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Research Onion Model - Philosophy, Approach, Strategy, Horizon & Data Collection
Title: Image if Elements

Change this diagram – draw yourselves

Bring elements one by one

Layer and Approaches
Research PhilosophyPositivism, Interpretivism and Realism
Research ApproachesDeductive, Inductive
Research StrategiesExperiment, Survey, Case Study, Grounded Theory, Ethnography, Action Research
Time HorizonsCross Sectional, Longitudinal
Data Collection MethodsSampling, Secondary Data, Observation, Interviews, Questionnaires


What is Positivism?

  • Auguste Comte, who argued that, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other absolute laws, so does society, and further developed positivism into a Religion of Humanity.
  • Introspective and intuitive knowledge is rejected, as are metaphysics and theology because metaphysical and theological claims cannot be verified by sense experience.
  • The term “positivism” was first coined by Saint Simon and was later popularized in the first half of the 19th Century by the French sociologist and philosopher, Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857) who is considered the father of the positivist movement. Comte also invented the word “sociology.”


  • Quantitative
  • Objective
  • No bias
  • Authentic Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Positive verification
  • Scientific objectivity

3 Stages of Positivism

  • First Sage of Positivism: The exponents of the first stage were Comte, E. Littre and P. Laffitte in France, J. S. Mill and Herbert Spencer in England. Alongside the problems of the theory of knowledge (Comte) and logic (Mill) , the main place in the first positivism was assigned to sociology based on Comte՚s idea of transforming society based on science and Spencer՚s organic theory of society.
  • Second Stage in Positivism (Empirio-Criticism) : It dates back to the 1870s-1890s and is associated with Ernst Mach and Avenarius, who renounced even formal recognition of objective real objects, which was a feature of early positivism. In Machism, the problems of cognition were interpreted from the viewpoint of extreme psychologism, which was merging with subjectivism. Here the personal or subjective interpretation was assigned to all objects and psychology was assumed to play a central role in grounding or explaining some other, non-psychological type of fact or law. Such beliefs returned the control of explaining the truths and facts back to the subject.
  • Third Stage in Positivism: The rise and formation of the latest positivism, or neo-positivism, is linked with Vienna Circle and Berlin Society for Scientific Philosophy, which combined trends like logical atomism, logical positivism, and semantics. The main place in the third positivism is taken by the philosophical problems of language, symbolic logic, the structure of scientific investigations. Having renounced psychologism, the exponents of the third positivism started reconciling the logic of science with mathematics and worked on formalization of epistemological problems.

3 Laws of Positivism by Comte

Postivism by Comte
  • Theological - In this stage, everything is referenced to God, and the divine subsume human rights. The theological phase is characterized by the supremacy of mythology, which sees nature as a living being manifesting divine attributes. It refers to explanation by personified deities
  • People worship inanimate objects like trees, stones etc. - Fetihism
    • Polytheism- many gods
    • Monotheism – one god
  • Metaphysical - This is the post-enlightenment humanist period, where the universal rights of humanity are most important. Here human beings claim knowledge concerning nature, putting forward theories using abstract thought
  • Positive - Today people attempt to establish cause and effect relationships. Positivism is a purely intellectual way of looking at the world. It emphasizes observation and classification of data and facts

A Priori and a Posteriori Knowledge

A Priori and a Posteriori
A PrioriA Posteriori
Independent of experienceDependent of experience

Nomothetic vs. Idiographic


  • Establish General Laws
  • Precise
  • Scientific
  • Applicable to large groups

Nomothetic Approach

  • Nomothetic research tries to establish general laws. The focus of the nomothetic approach is to obtain objective knowledge through scientific methods. Hence, quantitative methods of investigation are used, to try to produce statistically significant results. The nomothetic approach is considered scientific due to its՚ precise measurement, prediction and control of behavior, investigations of large groups, and objective and controlled methods allowing for replication and generalization.
  • 3 laws: classifying people into groups, establishing principles and establishing dimensions.
  • Limitations of Nomothetic Approach
  • It can lose sight of the ‘whole person’ , due to its extensive use of group averages. That is, predictions can be made about groups, but not about individuals. Nomothetic approach is inspired by positivistic approach.


Idiographic Approach

  • The idiographic approach, unlike the nomothetic approach, focuses on the individual. It suggests that everyone is unique and therefore everyone should be studied in an individual way. Due to this, no general laws are possible. The methods of investigation, in this approach tend to collect quantitative data for investigating the individual. Case studies are the most common method, but unstructured interviews, self-reports, autobiographies, and personal documents are also used.

Limitations of Idiographic Approach

  • This approach is unscientific. Although it does satisfy some of the key aims of science i.e.. description and understanding, but as subjective experience cannot be empirically tested, it remains unscientific. Deductions from this approach are not generalizable.

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