Relation between Critical Realism, Ontology and Epistemology

  1. Hello,
    I have to present Critical Realsim theory to class. I have been coming across words like Ontology and Epistemology. I made effort to see what those terms are and their relation to critical realism but I couldn't understand it. It talks philosophy. Can some help me to understand in simple words or with day to day activities example.

    Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. micromass

    micromass 19,798
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Ontology talks about the existence of objects and about how objects can be classified.
    Let's take a mathematical example. We often talk about circles. But does a circle actually exists? It is impossible (or really really hard) to explicitely construct a circle. You might try to make one that satisfies all practical purposes, but if you zoom in, you will see all kinds of mistakes popping up.
    Furthermore, space is made out of atoms. So we would have to make a circle with a finite number of atoms. That seems impossible.

    So it can be argued that circles do not exist in real life. But we can still reason with circles. So you might say that circles exists in our imagination. Or one might say that we can build a circle of arbitrary accuracy, so this might be enough for existance?

    This example was a purely ontological question. The question was about the existence of an object.

    Epistemology asks on how we can achieve knowledge. I don't want to discuss crackpottery here, but let's take the examples of UFO's. How do we know why UFO's exist, how can we be sure of that knowledge?
    For some people, it is enough that some people are said to be abducted by aliens. For other people, the will have to see aliens for themselves. But even then: if we actually see the aliens, how can we be certain of that knowledge? Could it be that our brain plays tricks on us?? (people who have schizophrenia might see aliens, but it's because they're brain is not representing reality correctly). Could it be that our brain constantly plays tricks on us??

    How can we acquire knowledge? What is the correct way to acquire knowledge. One might say that the scientific method is a way to acquire knowledge: you observe and you write down what you observe. Other's disagree.

    Another example: a baby is naturally attracted to its mother. In a psychological experiment they put baby monkeys in a room and they also put in the room
    1) A fluffy, warm teddybear
    2) A cold steel structure, BUT it has milk
    The question was whether the monkey would choose between the fluffiness or the food. The monkeys ALL chose for the fluffiness. They "thought" that the fluffy teddybear would bring them protection and would love them more. But how do they know this?? This question is epistimology.
  4. Thanq so much. U explained in simple understandable way.
  5. @micromass
    Can you help me to understand positivism and interpretivism in the same way, simple and not too complex?
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