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Philosophical Perspectives in 20th Century Research Paper



Positivism refers to a set of methods of seeking knowledge which hold that the scientific method is the best approach in studying, understanding and investigating physical and social phenomena. Positivism heavily relies on observation and empirical study in the investigation of phenomena. It is an old philosophy which contents that the only authentic knowledge was the one obtained through the empirical method. The term was coined by early scholars cum philosophers like Auguste Comte in the 19th century, but gained popularity in the 20th century. In the 20th century, it was referred to as logical positivism.

Logical positivism was just positivism which de-emphasized the idea of the speculations in metaphysics and the attempts of Comnte’s positivism to reduce everything to logic. Later on, logical positivism attracted criticism from philosophers like Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper. The criticism by these philosophers led to the emergence of postpostivism, a philosophy which held that knowledge is based on human conjectures but not on solid foundations which are not easy to change. Later on, the philosophy was advanced to include the scientific method as way of obtaining knowledge (Rosenberg, 2007).

These modifications reflected the changes in the industry, from focusing solely on quantitative research to the inclusion of qualitative, mixed methods and triangulation, which became very prominent in many social science researches like in psychology, political science, economics, and sociology. The modifications also reflected the changes of individual’s perceptions of truth and knowledge, which shifted from the thinking that truth was only based on religious doctrines to the thinking that truth was relative and it was therefore necessary to move from subjectivity to objectivity when dealing with the whole issue of truth (McNabb, 2010).


Determinism is the argument that how things will be in the future is influenced by natural laws and how things are at the present. Determinism takes the position that everything which happens is supposed to happen only in that way and not in any other because everything is planned before and ours is just to follow the programming of our lives because there is nothing much we can do to change or manipulate the programming (Ekstrom, 2005.p. 210). Determinism arose as early as mid-1600, but gained popularity in the 20th century. The philosophy originated with several philosophers, key among them including Baron d’Holbach, Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and William James.

Determinists argue that our genes greatly influence our lives. If we were born to be thieves or kleptomaniacs, we remain like that because it is in our genetic make-up. The same applies to intelligence. If we were born with a low intelligence quotient (IQ), then we stay like that for ever because it is in our genes which we have little or no influence over. Many determinists follow the laws of nature in supporting their arguments.

They content that the decisions we make are always predetermined and are independent of other factors, and that given the same situation at a different time, we would still make the same decisions because the decisions are supposed to lead us to our pre-determined end. For example, if a parent chooses to take a child to a boarding school instead of a day school, the parent does that because his mind is already configured to make that kind of a decision under the given circumstances. Biological determinists also give the example of our height and body color. Our height for example is determined by our genes and there is nothing we can do to change it. If we were born short, we can only wish to be tall but we cannot grow any taller than we are.

Theological determinism is the argument that our live and destiny are influenced by a supreme being known as God who is all knowing. He knows us before we are born, knows where we shall be born and the kind of people we shall be as well as our fate after death. Theological determinism therefore holds that we should not worry or complain about our lives because they are controlled and influenced by God, and therefore we should just rejoice for who we are, where we are and what we have because God has already planned it, and can change it for better or worst depending on how we relate with him (Honderich, 2005.p. 120).

Determinism holds that our lives and behaviors are influenced by our cultural orientations and psychological profiling. If we live in a culture whereby for example girls are married at tender age, then the girls who live in that culture have got no option other than to get married at tender age because the culture stipulates that. We may also be influenced by our psychological profiling when making some decisions.

For example, if women have a tendency of being nymphomaniac (the desire of women to want as much sex and as frequent as possible) then their behavior is already determined by their psychological profiling and therefore have no option other than to want as much sex as possible. Determinism in this sense therefore can be said to disregard morality by contenting that we are what we are and we cannot be otherwise (Honderich 120).

Free will

Free will is the argument that people are always provided with options to choose and make decisions. The philosophical perspective arose as early as 1500 and just like determinism, gained momentum in the 20th century. The originators of the philosophy are Robert Kane and Thomas Reid. Free will gives us the choices to make based on our will. We may choose to be polite or rude; we may choose to be single or marry someone as well as choose whether to pursue education or religion or not.

Free will forms the basis of morality. If for example our lives are influenced by determinism, then we should not be having any police or prisons because hard determinists like Holbach would argue that those who commit crimes should not be punished because they were born to be criminals or immoral. The same applies to rewards. If determinism was to be true, then we should not be giving various awards or prizes to people who do well in various fields like athletics or academics (Baer & Baumeister, 2008.p. 34).

Free will down plays the arguments of determinists by arguing that determinists leave in the old metaphysical world in which free will did not exist but rather, everything was determined by the laws of nature or science (Kim, 2009.p. 20).

If we were to believe in determinism, then things like innovations, inventions and creativity would be meaningless because everything in live is already determined. Free will therefore leaves the room for people to be creative and innovative as well as to choose what they want and how much they want it. It therefore follows that free will seems to control our lives in that we are able to shift or change our ways of live depending on the prevailing situations, our likes, dislikes and priorities (Ekstrom, 2005.p. 210).


Baer, J., &Baumeister, R. (2008). Are We Free: Psychology and Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.34.

Ekstrom, L. (2005). Free Will: A Philosophical Study. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p.210.

Honderich, T. (2005). On Determinism and Freedom. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,p.120.

Kim, J. (2009). A Companion to Metaphysics. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, p.20.

McNabb, D.E. (2010). Research methods for political science: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. 2nd Ed. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Rosenberg, A., (2007).Philosophy of Social Science. 3rd Ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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