The research paradigms: Empiricism

EDU 8 IMAGEI introduced the series of articles on Research Paradigms by listing all the different paradigms, also called philosophical perspectives, philosophical epochs or, sometimes also called the “isms”. This articles deals with the second paradigm, namely Empiricism.

Empiricism is the doctrine that all knowledge is derived from sense experience. The philosophy behind empiricism is that all knowledge of matters of fact derives from the experience and that the mind is not furnished with a set of concepts in advance of experience. Experience can be something that people learn from events in which they participated, things that happened to them and observations that they made. Experience can also be “staged” through deliberate and pre-planned experimental arrangements. Sense experience is, therefore, the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.

Empiricists present complimentary lines of thought. First, they develop accounts of how experience provides the information that rationalists cite, insofar as we have it in the first place. As the name and philosophy implies, empiricism means that all evidence of facts and phenomena must be empirical, or empirically based. Evidence should be observable by the senses or extensions of the senses.

Empiricists will at times opt for scepticism as an alternative to rationalism: if experience cannot provide the concepts or knowledge the rationalists cite, then we don’t have them. David Hume,[1] for example, argued that our beliefs are a result of accumulated habits, developed in response to accumulated sense experiences. In his book entitled “Black Brain, White Brain”, Gavin Evans claims that religion is immune to logic. This is a typical empiricist argument. Evans does not understand, or conveniently ignores the value of abstract reasoning as a foundation of deductive reasoning. One wonders if Evans would also deny the possibility that there might be life in other corners of the universe as easily as he dispels the possible existence of a creator of the universe.

Second, empiricists attack the rationalists’ accounts of how reason is the source of concepts or knowledge. Empiricists are of the opinion that knowledge must be deducted or inferred from actual events that people can experience through their senses. The idea that people can learn through reasoning independently of the senses or through intuition are rejected. Stated differently, knowledge can only be derived a posteriori, i.e. through sensory experience. Innate ideas and superiority of knowledge does not exist.

A strong distinction is made between fact (objective) and values (subjective). Sense data is the ultimate objectivity, uncontaminated by value or theory. According to empiricism a person is born with an empty brain, like a clean slate, which is then filled by what he or she learns by experiencing things. Two learning processes take place – the individual experiences a sensation after which she or he reflects on it.

[1] Accessed on 11/07/2016.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.