Philosophy 2006 Lecture Notes - Empirical Evidence, Empiricism
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Unit IV Lecture IV – March 8, 2012
Empiricism Vs. Rationalism
Empiricism Knowledge comes to us primarily through sense experience
o We test our knowledge not by thinking a priori whether it is consistent with our
other concepts, but by testing a hypothesis against the world [we look for
confirming and falsifying instances]
Rationalism All our knowledge and justification comes from reason alone
o We treat sense experience only insofar as it corresponds to our reason
o The sources of knowledge are 1) intuition, or 2) innate ideas
o Motivation for rationalism is that it gives us a way out of skepticism
How Is It Meant To Work?
Example of what heat is:
[Aristotelian] – Go out into the world, see that fire is hot, and it is hot because it has the
power to make other things hot. So, fire is hot because it has the power to heat things. The
nature of fire is heat. All other things heat because they have some fire in them.
[Bacon] – Start by coming up with a “natural history.” (A catalogue of all of the various
correspondences between things)
o List must include things that everyone knows, and all those things which people do
not (things that are impossible)
o Next – come up with list of experiments that would be most useful
Bacon’s science is empirical and its aim is to provide us with means of controlling nature
Looking for only material and efficient causes
Formal and final causes are of no interest in Bacon’s Empiricism
Bacon calls knowledge of general laws of nature: “magic”
Bacon criticizes magic as it is normally practiced for 2 reasons: 1) their method, and 2) their
First, they fall into the same trap as Aristotelians, when they assume there are simply 2
kinds of efficient causal relationships: sympathy & antipathy. They haven’t sufficiently
established the truth of these principles.
Second, if their techniques don’t produce the right kinds of things, most of what they come
up with is wonderful or novel than of any use. They also try to come up with almost
ridiculous things (like love potions).
Bacon’s Method: Example of HEAT
What is heat?