Behavioral science researchers have long acknowledged that their methods have certain technical limits: measurement errors, design restrictions, problems of inference, and other factors. Within these limits, however, many researchers have assumed that their methods provide truthful, accurate, or objective renderings of their subject matter. The problem is that the philosophical limitations of method qua method are often overlooked. Method is not a neutral tool of inquiry but a biased metatheory about how to adjudicate theories and findings. This bias is most evident in the modernist foundations for traditional science. Three modernist assumptions are described as integral to the philosophy and practice of traditional behavioral science: universalism, materialism, and atomism. For purposes of contrast and to facilitate conversation about these assumptions, three postmodern assumptions are also described: contextuality, lived experience, and radical holism. Neither set of assumptions is advocated. Rather, an evaluation of any method and its philosophy is advocated in light of the questions being asked and subject matter being investigated.
Brent D. Slife is with the Department of Psychology at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602.