Scientific Method and Empiricism

6 June 2016

Empiricism is a philosophical doctrine that our knowledge only comes from experiences. It can be described as a central role of observation. Empiricism was eventually somewhat replaced around the 1970’s by Positivism, Humanism, Marxist, Feminism and Post-Colonialism. However it still plays an important role today’s society, for example in the cataloguing of species. There is about 1.7 million species are known to science, there is an estimated range of 4 to 20 million total species. 10,000 new invertebrates are found each year. There has been over 1000 new species discovered in the Mekong region alone in the last decade. Empiricism is based on a reliance of the senses; however there is a major emphasis on visual observation in particular. The mind is conveyed as a clean tablet (slate) or ‘tabula rasa’; it should not be subjected to any predisposition.

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This term was coined by Aristotle, what the mind thinks must be in it in the same sense as letters are on a tablet, which bears no actual writing; in the case of the mind this is what is believed to happen. (Aristotle, On the Soul, 3.4.430a1). a blank mind with no influence of previous experiences can look at something with an open mind, how it really is, instead of how that person wants to see it. John Locke, who was a leading philosopher of British Empiricism, said that “there is nothing in the mind but what there is nothing in the mind but what entered it by way of the senses”. This perfectly conveys the concept of Empiricism. It is not performed for the sake of the collection for data; it is carried out with reference to theory and concepts. It is much more hands on experience than studying someone else’s hypothesis’ of a situation.

The person carrying out the investigation as I have previously mentioned is not influenced by any other elements. Sauer stated that ‘geographical knowledge rests upon disciplined observation and it is a body of interferences drawn from classified and properly correlated observations… we are concerned here simply with the relevance of the observations and the manner in which they are made. (1924:19) recc reading pg 11 cloke p Sidney Woolridge, a geographer also stated the necessity of observation in his writing, where he commemorates what he calls ‘an eye for country’, something which he feels that should be promoted in geographers from a young age: ‘The fundamental principle is that the ground, not the map is the primary document….

From this first principle I pass to the second, that the essence of training in geographaphical fieldwork is the comprise of the ground with the map, recognising that the latter at its best is a very partial and imperfect picture of the ground, leaving it as our chief stimulus to observe the wide range of phenomena which the map ignores or at which it barely hints. (cloke pg 11/12) Empirical methods are still used to a certain extent today;

Traditional information has been trusted for too long, they help integrating research and practice and because the Educational process or Instructional science needs to develop. The benefits of Empirical methods include the ability to comprehend and respond more accordingly to the ways of a situation, to give respect to relative contrasts, aid the building of knowledge and to give the chance to reach the professional level of research that has already been achieved.

The Empirical Cycle consists of the following stages:
Observation- which involves gathering and organising of empirical data to for a Hypothesis. Induction- this is the way of creating a hypothesis Deduction- these consequence with newly acquired empirical data Testing the hypothesis with new empirical data
Evaluation of the outcome of testing
However Empiricism was criticized for not being very scientific and unreliable. That its methods has many limitations compared to other approaches i.e. – Positivism. It is notably negligent of theory. The perception of something, which Empiricism relies on, is not universal. What one person sees as being correct can be incorrect for another.

However, pure empiricism is not possible; one always enters the field of research with some preconceived ideas of what one is observing. In the absence of pure empiricism, one will alternate anything that would enable theory to emerge from data that has been acquired. Geography is concerned with spatial and temporal distribution of phenomena, processes and features. It is highly interdisciplinary. The concept of empiricism is indeed quite different to the methods of empiricism.

The idea of empiricism is indeed quite an ideal concept where one would separate all thoughts and preconceptions from their field of study; however in reality this is not fully possible. Although empiricism no longer plays such a dominant role in geography, induction is still used to generalise from our observations. It’s not as rigid as the ‘theory will emerge from data gathered’ belief as existed before. The falseness of hypotheses remains predominant to the question of science. It also enables the ability to separate science from non-science. It is what often separates science and non-science However, issues still arise today with this concept, such as when empirical data collection begins without proper knowledge of underlying theory. It also has the tendency to over-simplify often more complex questions.

Overall empiricism has played a major role in the progress of research in Geography throughout the centuries, although problems arise in different circumstances such as what I have previously mentioned, it being not theoretical enough or providing simple answers for complex questions, if it is not fully relied on, instead used in conjunction with other concepts such as Marxist, Positivism or Humanism it can prove to be very useful in the further progression of the Geography today and in the future. Bibliography:

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