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empiric +‎ -ism


empiricism (countable and uncountable, plural empiricisms)

  1. (medicine, now chiefly historical) Medicine as practised by an empiric, founded on mere experience, without the aid of science or a knowledge of principles; folk medicine, quackery. [from 17th c.]
    • 1796, Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Oxford, published 2009, page 105:
      Empiricism is not peculiar to Denmark; and I know of no way of rooting it out, though it be a remnant of exploded witchcraft, till the acquiring a general knowledge of the component parts of the human frame, become a part of public education.
    • 1990, Alison Klairmont Lingo, "Review of Professional and Popular Medicine in France, 1770-1830 by Matthew Ramsey," Journal of Social History, vol. 23, no. 3 (Spring), p. 607:
      Even at the height of its popularity, medical empiricism was the creature of a most unforgiving free market economy. Successful practitioners seduced crowds as well as public officials.
  2. (philosophy) A doctrine which holds that the only or, at least, the most reliable source of human knowledge is experience, especially perception by means of the physical senses. (Often contrasted with rationalism.) [from 18th c.]
    • 1893 Sep, James Seth, “The Truth of Empiricism.”, in The Philosophical Review, volume 2, number 5, page 552:
      Empiricism teaches us that we are unceasingly and intimately in contact with a full, living, breathing Reality, that experience is a constant communion with the real.
    • 1950 Dec, Virgil Hinshaw, Jr., “Review of Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy, Selected Essays by Leonard Nelson”, in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, volume 11, number 2, page 285:
      He agrees with Kant that Hume's empiricism is refuted de facto by the example of mathematics, whose judgments are synthetic a priori.
    • 1958 Apr, Ernest A. Moody, “Empiricism and Metaphysics in Medieval Philosophy”, in The Philosophical Review, volume 67, number 2, page 151:
      Empiricism is the doctrine that human knowledge is grounded on the kind of experience, mostly achieved through the five senses, whose objects are particular events occurring at particular times and in particular places.
  3. A pursuit of knowledge purely through experience, especially by means of observation and sometimes by experimentation. [from 19th c.]
    • 1885, Gerard F. Cobb, "Musical Psychics," Proceedings of the Musical Association, 11th Session, p. 119:
      Our whole life in some of its highest and most important aspects is simply empiricism. Empiricism is only another word for experience.
    • 1951, Albert Einstein, letter to Maurice Solovine (Jan. 1), in Letters to Solovine:
      I have found no better expression than "religious" for confidence in the rational nature of reality.... Whenever this feeling is absent, science degenerates into uninspired empiricism.
    • 2001 Sep, Mark Zimmermann, “The Stillness of Painting: Robert Kingston and His Contemporaries”, in PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, volume 23, number 3, page 71:
      Painting needs no explanation or apology. This most religious of art forms belies the pathetic empiricisms of contemporary discussions.
  4. (social sciences, political science, sociology) used to describe research based on methodology shaped from empirical philosophy (see above), e.g. surveys, statistics, etc.


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  • empiricism”, in OneLook Dictionary Search.
  • "empiricism" in Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed.
  • "empiricism" in Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., at Bartleby.com.
  • "empiricism" by F. P. Siegfried, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, New York, 1911.
  • Notes: