Epistemology for interdisciplinary research: Shifting philosophical paradigms of science

Mieke Boon (Corresponding Author), Sophie Jacobine van Baalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
93 Downloads (Pure)


In science policy, it is generally acknowledged that science-based problem-solving requires interdisciplinary research. For example, policy makers invest in funding programs such as Horizon 2020 that aim to stimulate interdisciplinary research. Yet the epistemological processes that lead to effective interdisciplinary research are poorly understood. This article aims at an epistemology for interdisciplinary research (IDR), in particular, IDR for solving ‘real-world’ problems. Focus is on the question why researchers experience cognitive and epistemic difficulties in conducting IDR. Based on a study of educational literature it is concluded that higher-education is missing clear ideas on the epistemology of IDR, and as a consequence, on how to teach it. It is conjectured that the lack of philosophical interest in the epistemology of IDR is due to a philosophical paradigm of science (called a physics paradigm of science), which prevents recognizing severe epistemological challenges of IDR, both in the philosophy of science as well as in science education and research. The proposed alternative philosophical paradigm (called an engineering paradigm of science) entails alternative philosophical presuppositions regarding aspects such as the aim of science, the character of knowledge, the epistemic and pragmatic criteria for accepting knowledge, and the role of technological instruments. This alternative philosophical paradigm assume the production of knowledge for epistemic functions as the aim of science, and interprets ‘knowledge’ (such as theories, models, laws, and concepts) as epistemic tools that must allow for conducting epistemic tasks by epistemic agents, rather than interpreting knowledge as representations that objectively represent aspects of the world independent of the way in which it was constructed. The engineering paradigm of science involves that knowledge is indelibly shaped by how it is constructed. Additionally, the way in which scientific disciplines (or fields) construct knowledge is guided by the specificities of the discipline, which can be analyzed in terms of disciplinary perspectives. This implies that knowledge and the epistemic uses of knowledge cannot be understood without at least some understanding of how the knowledge is constructed. Accordingly, scientific researchers need so-called metacognitive scaffolds to assist in analyzing and reconstructing how ‘knowledge’ is constructed and how different disciplines do this differently. In an engineering paradigm of science, these metacognitive scaffolds can also be interpreted as epistemic tools, but in this case as tools that guide, enable and constrain analyzing and articulating how knowledge is produced (i.e., explaining epistemological aspects of doing research). In interdisciplinary research, metacognitive scaffolds assist interdisciplinary communication aiming to analyze and articulate how the discipline constructs knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalEuropean journal for philosophy of science
Early online date12 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • Problem-solving
  • Epistemology
  • Disciplinary matrix
  • Kuhn
  • Disciplinary perspectives
  • Engineering paradigm of science
  • Engineeringe Sciences
  • Higher education
  • Expertise
  • Metacognitive skills
  • Higher-order cognitive abilities
  • Metacognitive scaffolds
  • Interdisciplinarity


Dive into the research topics of 'Epistemology for interdisciplinary research: Shifting philosophical paradigms of science'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this