Ontology and Epistemology

  • John D. Hathcoat
  • Cara Meixner
  • Mark C. Nicholas
Reference work entry


Health social science is an area of study wherein the methodological techniques used within the social sciences are applied to the investigation of human health. Methodological techniques, however, are not philosophically agnostic. Philosophical positions indeed matter in that they result in a range of individual and societal consequences. Consequently, it is important for students and researchers interested in studying the social aspects of health to understand the role of philosophical positions within research. Philosophical positions partly consist of ontological and epistemological assumptions. Ontological issues pertain to what exists, whereas epistemology focuses on the nature, limitations, and justification of human knowledge. This chapter introduces the reader to how ontological and epistemological positions are embedded within the biomedical, biopsychosocial, and critical alternative models of human functioning. Situating each of these models in relevant vignettes, we suggest that philosophical positions serve a dual role within inquiry in that they inform, and are in some circumstances informed by, the methodological and interpretative decisions enacted by researchers.


Ontology Epistemology Methods Biomedical Biopsychosocial Health Social Science 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • John D. Hathcoat
    • 1
  • Cara Meixner
    • 2
  • Mark C. Nicholas
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Graduate Psychology, Center for Assessment and Research StudiesJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of Graduate Psychology, Center for Faculty InnovationJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA
  3. 3.Framingham State UniversityFraminghamUSA

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