Table 1.

Definitions of Ontology, Epistemology, and Methodology

OntologyOntology is concerned with the assumptions made by different beliefs about reality.4,6 I am asking an ontological question when I ask, “In what ways is something really there?” If I believe that a stone has a discrete, enduring existence separate from everything else, and a smile has a transient existence that marks a meaningful transaction between people, I am making an ontological distinction.
EpistemologyEpistemology seeks to define knowledge within a particular belief about reality.6 I am asking an epistemological question when I ask, “What is the relationship between the knower and the known?”4 If I believe that a patient can subjectively experience the effect of a drug differently from a claim made by scientific evidence, I am making an epistemological distinction.
MethodologyMethodology is the study of ways of knowing within a particular belief about reality.6 I am asking a methodological question when I ask, “What approach to knowledge generation will provide a reliable answer to my question?” I make different methodological choices when I invite respondents to (1) score a pick-list of options, (2) speak in their own words, or (3) participate in a focus group.