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Empirical Knowledge: What It Is, Features, and Types

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Knowledge is a complex process involving various sensory and cognitive mechanisms, and this is how information is obtained from the environment. Since the beginning of human civilisation, each individual has used different methodologies to understand the world around them. Indeed, through observation, research and analysis, several generations have faced various challenges.

But there are different types of knowledge, classifiable by their acquired or their foundation and universality.

What are empirical knowledge and its examples?

Empiricism (from the Greek empeirìa, which means experience) is a philosophical branch born in Britain’s second half of the 17th century. Human knowledge derives exclusively from the senses or experience. In a broad sense, today by empiricism is meant a practical and experimental approach to learn, based on investigation and a way of proceeding a posteriori, in preference to pure deductive logic.

Empirical knowledge is the product of experience; It is acquired when the sense organs establish contact with the external world. This type of knowledge has allowed humanity to accumulate valuable and diverse backgrounds throughout its history.

The use of fire, the emergence of agriculture, and the domestication of plants and animals are examples of empirical knowledge transmitted from generation to generation. The validity of much empirical knowledge about medicine, astronomy, agriculture, navigation, and construction, among others, has been proven by daily practice.

Characteristics of empirical knowledge

Empirical knowledge is characterised by the following:

  • Empirical knowledge uses sensory data as the basis of any form of knowledge and proceeds from sensation to concept, not vice versa.
  • Empiricism affirms that knowledge is acceptance of sensory data in its concrete and particular immediacy.
  • Human knowledge always starts from the particular: no universal notions condition the movement of thought, but the universality of concepts (obtained through generalizations) is only a point of arrival, a conquest. 
  • The method of empiricism is induction.
  • Empiricism does not recognise any knowledge that does not come from an immediate contact of the subject with the object. The primary source of all knowledge is the empirical data that take the name of sensations, perceptions, impressions, and ideas.
  • Empiricism limits the scope of knowledge to empirical data and denies thought the possibility of going beyond it, thus negating the opportunity of metaphysics.

Types of empirical knowledge

Two different types of empirical knowledge can be identified, one particular and the other contingent. Particular empirical knowledge is identified because it refers to specific situations, to a unique reality.

But, it is not possible to guarantee that experience based on experience can be applied to other cases in a generalised way. In contrast, contingent empirical knowledge is identified because it describes characteristics attributed to an event. However, they could change shortly for several reasons.

Difference between empirical and scientific knowledge

Empirical is an adjective often related to the term science. It is used in both the natural and social sciences, and this means the use of working hypotheses that can be disproved by observation or experiment (i.e., ultimately from experience). In another sense, the term empirical in science can be synonymous with experimental.

On the other hand, scientific knowledge is obtained from an appropriate systematic investigation, which makes it possible to discover ongoing relationships between facts and phenomena.

Summing up

The objective of empirical knowledge is to know the observable reality to solve society’s practical problems; that of scientific knowledge is to describe, explain theoretically, predict and transform reality. Scientific knowledge includes describing all the discoveries in scientific works, monographs, essays. These different types of paper help to organise and pass all scientific progress to the next generation.

The study of empirical knowledge comprises the instruments of human work and the field of labour and social activity; scientific knowledge is definite, real, and contains the essence of reality.

Empirical knowledge does not use unique methods of learning, unlike scientific knowledge.

Empirical knowledge does not develop theoretical systems: learning takes the form of concrete indicators (it does not have a theoretical-methodological basis). On the other hand, scientific knowledge develops academic systems verifiable in practice and is guided by scientific, philosophical principles.

Alicia Saville did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health and well-being. 

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