The term empiricism (Greek εμπειρισμός, of empiricism, or Latin Empiricus, the experience following ') is in classifications epistemological theory approaches to theories used, which according to knowledge, understood as justified true knowledge, first or exclusively on sense experience is based ( including the use scientific instruments). In epistemological and philosophical-historical representations empiricist positions are often described as an alternative to positions which are then summarized under the term " rationalism " and who share the view that knowledge of the world even from pure thought without prior individual perception is possible or is this even the primary or exclusive source of knowledge accounts.

According to science concepts, as they are particularly common since the early modern period, in particular the empirical scientific findings on observation and experiment can be traced back so that converged such a scientific understanding with empiricist conceptions of knowledge. The main classical designs of empiricism are certain representatives of the 17th century, especially in the British empiricism attributed. In the 20th century were presented by representatives of the various logical empiricism, science, epistemological and methodological elaborations in connecting or partial compliance with the ideas of this classic. A more recent variant of epistemological conceptions in continuation of some empiricist basic idea is the Constructive empiricism.

  • 2.1 antiquity
  • 2.2 Middle Ages
  • 2.3 Modern Times
  • 2.4 19th and 20th centuries


Rationalist and Empiricist forms of knowledge

In classifications epistemological positions with " empiricism " usually refers to a family of theories which is compared with a second family, which is then referred to as " rationalism ". ( This is not the only common use of this term. ) Variants of a Rationalism in this sense claim usually means that a knowledge of pure reason over empiricism of higher certainty was, and that it is the empirical world experience a preceding or underlying knowledge or epistemic justification from pure reason (so-called a priori knowledge or a priori justification ) also give for fact the aktualen world.

Had been In the context of this understanding of rationalism and is often also argued that some ideas and concepts are not derived from the empirical, but with the reason given himself ( " innate " ) (see nativism ) or - suddenly on empirical knowledge of the world - directly through the be recognized pure reason (see intuitionism ).

Rationalists such as René Descartes had argued that knowledge is formed mainly by direct intuition and deduction. This form of knowledge should cover not only the implications between concepts, but the facts aktualen world. A history of philosophy always controversial case is about that of a knowledge of the existence of God - Descartes by pure reason provable, for example, Kant, however, an impossible synthetic judgment a priori. Empiricists assume, however, that only the sense impressions provide factual knowledge, because the occurrence of sensations directly or indirectly, is the existence of the facts dependent.

Induction and realism problem

In fact, the rationalist Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz sense impressions but even rated as inadequate general term conditions to give necessity as this only represented a single case. But since we do certain truths about the mathematics, can certainly appreciate this insight must be supplied by other sources than the empiricism - according to Leibniz, is only in question that doing basic truths of reason are themselves indigenous. Classically, restrict many empiricists an intuitively - deductive form of knowledge on the relationships between the concepts that represent the best the operations of our own mind. Knowledge of the world, however, must be based solely on sensory perception.

An increase in this form of mistrust general propositions can lead to skepticism. For inductive circuits, particularly in the case of an inference to general laws of nature, is usually - at least since the discussion by David Hume, who developed a skeptizistische position - problematized as an induction problem that strictly speaking from a single case, no general law could be deduced logically, especially for the field of non- necessary future of inner-worldly matters would be no absolute certainty. David Hume went so far as to explain the adoption of the necessary term conditions, such as exist in the laws of nature, for a subjective error. There is no opinions for corresponding logical- rational, but only a psychological explanation, therefore, the claims to knowledge are not satisfiable in such sentences.

Such doubts can be expanded further by also argued that sense-perception we deliver only information about one's own mental states and was not sure what, if anything outside of their own perceiving consciousness correspond to this awareness. Such a fundamental doubt that already exists as a argumentative figure at René Descartes, can be used to justify idealistic positions ( as in George Berkeley ).

An empiricism which limited the potential knowledge to their own sensory experience, is sensationalism ( for example, represented by Ernst Mach and in his early work of Bertrand Russell). A more recent theory approach which accepts that ultimately only their own mental states are epistemically accessible, is the radical constructivism.

Many empiricist positions rely, however, that empirical experience of general conclusions can be drawn (so-called inductive inferences ) and that the contents of sensory experience of the world essentially correspond. Such items are referred to as realism. A robust, partly naively realistic form of empiricism is the common-sense philosophy.

Within the framework of classical empiricist theories models have been proposed for experience -circuiting. For example, John Stuart Mill had formulated on the individual case to general cases and laws in a theory of the syllogism.

Some theorists suggested beyond prior models for additional closing procedures, such as in cases of direct hypothesis formation, to explain Charles Sanders Peirce initially surprising appearing facts, so-called abduction (where, in contrast to the language of " Abduction " in traditional logic (see Apagoge ) the fact then deductively follows in the cases described by Peirce and not just base and conclusion are likely).

Criterion of meaning, verificationism, anti - metaphysical attitude

Empiricist positions are usually associated with the claim that all ideas can be attributed to sensory perception. Those ideas that do not directly represent an object of experience or a tangible property, are - as John Locke - explained as mere products of the imagination, which were formed by decomposition and recombination of past sensations.

Based on this distinction was formulated in logical empiricism a sense criterion for scientific sentences, first in the form of a so-called verificationism. Consequently, only sentences that express something whose truth can check empirically ( " verify " ) can, in general are considered to be useful and even possibly true or false (ie, truth- value capable). One set is so if and only ever useful if sensual experience you can specify conditions that must be met if the proposition is true. All other rates would, according to this criterion meaningless, ie neither true nor false, but at best expression of their own feelings and attitudes. Here, the logical empiricism presupposes the possibility of a separation of theory and observation language of science: the observation language is intended to directly express the empirically accessible facts ( phenomena ) in the form of so-called log records; the theory contains the language constructs that describe the phenomena and their interrelationships. This gives a criterion for theories: These are only purely scientific, if the terms of the theory of language are defined so that they can be defined only by terms of the observation language and logical operators.

Partly because of the problem of induction of this position has been modified and developed in various ways - for example to falsificationism, or the theory of empirical confirmation or about the benefit of epistemological holism, the separation of theory and observation language as the logical empiricism has traditionally provided rejects.

From the empiricist assumptions about the source of our ideas follows that sentences that represent the truth of which is not on its own, can be recycled with other divisible experience, can not be a form of knowledge, but at best forms of subjective belief, at worst psychologically motivated errors. If no verification is by empirical facts in question, these rates do not meet the criterion of meaning. Since many representatives of empiricism thought this was given these assumptions led them to anti- idealistic, metaphysics critical and critical of religion opinions, to the scientism. It has come to the history of philosophy overlaps with certain forms of ethical and metaphysical materialism revision, although this connection is not philosophical positions

Empiricism in the history of science

Empiricist theories have often been claimed or assumed as epistemological background assumptions of scientific research. Also branches of classical philology and historical research, as founded by David Friedrich Strauss historical Jesus research can be viewed in this sense as originally empiricist projects the return of the traditional lore on real experiences. In the course of a progressive separation of the natural and social sciences shifted the relationship of empiricism to science and eg a preference quantitative- statistical methods, but more to the fore. ( See also Methodenstreit (Social Sciences). )

Particularly influential was the empiricism in the variants of the logical empiricism of the Vienna Circle to the doctorate at the Max Planck, then the Chair Ludwig Boltzmann's teaching Moritz Schlick, with Kurt Gödel, Hans Hahn, Otto Neurath, Karl Popper and others, the Berlin group with Hans Reichenbach and others, and the Lvov -Warsaw School with Alfred Tarski and others. These authors, their environment and student dominated for a long time large parts of the scientific discourse.

History and representatives


In ancient times, compared to the pre-Socratic philosophers rationalistic systems, ( with the exception of Cyrenaics ) as well as those of Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans epistemology of a more empirical nature.

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages the empiricism William of Occam, Roger Bacon and the Renaissance period, Juan Luis Vives, Nizolio, Galileo Galilei, Tommaso Campanella, Leonardo da Vinci partially tend to there.

Modern Times

The newer empiricism was founded by Francis Bacon. In Thomas Hobbes empiricist settings can be found more clearly in John Locke. In addition, in George Berkeley, David Hume, sensualist Étienne Bonnot de Condillac marked with.

An inductive empiricism founded John Stuart Mill

Immanuel Kant described the one-sidedness of empiricism and rationalism, and tried to overcome it by his own recognition of a transcendental or a so-called 'criticism'. In the introduction to his epistemological major work, the Critique of Pure Reason, he presents his design as a combination of the insights of empiricism and rationalism.

19th and 20th centuries

A critical empiricism taught in the 19th century Friedrich Eduard Beneke, Friedrich Ueberweg, Auguste Comte, Friedrich Otto Group, Cornelis Willem Opzoomer, Eugen Dühring Ernst Laas, moreover Alois Riehl, Wilhelm Wundt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Herbert Spencer, Otto Caspari, Friedrich Harms, Eduard von Hartmann. A theory of pure experience was of Richard Avenarius, like teaching Heinrich Hertz, Ernst Mach, and Hans Cornelius, who separated the epistemological empiricism from naturalism and only the former would be regarded as consistent Empirimismus, whereas he described the latter as Scheinempirismus.

In Vienna Circle around Moritz Schlick and the Berlin group around Carl Gustav Hempel is a logical empiricism, which was represented effectively powerful in the 20th century by Rudolf Carnap developed. So he influenced American philosophers like Willard Van Orman Quine and others, also some of the so-called post-analytical philosophy associated theorist. Finding was interpreted as a logical construction of the experience.

One way to handle the expansion of knowledge on the basis of the sense data, mathematically, is the set of Bayes.

The Critical rationalism (Karl Popper ) indicates the position on that gain certain knowledge of individual observations inductive or only confirm unequivocally let ( verificationism ) and says the experience mainly a function for criticizing theories and beliefs ( fallibilism ).

Bas van Fraassens constructive empiricism is one of the recent variants empiricist positions.

Objections and counter-positions since the 20th century

The restriction of knowledge to the field of mere experience can not hold the opinion of various critics of empiricism. Often the notice, such as by Leonard Nelson, that empiricism does not meet its own principles takes place: phrases such as " all empirical knowledge is true " or " Valide knowledge based solely on sensory experience " are namely not derivable from experience.

Willard Van Orman Quine put in his essay " Two Dogmas of Empiricism " is that even central basic concepts of classical empiricism are not empirically verifiable.

Representatives of more open methodologies, such as Paul Feyerabend, Thomas S. Kuhn and others, who continued the sociology of science approaches of Karl Mannheim and Ludwik Fleck, have been critical to theories of classical empiricism and presented different or additional ideas.