Introduction of futures studies within the scientific community,



studies and scenario construction in particular is not a recent phenomenon,
though it is comparatively new approach for scientific studies, therefore the
role of ontology and epistemology as the basis of the research could not be
underestimated. A debate about the appropriateness of ontology in political
science is an on-going process and the dominant part of literature on the topic
may be found rather complex and confusing (Stanley, 2012; Bates and Jenkins,
2007).  The traditional definition of
“ontology” is originated from philosophy and can be expressed by P. A. Hall
(2003) proposed definition – “the character of the world as it actually is” (Hall,
2003, p. 374). However, L. Stanley (2012), C. List and L. Valentini (2016)
reasonably claim that political science and philosophy are different
disciplines and being a social phenomenon political science requires a different
conception of ontology, thus L. Stanley (2012) defines ontology as “the world
as political scientists assume it to be” (Stanley, 2012, p. 95). On the basis
of this assumption a problem question
can be put forward: What theoretical and conceptual framework could be employed
for military officer education policy study? In order to answer this question,
the following tasks were set:

Discuss the
origins and credibility of futures studies.Examine the
different views on ontology of futures studies and define the mainstream for military
officer education policy study.Delineate the
epistemology and define the appropriate methodology.

Reaching these tasks will ensure the coherent and
tangible set up of theoretical and conceptual framework for military officer
education policy future scenario construction and analysis.


Futures studies:
nature, critics and legitimizing factors


future has always been a matter of great interest for humankind – prophets,
sorcerers, fortune tellers and other kind of magicians used to monopolize the
realm of knowing the future for a long time. This stereotype has strongly
entrenched into our mind – thinking of knowing the future a common man would
usually imagine a crystal ball and a fancy-dressed old woman, bombastically murmuring
vague phrases filled with metaphors, trying (in most cases unsuccessfully) to
shape the “future events” by intuitive predictions and allegations. Of course,
there is nothing within the process that could be regarded to as “science” and
based on this existing stereotype many modern scientists put the future studies
and futurists themselves under firm critics. This stereotype even nowadays has
a strong influence on perception of futures studies within the scientific
community, making futurists look more like amateurs than “real” scientists, therefore
it is crucial to identify the origins of futures studies.

think about the future and prepare themselves for desirable and undesirable
events on a constant basis. In psychology this phenomenon is known as future-oriented thinking – our plans,
hopes, expectations, predictions and construction of possible scenarios of
future outcomes – is a natural part of our mental life and in many cases has a
potential to determine the present behavior (Aspinwall, 2005). The need to know
future may be summarized by individual demands to (Molis, 2008; Aspinwall,

future situations and their possible impacts for himself/herself and
surrounding people;Decide on
current actions, taking into account possible future scenarios;Balance
short-term and long-term interests in order to reach stated goals;Determine and control
the causes of significant events;Enhance
motivation, assuming that it is possible to improve the current situation.

Closer examination of these demands makes it obvious
that future-oriented thinking and will to know the future on the individual level
may be primarily associated with decision-making process. But the demand to
know future rises not only on individual level – as D.C. Phillips (1973) claim,
governments and leaders throughout the history made a lot of efforts to achieve
foresight – from hiring astrologists to establishing special committees and
even academies for futures research as a means of strategic planning. Thus the
demand for futures studies may be originated from both – inner individual and external collective levels.

the other hand, changeability and unpredictability are the main attributes of
future as such, making it nearly impossible to apply modern investigative tools
and expert systems, therefore many scientists put the “researchability” of the
future and thus scientific basis of future studies under question. The main
critics of futures studies may be summarized by following conclusions (Molis,
2008; Molnar, 1973; Popper, 1965):

Social reality is constantly changing and developing
in a non-repetitive way, therefore scientific prediction as such is impossible.Scientific predictions may be applied only to
isolated, stationary and recurrent systems, which are rare in nature. Social
system is an open-system, thus application of prediction to such system cannot
be referred to as scientific.Prediction is usually derived from present factors
which may change or be irrelevant in the future, and as a consequence cause
false assumptions about the future in the first place.Predictions precisely derived from present are rather
synthetic, therefore impertinent. On the other hand, predictions derived too
far from reality are considered as utopias.Adoption of future techniques creates a possibility to
confuse the analogy with causal relationship, thus finding unexisting causal
relationship between variables.

is, of course, a lot of common sense in critics of futures studies as a
scientific field, though, W. Bell (2002) argues, that most of the critics are
based on misunderstanding of the main aspects of futures studies.

of all, in order to discuss the scientific basis of futures studies it is
crucial to distinguish what is “science” and its key features. As M. Ruse
(1982) reasonably notices it is quite complicated to give a decent definition
of “science”, as this phenomenon has developed through centuries, separating
itself from religion, superstitions, philosophy and other domains of mental
activities, therefore it is crucial to unfold the key features of what can be
called “science”. The definition of “science” according to M. Ruse (1982) may
be summarized by a number of characteristic features:

Science is aimed
at searching for laws – orders or natural
regularities.Explanation is used to describe the
law, its possibilities and limitations.Prediction, being a natural extension of
explanation, is used to describe how the law indicates future events.Testability – in order to make sure the
law is causing predicted effects, it has to be tested in real world, usually conducting an experiment. Confirmation – in a classical scientific
approach after experiment a scientific theory is either confirmed by positive
evidence or rejected.

On the basis of these assumptions it can be noticed,
that prediction is a natural integral
part of a scientific approach. 

Niiniluoto (2001) notices that futuristic trend is a common feature of many
scientific disciplines, such as economics, physics and psychology – laws,
orders or natural regularities create a set of constraints for present
environment and lead to prediction of observable events in the future. Without prediction any scientific theory will
not meet testability criteria
(Niiniluoto, 2001). Usually a theory which does not have an empirical support
is not considered as “scientific”, therefore the role of prediction as such in a scientific approach cannot be
underestimated. H. Patomaki (2006)
also quite reasonably notices that even though social sciences usually do not use
predictions, anticipation of futures is an integral part of all social actions,
therefore social sciences should also
have the ability to provide explanations of possible or likely futures in
order to stay relevant in a contemporary environment.

as an entity cannot be tested or verified at present, thus a classical
scientific approach usually refers to past events, which leads to assumption
that a substantial research of future as such in a social or open system is
impossible. For this reason, I. Niiniluoto (2001) proposes a clear distinction
between the object and the evidence of the research: the object of futures studies is not the future but the present and the knowledge of the present is evidence about the future. Another approach to define the object of
futures studies is based on assumption that there is no “the one and the only”
future, which can rather be defined as a “branching tree” (Niiniluoto, 2001) or
a variety of alternative possibilities as a part of real world which is not
manifested yet (Patomaki, 2006). Therefore, the future consists of multiple possibilities and non-actualized powers
of existing environment which may unfold under certain circumstances. In
terms of researching the future in an open-system, contemporary futures studies
have changed the research perspective from prediction to trend analysis,
possibilities and scenario construction (Patomaki, 2006), therefore moved from forecast or prediction towards foresight
– possible, preferable future analysis and designing the future. (Kosow, Gaßner, 2008; Niiniluoto,

              Although it is not possible
to obtain absolutely reliable knowledge of future in an open-system, futures
studies provide a substantial ground for alternative possibilities analysis, on
the basis of which certain decisions can be made, therefore even unreliable
knowledge about the future is better that absence of the knowledge as such
(Molis, 2008). In this context future scenario
construction can be compared to a chess game – there are endless possibilities
of the moves on the board, but unfolding situation gradually limits the
possible scenarios and a good player must be aware of the possibilities, yet be
able to predict the most possible move (scenario) of the opponent and choose
the best tactics for counter measures. No one can tell what will be the next
move on the board (the unpredictable essence of the future itself) but the
sophistication of the player in analyzing the possible scenarios creates an
advantage for tactical and strategical decision-making. The future is much more
complex than a chess play, nonetheless the parallel shows the advantage of
future studies in a contemporary world of politics and international relations
lies primarily in a decision making process.

              Contemporary futures studies are
not based on imaginative, wishful thinking, rather than  propositions made on the basis of empirical
analysis of the past and the present tendencies, which may manifest in the future. However, the future studies do not constrain
the reality in the search for the only
possible scenario, but provide the notion of reality dynamics and limiting the
endless possibilities to a few reasonable scenarios. From this point of view
the future studies create a firm foundation for strategic (political)

things considered, the main factors legitimizing futures studies may be
summarized as follows: 

The demand to
know the future is a natural part of our mental life. The core nature of
futures studies can be originated from both – inner individual and external collective levels. Prediction is a
natural integral part of a scientific approach. Without prediction any
scientific theory will not meet testability criteria. The object of
futures studies is not the future but the present and the knowledge of the
present is evidence about the future.Social sciences
should also have the ability to provide explanations of possible or likely
futures in order to stay relevant in a contemporary environment. Scenario construction is not a product of
imaginative, wishful thinking, rather than a proposition made on the basis of
empirical analysis of the past and the present tendencies, which may manifest
in the future.In an open system
contemporary futures studies are focused foresight
– on trend analysis, designing the future, preferable future analysis and scenario
construction rather than on prediction or forecasting.Unreliable
knowledge about the future is better than absence of knowledge.In a modern world of politics and international
relations futures studies can be used as a tool to enhance  decision making process.


framework of futures studies


order to address the matter of scientific basis of futures studies, it is
important to highlight the basic techniques of the research first. A classical
research methodology is based on a certain philosophical theory which then
implies strategies and techniques of the research (Saunders et al., 2009; Nweke,
Orji 2009). From a historical point of view there may be distinguished two classical
or mainstream – positivist and interpretivist, and two rather recent – pragmatist
and critical realist, positions of scientific research philosophy (Saunders et
al., 2009, Molis, 2008; Mingers, 2006).

Positivism – mainly reflects
philosophical stance of a natural scientist. Ontology is based on objectivist
assumptions that entities are observed, atomistic events, existing external to
social actors, therefore only observation and empirical data may be referred to
as “credible”. Knowledge is obtained by observation and finding event
regularities, which are based on causal, law-like and functional relations. Interpretivism – an approach based on subjectivist
ontological assumptions that entities are constituted of discourse, thus existing
or socially constructed reality may be only researched through social
constructions as consciousness or language (Myers, 2008).  Reality is socially constructed and constantly
evolving, therefore knowledge and facts are relative and subjective.

However, M. Saunders et al. (2009), J. Mingers (2006) admit,
that choosing between positive or interpretive position may be unrealistic,
thus another philosophical positions of a scientific research are proposed:

Pragmatism – based on assumption that
within the research it is possible to adopt both positivist and interpretivist
positions whichever works best for particular research question, thus leading
to multimetodology of the research
(Mingers, 2006).Critical realism – based on two ontological
assumptions: 1) the world consists of real entities; 2) we perceive the
sensations and images of real entities, not the real entities themselves
(Saunders et al., 2009). Knowledge is obtained by discovering causal

four scientific research philosophy positions are widely used in political
studies, though they do not fully reflect the basic ontological assumptions of
futures studies. B. De Jouvenel (1967) attempted to define the ontology of
futures studies through facta and futura concepts, claiming that facta refers to scientific approach
which primarily based on collecting data about tangible past events, so that predictions
can be made on the basis of collected data using extrapolation method. On the
contrary, the concept of futura implies
the absence of past data, which could be analyzed. Futura refers to cognitive products, such as wishes, fears,
expectations, etc. thus it cannot be linked with science.  A critical shift of futures studies ontology
paradigms can be associated with introduction of disposition concept by W. Bell (2003). According to R. Poli (2011)
the core difference in understanding the future was the concept of multiple
possibilities where disposition is
referred to as a fact, that can actualize in future under certain
circumstances. From ontology point of view, disposition
is no longer a cognitive product, but a fact that has a potential to condition the future.

rather holistic attempt to define the ontology of futures studies was made by H.
Kosow and R. Gaßner (2008), who claimed that from the present perspective future,
can be perceived in three different views: 1) first view – future is predictable, anything that is going to
happen can be predicted; 2) second view
– future is evolutive, purposeful control of future is impossible; 3) third view – future is malleable,
therefore can be influenced to some extend by participating actors.

              S. Inayatullah,
(2013) proposes quite similar view and also distinguishes three basic views of
future: 1) predictive – assumes
deterministic nature of future, therefore the future can be known; 2) interpretive – is aimed not at
prediction, but insight, therefore is mainly based on interpretive analysis of
different images; 3) critical – there
is no one determined future, rather than one among many possible futures.

Kosow and R. Gaßner (2008), S. Inayatullah, (2013) have provided a quite
substantial theoretical ground for futures studies. After further analysis
these different views of future may be linked to three positions of scientific
research philosophy discussed above – positivism,
interpretivism and critical realism:

Positivism assumes the predictability and controllability of future. Future prognoses are based on our
knowledge of present and past – finding events regularities, which are based on
causal, law-like and functional relations, enables precise calculation of
future events by extrapolation.Interpretivism assumes unpredictable nature of future. The
future is perceived as random, chaotic and unpredictable chain of events, thus the
control or prediction of future as such is impossible, knowledge of future can
only be obtained through intuitive strategy.Critical realism assumes the flexibility of future. The future is
real, although not manifested yet, it consists of multiple possibilities and
actualizes through transformative events, therefore the future can be
influenced (at least to some extent) by participating actors.

the basis of ontological classification of futures studies stated above it can
be concluded that positive philosophy
has a potential to provide theoretical ground for futures studies in areas
where obtaining tangible data is possible, for instance in fields such as demography,
economic development. Interpretive position
is based on understanding the spectrum of images of the future, rather than on
scientific forecasting, therefore it aims to provide an insight not a
prediction. Critical realism on the
other hand, assumes the possibility of different futures which can be influenced
from present at least to some extent, thus it can be employed as ontological
position for scenario construction and analysis in areas such as institutions,
culture, politics.

the basis of this classification it is obvious, that strictly “scientific” positive approach is not quite
convenient for military officer education policy scenario construction due to
absence of tangible data. Interpretivist
approach would limit the research to understanding competing images of future,
rather than development of scenarios, thus not reflecting the possible ways of
policy improvement. Critical realist
approach assumes that future is real, although not manifested yet, therefore
recognizes the multiplicity of different possibilities which create the ground
for future scenario construction and analysis.

the ontological assumptions about the future, critical realism in this thesis will be further referred to as a main theoretical approach and ontological
position of military officer education policy future scenario construction
and analysis.


realist approach to futures studies


strict dichotomy between positivist and interpretivist position is a matter of
constant critics on the basis of distinction between natural and social
sciences. Positivist philosophy admitting that entities such as ideas or social
structures exist independently of human beings, does not take into account the
role of individual in a social reality. Conversely, interpretivists claim that
existence of the world, independent of human thought and perception is
impossible. Bridging these two positions a new philosophy has emerged on the
basis of R. Bhaskar works.

Bhaskar proposed an idea of transcendental realism and critical naturalism,
combined to a theory of critical realism,
challenging ideas of positivism and interpretivism. First of all, R. Bhaskar (2008)
distinguishes two types of knowledge:

Transitive – knowledge as a product of
social activity; changing objects of knowledge. Objects of such knowledge
depend on human activity. Intransitive – knowledge of things, not
produced by men; relatively stable/unchanging objects of knowledge. Objects of
such knowledge would remain exactly the same even if humanity ceased to exist.  

On the basis of this assumption objects of knowledge
can be organized into three groups, operating within three domains (1 Table).

1 Table


Domain of

Domain of

Domain of













Source: Critical Realism (2017)

The existence of present, past and future does not
depend on our knowledge or experience of it – the reality is complex and
changeable, therefore is referred to as an “open system”. Traditional
scientific approach is aimed at discovering the natural sequences, laws and
causation mechanisms which then are tested by conducting an experiment in a
controlled environment. It is assumed then, that causation mechanism is based
on a simple conjunction of events, where event 2 follows event 1.


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