Empiricism : Definition and Theory


Basics and Meaning :

Usually defined as the thesis that all knowledge or at least all knowledge of matters of fact as disctinct from that of purely logical relations between concepts – is based on experience.

The popular appeal of empiricism depends in interpreting the key xord ‘experience’ in tis everyday understanding, in which a claim to have had dealings with mind-independent realities down on the farm. But philosophers often so construed this key term that merely to have dreams or hallucinations of cows would constitue having experience of cows.

Empiricism vs rationalism :

Empiricism can perhaps be better characterized in terms of what it denies. To begin with, it is a rejection of platonism and idealism (forms of rationalism), that when the human mind first encounters the world it is already furnished with a range of ideas or concepts, that accordingly owe nothing to experience.

By contrast, empiricists maintain that at birth the mind is, as Locke put is, “white papaer, void of all characters” (tabula rasa), and that only experience can provide it with ideas. Granted that ideas, the raw material of knowledge, originate thus, some epmiricists, though not all, have claimed that the thruth of factual statements can only be established inductively from particular experiences, and have denied any intuition or cartesian “natural light” which enables us to grasp general thruths about rality independantly of experience. The inductive method can, in its turn, be variously interpreted either, more liberally as justifying claims to thruth and knowledge for statements about a mind-independant reality, or more strictly, as justifying only statements about the immediate data of experience. Understood in this latter fashion, empiricism leads to a radical scepticism about many of our ordinary claims to knowledge, as is manifested in Hume and the logical positivist school.

Forms of empiricism

The development in the 17th and the 18th centuries of what became known as the british empiricist school of philosophy, with Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, was closely linked with the steadily increasing success and importance of experimental science, and its gradual discovery of its own identity as something distinct from pure mathematics and other disciplines.

As a result, empiricism has seen the acquisition of knowledge as a slow, piecemeal process, endlessly self-correcting and limited by the possibilities of experiment and observations, and has been sceptical about the claims of all-embracing metaphysical systems.


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