Friday, December 28, 2012

The Difference Between "Empiricism" and "Empirical"

Cardinal on one of our feeders

Christian Smith suspects that the disconnect between social scientific studies of moral behavior and the morally committed lives of social scientists is due, among perhaps other things, to an underlying philosophical empiricism. Smith writes:

"I think that when social scientists work with professional theoretical depictions of the human that are at odds with their personal, moral, and political views of the human, something else unintentional is going on: the influence of a powerful background assumption about social science-namely, the model of naturalistic positivist empiricism' that demands that the social sciences emulate the natural sciences." Christian Smith, What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up, Kindle Locations 73-75)

I really like how Smith defines 'empiricism' and distinguishes it from the 'empirical.' (K 73-75, fn. 6)

"Here we meet a crucial distinction between empiricism as a philosophical belief and being empirical as a method. These are not at all the same thing. My argument in this book is resolutely against empiricism (also sometimes stated as being antiempiricist), in that I reject the philosophical belief that valid human knowledge is always and only obtained through sense perceptions of observed evidence gained through experience and ideally through deliberate experimentation-and thus a priori ruling out the role of reasoning, as well as perhaps innate ideas, intuition, or, in principle, revelation. My argument, however, fully affirms the need for science to be empirical as one of the defining characteristics of natural and social scientific work. We need all of the empirical evidence we can gather for our reasoning minds to use in larger processes of understanding and explanation in order to better grasp a reality not all aspects of which are empirically observable. The meaning of this should become clear as the book's argument develops." (Kindle Locations 5848-5854)

Science, which concern empircal reality, is not heful a understanding all of reality. This is easily seen in the self-defeating nature of logical positivism's empiricist criterion of meaning (as famously stated in A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic, and refuted by many, to include the later Wittgenstein).