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Assess Empiricism. In this essay I intend to seek the values of Empiricism through analysing its key concepts.

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Assess Empiricism In this essay I intend to seek the values of Empiricism through analysing its key concepts. Empiricism is the belief that all knowledge derives from experience - as opposed to Rationalism which is the view that the source of knowledge is reason. Empiricists claim that we are born knowing nothing. Instead we gain knowledge through our five senses, thus of our knowledge and thoughts must relate to what we have seen, smelled, touched, tasted or heard. Aristotle supported the Empiricist view with his idea of comparing the mind to a 'tabula rasa', or blank slate. This idea suggests that the mind is without thoughts and senses and it is only through sense experience that our knowledge of the world is built up. This idea is appealing as it seems that what we have to learn what we know about the world through life experiences. For example, a new born baby knows nothing of colours, tastes, smells or sounds but gradually learns to recognise which foods it likes or have recognition of its name. What we consider as basic knowledge, such as a reflection from a mirror, was at one point a new discovery. ...read more.


But how precisely are complex ideas, such as a unicorn, analysed into simple ones? If we analyse a unicorn with the Empiricist view we get a horse and a horn. But it seems that these 'simple concepts' could be analysed further. We could begin to describe the horn as pointy or sharp and the horse with a mane, hooves and nostrils. Perhaps we could go further and define the mane as a complex idea - with regards to the bundle of hair, and then even analyse the hair further. So to what extent do we need to analyse a concept to classify it as simple? Furthermore if we take the 'simple' concept of a horse neighing we hear multiple sounds. And the sense impression which gives us the concept of the horse neighing is complete in itself, but if we were to break it down into the single sounds we would lose the essence of the concept. This begins to show difficulties Empiricists have when working out details of their theories about what counts as a simple impressions. A further criticism of sense experience is Hume's Missing Shade of Blue. The MSB shows us a range of the colour blue, from which one is missing, and asks someone whether they can work out the missing shade. ...read more.


This itself is a proposition about the world, so to be meaningful we must be able to imagine how we could verify its truth. However, it is hard to imagine how the world would differ if the principle was true or false thus finding it difficult to see what counts as verifying its truth. So the VP itself is meaningless according to itself. Furthermore the Verification Principle seems far too strong as it not only makes religious language meaningless but also much of what humans speak and write about to be meaningless too, including art, poetry and inner sensations. This means it makes all ethical judgements merely a personal feeling and makes philosophical theories nonsense. Though this is not an actual problem it suggests Ayers idea of meaning to be different to the one that we use in everyday life. In conclusion, I think that Empiricism cannot be reliable as it focuses much on the claim that we perceive the physical world only indirectly through the senses. So if we do not perceive the world directly, then what causes my sense impressions? Perhaps I am living a dream, or maybe being deceived by a super computer or an arch deceiver. What if what I perceive is not correct? Then, according to Empiricism, I ultimately have no knowledge. ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

4 star(s)


The essay is assured and introduces some sophisticated (though not novel) arguments. It is to be commended for sustaining arguments throughout paragraphs in a clear manner.

Unfortunately the confident expression of points in the essay is undermined by the fact that many of the claims made are incorrect. As such, while the essay deserves marks for making largely accurate claims and for making bold attempts at evaluation, it would deserve a weak 4, due to the persistent errors.

Marked by teacher David Moss 31/03/2012

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