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Epistemology, ethics and educational research

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‘Educational research is fiction – written under oath. The question is: what is the oath?’ (Barry MacDonald). Barry MacDonald’s aphorism, dropped quite unselfconsciously at a seminar at the University of East Anglia several years ago is of a piece with his commitment to ‘democratic ‘ programme evaluation which he pioneered with the likes of Malcom Parlett, David Hamilton, Bob Stake and Ernie House. The aphorism has echoed through my own thought ever since, posing questions as to the relationship between ethical principles and epistemological principles in the conduct of research, which is the territory I want to explore in this paper. Hammersley has suggested that: ‘where, previously, ethical considerations were believed to set boundaries to what researchers could do in pursuit of knowledge, now ethical considerations are treated by some as constituting the very rationale of research. So does an epistemology of educational research that serves in some sense to ensure that beliefs meet certain conditions for their acceptance remain requirement? More strongly, does ethics impose on us epistemological obligations, as suggested by William Clifford in his classic “The Ethics of Belief”?

This talk is part of the Kazakhstan Programme Research Seminar Series series.

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