The qualitative-quantitative debate: moving from positivism and confrontation to post-positivism and reconciliation

J Adv Nurs. 1998 Jun;27(6):1242-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.1998.00651.x.


Critiques of logical positivism form the foundation for a significant number of nursing research papers, with the philosophy being inappropriately deemed synonymous with empirical method. Frequently, proposing an alternative method to those identified with the quantitative paradigm, these critiques are based on a poor foundation. This paper highlights an alternative philosophy to positivism which can also underpin empirical inquiry, that of post-positivism. Post-positivism is contrasted with positivism, which is presented as an outmoded and rejected philosophy which should cease to significantly shape inquiry. Though some acknowledgement of post-positivism has occurred in the nursing literature, this has yet to permeate into mainstream nursing research. Many still base their arguments on a positivistic view of science. Through achievement of a better understanding of post-positivism and greater focus on explicating the philosophical assumptions underpinning all research methods, the distinctions that have long been perceived to exist between qualitative and quantitative methodologies can be confined to the past. Rather methods will be selected solely on the nature of research questions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Nursing Research / methods*
  • Philosophy, Nursing*
  • Research Design