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A Response to Lawrence Ferrara's Chapter Four in R. Phelps, R. Sadoff, E. Warburton, and L. Ferrara, A Guide to Research in Music Education, 5th Edition (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2005)
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Philosophy of Music Education Review 14.1 (2006) 89-92

Jack Heller

University of South Florida

It is curious that Lawrence Ferrara disagrees with Jack Heller and Edward. J. P. O'Connor's view that "philosophy" is not "research," yet in the chapter headings in the book A Guide to Research in Music Education, 5th Edition, Chapter 4 is labeled "Philosophical Inquiry," while other chapters are labeled "Qualitative Research," "Nonexperimental Research," "Quantitative Research," and "Historical Research" (italics added). Why not "Philosophical Research?" Maybe he, too, believes that philosophy is not research.

In our Handbook Chapter we pointed out that research should be systematic and based on "empirical observation." To make things worse we said that research should try to provide "unbiased evidence." Ferrara ascribes to us a positivistic view that we did not make nor believe. That view, according to Ferrara is that the "key reason for their [our] dismissal of philosophical inquiry (notice inquiry not research) as a bona fide research design is the invariable criterion that they [we] assign to all research if it is indeed research: to present 'unbiased evidence.'" We still believe that research should try to be as objective as possible while realizing that all observations are researcher dependent and have error. Research should strive to reduce error as much as possible.

My reading of Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions does not conflict with what was written in our Chapter. We did not claim that data are unbiased but rather that research should try to limit bias and try to interpret observations that can be supported by specific behavior.

Philosophy, or more properly model building, should lead research. Assumptions that appear in a model are just that. They are assumptions. Not fact; not unbiased opinion. But these assumptions or philosophical conclusions should not be called research in music education because they do not provide any behavioral evidence as support. The deductive process used in philosophy (syllogistic reasoning, for example) should help to develop hypotheses that can be investigated by an inductive process (data collection). Philosophy is a time honored scholarly activity. We certainly do not mean to diminish its importance. All research should have a philosophical underpinning that should produce a theoretical model. This model then should be tested by research. Our Handbook Chapter takes this position. Philosophy is philosophy, not research.

Ferrara paraphrases Rom Harre by stating that

there are at least three realms of scientific research and theory: the first realm is marked by ordinary perception in which what is known is based on observable and empirically verifiable facts; in the second realm, perception may catch up with conception–there is a promise of technological development . . . through which researchers will eventually be able to 'observe' and empirically verify what they only conceived (as in philosophical inquiry) as the probable explanation; and in the third realm there are genuine theoretical acts of imagination . . . that will never be directly (italics added) perceived, for example, empirically observed or verified.

Ferrara points out that this "positivist dictum [the Harre quote above] . . . is unrealistic in relation to actual (italics added) scientific research and practice." It is not clear to which "actual scientific research and practice" Ferrara refers. This entire view is misguided. Ferrara does not believe "the methodology of the natural sciences can appropriately be utilized in the human sciences and arts research, retaining the level of objectivity (italics added) achieved in the natural sciences." Who does Ferrara believes carries out natural science research? Are they not humans, constrained by the same problems of observation that all humans encounter? Are their observations more "objective" as Ferrara seems to believe? The natural scientist, like all other researchers, faces the issue of error in observing phenomena that all researchers face. (See the many examples of this view in Jacques Barzun and Henry Graff. ) Neither philosophical inquiry, nor logical positivism, nor the "new realism" approach that Ferrara proposes for research is free from observational error. The role of all research is to minimize error.

A quick romp through some ideas of Descartes, Hume, and Kant lead Ferrara to the dubious conclusion that "realist philosophy in science and the social sciences seeks to be more inclusive...

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