Empiricalempiricism Doctrine

OF. This is the philosophical doctrine /theory that sense experience is the only source of knowledge (cf., doctrine of sensationalism, also called the doctrine of sensationism - posits that all knowledge originates in sensations, and that even reflective ideas and intuitions may be traced back to elementary sense impressions; this doctrine denies that there are innate ideas). One meaning of the term empirical stresses the reliance on practical experience without reference to scientific principles, whereas the term empirical method emphasizes observation and experiment rather than theory. The British philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) was the major leader of the British empiricistic tradition (cf., Hobbes' psychological theory). Locke's psychological theory of "environmental determinacy" is summarized in the notion that there is nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses. Locke rejected other sources of knowledge that were thought to be innately endowed through God or otherwise; rather, all knowledge is derived from experience. Locke distinguishes between sensations (physical entities) and perceptions (reflected products of sensation). According to Locke, the units of the mind called "ideas" are derived from sensations through self-reflection. Locke asserted, also, that physical objects have inherent primary, and perceived secondary, qualities. The primary qualities are properties of objects as they exist (such as length, volume, motion, and number), but the secondary qualities are produced by the perceiver and attributed to objects (such as odors, sounds, colors, and tastes). Locke's form of empiricism, called rational empiricism, had a definite need for the concept of mind and posited two operations for the mind: reflection and association. Through reflection, the operations of mind in themselves produce new or compound ideas based on the simple ideas obtained from sensations. Through association, the mind links sensations together to form perceptions where associations, by chance, are spontaneous linkages without an apparent logical basis (cf., Hobbes' "contiguity" approach), and constitute what today is called "superstitious behavior/reinforcement." In psychology, empiricism is the approach that views knowledge as resulting from experience, induction, and learning and where, in its once extreme form, it asserted that mind at birth was a "blank slate"

or tabula rasa upon which experience writes its messages. Locke's inconsistency concerning his doctrine of tabula rasa has been criticized often (e.g., he inserted the notion that the mind has "faculties" and these can be modified; he also conceded that the mind could arrive at new ideas by reflecting on sensory input. Thus, Locke admitted, indirectly, that not every idea comes directly from experience. Another of Locke's concepts, called "archetypes" (i.e., development of complex ideas via reflecting on sensations), comes close to supporting Descartes' opposing position of innate ideas rather than upholding a purely empirical approach. Empiricism is commonly contrasted with the doctrine of nativism (innate capacities). Modern scientific psychology espouses empiricism through an inductive method and emphasis upon experimental methods, as well as sense experience and observable data, over a purely theoretical or deductive approach. See also A POSTERIORI/A PRIORI DISTINCTION; ASSOCIATION, LAWS/PRINCIPLES OF; DESCARTES' THEORY OF INNATE IDEAS; EMPIRICIST VERSUS NATIVIST THEORIES; HOBBES' PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORY; MIND/MENTAL STATES, THEORIES OF; NATIVISTIC/NATIVISM THEORIES/DOCTRINE; RATIONALISM/RATIONALIST, DOCTRINE OF; SUPERSTITION AND SUPERSTITIOUS EFFECTS; UNCONSCIOUS INFERENCE. REFERENCES

Locke, J. (1690). An essay concerning human understanding. London: Dent. Brennan, J. (1991). History and systems in psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


EMPIRICIST VERSUS NATIVIST THEORIES. The "empiricist-nativist" distinction in psychology is as old as the history of psychology itself. The empiricist/empiricism theoretical position - deriving from the "British Empiricists": the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), the Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753), and the

Scottish philosopher David Hume (17111776) - holds that all elements of knowledge basically emanate from experience ("nurture") or contact with the environment. On the other hand, the nativist/nativism doctrine or theoretical orientation ("nature") holds that the mind innately contains knowledge that is not derived from the senses, and emphasizes hereditary factors and biological constitution as determinants of one's behavior, perceptions, attitudes, and personality. Historically, the nativist-empiricist distinction is epitomized in the theoretical dispute between the German psychologists Ewald Hering (1834-1918) and Hermann L. F. von Helmholtz (1821-1894) concerning, in particular, the issue of visual space perception. The key question was: Is the spatial ordering of visual perception given as "native/inborn endowment" or is it somehow "acquired/learned"? Hering adopted the na-tivst position, whereas Helmholtz advanced the empiricist position. Hering argued that each retinal point is innately endowed with three "local signs" (height, right-left position, and depth). Helmholtz, on the other hand, proposed that space forms are "built-up" in experience and that the location of the "local signs" has to be learned. Thus, Helmholtz, as empiricist, was following R. M. Lotze and the British empiricistic tradition, whereas Hering (who was not the first to conceive of, or originate, nativism) was following Johannes Muller who, in turn, was influenced by Immanuel Kant's conception of space as a "native intuition." Ultimately, the empiricist/nativist dichotomy and philosophy goes back to John Locke's empiricism and Rene Descartes' innate ideas. As one psychological historian (E. G. Boring) points out, the Helmholtz-versus-Hering difference has not yet fully surrendered to the conception that nature (nativism) and nurture (empiricism) always work together, and neither of them works alone. See also A POSTERIORI/A PRIORI DISTINCTION; BERKELEY'S THEORY OF VISUAL SPACE PERCEPTION; DESCARTES' THEORY OF INNATE IDEAS; EMPIRICAL AND EMPIRICISM, DOCTRINE OF; LEARNING THEORIES/LAWS; LOTZE'S THEORY OF LOCAL SIGNS; NATIVIS-TIC/NATIVISM THEORIES AND DOCTRINE; NATURE VERSUS NURTURE


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