empiricist, n., adj.
/em pir"euh siz'euhm/, n.
1. empirical method or practice.
2. Philos. the doctrine that all knowledge is derived from sense experience. Cf. rationalism (def. 2).
3. undue reliance upon experience, as in medicine; quackery.
4. an empirical conclusion.
[1650-60; EMPIRIC + -ISM]

* * *

Either of two closely related philosophical doctrines, one pertaining to concepts and the other to knowledge.

The first doctrine is that most, if not all, concepts are ultimately derived from experience; the second is that most, if not all, knowledge derives from experience, in the sense that appeals to experience are necessarily involved in its justification. Neither doctrine implies the other. Several empiricists have allowed that some knowledge is a priori, or independent of experience, but have denied that any concepts are. On the other hand, few if any empiricists have denied the existence of a priori knowledge while maintaining the existence of a priori concepts. John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume are classical representatives of empiricism. See also Francis Bacon.

* * *


      in philosophy, the attitude that beliefs (belief) are to be accepted and acted upon only if they first have been confirmed by actual experience. This broad definition accords with the derivation of the name from the Greek word empeiria, “experience.” More specifically, however, Empiricism comprises a pair of closely related, but still distinct, philosophical doctrines—one pertaining to concepts and the other to propositions.

      The first of these doctrines, a theory of meaning, holds that words (e.g., the word substance) can be understood or the concepts (concept) requisite for any articulate thought possessed only if they are connected by their users with things that they have experienced or could experience (e.g., pieces of wood, or the gases in a gasoline engine). The second doctrine, a philosophical theory of knowledge (epistemology), views beliefs, or at least some vital classes of beliefs (e.g., that Jane is kind), as depending ultimately and necessarily on experience for justification (Jane is seen performing acts of kindness).

      It is not obvious, however, that either of these two doctrines strictly implies the other. Several recognized Empiricists have admitted that there are a priori (a priori knowledge) propositions but have denied that there are a priori concepts. The reverse disconnection between the two forms of Empiricism, however, has no obvious exponents, since there are hardly any philosophers who totally deny a priori propositions and certainly none who would at the same time accept a priori concepts.

      Stressing experience, Empiricism is thus opposed to the claims of authority, intuition, imaginative conjecture, and abstract, theoretical, or systematic reasoning as sources of reliable belief. Its most fundamental antithesis is with the latter (i.e., with Rationalism, also called intellectualism or apriorism). A Rationalist theory of meaning asserts that there are concepts not derived from or correlated with experienceable features of the world, such as “cause,” “identity,” or “perfect circle,” and that these concepts are a priori (Latin: “from the former”) in the traditional sense of being part of the mind's innate or natural equipment—as opposed to being a posteriori (Latin: “from the latter”), or grounded in the experience of facts. On the other hand, a Rationalist theory of knowledge holds that there are beliefs that are a priori (i.e., that depend for their justification upon thought alone), such as the belief that everything must have a sufficient reason or that a process cannot exist by itself but must occur within some substance. Such beliefs can arise either from intellectual intuition, the direct apprehension of self-evident truth, or from purely deductive reasoning (deduction).

Various meanings of Empiricism

Broader senses
      In both everyday attitudes and philosophical theories, the experiences referred to are principally those arising from stimulation of the sense organs, in particular those of sight and touch. Most philosophical Empiricists, however, have maintained that sensation is not the only provider of experience, admitting as empirical the awareness of mental states in introspection or reflection, such as feelings of pain or of fear, often metaphorically described as present to the “inner sense.” It is a controversial question whether still further types of experience, such as moral, aesthetic, or religious experience, ought to be acknowledged as empirical.

      Two other viewpoints related to but not the same as Empiricism are the Pragmatism of the American philosopher and psychologist William James, an aspect of which was radical empiricism, and Logical Positivism, also called Logical Empiricism. Though these philosophies are, indeed, empirical, each has a distinctive focus that warrants its treatment as a separate movement. Pragmatism stresses the involvement of ideas in practical experience and action, whereas Logical Empiricism is more concerned with scientific (science, philosophy of) experience.

      When describing an everyday attitude, the word Empiricism sometimes conveys an unfavourable implication of ignorance of or indifference to relevant theory. Thus, to call a doctor an “Empiric” has been to call him a quack—a usage traceable to a sect of medical men who were opposed to the elaborate medical, and in some views metaphysical, theories of Galen (Galen Of Pergamum), a prominent Greek physician of the 2nd century AD, theories which dominated medicine until the 17th century. The medical Empiricists opposed to Galen preferred to rely on treatments of observed clinical effectiveness, without inquiring into the mechanisms sought by therapeutic theory. But “Empiricism,” detached from this medical association, may also be used, more favourably, to describe a hard-headed refusal to be swayed by anything but the facts that the thinker has observed for himself, a blunt resistance to received opinion or precarious chains of abstract reasoning.

Stricter senses
      As a more strictly defined movement, Empiricism reflects certain fundamental distinctions and occurs in varying degrees.

Fundamental distinctions
      If the blurring of the distinction between concepts and propositions has confused discussions of Empiricism, another influence at least equally vexing is that which, embodied in the traditional terminology of the debate, contrasts the empirical not with the a priori but with the innate (innate idea). Since logical problems are easily confused with psychological problems, it is difficult to disentangle the question of the causal origin of man's concepts (concept formation) and beliefs from that of their meaning and justification.

      A concept, such as “Five,” is said to be innate if a man's possession of it is causally independent of his experience—e.g., of groupings of five objects. A concept, such as “Ought,” is a priori, on the other hand, if the logical (logic) conditions of its application (or those of the word expressing it) do not include any reference to experienceable states of affairs (thus “Ought” cannot be defined in terms of facts alone). Similarly, a belief is innate if its acceptance is causally independent of the believer's experience; and it is a priori if its justification is logically independent of experience. Propositions could be innate without being a priori: for example, the baby's empirical belief that its mother's breast will nourish it.

      Some colour is lent to the confusion of the a priori and the innate by the fact that most empirical concepts are actually acquired through the technique of ostensive definition, in which a concept (such as “long”) is conveyed by introducing instances of it (several long pencils) into the experience of the learner. But it is not in virtue of their mode of acquisition that concepts are empirical; it is the way in which they are applied, once they are possessed, that qualifies them as such. Even if a man were born with an instinctive capacity to use the word blue and never had to learn how to use it, it would still be an empirical concept if the occasion for its use were always his sense experience of a blue object. Furthermore, the fact that men learn, postnatally, to use the word cause does not prove that it expresses an empirical concept if its application to something always implies more than the sense which experience of that kind of thing presents to the mind.

      Another supposedly identical but in fact more or less irrelevant property of concepts and beliefs is that of the universality of their possession or acceptance—that a priori or innate concepts must be the common possession of all men and that such beliefs must be accepted by everyone. There may be, in fact, some basis for inferring universality from innateness, since many innate characteristics such as the fear of loud noises appear to be common to the whole species.

      Two main kinds of concept have been held to be a priori and thus nonempirical. First, there are certain formal concepts of logic and of mathematics (mathematics, philosophy of) that reflect the basic structure of discourse: “not,” “and,” “or,” “if,” “all,” “some,” “existence,” “unity,” “number,” “successor,” “infinity.” Secondly, there are categorial (category) concepts, such as “substance,” “cause,” “mind,” and “God,” so called after the “categories of thought” as listed by Aristotle and Kant, which the mind imposes upon the given data of experience.

      A very large variety of different types of proposition has been held to be a priori. Few would deny this status to such definitional truisms or obvious tautologies as “all hairless heads are bald” or “a rose is a rose.” There are also the truths of logic, of mathematics, and of metaphysics—whether transcendent, such as the existence of God or things-in-themselves (lying behind appearances), or immanent and thus discernible within reality, such as the principles (presupposed by much natural science) of conservation, causality, and sufficient reason. Some have held that the basic principles of ethics or the causal laws of nature are a priori. Empiricism maintains, however, that some of these are a priori.

Degrees of Empiricism
      Empiricism, whether concerned with meaning or knowledge, can be held with varying degrees of strength. On this basis, absolute, substantive, and partial Empiricisms can be distinguished.

      Absolute Empiricists hold that there are no a priori concepts, either formal or categorial, and no a priori propositions. Absolute Empiricism about knowledge is less common than that about concepts, and nearly all philosophers admit that at least obvious tautologies and definitional truisms are a priori; but many would add that these represent a degenerate case.

      A more moderate form of Empiricism is that of the substantive Empiricists, who are unconvinced by attempts that have been made to interpret formal concepts empirically and who therefore concede that formal concepts are a priori but deny that categorial concepts, such as “substance,” “cause,” and “God,” are a priori. In this view, formal concepts would be no longer semantical, pertaining to the relation of words to things; they would be, instead, merely descriptive or purely syntactical, pertaining to the relations between ideas. On this basis “God,” for example, would not be an entity alongside other entities but a device for arranging a man's factual beliefs (ethics) about the world; the concept “God” would thus play a structural and not an informative role.

      The parallel point of view about knowledge assumes that the truth of logical and mathematical propositions is determined, as is that of definitional truisms, by the relationships between meanings that are established prior to experience. The truth often espoused by moralists, for example, that one is truly obliged to rescue a man from drowning only if it is possible to do so is a matter of meanings and not of facts about the world. On this view, all propositions (analytic proposition) that, in contrast to the foregoing example, are in any way substantially informative about the world are empirical. Even if there are a priori propositions, they are all formal or verbal or conceptual in nature, and their necessary truth derives simply from the meanings that man has attached to the words he uses. A priori knowledge is useful because it makes explicit the hidden implications of substantive, factual assertions. But a priori propositions do not themselves express genuinely new knowledge about the world; they are factually empty, “true in all possible worlds.” Thus “All bachelors are unmarried” merely gives explicit recognition to the commitment to describe as unmarried anyone who has been described as a bachelor; but it does not add anything new.

      Substantive Empiricism about knowledge, which is fundamental to most contemporary Analytical philosophy, regards all a priori propositions as being more-or-less concealed tautologies (tautology), or, in Kantian terms, as being analytic. If a person's “duty” is thus defined as that which he should always do, the statement “A person should always do his duty” then becomes “A person should always do what he should always do.” Deductive reasoning is conceived accordingly as a way of bringing this concealed tautological status to light. That such extrication is nearly always required means that a priori knowledge is far from trivial.

      For the substantive Empiricist, truisms and the propositions of logic and mathematics exhaust the domain of the a priori. Science, on the other hand—from the fundamental assumptions about the structure of the universe to the singular items of evidence used to confirm its theories—is regarded as empirical throughout. The propositions of ethics and those of metaphysics, which deals with the nature of Being as such (for example, “Only that which is not subject to change is real”), are either disguised tautologies or empirical statements or only pseudo-propositions; i.e., combinations of words that, despite their grammatical respectability, cannot be taken as true or false assertions at all.

      The least thoroughgoing type of Empiricism here distinguished, ranking third in degree, can be termed partial Empiricism. Many philosophers hold that other concepts besides the formal are a priori and that there are substantially informative propositions about the world that are nevertheless not empirical. The theses of transcendental, or Kantian, metaphysics and those of theology, the general scientific principles of conservation and causality, the basic principles of morality, and the causal laws of nature have all been held to be at once synthetic and a priori—substantial and yet establishable by reasoning alone without recourse to experience. In all versions of this view, however, there remain a great many straightforwardly empirical concepts and propositions: ordinary singular propositions about matters of fact and the concepts that figure in them are held to fall in the empirical domain.

History of Empiricism

In ancient philosophy
      So-called common sense is inarticulately empiricist; and philosophy, in seeking to correct it, has to start from a rationalistic position. Philosophical Empiricism is thus always critical, a resistance to the pretensions of a more speculative philosophy. The ground was prepared for Plato, the greatest of Rationalist philosophers, by three earlier bodies of thought: the Ionian (Ionian school) cosmologies of the 6th century BC—so-called from their concentration along the western coast of Asia Minor—with their distinction between sensible appearance and a reality accessible only to pure reason; the philosophy of Parmenides (early 5th century BC), the important early monist, in which purely rational argument is used to prove that the world is really an unchanging unity; and Pythagoreanism (see Pythagoreanism), which, holding that the world is really made of numbers, took mathematics to be the repository of ultimate truth.

      The first Empiricists in Western philosophy were the Sophists (Sophist), who rejected such Rationalist speculation about the world as a whole and took man and society to be the proper objects of philosophical inquiry. Invoking skeptical (Skepticism) arguments to undermine the claims of pure reason, they posed a challenge that invited the reaction that comprised Plato's philosophy (see below, Criticism and evaluation (Empiricism)).

      Plato and to a lesser extent Aristotle were both Rationalists. But Aristotle's successors in the ancient Greek schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism advanced an explicitly Empiricist account of the formation of man's concepts or ideas. For the Stoics the human mind is at birth a clean slate, which comes to be stocked with ideas by the sensory impingement of the material world upon it. Yet they also held that there are some ideas or beliefs, the “common notions,” present to the minds of all men; and these soon came to be conceived in a nonempirical way. The Empiricism of the Epicureans, however, was more pronounced and consistent. For them man's concepts are memory images, the mental residues of previous sense experience; and knowledge is as empirical as the ideas of which it is composed.

In medieval philosophy
      Most medieval philosophers after St. Augustine (see below, Criticism and evaluation (Empiricism)) took an Empiricist position, at least about concepts, even if they recognized much substantial but nonempirical knowledge. The standard formulation of this age was: “There is nothing in the intellect that was not previously in the senses.” Thus St. Thomas Aquinas (Aquinas, Thomas, Saint) (1225–74) altogether rejected innate ideas. Both soul and body participate in perception, and all of man's ideas are abstracted by the intellect from what is given to the senses. Man's ideas of unseen things, like God and angels, are derived by analogy from the seen.

      The 13th-century scientist Roger Bacon (Bacon, Roger) emphasized empirical knowledge of the natural world and anticipated the polymath Renaissance philosopher of science Francis Bacon (1561–1626) in preferring observation to deductive reasoning as a source of knowledge. The Empiricism of the 14th-century Franciscan Nominalist William of Ockham (Ockham, William of) was more systematic. All knowledge of what exists in nature, he held, comes from the senses, though there is, to be sure, “abstractive knowledge” of necessary truths; but this is hypothetical and does not imply the existence of anything. His more extreme followers extended his line of reasoning toward a radical Empiricism, in which causation is not a rationally intelligible connection but merely an observed regular sequence.

In modern philosophy
      In the earlier and unsystematically speculative phases of Renaissance philosophy, the claims of Aristotelian logic to yield substantial knowledge were attacked by several 16th-century logicians, and, in the same century, the role of observation was stressed. One mildly skeptical Christian thinker, Pierre Gassendi (Gassendi, Pierre) (1592–1655), advanced a deliberate revival of the empirical doctrines of Epicurus. But the most important defender of Empiricism was Francis Bacon (Bacon, Francis, Viscount Saint Alban (or Albans), Baron of Verulam), who, though he did not deny the existence of a priori knowledge, claimed that, in effect, the only knowledge that is worth having (as contributing to the relief of man's estate) is empirically based knowledge of the natural world, which should be pursued by the systematic, indeed almost mechanical, arrangement of the findings of observation and is best undertaken in the cooperative and impersonal style of modern scientific research. Bacon was, indeed, the first to formulate the principles of scientific induction.

      A Materialist and Nominalist, Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes, Thomas) (1588–1679), combined an extreme Empiricism about concepts, which he saw as the outcome of material impacts on the bodily senses, with an extreme Rationalism about knowledge, of which, like Plato, he took geometry to be the paradigm. For him all genuine knowledge is a priori, a matter of rigorous deduction from definitions. The senses provide ideas; but all knowledge comes from “reckoning,” from deductive calculations carried out on the names that the thinker has assigned to them. True knowledge is thus not merely a priori but also analytic. Yet it all concerns material and sensible existences: everything that exists is a body.

      The most elaborate and influential presentation of Empiricism was made by John Locke (Locke, John) (1632–1704), an early Enlightenment philosopher, in the first two books of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). All knowledge, he held, comes from sensation or from reflection, by which he meant the introspective awareness of the workings of man's own mind. Locke confused the two issues of the nature of concepts and the justification of beliefs. His Book I, though titled “Innate Ideas,” is largely devoted to refuting innate knowledge. And even so, he later admitted that much substantial knowledge—in particular, that of mathematics and morals—is a priori. He argued that infants know nothing; that if men are said to know innately what they are capable of coming to know, then all knowledge is, trivially, innate; and that no beliefs whatever are universally accepted. Locke was more consistent about the empirical character of all man's concepts and displayed in detail the ways in which simple ideas can be combined to form complex ideas of what has not in fact been experienced. One group of dubiously empirical concepts—those of unity, existence, and number—he took to be derived both from sensation and from reflection. But he allowed one a priori concept—that of substance—which the mind adds, seemingly from its own resources, to its conception of any regularly associated group of perceptible qualities.

      Bishop George Berkeley (Berkeley, George) (1685–1753), a theistic Idealist (Idealism) and opponent of Materialism, applied Locke's Empiricism about concepts to refute Locke's account of man's knowledge of the external world. He drew and embraced the inevitable conclusion that material things are simply collections of perceived ideas, a position that ultimately leads to phenomenalism; i.e., to the view that reality is nothing but sensations. He accounted for the continuity and orderliness of the world by supposing that its reality is upheld in the perceptions of an unsleeping God. The theory of spiritual substance involved in Berkeley's position seems to be vulnerable, however, to most of the same objections as those that he posed against Locke.

      The Scottish Skeptical philosopher David Hume (Hume, David) (1711–76) fully elaborated Locke's Empiricism and used it reductively to argue that there can be no more to man's concepts of body, mind, and causal connection than what occurs in the experiences that he has of them. For Hume all necessary truth is formal or conceptual, determined by the relations of identity and exclusion that hold between ideas.

      Voltaire imported Locke's philosophy into France; and its Empiricism, in a very stark form, is the basis of sensationalism, in which all of the constituents of human mental life are analyzed in terms of sensations alone.

      A genuinely original and clarifying attempt to resolve the controversy between Empiricists and their opponents was made in the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant (Kant, Immanuel) (1724–1804), drawing upon Leibniz and Hume. With the dictum that, although all knowledge begins with experience it does not all arise from experience, he established a clear distinction between the innate and the a priori. He held that there are a priori concepts, or categories—substance and cause being the most important—and also substantial or synthetic a priori truths. Although not derived from experience, the latter apply to experience. A priori concepts and propositions do not relate to a reality that transcends experience; they reflect, instead, the mind's way of organizing the amorphous mass of sense impressions that flow in upon it.

      Lockean Empiricism prevailed in 19th-century England until the turn to Hegel occurred in the last quarter of the century. To be sure, the Scottish philosophers who followed Hume but avoided his Skeptical conclusions insisted that man does have substantial a priori knowledge. But the philosophy of John Stuart Mill (Mill, John Stuart) (1806–73), logician, economist, and Utilitarian moralist, is thoroughly Empiricist. He held that all knowledge worth having, including mathematics, is empirical. The apparent necessity of mathematics, according to Mill, is the result of the unique massiveness of its empirical confirmation. All real knowledge for Mill is inductive and empirical; and deduction is sterile. On similar lines, the philosopher of evolution Herbert Spencer (Spencer, Herbert) (1820–1903) offered another explanation of the apparent necessity of some of man's beliefs: they are the well-attested empirical beliefs of his ancestors from whom he has inherited them, an evolutionary revival of the doctrine of innateness. Two important mathematicians and pioneers in the philosophy of modern physics, W.K. Clifford (Clifford, William Kingdon) (1845–79) and Karl Pearson (Pearson, Karl) (1857–1936), defended radically Empiricist philosophies of science, anticipating the Logical Empiricism of the 20th century.

In contemporary philosophy
      The most influential Empiricist of the 20th century was the great British philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell (Russell, Bertrand) (1872–1970), who at first was Lockean in his theory of knowledge—admitting both synthetic a priori knowledge and concepts of unobservable entities. Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein, Ludwig) (1889–1951), the influential pioneer of the school of Linguistic Analysis, convinced Russell that the truths of logic and mathematics are analytic (analytic philosophy); and Russell then came to believe, with Hume, that the task of philosophy is to analyze all concepts in terms of what can be directly present to the senses. In this spirit, he tried to show that even the concepts of formal logic are ultimately empirical though the experience that supplies them may be introspective instead of sensory.

      Doctrines developed through the collaboration of Russell and Wittgenstein yielded the Logical Positivism of the German philosopher Rudolf Carnap (Carnap, Rudolf) (1891–1970) and of the Vienna Circle, a discussion group in which that philosophy was worked out. The Empiricism of Logical Positivism is especially evident in its restatement of the fundamental thesis of Hume's philosophy in a form known as “the verification principle (verifiability principle),” which recognizes as meaningful and synthetic only those sentences that are in principle verifiable by reference to sense experience.

Criticism and evaluation
      The earliest expressions of Empiricism in ancient Greek philosophy were those of the Sophists. In reaction to them Plato presented the Rationalistic view that man has only “opinion” about changing, perceptible, existing things in space and time; that “knowledge” can be had only of timeless, necessary truths; and that the objects of knowledge—the unchanging and imperceptible forms or universals (such as “Bed,” “Man,” etc.)—are the truly real. The circles and triangles of geometrical “knowledge,” in this view, are quite different in their perfect exactness from the approximately circular and triangular things present to man's senses. In the Phaedo, Plato expounded a theory of literally innate ideas (innate idea); man, for example, has a conception of exact “equality,” which, since it could not have been supplied by the senses, must have been acquired by the soul before it was embodied.

      Aristotle agreed with Plato that knowledge is of the universal but held that such universal forms should not be conceived as “separated” from the matter embodying them. This belief does not make Aristotle an Empiricist, although he was certainly a less extreme Rationalist than Plato. Aristotle took the Rationalist view that every science or body of knowledge must resemble Euclidean geometry in consisting of deductions from first principles that are self-evidently and necessarily true and that, although the senses acquaint man with the sensible forms of things, he cannot have knowledge of them unless reason is brought into play to acquaint him with their intelligible forms as well.

      The Stoic (Stoicism) view of “common notions,” or beliefs that are held by all men—a Rationalistic element in an otherwise Empirical school of thought—was expanded during the early medieval period by the Christian Platonist St. Augustine (Augustine, Saint) (AD 354–430), a thoroughgoing Rationalist. The Stoic common notions, Augustine held, are truths that God has implanted in the human mind through direct illumination.

      Although the early modern expression of Empiricism in the 17th century by Francis Bacon (Bacon, Francis, Viscount Saint Alban (or Albans), Baron of Verulam) heralded the scientific age, its influence was lessened by his failure to appreciate the revolutionary use of mathematics that comprised the genius of Galileo's new physics and, even more fundamentally, by his underestimation of the need for imaginative conjecture in the formation of scientific hypotheses to restrict the overwhelming number of facts that would otherwise have to be handled. In contrast to Bacon's view, the philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (Descartes, René) (1596–1650), his contemporary and one of the principal founders of modern thought, developed a comprehensive Rationalism that was more immediately influential. For Descartes all clear and distinct ideas, and in particular those of philosophy and of geometrical physics, are innate; sense experience is at most the agency that elicits ideas already present in the mind. In principle, all knowledge is a priori and demonstrable by pure reasoning, but in practice, because of man's finite intellect, it is necessary to rely on experience to confirm propositions for which rational proof is beyond reach. In England innate ideas and knowledge were defended by Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury (Herbert, Edward Herbert, 1st Baron) (1582–1648), precursor of Deism, and by a school of Puritan Humanists known as the Cambridge Platonists. The case for innate ideas, however, is hard to establish; there can be in the nature of the case little actual evidence that one can possess concepts before having had some relevant experience.

      In the second half of the 17th century, the Empiricist views of John Locke were similarly controverted by a systematic thinker and man of affairs, G.W. Leibniz (Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm), who examined Locke's views in minute detail in his book Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain (1704, published 1765; Eng. trans., New Essays, 1916), arguing that ideas can be virtually innate in a less trivial sense than Locke allowed. Interpreting Locke's notion of reflection as reasoning rather than as introspection, Leibniz supposed that Locke was more of a Rationalist than he really was.

      In contemporary philosophy, there are thinkers who, though broadly sympathetic to Positivism, have voiced reservations about its more specifically Empiricist elements. One important philosopher of science, Karl Popper (Popper, Sir Karl), has rejected the inductivism that views the growth of empirical knowledge as the result of a mechanical routine of generalization. To him it is falsifiability by experience that makes a statement empirical. An influential American philosopher and logician, W.V. Quine (Quine, Willard Van Orman), has been critical of the Logical Empiricists' frequent recourse to the concept of meaning and has rejected the sharp distinction they make between analytic and factual truths, on which most of contemporary Empiricism rests. For Quine, both human concepts and beliefs are the joint outcome of experience and conventional decision, and he denies that the role of the two factors can be readily distinguished as Empiricists assert.

      The theory of knowledge has been the central discipline in philosophy since the 17th century, and its most basic issue is that between Empiricism and Rationalism, an issue that is still being actively debated. On the one hand, the idea that science (science, philosophy of) rests on substantial but nonempirical presuppositions has been put in question by the fact that in some areas it seems to get along without them: without conservation in cosmology, without causality in quantum physics. On the other hand, the traditional theory of the innate powers of the mind has been reanimated by the considerations underlying the theory of language offered by Noam Chomsky (Chomsky, Noam), a generative grammarian, who holds that the learning of language is too rapid and too universal to be attributed entirely to an empirical process of conditioning. The basic strength of Empiricism consists in its recognition that human concepts (innate idea) and beliefs apply to a world outside oneself, and that it is by way of the senses that this world acts upon the individual. The question, however, of just how much the mind itself contributes to the task of processing its sensory input is one that no simple argument can answer.

Anthony M. Quinton, Baron Quinton

Additional Reading
Classic texts for Empiricism include John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2 vol. (1690); David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, book 1, pt. 1 (1739); Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781; Eng. trans., Critique of Pure Reason, 1929); and John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, books 1 and 2 (1843). W.H. Walsh, Reason and Experience (1947); and H.H. Price, Thinking and Experience, 2nd ed. (1969), are good general surveys. For a comprehensive selection of standard works from Locke to J.S. Mill, see A.J. Ayer and R. Winch (eds.), The British Empirical Philosophers (1952). Modern works in the Empiricist tradition include Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge (1948); W.T. Stace, Theory of Knowledge and Existence (1932); Rudolf Carnap, Der logische Aufbau der Welt (1928; Eng. trans., The Logical Structure of the World, 1967); and A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd ed. (1946), a short exposition of the extreme Empiricist position. Harold Morick (ed.), Challenges to Empiricism (1980), is a collection of essays.

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Поможем написать курсовую

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Empiricism — empiricism …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Empiricism — Empiricism …   Википедия

  • Empiricism — • Primarily, and in its psychological application, the term signifies the theory that the phenomena of consciousness are simply the product of sensuous experience, i.e. of sensations variously associated and arranged Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • empiricism —    Empiricism is the doctrine that some or all of our knowledge or concepts come from experience. The version of empiricism with respect to concepts is often known as concept empiricism and the version of either that says that all our knowledge… …   Christian Philosophy

  • Empiricism — Em*pir i*cism, n. 1. The method or practice of an empiric; pursuit of knowledge by observation and experiment. [1913 Webster] 2. Specifically, a practice of medicine founded on mere experience, without the aid of science or a knowledge of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • empiricism — index casuistry, experience (background) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • empiricism — 1650s, in the medical sense, from EMPIRIC (Cf. empiric) + ISM (Cf. ism). General sense is from 1796 …   Etymology dictionary

  • empiricism — ► NOUN Philosophy ▪ the theory that all knowledge is derived from experience and observation. DERIVATIVES empiricist noun & adjective …   English terms dictionary

  • empiricism — [em pir′i siz΄əm] n. 1. experimental method; search for knowledge by observation and experiment 2. a) a disregarding of scientific methods and relying solely on experience b) Archaic quackery 3. Philos. the theory that sense experience is the… …   English World dictionary

  • Empiricism — John Locke, a leading philosopher of British empiricism This article is about the field of philosophy. For the album by Borknagar, see Empiricism (album). Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”