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Empiricism - A Thumbnail History, Foundational Empiricism, The Appearance-reality Distinction, The Twentieth Century And Beyond

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to Ephemeral

Empiricism is a family of theories of knowledge (epistemology) claiming that all knowledge about the extant universe is based on experience, primarily on perception via the five senses. Some empiricists add introspection, a moral sense, or a special sensitivity to religious or aesthetic experience. Strong empiricists claim that all knowledge whatever derives from experience. They must show how empiricism can handle apparently a priori knowledge, including logic, mathematics, and ordinary truths such as "Bachelors are unmarried males." Empiricism also provides an account of mind, language, and learning. The traditional contrast of empiricism is with rationalism and nativism, the view that we do possess a priori knowledge, either furnished by reason alone or innate. Empiricists tend to perceptualize the mind and its operations, while rationalists tend to intellectualize it. With its down-to-earth emphasis on concrete experience and clarity, empiricism has flourished in Anglophone countries, whereas the more speculative rationalist and Kantian ideas have flourished on the Continent. This is one aspect of the divide between Continental philosophy and Anglo-American, "analytic," and "linguistic" philosophies.

In the twenty-first century nearly everyone is an empiricist in the everyday sense of taking experience seriously as a basis for knowledge claims about the natural world and human behavior, but most philosophers reject traditional, doctrinaire empiricism—the view that human sense experience provides a special connection of the knowing mind to the world and thus provides a foundation on which knowledge can build, step by step.

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