Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Discovery is the process of revealing or disclosure [verb 'to discover': noun 'a discovery', the outcome of the process of discovery].

explanatory context

In science, however, discovery is both a contentious and disturbing phenomenon. Discovery has long had an air of irrationality about it, and this was unacceptable to positivist philosophers of science who wanted to develop a theory of science as a logical and methodic pursuit.


The positivistic tendency was to draw a clear demarcation between the context of discovery and the context of justification. Briefly, the argument is that the formulation of ideas and the inductive procedures by which new concepts are developed belong in the context of discovery. The deductive testing of new ideas and concepts come under the context of justification.


Positivism is not concerned with the context of discovery (leaving that to empirical psychology) and concentrates on the rational reconstructions of the context of justification.


The positivist position (which includes falsificationism) is that that the psychology and sociology of discovery are no business of the historian or philosopher of science whose concern should be with the objective arguments in the justification of change in science.


The positivistic concentration on the justification process reinforced the view that discovery was irrational. This also led to a rift between the normative prescriptions of the logical empiricists and the generalisations of empiricist historians of sciences concerned with how research had actually been conducted. Thus Kuhnís paradigm approach was condemned for presenting advances in science as the outcome of psychological switches of position and of fashion.


It is important to distinguish, therefore, between the reconstructed logic of discovery and the actual process of discovery. Arguably the process of discovery and the justification of it are interrelated elements of scientific knowledge.


analytical review

associated issues


related areas

See also





copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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