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empiricism

empiricism (ĕmpĭrˈĭsĭzəm) [key] [Gr., = experience], philosophical doctrine that all knowledge is derived from experience. For most empiricists, experience includes inner experience—reflection upon the mind and its operations—as well as sense perception. This position is opposed to rationalism in that it denies the existence of innate ideas. According to the empiricist, all ideas are derived from experience; therefore, knowledge of the physical world can be nothing more than a generalization from particular instances and can never reach more than a high degree of probability. Most empiricists recognize the existence of at least some a priori truths, e.g., those of mathematics and logic. John Stuart Mill was the first to treat even these as generalizations from experience. Empiricism has been the dominant but not the only tradition in British philosophy. Among its other leading advocates were John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. See also logical positivism.

See L. Bonjour, The Structure of Empirical Knowledge (1985); A. H. Goodman, Empirical Knowledge (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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