuine knowledge in the world can be tested by experience and experiments that can openly provide an opportunity for researchers to make an observation. It is through the positivist approach that various methods are utilized towards ensuring that people understand natural phenomena and the physical world (Hovorka & Lee, 2010). The paradigm developed as an approach that could help educational research develops and finds scientific approaches to deal or explain with happenings in the physical world (Gage, 1989). The differences between paradigms do not make one right and the other option wrong. It is through tested experience that such paradigms can be assessed and evaluated to ascertain their validity in each situation.

The development of the idea of positivism has always evolved in the years to what can be identified to as post-positivism that clearly criticizes some of the concepts or assumptions made by the latter (Rivas, 2010). Post-positivism is an evolved form of the concept that takes into account human beings and how they might act as influence to aspects in the physical world. Much needs to be done to establish the central idea as it relates to educational research and other aspects. Positivism was developed to help learn and explain various phenomena, especially in the scientific world (Heshusius & Ballard, 1996). Policy makers in the education field need scientific results that are measurable and observable for them to ascertain what can work well in the sector and what has failed initially. Future studies should focus on providing quantitative evidence in presenting information regarding a certain concept as an approach to increasing the scope of understanding.

Part C: Evaluation of the Findings on Positivism

It is vital for the essay to establish approaches that can help evaluate the findings established regarding positivism as an approach towards gaining knowledge and understanding of the physical world (Cowling, 2016). Epistemology and ontological aspects of positivism makes it easier to evaluate its suitability as a source or approach towards learning the natural world. It is important to identify criteria that can be applied towards gaining a deeper understating on positivism as an approach towards learning and expanding knowledge (Howell, 2013). In this part, I will list and explain three approaches that can help understand on how to evaluate positivism and its constructs. The three approaches that can be utilized include reliability, generalizability and validity. For instance, reliability is an aspect that can increase trust towards a certain concept or happening. When results presented by a researcher cannot be relied on, it makes it difficult to achieve the desired level (Ryan, 2018). It is important for researchers to present the right information to policymakers with a view of helping them fund various sectors, especially scientific research in the education sector. Reliable results build trust and provide reason for policymakers to assess and evaluate positivism as an approach towards the study of science.

The second aspect that can be used to evaluate the idea of positivism and its concepts is validity. Each information or result collected should be evaluated based on the validity. Results are more valid when the sources and approaches utilized in collecting them are genuine (Alharahsheh & Pius, 2020). Unreliable approaches towards collection and interpretation of information can be detrimental towards validity. Educational research uses such information in proposing new policies, which policymakers should put in place to support positivism and scientific research (Ryan, 2018). The aspect of validity considers whether the research being conducted has achieved its purpose (Žukauskas, Vveinhardt & Andriukaitienė, 2018). Failing to meet objectivity as required in positivism is a step towards reduced validity of the same approach. Much should be done in scientific research to quantify important aspects as a way of controlling and coming up with informed decision making.

The third criterion that can be utilized to assess the concept and idea of positivism is generalizabilty of the results (Cowling, 2016). It is important to note that repeated results regarding a certain phenomenon can be better expressed in one idea, which is generalizability. Results that cannot be generalized in research cannot be validated as they differ in one way or the other (Rivas, 2010). Positivism in research requires that representativeness is highly observed for the results to be generalized. In essence, evaluation can be done by checking on validity, reliability and generalizability of the results presented during a scientific study.


To sum it up, there are various paradigms that express views on the natural world, sources of knowledge and human behavior. The paper focuses on comparing and contrasting two paradigms that are widely applied as sources of knowledge. Both positivism and interpretivism have been applied before as sources of knowledge and should be employed to develop educational research, especially in the study of sciences. However, the epistemological and ontological aspects of positivism make it a better option to be utilized towards studying the physical world as well as human behavior.


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