All terms

What is Empiricism?

The philosophy that knowledge comes strictly from sensory experience.

Empiricism: Learning Through Sensory Experience

Empiricism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of sensory experience as the basis for all knowledge. According to empiricists, the only way to learn about the world is through our senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. If we cannot directly observe something, it cannot be considered knowledge.

This philosophy has had a significant impact on the development of modern science and the scientific method, which relies on gathering and analyzing data from experiments and observations. In the field of creative writing, an empirical approach can be beneficial in crafting authentic characters and settings. Paying attention to sensory details can help bring a story to life and make it feel more real to readers.

However, while empiricism has its strengths, it also has limitations. This philosophy assumes that sensory perception is infallible, but our senses can be easily fooled by illusions, hallucinations, and other phenomena. Additionally, some knowledge cannot be acquired through sensory experience alone, such as abstract concepts like love, justice, or beauty.

Empiricism in Literature: Two Examples

Empiricism can be seen in various modes of literature, from novels to philosophical essays. Here are two examples:

Madame Bovary, Flaubert

In Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, the protagonist Emma Bovary is depicted as an empiricist who seeks fulfillment through sensory experiences. She becomes bored and disillusioned with her mundane life and seeks out various passionate affairs, pursuing the promise of sensual pleasure. Ultimately, however, these experiences fail to satisfy her, leading to her tragic demise.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke

John Locke's classic philosophical work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, is perhaps the most notable example of empiricism in literature. In it, Locke argues that all knowledge is derived from sense experience, and that the mind is a blank slate, or tabula rasa, upon which sensory impressions are gradually inscribed.