Empirical evidence (also empirical data, sense experience, empirical knowledge, or the a posteriori) is a source of knowledge acquired by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical evidence is information that justifies a belief in the truth or falsity of an empirical claim. In the empiricist view, one can only claim to have knowledge when one has a true belief based on empirical evidence. This stands in contrast to the rationalist view under which reason or reflection alone is considered to be evidence for the truth or falsity of some propositions. The senses are the primary source of empirical evidence. Although other sources of evidence, such as memory, and the testimony of others ultimately trace back to some sensory experience, they are considered to be secondary, or indirect.
In another sense, empirical evidence may be synonymous with the outcome of an experiment. In this sense, an empirical result is an unified confirmation. In this context, the term semi-empirical is used for qualifying theoretical methods which use in part basic axioms or postulated scientific laws and experimental results. Such methods are opposed to theoretical ab initio methods which are purely deductive and based on first principles.
Statements and arguments depending on empirical evidence are often referred to as a posteriori ("from the later") as distinguished from a priori ("from the earlier"). (See A priori and a posteriori). A priori knowledge or justification is independent of experience (for example "All bachelors are unmarried"); whereas a posteriori knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence (for example "Some bachelors are very happy").
The standard positivist view of empirically acquired information has been that observation, experience, and experiment serve as neutral arbiters between competing theories. However, since the 1960s, a persistent critique most associated with Thomas Kuhn, has argued that these methods are influenced by prior beliefs and experiences. Consequently it cannot be expected that two scientists when observing, experiencing, or experimenting on the same event will make the same theory-neutral observations. The role of observation as a theory-neutral arbiter may not be possible. Theory-dependence of observation means that, even if there were agreed methods of inference and interpretation, scientists may still disagree on the nature of empirical data.
Famous quotes containing the words empirical and/or evidence:
“To develop an empiricist account of science is to depict it as involving a search for truth only about the empirical world, about what is actual and observable.... It must involve throughout a resolute rejection of the demand for an explanation of the regularities in the observable course of nature, by means of truths concerning a reality beyond what is actual and observable, as a demand which plays no role in the scientific enterprise.”
—Bas Van Fraassen (b. 1941)
“There is evidence that all too many people are approaching parenthood with a dangerous lack of knowledge and skill. The result is that many children are losing out on what ought to be an undeniable rightthe right to have parents who know how to be good parents, parents skilled in the art of parenting.”
—T. H. Bell (20th century)