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Essay on Philosophy: Empiricism

Updated on December 12, 2015


Even though I would like to appeal to neutrality, I have an inclination to reject early empiricism. Why? Because it doesn't make sense (funny that I would use the word 'sense' in relating my disfavor) to me. I feel as though I'm left with "nothing," and am hindered from reaching any logical conclusions based on this philosophy. (Please excuse my ignorance, as the time I have invested into studying these issues amounts to a relative zero in comparison with the critical thought engaged by Locke, Humes, the other great empiricists, as well as my very own philosophy professor.)

The Inference

One of my main problems is with the inference: "all knowledge of anything that actually exists, must be derived from experience." This is another way of saying "knowledge can only be obtained through experience," or even, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” This point seems reasonable enough, but-- just how reliable is experience? I could go so far as to justify the truth of any personal religion based on it. If I were to ask a religious zealot of any organized faction if they had ever "heard the voice of God," become "lifted by the Spirit," or experienced any similar heightened spiritual state, they would all enthusiastically affirm, "Infact, yes!" they had. But how can this be? Aren't they all worshipping a god or gods unique to their own religion (all of which deny the existence of the others)? If we can conclude from this example that experience is not necessarily reliable (and based solely (in this case) on unique personal perception), then just how reliable is the knowledge derived from it? Not very reliable at all, in my opinion. (Of course, it's all rhetoric-- and since I'm only arguing one side, my paper is naturally biased.) This is not to say that the inference produces "actual knowledge formed through all experiences," it is simply my way of asserting that experience is not reliable because it is extremely personal and subject-dependent.

Lack of Knowledge

My other trouble is with the idea that "we cannot know if a material world exists, external to or independent of self." If this is the case, how are we to view anything as real? We can't. Certainty is an impossibility. Yet I feel as though I know that I'm sitting at a computer desk typing this essay, and that I know I'm on the 8th floor of a condominium. For me, and for those around me, this is certain. Since I don't have any compelling arguments against this notion (or any others, for that matter), I'll take Kant's view instead: everything about this noumenal world is "transcendental," meaning that it does infact exist, but cannot be registered in experience. (Magee 135)


The following was brought up in class (and was relevant to the application of empiricism), yet there was no time to address the issue beyond surface-level discussion. One student accounted for the spiritual realm based on what certain theorists have declared as "spiritual receptors," part of human brain's innerworkings and thus, proof for the necessity of religion (I apologize for any inaccurate assessment due to lack of available materials, this is simply my recollection of what was discussed). At any rate, I wanted to counter this notion with Ockham's Razor: concluding that these cerebral activities be observed as "spiritual" is to posit entities unnecessarily. There is no way to identify whether or not these functions are a direct cause of interaction with the spiritual realm since is there is no legitimate means of observing the spiritual realm itself.


Magee, Bryan. The Story Of Philosophy. A Dorling Kindersley Book, 2001.

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