Empirical evidence

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Empirical evidence, also known as sense experience, is the knowledge or source of knowledge acquired by means of the senses, particularly by observation and experimentation.[1] The term comes from the Greek word for experience, ἐμπειρία (empeiría). After Immanuel Kant, it is common in philosophy to call the knowledge thus gained a posteriori knowledge (in contrast to a priori knowledge).


Empirical evidence is information that justifies a belief in the truth or falsity of a claim. In the empiricist view, one can claim to have knowledge only when one has a true belief based on empirical evidence. This stands in contrast to the rationalist view under which reason or reflection alone is considered evidence for the truth or falsity of some propositions.[2] The senses are the primary source of empirical evidence. Although other sources of evidence, such as memory and the testimony of others, ultimately trace back to some sensory experience, they are considered secondary, or indirect.[2]

In another sense, empirical evidence may be synonymous with the outcome of an experiment. In this sense, an empirical result is a unified confirmation. In this context, the term semi-empirical is used for qualifying theoretical methods that use, in part, basic axioms or postulated scientific laws and experimental results. Such methods are opposed to theoretical ab initio methods, which are purely deductive and based on first principles.[citation needed]

In science, empirical evidence is required for a hypothesis to gain acceptance in the scientific community. Normally, this validation is achieved by the scientific method of hypothesis commitment, experimental design, peer review, adversarial review, reproduction of results, conference presentation, and journal publication. This requires rigorous communication of hypothesis (usually expressed in mathematics), experimental constraints and controls (expressed necessarily in terms of standard experimental apparatus), and a common understanding of measurement.

Statements and arguments depending on empirical evidence are often referred to as a posteriori ("following experience") as distinguished from a priori (preceding it). A priori knowledge or justification is independent of experience (for example "All bachelors are unmarried"), whereas a posteriori knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence (for example "Some bachelors are very happy"). The notion of the distinction between a priori and a posteriori is tantamount to the distinction between empirical and non-empirical knowledge comes from Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.[3]

The standard positivist view of empirically acquired information has been that observation, experience, and experiment serve as neutral arbiters between competing theories. However, since the 1960s, a persistent critique most associated with Thomas Kuhn,[4][page needed] has argued that these methods are influenced by prior beliefs and experiences. Consequently, it cannot be expected that two scientists when observing, experiencing, or experimenting on the same event will make the same theory-neutral observations. The role of observation as a theory-neutral arbiter may not be possible. Theory-dependence of observation means that, even if there were agreed methods of inference and interpretation, scientists may still disagree on the nature of empirical data.[5]

A significant example of empiricism will be in context with colors. How will one acknowledge the fact what is the appearance of blue color if they were blind since birth? The one single way of acknowledgement of colors is experiencing them with the senses. And hence, there can be application of empiricism in conducting research. Considering the example of rationalism, there lies significance in the poverty of stimulus issue. Children from and more than 3 years old utilize language such that they have not been through explicit teaching. They hold the tendency of forming actual sentences using words that they did not have a sense experience of precisely placing words before. In addition, they start understanding rules of grammar even before the acknowledgment of a verb or a noun. In this context, it can be stated that though it appears to be strange, rationalism does a better job for the explanation of this particular knowledge in comparison with empiricism (Seising, 2007, 101). However, the effectiveness of theory is highly dependent on the nature of a specific phenomenon being researched. Plato identifies innate knowledge in terms of three categories that are forms, color and moral concepts (piety, virtue, beauty and goodness) (Bernard, 2011, 3). Also, Descartes considers the fact that the knowledge of one’s own existence, infinity and perfection, and the idea of god is innate. On the other hand, Leibniz consider principles of logic to be innate and Chomsky considers the fact that ability of using language that means the rules of language is innate (Weiskopf, 2008, 5). In conclusion, rationalism is known to distinguishing between empirical knowledge that ends up arising out of prior knowledge and experience. On the other hand, empiricism expresses the sheer denial of this differentiation between prior knowledge and empirical knowledge. As argued in the context of empiricists, each and every piece of knowledge arises out of and can be reduced to the sense experience. And hence, there can be no establishment of knowledge solely through the consideration of reasoning. More often, it has been seen that empirical view tend to be opting skepticism as an option of rationalism. If experience is not helpful in the provision of knowledge or concept cited by rationalists, then they do not exist. On the other hand, empiricism when considering a specific subject provides a rejection of corresponding version related to innate knowledge and deduction or intuition. By these examples, it can be stated that empiricism and rationalism show varying concerns with the limit to which there is dependency on experience of sense as an effort of gaining knowledge. Also, implication to correspond the thesis of innate concept is completely denied considering the existence of innate ideas within the area of subject. There is also a denial of implication to correspond the thesis of innate concept considering the existence of innate ideas within the area of subject.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pickett 2006, p. 585
  2. ^ a b Feldman 2001, p. 293
  3. ^ Craig 2005, p. 1
  4. ^ Kuhn 1970
  5. ^ Bird 2013


  • Bird, Alexander (2013). Zalta, Edward N., ed. "Thomas Kuhn". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Section 4.2 Perception, Observational Incommensurability, and World-Change. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  • Craig, Edward (2005). "a posteriori". The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge. ISBN 9780415324953. 
  • Feldman, Richard (2001) [1999]. "Evidence". In Audi, Robert. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 293–294. ISBN 978-0521637220. 
  • Kuhn, Thomas S. (1970) [1962]. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226458045. 
  • Pickett, Joseph P., ed. (2011). "Empirical". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-547-04101-8. 

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