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What is methodology.

In various dictionaries and reference books, quite confusing information is given regarding the methodology. The term is quite ancient; it was first used by Plato, and its meaning has changed over time. Furthermore, definitions for methodology, scientific method, philosophy of science, epistemology---all refer to the same thing: ways of obtaining scientific knowledge and what it is, scientific knowledge. Philosophical encyclopedias often lack an article on methodology but have articles on methodologies of individual philosophers as more or less coherent views on "method". In particular, compare the search results in another encyclopedia.

After the pragmatic turn in philosophy, the meaning of the word continued to change, and cognition/research/learning stopped being just a modeling of the world; now the primary focus is on multilevel (acting on many system levels simultaneously) changing of models of the world and the agent, as well as the physical world and the agent. The agent/IPU (information-processing unit) is conceived without scale, and its reasonableness can also vary greatly: a molecule has no generative models of the world and itself, a cat has more of them, and a team of people may have many detailed such models (which are not necessarily in the brain; the immune system also contains such a model, distinguishing "self" from "other", and such models can also be in computers).

Methodology thus becomes a scale-less teaching about the activity of agents in changing the world and themselves, and this activity encompasses knowledge as changing models of the world and oneself.

This is further discussed in the course "Systems Thinking", where some basics of methodology are explained, and some initial concepts (roles, agents, practices) are clarified. Our course continues this narrative, so completion of "Systems Thinking" is a prerequisite for our course. Remember that "Systems Thinking" also has its prerequisites and recommendations (for example, it is nearly impossible to tackle it if you have not taken the course "Modeling and Consistency" beforehand. The overall sequence of courses is outlined in the "Organizational Development" program of the School of Systems Management).

The word "methodology" can have two dictionary meanings:

  • as "study of method",
  • as an equivalent of the word "method", as even engineered standards underline[1].

So, it is completely acceptable to talk about "XYZ development methodology" or "KLM development method", as well as "situational engineering methods" as one of the methods for the methodology itself as a study of method. The meanings of the word need to be distinguished based on context. This is exactly the same use of the word as in the case of "logic"---it can also be the study of different logics, and "Aristotelian logic" is one of the logics studied in the study of logics. Or "geometry"---the study of different spatial objects in spaces of different dimensions, and "Euclidean geometry" is one of the variants of geometry studied in the study of geometries.

Our understanding of methodology as the study of method/practice/labor/activity/engineering in general and at the same time individual types of methods/practices/labor/activity/engineering is based on the fact that methodology is a separate full-fledged fundamental transdisciplinary in the intellectual stack. More details on how methodology fits into the range of other disciplines can be found in the course "Intellectual Stack".

We distinguish the concepts

  • discipline ("scientific subject") of "methodology" as a set of closely related concepts and ways of reasoning about them. These include the concepts of agent/IPU with different degrees of cognition and capabilities for planning and action, roles, practices/labor/method/engineering, etc.
  • study course of "methodology" (the one you are currently taking), which may explain concepts not only of methodology but also of other fundamental transdisciplinary in the intellectual stack (for example, disciplines of ontology and systems engineering).

You began studying the concepts of the discipline of "methodology" in the course "Systems Thinking", which touched on the disciplines of physics (the concept of system came from there), semantics (distinguishing descriptions of a system, documentation about a system, and the system itself---semantic triangle and its variations), ontology (primarily discussing the hierarchy of objects in part-whole relationships and ways of establishing that objects with different descriptions represent the same object), and methodology (roles, practices, agents/IPU/"role performers", "creating systems"/creators). The concepts of methodology are inseparably linked with the concepts of the systems approach, which were developed in various fundamental disciplines.

In our methodology course, a systems approach will also be used to elaborate on the basic concepts of methodology. However, we will not talk about "system methodology" or "practical/labor/activity/engineering methodology", as this would be redundant since one of the definitions of "method" is "all practices/activities/ "types of labor"/"types of engineering" needed to achieve a certain result". "System methodology" could cause confusion since there are already specific variants/schools of methodology called quite similarly---"system-thinking-activity methodology", system-methodology.

There is another name for methodology as the general theory of activity---praxeology, and praxeology has very different understandings of what the subject of this fundamental science is. For example, in the Austrian School of Economics variant, praxeology was assumed to lay the groundwork for the disciplines of economics, sociology, and law, but only the project to create the Austrian School of Economics turned out to be successful; very little was done in the field of law, and almost nothing---in sociology. In our version of the discipline of methodology, we distinguish its content from the similarly named "research methodology", which we highlight as a separate discipline in the intellectual stack, "research"---the study of how knowledge grows, how we obtain more precise knowledge, what the acquired knowledge entails as a result of "research," and how to further utilize it (explanatory theories that enable making activity choices) we highlight as "rationality."

In our version of the methodology discipline, we study the structure of activity/practice/engineering in its most general form. We view it as a "true discipline" (which does not dictate what to do but indicates "how to look and what to see"); as a normative discipline (which dictates what to do) we could point to systems engineering, but it also includes normative economics, law, and sociology.

Methodology examines the concepts of practice/activity/"working process"/creation/labor/engineering, agent/creator/IPU, roles/functions of the agent, life cycle of the system, evolution/development, goals, and means.

There is another name for methodology as the general theory of activity---praxeology, and praxeology has very different understandings of what the subject of this fundamental science is. For example, in the Austrian School of Economics variant, praxeology was assumed to lay the groundwork for the disciplines of economics, sociology, and law, but only the project to create the Austrian School of Economics turned out to be successful; very little was done in the field of law, and almost nothing---in sociology. In our version of the discipline of methodology, we distinguish its content from the similarly named "research methodology", which we highlight as a separate discipline in the intellectual stack, "research"---the study of how knowledge grows, how we obtain more precise knowledge, what the acquired knowledge entails as a result of "research," and how to further utilize it (explanatory theories that enable making activity choices) we highlight as "rationality."

In our version of the methodology discipline, we study the structure of activity/practice/engineering in its most general form. We view it as a "true discipline" (which does not dictate what to do but indicates "how to look and what to see"); as a normative discipline (which dictates what to do) we could point to systems engineering, but it also includes normative economics, law, and sociology.


  1. ISO/IEC 24744:2014 Software Engineering - Metamodel for development methodologies ↩︎