Re: Empiricism

Massimo Pigliucci (
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 16:37:09 -0400

Dear Garry,

> (i) The scientific method (rather, a family of methodologies) is an
> empirical method which may be grounded in either srong or weak
> empiricism.
> (ii) Strong empiricism is the belief that all knowledge of reality
> comes
> through the senses. Weak empiricism is the belief that all knowledge
> of
> material reality comes through the senses.
> (iii) Rationalism is the belief that at least some knowledge of
> reality is
> non-empirical.
> I want to argue that strong empiricism is incoherent.

Ok, I like philosophy too, especially over a beer. But it is very easy
to get very silly with this line of reasoning. See, while there
(probably) is only one reality (yes, that's an assumption, but a pretty
darn consistent one!), there are many alternative "logics", only one of
which (at most) corresponds to reality.

So, yes, the scientific method is empirical, and yes, you have at one
point to take the "rationalist leap". So what? That leap is very very
small (as Will Provine has repeatedly pointed out) compared to the
ir-rational one which makes you assume the existence of supernatural
entities and phenomena of which you have absolutely no knowledge or
tangible experience.

Therefore, if what you are saying is that there are limits to empiricism
and in general to human knowledge, I would certainly not disagree. The
facts remain that:

1- empirical investigations are the best ways of finding out about the
world (and they *work*)

2- supernaturalism and mysticism make unfounded assumptions (and,
especially, *don't* work).


Massimo Pigliucci, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolution
Society for the Study of Evolution "Dobzhansky" Awardee
Dept. of Botany, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1100
phone 423-974-6221 fax 0978

Lab page Science & Society Darwin Day Rationalists of East Tennessee

"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." -- Emo Phillips ******************************************************************