Linguistic Concepts


The History and Importance of Empiricism


Empiricism is the philosophy of knowledge by observation. It holds that the best way to gain knowledge is to see, hear, touch, or otherwise sense things directly. In stronger versions, it holds that this is the only kind of knowledge that really counts. Empiricism has been extremely important to the history of science, as various thinkers over the centuries have proposed that all knowledge should be tested empirically rather than just through thought-experiments or rational calculation.

Empiricism is an idea about how we know things, which means it belongs to the field of epistemology.

The History and Importance of Empiricism

Philosophers have long tried to arrive at knowledge through some combination of observation and logic — empiricism and rationalism. For example, the ancient rivalry between Plato (rationalism) and Aristotle (empiricism) shaped the future of philosophy not only in Europe but also throughout the Islamic world, stretching from Africa to India and beyond. European and Islamic philosophers argued for centuries about whether the best sort of knowledge was deduction from abstract principles (following Plato) or observing the world around us (following Aristotle).

The debate is even older than ancient Greece, as empiricism and rationalism had already appeared in Indian philosophical texts dating back centuries before Plato and Aristotle were born. Most Indian philosophers, however, took the view that both empiricism and rationalism were necessary, whereas European philosophers tended to argue that one had to be victorious over the other.

Empiricism really took off in Europe during the Scientific Revolution, when scholars began conducting systematic experiments and observations of the world around them. These observations led to earth-shattering discoveries, such as the fact that our planet revolves around the sun rather than the other way around. However, the Scientific Revolution also owed a lot to rationalism, which is involved in coming up with experiments to begin with, and deriving knowledge from their results. Rationalism was especially influential in promoting mathematical reasoning as an essential part of deriving scientific conclusions.

Empiricism vs. Rationalism vs. Constructivism

Empiricism is often contrasted with rationalism, a rival school which holds that knowledge is based primarily on logic and intuition, or innate ideas that we can understand through contemplation, not observation.


Rationalists hold that you don’t have to make any observations to know that 1+1=2; any person who understands the concepts of “one” and “addition” can work it out for themselves. Empiricists argue the opposite: that we can only understand 1+1=2 because we’ve seen it in action throughout our lives. As children, empiricists say, we learn by observing adults, and that’s how we gain abstract knowledge about things like math and logic.

Of course, ideally, knowledge consists of both observation and logic; you don’t have to choose between the two. It’s more a matter of which one you emphasize.

There is a combined philosophy, called constructivism, which represents one way to get the best of both worlds. Constructivists, like empiricists, argue that knowledge is based, first and foremost, on observing the world around us. But we can’t understand what we see unless we fit it into some broader rational structure, so reason also plays an essential role. Constructivism is a high-profile idea in the philosophy of education, and many teachers use it to design their lessons: the idea is to present information in an order that builds on previous information, so that over time students “construct” a picture of the subject at hand, and at each step they are able to “place” the new information in the context of old information.

Logical empiricism

Logical or rational empiricism , also known as neopositivism or logical positivism, emerged during the first third of the 20th century, by a scientific group and philosophers who formed the Vienna Circle developed logical empiricism as a philosophical current that establishes the importance of scientifically proving The philosophical meanings.

In addition to the main concern of this philosophical movement, the development or use of a real language that expresses sensory or perceptible physical phenomena.

Empiricism and rationalism

In contrast to empiricism, rationalism arises, which according to this knowledge is achieved by the use of reason, this view being the only faculty that leads man to the knowledge of the truth. In this sense, rationalism opposes the information obtained through the senses since these can be misleading, and therefore, provide the individual with wrong information.

Rationalism is a philosophical movement that emerged in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

See also Philosophical currents .

Empiricism and criticism

Criticism is the epistemological doctrine developed by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, considered as an intermediate position between Dogmatism and Skepticism that rejects all statements that are not analyzed, without grounds or grounds to reach the truth.

Empiricism and innatism

Innatism is a stream of philosophical thinking that states that knowledge is innate, that is, individuals at birth already possess certain knowledge. By virtue of this, the followers of this current affirm that individuals should receive stimuli so that all existing knowledge or ideas can be developed and put into practice in their daily lives.

Empiricism in psychology

The psychology, due to its function and objectives, the old and time specialists will focus that must be guided by experience, and by perception, since the object of psychology must be given to experience, especially to the conduct of the subject and not the mind, because the mental states are irrelevant to account for the attitude or behavior of the individual under study.

All this because the behavior of the individual depends on the influence in the external environment, and not on an internal or innate character, which specialists give great importance to the experience, learning and especially to the traits and behaviors of organisms, and the human being.



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