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Empiricism is the school of philosophy which states that all knowledge can only be gained through sensory experience, or from empirical knowledge. The school of empiricism differs greatly from philosophical strains that stress the importance of innate knowledge. Many famous Western philosophers are considered to be empiricists, including:


Empiricism and Aristotle

The foundations for empiricism can be traced back as far as the ancient world. Aristotle was the first to contemplate the mind as a blank tablet upon which all information and experience is written. Many Islamic scholars took up this notion, among them Ibn Tufail and Avicenna (Ibn Sina), who wrote that knowledge is gained through familiarity with objects in the physical world.

Empiricism and Understanding

By the Enlightenment, this notion was translated into the tabula rasa (clean slate). The growth of science led philosophers to conclude that applying the rigors of the scientific method towards the understanding of human knowledge. It was John Locke who first defined the modern understanding of empiricism, with his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, written in 1689. Locke stated that the only knowledge a person can have must come a posteriori, or from experience. David Hume then divided knowledge into ideas and facts, both of which come from impressions, or sensations.

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