Empiricism is one of the most important and valued ways of working in the world of research. But what makes it such an integral part of the field? Firstly we must understand that the term is not just a method of research, but actually has great philosophical and political implications.
The early ideas of empiricism came from the classical Greek philosopher Aristotle. He theorized that on the subject of actuality; how in essence something must be seen to be believed. Though not strictly empiricist in method, it created the ideas for what was to come later. The notion was then appropriated by several different movements across the ages including the Islamic Empire, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment age.
The long history of empiricism demonstrates that it is a practice that works, which is why it has been conducted for such an extensive period of time. What makes it so important is the fact that the information collected by this type of research cannot be misinterpreted. If we look at qualitative research, whereby somebody answers a question in a focus group, the answer can be understood differently by different people. If you ask somebody is this room hot or cold and the respondent answers ‘hot’, we have no indication of what the temperature of the room actually is.
However, empiricism dictates that whoever is observing the results will come to the same conclusion. If a thermometer reads 25 degrees, there is no doubt that both people will understand the information in the same way. However, this does not prove that the room is ‘hot’ unless we have defined in our hypothesis what hot actually is. Therefore, empiricism does not prove anything in itself unless the boundaries of what is hoping to be found have been clearly stated. However, what it does do is eliminate the possibility of results being misinterpreted; which is what makes it so important in research.