Epistemology in research – the fountain of business wisdom

The subject of epistemology can be at first a challenging and confusing one. The worlds of business research and philosophy could not seem more distant than any other two intellectual disciplines. Philosophy conjures up the image of intellectuals sitting around coffee shops talking about the meaning of life and the intricacies of human existence itself. Business research, however, produces a completely different picture – of people in brisk business suits storming about finding out about how to sell as many of their products as possible to as many people as possible. Yet, there is, in fact, a deep and logical connection. Epistemology is vital to business research as it allows the person conducting the research to understand what constitutes the knowledge they are trying to seek and what can be seen as speculative and outside that particular area of study. By understanding how to do epistemology you can understand how to properly do business research and unlock untold markets or areas of inquiry that you could have not imagined that could greatly help your company.

You may ask, however, how exactly do you do this? How can you apply a form of philosophy to business research in an easy to understand manner that will allow anyone to properly understand the field of research that they are investigating? Do not worry, this article will explain exactly how to do this so that you will have no trouble whatsoever in demonstrating rigorous analytical techniques to your business research and ensuring that any company will have no problem seizing the day and expanding its horizons into areas of success not previously thought possible.

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To begin with, it is important to properly categorise the various elements and sections of epistemology so that you can understand which brand of this type of thinking applies best to the particular field of business you are researching. It may be that none of the various sections of epistemology exactly fit with your particular type of business model. This should not vex you however – it may be that you have to use a combination of different types of epistemology to fully understand and research the market that the business you are researching is in. You may, alternatively, need to use different parts of all categories; again, this should worry you as the result will still be as valid as if you had only used one category.

  • Intuitive knowledge. This type of epistemology is based more on what people think they know then necessarily what they actually know. Intuitive knowledge is often used in conjunction with religious groups and or the analysis of what businesses appeal or attracts people with particular religious beliefs – for instance, if a particularly devout Christian believes that God created the world in seven days then they are not likely to shop with a business that may in some way dispute this belief. Intuitive knowledge can also be applied to what people think they know and challenges it – this can be useful when rebranding a product because if you understand what people instinctively think about it and want to change their perception, then researching intuitive knowledge within this particular business field can enable the business to directly tackle the issue and resolve it in a way that helps the business and ensures that it has a successful and impressive run and is not hampered in anyway that could negatively affect it and impact on its growth turnover. This type of knowledge can be most useful to businesses if they are trying to understand what exactly their customers believe and what they believe about their company, it can be a particularly useful business research technique when dealing with a company relaunch of a rebranding of a particular product that may have acquired a bad reputation in some way which the company wishes to distance itself from. Therefore, if you are doing a business dissertation and what to use intuitive knowledge to help build up case studies for it.
  • Authoritarian Knowledge. Though it may sound scary, authoritarian knowledge is not to do with dictators or authoritarian governments. Authorisation Knowledge simply means knowledge that is gleamed from books, research papers or experts. This particular field of epistemology falls into the major division of the subject in regard to business studies – rationalism and empiricism. Empiricism is most found under the Empirical Knowledge subsection, which we will deal with shortly, whilst rationalism is dealt with under Authoritarian Knowledge. Rationalism, ironically enough, relies on empirical evidence whilst empiricism relies on knowledge gained through personal experience. This means, for business studies research at least, that authoritarian knowledge is most useful when you want to find out something precise and exact about a particular element you wish to use in a product or if you are investigating whether a particular area would react positively to your particular brand of business or your company. This of course, from a philosophical point of view, helps determine what sort of business you want to run – whether it is one that is powered solely by rigorous analysis of evidence or whether you wish to use more localised forms of research; for instance if you want to follow the empiricist route of market research then you would be basing your decision more on personal experience twinned with objective fact rather than the simply objective fact as stated by Empirical knowledge. Authoritarian Knowledge is particularly useful for a business student doing a dissertation because you have certain clear facts that are established and not debatable to use as part of your research. This would avoid having to use focus groups and would help provide perhaps a more logical and scientific aspect to help support the theory you argue in your dissertation.
  • Logical Knowledge. Unlike the previously mentioned types of knowledge, logical knowledge does not rely on previously held ideas or facts. Rather, logical knowledge is the application and creation of new knowledge through purely logical reason – for example, when Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity this was logical knowledge; he felt an apple fall from a great height onto his head and reasoned that there was some force that caused the apple to fall. Logical Knowledge is perhaps the least used of the various subsections of epistemology as it is often more associated with direct philosophy than business. However, it can still be useful as the practise of logic within business is something that is often overlooked but is vital to any new business ensuring that it does well. Rather than simply attempting to find data and extrapolate from it what you should do regarding the business, logical knowledge allows you to think about the problem logically and come to your own conclusions as to what you should do. For instance, if you are thinking about opening two shops relatively close to one another and were not sure whether you should or not the application of logical knowledge would allow you to come to the conclusion that if you have two shops in relatively proximity then the likelihood is that one or both of them would suffer in terms of trade. In business dissertations, logical knowledge isn’t as effective as other form of epistemology as it relies too much on the assumption that the person using it is thinking logically and that the conclusions that they come to are judged solely on rational thinking and not by any emotional impute they may receive from somewhere else. There is also the questions as to what logic itself is and whether it can be rationally explained in a way that everyone, including your examiner, would agree on.
  • Empirical Knowledge. As mentioned above, empirical knowledge relies more on the perception of the individuals of previous ascertained facts than on the interpretation of information that other types of epistemology do. Empirical Knowledge, like logical knowledge, is perhaps not as useful as it tends to be far more subjective and can be difficult to properly apply in business situations as it relies far too heavily on opinion as opposed to fact. It can be used in business dissertations, however, primarily in relation to focus groups as focus groups mainly provide empirical knowledge of a sort. Empirical Knowledge can be effectively used in conjunction with Intuitive Knowledge when trying to assess particular individuals’ or groups’ opinions on certain products or businesses but to be truly effective they would have to be used in conjunction with more concrete data.

Now we shall look at the application of epistemology in research and how best to use the different types of it to gain various modes of information regarding different types of business. The best way to apply most types of epistemology is in group discussions or surveys of customers. These allow you to gain the raw data you need to analyse how best to invest or interact with certain types of business as well as understand them in a way that would be profitable to a company. Alternatively, if you use Logical Knowledge then you can cut out any interaction with prospective customers and work through your problems using logic alone. This shouldn’t be done in isolation, however, and it is wise to endeavour to ensure that your analysis is not corrupted in some way or another by outside factors. It must also be remembered that epistemology is only one particular technique for gaining research information and to be used effectively should be done as part of a wide range of business research.

The final element to consider is the examination of your research. Once you have gathered all the necessary information, it is important to examine it properly and thoroughly and reflect on its effectiveness. It is vital that you make sure that you properly examine all the data you have found so that you can properly assess whether the venture has been a success and helped improve your business.

Hopefully this article has helped you understand epistemology in research. However, if it hasn’t then perhaps we can help?

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