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kenneth p. winkler

Subject Philosophy » Metaphysics

Key-Topics empiricism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631199991.1995.x


Empiricism is a broad tendency in the theory of knowledge. Each of its many forms lays stress on experience (typically sensory experience) as a source of knowledge or belief. The Greek equivalent of ‘empiricism’ was first used nearly two thousand years ago by Galen (AD 129–199), who argued that medical knowledge was solely a matter of experience. Empiricism has played an important role in philosophy ever since, but the influence of the ‘British empiricists’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has been especially enduring. Empiricism, on their account, makes two complementary claims, one concerning the content of thought (here called content-empiricism ), and another concerning the justification of belief ( justification-empiricism ). According to the claim concerning content, experience is the ultimate source of all of our conceptions. As Locke , for example, put it, all of our ideas - the only ‘immediate object[s] of Perception, Thought, or Understanding’, according to him ( Essay II viii 8) - spring from experience. ‘Our Observation employ'd either about external, sensible Objects; or about the internal Operations of our Minds ’, Locke held, ‘ is that, which supplies our Understandings with all the materials of thinking ’ ( Essay II i 2). According to the claim concerning justification, experience is the only source of evidence for our beliefs, or the only source ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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