Hans Reichenbach, who was close to logical positivism, distinguished between the context of justification and the context of discovery. The context of discovery refers to the process that results in proposing a theoretical result, whereas the context of justification concerns the verification of the truth of a given theory or hypothesis, regardless of how it was obtained.
Reichenbach writes that “there are no logical rules in terms of which a ‘discovery machine’ could be constructed, which takes over the creative function of genius”, meaning that only the context of justification can be subject to a methodological analysis, while the context of discovery remains out of reach of such an investigation.
This question of the profound unity of method, and therefore of science, is still the subject of discussion today. But everyone agrees, both among the analysts and the actors of science, that there is no general “recipe” that researchers should follow to produce new knowledge.
However, we can identify in the scientific activity different methods applicable depending on the situation, both in the context of justification and in the context of discovery.
It must also be emphasized that the very distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification is the subject of criticism. It does, however, provide a conceptual framework for thinking about the scientific method.
Methods in the justification context
It is not so much here to describe a coherent and fixed set of rules for the elaboration of scientific knowledge, a “recipe”, as to describe the different methodological canons involved in this elaboration.
- Axiomatic method
- Critical method
- Deductive method: method that consists of starting from the general to arrive at the particular.
- Inductive methods
- Mill’s methods
- Difference method
- Method of concomitant variations
- Residue method
- Negative method of concordance
- Positive method of concordance
- Matching method of concordance and difference
- Inductive-deductive method of Aristotle
- Mill’s methods
- Test methods
- Experimental method
- Hypothesis methods
- Hypothetical-deductive method
- D-N model of explanation
- Deductive model of explanation
- I-S model of explanation
- Reproducibility: Reproducibility is the best test of the validity of a scientific experiment.
- Nomothetic approach: in this case, the researcher aims at the determination of natural laws.
- Model creation: the model is an object stripped of everything that does not concern the studied properties. The difficulty is to select the important elements, all and nothing. Abstraction is the basis of the conception of a model: a real object, a phenomenon, is analyzed in order to keep only the essential characteristics, those which have an influence on what one wants to study. Very often, we have general models that we can specialize.
- Analytical method: division of a complex problem into simpler subproblems. This method was stated by Rene Descartes in his Discourse on the Method: “… divide each of the difficulties that I would examine, in as many plots as possible, and that it would be required to better solve them.”
- Abstraction: The abstraction consists in isolating by thought a particular property of an object, to form on this basis a particular representation of this object.
- Sizes and measure