Epistemology is the theory of knowledge how it is acquired and how you communicate it to others.

This weeks discussion question examines knowledge. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge how it is acquired and how you communicate it to others. There has been a great deal of debate about epistemology and how it relates to ontology, which is the theory of reality. Ontology can be likened to our belief systems and epistemology can be likened to how we acquire and communicate knowledge within our belief system. To put it simply, if you believe that the world (or reality) is objective and external to you, then you are a Realist. However, if you believe that the world is socially constructed, that reality is how we perceive it in our own minds, then you are a Relativist or Nominalist.

As a realist, you might have a positivist epistemology, which means that you would gather data from an objective and reductionist perspective. For example, a realist would measure variables that tend to be external to the subject and/or quantitative in nature. For instance, I might develop measurable statements (hypotheses) such as the following:

Online class participants are more motivated to complete the course successfully than face-to-face students.
There is a difference in motivation between men and women in this class.
A relativist or nominalist, on the other hand, tends to have a constructionist or interpretivist epistemology. This means that he or she believes the world is cognitively and socially constructed by individuals and that these social constructions are influenced by experience. As a result, nominalist researchers gather in-depth, experiential qualitative data. A relativist or nominalist may therefore ask the following questions on motivation:

How do you motivate yourself so that you can complete your modules successfully?
How does your interest in methodology influence your assignments and discussions?
As you can see, the questions a realist asks tend to be closed, generalised (focused on others as well as the respondent) and quantitative in nature. Questions from a relativist/nominalist tend to be open, experiential (focused on the subjects experiences, thoughts and opinions) and qualitative.

If you are a realist can you use a constructionist or interpretivist epistemology? Likewise, if you are a relativist/nominalist, can you use a positivist epistemology? Why or why not? Can you mix your belief systems (ontologies)?