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Empiricism and Geographical thought Essay

?Critically discuss the concepts of empiricism and empirical methods and their use in geography. Your assignment should highlight the differences between the two, as informed by lecture material and reading. You must support your argument by referring to the assigned readings available on Blackboard and a minimum of TWO additional readings from academic sources. An academic style of writing is expected, including a complete list of references.

“Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, a blank slate (tabula rasa) of while paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and bound… to this I answer in one word, from experience: in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself. ” (Childer & Hentzi, 1995). It is near impossible to discuss empiricism without referring to Locke, Bacon and Hume, these philosophers contributed greatly to the understanding and establishing of this theory (Woolhouse, 1998).

Another philosopher that influenced the change in social thinking at the time was Alexander van Humboldt (Bowen, 2009). In the seventeenth century there was shift occurring in the scientific and social world as the writing of many great social thinkers like van hum bolt, Engels and Marx began to influence the world (Bowen, 2009). The want for change of scientific thinking and practice led to van Humboldt producing a new set of procedure based on a more appropriate theory of knowledge ‘empiricism’ (Bowen, 2009).

Based on philosophical tradition empiricism is the assumption that knowledge is acquired through means of observation and experience which would be opposed to the theory of deductive reasoning which would generally be known as rationalism (Childers & Hentzi, 1995). Although itt is known as a theory based on the origin of knowledge empiricism according to Woolhouse (1998) can also be regarded sometimes as a methodology.

Woolhouse (1998) writes how Bacon see’s empiricism in an almost pure methodologist light, he advocates and describes empirical procedures as the way that knowledge should be sought. This would be opposed to John Locks view as according to Woolhouse (1998) he stands out as a philosopher who sees’s empiricism in a theory basis only. Bowen (2009) defines empiricism in its simplest terms she explains how empiricism is taken from the Latin word for experience and that empiricism is run on the knowledge of experience.

Bacons view on empirical methods was that it excluded the theory from observations and that it left knowledge down to the senses (Woolhouse, 1998). According to Bowen (2009) the rise in scientific empiricism coincides with the rise in capitalism, which have led scientist to make observations of the world in terms of the mechanical action of matter. There has been a shift in geographer’s methods of gathering and understanding knowledge, no longer can a geographer just theorize about experiments studies and field studies must be done (Cloke .et al, 2004).

This leads us onto Sauer who wrote that geographer’s knowledge is reliant in physical observations and how it is embodied by inferences properly correlated through observations (Cloke . et al, 2004). Cloke . et al (2004) also go on by explain that being there, witnessing and making observations have changed geographical experiments for the better, they explain how the image in ones brain can be revolutionary as people see everything in a different perspective.

Locks supports this by stating that what experience and observations does not just give us explanations of what we are seeing it also gives us the chance to make observations in a different light and it provides the basis to expand on these observations (Woolhouse, 1998). This can be coincided with the quote at the start of the essay as Locke explains how when making observations the mind should be seen as a blank canvas ready to take down and developed information (Woolhouse, 1998).

Empiricism has moved on has moved on from the past into new forms and exercises for instance positivism which builds on empiricism foundations but which defines itself on the ability to be repeatable and that in turn can lead to a more definite theory (Cloke . et al, 2004). Geography did in fact enter its positivist stage later than most scientific faculty’s as it was not until the 1950’s that these methods were properly introduced and used (Bowen, 2009).

Around that time there were calls from geographer from all over the world for geography to move on and keep up to date with new sciences; this showed how empiricism was not as effective as it once was (Bowen, 2009). This change in the 60’s and 70’s became known as the qualitative revolution with strong efforts from within the geography community to update geographical observations to more scientifically methods (Bowen, 2009). This led to much debate within the geographical community and many new theories and methods have developed since then and are also still being developed (Cloke .et al 2004).

Although not as prominent now empirical methods are still being used today in many forms of geography including both social and physical (Bowen, 2009). In recent theoretical discussions empiricism has come under attack for it presupposition that the facts speak for themselves and are divorced from values, beliefs and ideologies (Childer & Hentzi, 1995). We can see that empiricism although controversial can be seen as a very important theory in geographical history; empiricism has been at the bedrock of many new forms of methodology (Childers & Hentzi, 1995).

Bowen (2009) proves this by stating that most evolutions of empiricism can be seen to having roots in the original theory. Bibliography: Cloke, P. Cook, I. Goodwin, M. Painter, J. Philo, C. (2004). Practising Human Geography. London: Sage. p250-309. Woolhouse, R. S (1998). The Empiricists. London: Oxford University Press. p1-27, p74-78. Childers, J. Hentzi, G (1995). The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press. p352. Bowen, M (2009). Empiricism and Geographical thought. London: Cambridge University Press. p1-7.


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