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Epistemological Approaches of Empiricism and Postmodernism Essay


Empiricism deals with assertion that all that is in the world and beyond is known through the senses. To the empiricists, especially of the modern era, there was no other way of gaining knowledge except through the sense perception.

Postmodernism has been the branch of knowledge that questions the previous approaches to knowing and advocating for pluralism in epistemology instead of relying on only one epistemological approach, empiricism is incorporated into postmodernism (Brooker 1996).

Epistemology is mainly interested and concerned with the nature and the scope that knowledge can cover and the various limitations to attaining knowledge. Mainly epistemology deals with the various philosophical questions like whether knowledge is possible, if so what is it? How is it acquired? and if we really know then how do we know what we know? (Sosa 2004).

Empiricism deals with a specific method of attaining knowledge and its proponents claim and endeavour in proving that actually, knowledge emanates from our senses and all that we know is from sense perception. Most of the proponents lived during the modern era.

Having observed how the various school of thoughts clashed over which was right in its endeavour to seek the method of knowledge attainment postmodernism thinkers sought out to harmonize these school of thoughts.

Eventually, the postmodernists came to agree that no single school of thought could claim monopoly of providing the source of knowledge. Postmodernists therefore united many of these schools of thought views to state that knowledge is gotten from many sources (Grenz 1996).

Empiricism as a Source of Knowledge

As observed, empiricists entirely dwell on the senses. The renowned British philosopher John Locke, who was once an assistance of Francis Bacon before his death, is the pioneer of British empiricism. In his empiricism illustration, he adopted the case of a child at birth to support empiricism as the only source of knowledge.

He stated that at birth, the mind of a human being is tabula rasa- empty blanket. He said that the brain of a person at birth is like a plain white paper. As one grows experiences are written on the white sheet of paper, which is the brain. The brain is fed by experiences and its work is like that of a machine, processing the raw data given.

Locke believes that the world is physical and thus in his account of solving the mind body problem, he says that the mind and body are just one and the same thing and continues to expound by saying that the mind is just an attribute of the body so physical rather than spiritual. The postmodernists have posed the question, if the mind is physical and the brain is empty, then how does a young baby know ho to suckle? (Reck 1963).

Another empiricist by the name Bishop George Berkeley asserts that there is only one source of knowledge in the universe and that is empiricism. He stated that to be is to be perceived, that is to say, for a thing to be said to exist it must be perceived first. He states that if something is not perceived then that thing is inexistence.

To him the idea of God is conceived out of premeditated intuition and goes on to state that the phenomena that occur unexplained are occasions when God intercedes on behalf of man thus acts of God. The postmodernism have come to pose the question, when a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to witness, does that mean that the tree did not fall? (Richardson 2007).

Francis Bacon developed a new method. He said we should refrain from using myths, ideas and notions only. Knowledge cannot be coming from universal particulars to universal general and still call it knowledge as that is commo0n sense knowledge as in the case with deduction method of inference. He developed and popularized the inductive method of inference.

That is you start by assembling all that you know of which is mainly the general knowledge. Then you expose the assembled knowledge to rigorous analysis eliminating the inconsistent facts one by one until you arrive at a particular truth.

This method developed by Bacon which he called the scientific method entails lots of experiments and observation. It has close connections with modern science also involves extensive and intensive research, experimenting and observation (Furmerton, 2006).

David Hume another of the modern empiricists came up with a rather sceptical approach. He says what we know is gotten from the experience of engaging in every day’s life’s activities. To him every society is peculiar to its knowledge due to exercising its cultures. To Hume universal truth is impossible as every society is different from the other.

Knowledge as par his argument is derived from customs and belief. He further states that all that we know is from general norms, intuition and instincts. Hume was an influential person and his sceptical approach negatively affected science as he argued there is no need of scientific investigation.

Postmodernism and Empiricism

Empiricism has been widely regarded as the method of science thus an authentic and credible source of crucial information. Its method of emphasis on the integral role played by experience and evidence as presented especially through sense perception closely resembles scientific methods and principals.

Postmodernism argues that a method, empiricism is a credible source of knowledge though not the only source of knowledge (Jencks 1996).

Against empiricism, postmodernism argues that human being’s senses are sometimes deceptive and thus not always reliable. They cite the case of illusion as and hallucinations as a credible reference. Sometimes due to psychological disorders, people tend to claim to observe objects and spirits like ghosts.

If empiricism was the taken as the only source of knowledge, then in that particular cited case, the knowledge obtained will be misleading. Post modernists also points out the case where motorists tend to perceive pools of water on a highway in a sunny day, but on reaching there no water is seen.

The reflected light rays in form of a mirage can also be cited as a case where senses cannot be trusted. Medical disorder is another basis for disapproving empiricism. Persons with epilepsy at times tend not to realize they are burning yet they are on fire.

Postmodernists have in their quest to look for a reliable source of knowledge borrowed heavily from empiricism and rationalism which sharply contrast each other. Postmodernism thus believes in the diversity of the sources of knowledge and instead of coming with a different view unifies the two major sources of knowledge.

Rationalism is the school of thought which hold that knowledge is purely derived from thinking and not senses. Rationalists believe what we see or experience is facilitated by the mind.

The world like Plato put it is a representation of a pure form in the mind, he further goes on to illustrate that when a cup in the physical world breaks into pieces the idea of a cup still remains in the mind as the real perfect cup is in the realm of ideas and cannot be crashed. We thus make and develop things as they are presented to us by the mind. God to Plato is thus a perfect being in the realm of ideas.

Rene Descartes is probably the most renowned protagonist of the rationalist theory of knowledge. He was a French mathematician. Descartes states that knowledge begins with the doubt of one’s existence. His Methodic Doubt method was employed in that he first doubted the existence of everything in the world including his own existence.

He then proclaimed “cogito ego sum” loosely translated as “I think therefore I am”. (Huemer 2002)To him, doubting his own existence is enough proof of his existence. In knowledge about the mind he propagated the Cartesian Dualism. Cartesian Dualism holds that the mind and only the mind is capable of generating knowledge.

The body houses the mind yet not related at all as they are two different entities, the dualism applies in that although each is independent of the other and the mind being the purely thinking agent, the two interacted through the pineal gland.

However, he never explained what kind of interaction I was. Descartes refers the think thing as the cogito. Descartes unlike the empiricists insisted that knowledge was only possible through the use of deduction method of inference.

Others like Spinoza and Leibniz who were also rationalists came up with different unique methods of explaining their explanation for the mind being the main source of knowledge and not the body that is empiricism.

Spinoza came up with the parallelism theory where he stated that the body and mind were actually two different entities with no common traits, they are at all times in parallel operations and their interaction can be explained in a kind of diffusion. Leibniz proposed the theory of monads where these monads were small tiny objects in spontaneous flux state.

The postmodernists credit Leibniz for formulating a method like the one discovered later involving atoms. Rationalists thus strictly advocated for the use of thinking as the main source of knowledge. Immanuel Kant though a rationalist, who is credit for coming up with a kind of a Copernican revolution, was the first person to clearly-show that these two rival schools of thought could actually be united.

With his transcendental series, he showed that the senses provided for the experience and then the mind processed these raw experiences and produced them as finished products. His Copernican Revolution was for saving science and philosophy from Hume’s scepticism, which had resulted to the stopping of all scientific investigations (Feldman 2003).

Empiricism has advocated for a singular method as the source of knowledge while postmodernism advocates for pluralism as a broader way for looking at sources of knowledge. In empiricism there is no accommodation of pluralism as this source advocates for senses alone and has been at loggerheads with rationalism.

Pluralism portrayed in postmodernism accommodates both these rival schools of thought as sources of knowledge. Post modernism is thus wider, has more depth and can explain for phenomena from both sides, as rationalist and as empiricists.

The postmodernism as source of knowledge is also more refined and less ambiguous, this can be attributed to the fact that postmodernism came much later than the modern empiricism. This accorded the postmodernism scholars more time and a wide range of knowledge bank to compare and contrast (Cahoone 2003).

To explain the phenomena of love, this cannot be explained by either rationalism or empiricism, postmodernism has employed intuition as a source of knowledge. Intuition is the art of understanding without much effort.

This kind of knowledge is a priori or at other times experiential of certain characterized beliefs, which have immediate impacts. It is a much-debated branch of knowledge that cannot be explained without controversy (Audi 2011).


Epistemology entails the learning of knowledge. In epistemology, there are various sources of knowledge like rationalism, empiricism, scepticism, idealism and intuition whose theorization, development and propagation was highly witnessed during the era of modernism.

Postmodernism tries to study these theories wholesomely to come up with a theory of knowledge that is more credible and authentic. Empiricism is such one theory that is incorporated in postmodernism as postmodernism takes a pluralist approach.

In the study of knowledge, empiricism and post modernism are important schools of thought that contribute a lot into the field. They compliment one another, one having been largely practiced in the era of modernism while the other in the postmodernism era. They illustrate the growth of knowledge from one epoch to the other (Alcoff 1998).

Reference List

Alcoff, L., 1998. Epistemology: The Big Questions. Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers.

Audi, R., 2011. Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge 3rd ed. New York, Routledge.

Brooker, P., 1996. Modernism/Postmodernism. New York, Longman.

Cahoone, L., 2003. From Modernism to Postmodernism. Malden, Blackwell Publishing.

Feldman, R., 2003. Epistemology. New York, Prentice Hall

Furmerton, A., 2006. Epistemology. Malden, Blackwell Publishing

Grenz, J., 1996. A Primer on Post Modernism. Michigan, Erdmann Publishing Co.

Huemer, M., 2002. Epistemology: contemporary readings. Abingdon, Routledge.

Jencks, C., 1996. What is Postmodernism. Michigan, Academy Editions.

Reck, A.,1963. Studies in Recent Philosophy. New York, Springer,

Richardson, A., 2007. The Cambridge Companion To Logical Empiricism. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Sosa, E., & Villanueva, 2004. Epistemology: Volume 14. Malden, Blackwell Publishing.

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