Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology

pp 571-578

Empiricism, Essay

  • Brent D. SlifeAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Brigham Young University Email author 
  • , Nathan M. SlifeAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology and Higher Education, University of Nevada


When psychology instructors tell students that they have raised “an interesting empirical question,” these instructors do not typically mean that students have engaged in an empirical ideology. Indeed, it is likely these instructors mean the opposite of engaging in an ideology because they consider empiricism a kind of scientific method for mapping “objective” reality and avoiding ideologies altogether. Often, in fact, the term “empirical” is used as a synonym in psychology for unbiased or scientific.

We describe this common student/instructor exchange in psychology because it exemplifies a prominent misconception in the discipline – that empiricism is a kind of transparent window that reveals the objective truth of the world. As we will explain, however, the philosophy or epistemology of empiricism is anything but transparent because it has its own values and assumptions. In fact, these values and assumptions could be viewed as a kind of “disguised ideology.” Ac ...

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