Hypothesis Meaning, Nature, Significance29th January 2021
A hypothesis (plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories. Even though the words “hypothesis” and “theory” are often used synonymously, a scientific hypothesis is not the same as a scientific theory. A working hypothesis is a provisionally accepted hypothesis proposed for further research, in a process beginning with an educated guess or thought.
Once the problem to be answered in the course of research is finally instituted, the researcher may, if feasible proceed to formulate tentative solutions or answers to it. These proposed solutions or explanations are called hypotheses which the researcher is obliged to test on the basis of fact already known or which can be made known.
If such answers are not formulated, even implicitly, the researcher cannot effectively go ahead with the investigation of his problem because, in the absence of direction which hypotheses typically provide, the researcher would not know what facts to look for and what relation or order to search for amongst them.
A different meaning of the term hypothesis is used in formal logic, to denote the antecedent of a proposition; thus in the proposition “If P, then Q”, P denotes the hypothesis (or antecedent); Q can be called a consequent. P is the assumption in a (possibly counterfactual) What If question.
The adjective hypothetical, meaning “having the nature of a hypothesis”, or “being assumed to exist as an immediate consequence of a hypothesis”, can refer to any of these meanings of the term “hypothesis”.
Functions of Hypothesis
- Hypothesis helps in making an observation and experiments possible.
- It becomes the start point for the investigation.
- Hypothesis helps in verifying the observations.
- It helps in directing the inquiries in the right directions.
- A hypotheses should be empirically testable. It should be so stated that it is possible to deduce logically certain inferences close to the level of concrete observation so that they can be tested by observation in the field. That is, the hypotheses should have empirical referents.
The concepts embodied in the hypothesis must have clear empirical correspondence and should be explicitly defined. For example, ‘Bad parents beget bad children’ is hardly a statement that can qualify as a usable hypothesis, since ‘bad’ cannot be explicitly defined.
- Hypotheses should be closest to things observable. Failing this, it would not be possible to test their accord with empirical facts. Cohen and Nagel rightly remark”… hypothesis must be formulated in such a manner that deductions can be made from it and consequently, a decision can be reached as to whether it does not explain the facts considered.”
- The hypotheses must be conceptually clear. This point is implicit in the proceeding criterion. The concepts utilized in the hypothesis should be clearly defined not only formally but also, if possible, operationally.
Formal definition or explication of the concepts will clarify what a particular concept stands for, while the operation definition will leave no ambiguity about what would constitute the empirical evidence or indicator of the concept on the plane of reality.
An ambiguous hypothesis characterized by undefined or ill-defined concepts cannot be tested since, understandably, there is no standard basis for knowing what observable facts would constitute its test.
- The hypotheses must be specific. One may hypothesize that something will happen in next five minutes, with absolute confidence but just because it is refuted it is empty of concrete information. We need to know what will happen and as soon as we commit ourselves to one view or another we become vulnerable; our prediction will be refuted if what was said would happen does not happen.
A scientific statement is useful to the extent it allows itself to be exposed to a possible refutation. Often the researchers are tempted to express their hypotheses in terms so general and so grandiose in scope that they are simply not amenable to test.
- Advisedly, the hypotheses should be related to a body of theory or some theoretical orientation. This requirement concerns the theoretic rationale of a hypothesis, i.e., what will be the theoretical gains of testing the hypothesis?
If the hypothesis is related to some theory, research will help to qualify, support, correct or refute the theory. A science can become cumulative only through interchange between the existing body of fact and theory.
Theses objections do not have much substance since such hypotheses formulate imaginatively, besides serving the function of elaborating, extending and improving the theory, they may also suggest important links between it and certain other theories.
Thus, the exercise of deriving hypotheses from a body of theory may also be an occasion of a scientific leap into newer areas of knowledge. As Parsons put it, “Theory not only formulates what we know but also tells us what we want to know.”
If hypotheses were derived from a body of theory, to that extent it would be possible to formulate them as statements about what will happen, that is, the roots of hypotheses in theory would invest these hypotheses with the power of prediction.
One of the valuable attributes of a good hypothesis is its power of prediction. The potency of hypotheses in regard to predictive purposes constitutes a great advancement in scientific knowledge.
- Hypotheses should be related to available techniques. This is, of course, a sensible methodological requirement applicable to any problem when one is judging its research ability. The researcher who does not know what techniques are available to test his hypotheses is in a poor way to formulate usable questions.
In other words, the hypotheses should be formulated only after due thought has been given to the methods and techniques that can be used to measure the concepts or variables incorporated in the hypotheses. This should not mean as implying, however, that formulation of hypotheses which are at a given time too complex to be handled by contemporary technique is a taboo.
If the problem is significant enough as a possible frame of reference, it may be useful regardless of whether or not it is amenable to verification or test by the techniques available at the time. The works of Marx and Durkheim have been of paramount importance to sociology even though at that time their larger ideas were incapable of being handled by available techniques.
Lastly, it would be well to remember that posing of ‘impossible’ questions may stimulate the growth and innovations in technique. There is no doubt that some amount of impetus to modern developments in technique has come from criticisms against significant studies which were at that time considered inadequate because of limitations of available techniques.
Characteristics of Hypothesis
- The hypothesis should be clear and precise to consider it to be reliable.
- If the hypothesis is a relational hypothesis, then it should be stating the relationship between variables.
- The hypothesis must be specific and should have scope for conducting more tests.
- The way of explanation of the hypothesis must be very simple and it should also be understood that the simplicity of the hypothesis is not related to its significance.
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