Quality and Quantity

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 327–337 | Cite as

Philosophical foundations of sociological measurement: a note on the three level model

  • Kenneth D. Bailey


Even a cursory perusal of the social science literature suffices to show the prevalence of dichotomous thinking. Many of these dichotomies deal with some aspect of the “conceptual versus empirical” distinction. This paper shows that while dichotomies predominate for some reason, the actual research process that they are designed to represent deals minimally with three separate and necessary levels. We term these the conceptual level (X), the empirical level (X′), and the operational or indicator level (X″). This minimal three level model is applied to an analysis of philosophical foundations of measurement, specifically the formulations of Northrop and Bridgman. It is shown that both of these formulations are essentially dichotomous, while the phenomena they deal with are trichotomous. For example, Northrop's “concepts by postulation” and “concepts by intuition” are purportedly separate levels connected by an epistemic correlation. Application of the three level model reveals that both are true concepts, and thus belong on the same level of analysis (X). Similarly, application of the three level model to Bridgman's formulation shows that both mental and physical concepts belong on the same level (X). Bridgman's formulation is valuable in pointing out that operations are not restricted to one level of analysis, and in fact we see them to be crucial on all three levels. The three level model is not a panacea, but does provide an efficacious framework for the difficult but important task of analyzing the philosophical underpinning of measurement.


Social Science Science Literature Research Process Important Task Level Model 
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth D. Bailey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos Angeles

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