Empirical knowledge

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

Empirical knowledge refers to knowledge obtained by experience; generally, empirical knowledge is the same as a posteriori knowledge ("a posteriori" means roughly "from experience") and is contrasted with a priori knowledge, or knowledge that is gained through the apprehension of innate ideas, "intuition," "pure reason," or other alleged non-experiential sources.

For example, "all things fall down" would be an empirical proposition about gravity that we many of us believe we know; therefore we would regard it as an example of empirical knowledge. It is "empirical" because we have generally observed that things fall down, so there is no reason to believe this will change. This example also shows the difficulty of formulating knowledge claims. Outside of the Earth's gravitational field--in orbit, for example--things do not "fall down", as there is no "down".

The vast bulk of the empirical knowledge that ordinary people possess is gained via a mixture of direct experience and the testimony of others about what they have experienced--iterated in an interesting way that is studied in the field of social epistemology as well as other fields. More complicated and organized methods of gaining empirical knowledge are the methods of science--see scientific method--which results in perhaps the best examples of rigorously codified, scientific empirical knowledge, namely, physics.