Ontology is the philosophical assumptions about the nature of reality while epistemology is the general set of assumptions about the best ways of inquiring into the nature of the world. Ontology is the starting point for most debates among philosophers. Debates among philosophers of natural science has been between realism and relativism. The social scientists adhere to critical realism generally. These are important philosophical frameworks that represent relatively coherent ways of thinking which are promoted by influential proponents. Critical Theory is one one them. It started as an intellectual movement, also known as the Frankfurt School, which sought to critique the effects of society and technology on human development. The key figure in this movement was Habermas(1970) who argues that society leads to inequities and alienation, yet this is invisible to people who do not realise what is taking place. He therefore argues that there is a degree of irrationality in capitalist society that creates a false consciousness regarding wants and needs. Thus people are seduced into wanting consumer products that they do not really need.
Habermas also identifies clear differences between natural and social sciences: the former being based on sense experiences, and the latter on communicative experiences. This means that although understanding in the natural sciences is one-way (monologic), where scientists observe inanimate objects; in the social sciences communication should be two-way (dialogic), with both researchers and the researched trying to make sense of the situation. Hence he suggests that only through dialogue will social scientists be able to work effectively. Another important point introduced by Habermas(1970) is the idea that knowledge is determined by interests and very often it is the more powerful people in society who determine what is regarded as 'true'. Consequently, truth should be reached through discussion and rational concensus, rather than being imposed by one group on another.
Critical theory has several implications in management and organizational research. It casts a sceptical eye on the motives and impact of powerful groups and individuals, which in an emancipatory way shows a concern for the interest of the least powerful members. And of course there is increasing relevance to being aware of the way that knowledge is determined by political process - especially within the so-called knowledge intensive organizations. (page 75, chapter 4, The Philosophy of Management Research, Management Research 3rd edition, 2008, Mark Easterby-Smith et al)