The Principle of Empiricism

See for Yourself

Empiricism is the deepest and broadest principle for explaining the phenomena in both the natural and social worlds. Empiricism is the principle that says we should see for ourselves instead of trusting the authority of others. Empiricism is the foundation of science.

From the Scientific Revolution through the Enlightenment, the principle of empiricism has slowly but ineluctably replaced superstition, dogmatism, and religious authority. Instead of divining truth through the authority of an ancient holy book or philosophical treatise, people began to explore the book of nature for themselves. Instead of a tiny handful of elites holding most of the political power by keeping their citizens illiterate, uneducated, and unenlightened, people could see for themselves, through science literacy and education, the power and corruption that held them down, and they began to throw off their chains of bondage and demand rights.

Instead of the divine right of kings, people demanded the natural right of democracy. Democratic elections, in this sense, are scientific experiments. Every couple of years, you carefully alter the variables with an election and observe the results. Many of our founding fathers were scientists who deliberately adapted the method of data-gathering, hypothesis testing, and theory formulation to their nation-building. Their understanding of the provisional nature of findings led them to form a social system wherein empiricism was the centerpiece of a functional polity. The new government was like a scientific laboratory, conducting a series of experiments year by year, state by state. The point was not to promote this or that political system but to set up a system whereby people could experiment to see what works. That is the principle of empiricism applied to the social world

As Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Tyler in 1804 “No experiment can be more interesting than what we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact that man may be governed by reason and truth”.

Michael Shermer
Publisher, Skeptic magazine; monthly columnist
Scientific American; author, The Believing Brain
From This Explains Everything edited by John Brockman