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Empiricism as a pole of scientific knowledge

Empiricism [ ɛmpiˈʀiː ] (from ἐμπειρία empeiría , experience, empirical knowledge ') is a methodical-systematic collection of data . The findings from empirical data are sometimes referred to as empiricism for short .

In the philosophy of science , empiricism as the experience that leads to a hypothesis (or even disproves it) is contrasted with evidence , i.e. the direct insight into a scientific claim.

Empirical research and everyday experience

Empirical research takes place simulated in the laboratory or directly in the field. Direct field research differs from everyday life experience in terms of the systematic approach - one also speaks of the collection of data. In addition, there are demands for objectivity and repeatability of observations, which are not made in this form of everyday experiences.

In the empirical sciences, empirical observations are used to check theoretical assumptions about the world. Whether theories can also be developed on the basis of empirical data is partly disputed. The exact relationship between empiricism and theory is dealt with in science and, more generally, in epistemology and is the subject of numerous philosophical controversies. There is no unanimous opinion in science as to whether theoretical statements can be confirmed empirically or only refuted in principle .


In the late Middle Ages and the early modern period , naturalists claimed that their empirical research gave them new insights. Empiricism is a philosophical current that emerged in the 17th century and originally goes back to Francis Bacon and David Hume , which emphasizes the general dependence of all knowledge on experience.

The claim was often connected with polemics against other researchers who were assumed to be based on traditional and ecclesiastically sanctioned authorities such as B. Aristotle left, so on tradition . This notion has been adopted by historians of science, who attributed advances to the empirical orientation of innovative researchers and antagonism to their views on an attachment to tradition.

This simplistic idea is z. B. criticized by Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer , pointing out that scientific advances were often associated with a more complex interplay of empiricism and tradition.

Radical varieties of empiricism (such as the position represented by John Locke ) assume that the human mind is a tabula rasa in which knowledge can only arise through sensory experience (“Nothing is in the intellect that has not been in the senses before) . "). Philosophical counter-arguments to this position were formulated by the representatives of rationalism , such as René Descartes , who pointed out the fundamental fallibility of the senses. Ultimately, however, classical positions of rationalism and empiricism agree in their rejection of tradition as the source of an infallible and complete canon of the knowable.

In his Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant endeavored to overcome the antagonism between empiricism and rationalism by postulating the meaning of a priori terms such as space , time and causality that existed in the mind prior to all experience .

Empirical Sciences

Empirical or empirical sciences are disciplines in which the objects and facts of the world, such as B. planets, animals, behavioral patterns of people can be examined through experiments, observation or questioning. These empirical methods can take place in the laboratory or, as is the technical term, in the field. This means an investigation of a phenomenon or problem in its respective context. This is especially true in the natural sciences .

This contrasts with the non-empirical sciences, in which some knowledge can be gained without resorting to direct observation and sensory experience, such as mathematics and philosophy . In particular, epistemology and logic are considered non-empirical areas of knowledge, because statements are formulated here that are correct or incorrect solely for logical (formal) reasons (e.g. tautologies and contradictions cannot be empirically verified). Even philosophical reflection that does not strictly follow logical-formal calculations is usually only carried out through mere reflection or speculation , empirical observations are deliberately not used for this purpose. The theology (especially in their dogmatic interests), the law (as there legal texts casuistically be related to individual cases), the literature and parts of linguistics are considered non-empirical sciences.

It is also controversial whether sciences in which text sources are evaluated and interpreted using hermeneutic methods, such as history and parts of the social sciences , can be viewed as empirical sciences. Representatives of a strictly uniform scientific position - such as Carl Gustav Hempel  - consider history to be an empirical science. In contrast, representatives of a dualism between the natural sciences and the humanities - such as Wilhelm Dilthey at the beginning of the 20th century and later Georg Henrik von Wright  - have emphasized the special character of hermeneutically proceeding sciences. The relationship between hermeneutics and empirical science is controversial in the philosophical debate to this day. In the social sciences in particular, this debate was between representatives of uniform scientific positions, such as those taken by the representatives of critical rationalism Karl Popper and Hans Albert , and alternative positions (such as the critical theory around Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno ), which oppose one of their opinions after the “blind” transfer of scientific models of knowledge to the social sciences and humanities, fought it out intensively in the 1960s and 70s (cf. the so-called positivism dispute ).

Empirical specialties

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: empiricism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Udo Kelle: Empirically founded theory formation. Deutscher Studienverlag, Weinheim 2 1997.
  2. Kurt Eberhard: Introduction to the theory of knowledge and science. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-17-015486-9 .
  3. Winfried Stier: Empirical research methods. Springer, Berlin 1999. ISBN 3-540-65295-7 , p. 5 ff.
  4. ^ Günter Gawlik (Ed.): History of Philosophy in Text and Presentation. Vol. 4: Empiricism. Reclam, Stuttgart 1980.
  5. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Tradition (s) and empiricism in early modern natural research. In: Helmuth Grössing, Kurt Mühlberger (ed.): Science and culture at the turn of the ages. (Writings from the archives of the University of Vienna; 15). V&R unipress, Göttingen 2012, pp. 63–80.
  6. ^ Carl Gustav Hempel: The Functions of General Laws in History. in: The Journal of Philosophy. 39, 1942, pp. 35-48.
  7. Georg Henrik von Wright: Explanation and Understanding. Athenaeum, Frankfurt 1974.