Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology

2014 Edition
| Editors: Thomas Teo

Empiricism, Essay

  • Brent D. Slife
  • Nathan M. Slife
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5583-7_665


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.” According to...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Abou, S. (1995). Natural and philosophical foundations of ethics. Diogenes, 43(4), 35.Google Scholar
  2. Bernstein, R. J. (1976). The restructuring of social and political theory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bridgman, P. W. (1927). The logic of modern physics. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  4. Bub, D. N. (2000). Methodological issues confronting PET and fMRI studies of cognitive function. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 17(5), 467–484.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Chang, H. (2009). Operationalism. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall ed.). Accessed May 16, 2012, from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/operationalism/
  6. Chen, Y., & Chen, X. (2012). Methodological issues in psychology of religions research in the Chinese context. Pastoral Psychology, 61(5–6), 671–684.Google Scholar
  7. Dyer, C. (2006). Research in psychology: A practical guide to methods and statistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  8. Fenton, A., Meynell, L., & Baylis, F. (2009). Ethical challenges and interpretive difficulties with non-clinical applications of fMRI. The American Journal of Bioethics, 9(1), 3–13.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Fowers, B. J., & Richardson, F. C. (1993). Individualism and aggression: A hermeneutic analysis of Huesman and Eron’s cognitive theory of aggression. Theory and Psychology, 3, 353–377.Google Scholar
  10. Gadamer, H. G. (1993). Truth and Method (2nd ed.) (J. Weinsheimer & D. G. Marshall, Trans.). New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  11. Gergen, K. (2009). Relational being: Beyond self and community. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Grace, R. (2001). On the failure of operationism. Theory & Psychology, 11(1), 5–33.Google Scholar
  13. Haan, N. (1982). Can research on morality be ‘scientific’? The American Psychologist, 37(10), 1096–1104.Google Scholar
  14. Holton, G. (2005). Victory and vexation in Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. James, W. (1982). The varieties of religious experience: A study in human nature. New York: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1902)Google Scholar
  16. James, W. (1996). Essays in radical empiricism. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. (Original work published 1912)Google Scholar
  17. Kant, I. (1996). Prolegomena to any future metaphysics that can qualify as a science (P. Carus, Trans.). Chicago and La Salle, ILL: Open Court. (Original work published 1783)Google Scholar
  18. Leahey, T. H. (2001). Back to Bridgman? Theory & Psychology, 11, 53–58.Google Scholar
  19. Leahey, T. H. (2004). A history of psychology: Main currents in psychological thought (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  20. Marx, K. & Engels, F., (2002). The communist manifesto. New York: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1848)Google Scholar
  21. Messer, S. B. (2001). Empirically supported treatments: What’s a nonbehaviorist to do? In B. D. Slife, R. N. Williams, & S. H. Barlow (Eds.), Critical issues in psychotherapy: Translating new ideas into practice (pp. 3–19). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  22. Messer, S. B. (2004). Evidence-based practice: Beyond empirically supported treatments. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice., 35(6), 580–588.Google Scholar
  23. Mitchell, M. L., & Jolley, J. M. (2007). Research design explained (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsorth.Google Scholar
  24. Norcross, J. C. (2002). Empirically supported therapy relationships. In J. C. Norcross (Ed.), Psychotherapy relationships that work (pp. 3–32). Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Packer, M. (2011). The science of qualitative research. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Parker, I. (1999). Critical psychology: Critical links. Annual Review of Critical Psychology, 1, 3–18.Google Scholar
  27. Richardson, F. C., Fowers, B. J., & Guignon, C. B. (1999). Re-envisioning psychology: Moral dimensions of theory and practice. San Francisco: Josse-Bass.Google Scholar
  28. Rychlak, J. F. (1981). Introduction to personality and psychotherapy: A theory construction approach (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  29. Schweigert, W. A. (2006). Research methods in psychology: A handbook (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  30. Slife, B. D., Reber, J. S., & Faulconer, J. E. (2012). Implicit ontological reasoning: Problems of dualism in psychological science. In R. Proctor & J. Capaldi (Eds.), Psychology of science: Implicit and explicit reasoning. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Slife, B. D., & Melling, B. (2009). The ideology of empiricism. Edification: Journal of the Society for Christian Psychology, 2(1), 44–48.Google Scholar
  32. Slife, B. D., & Melling, B. (2012). Method decisions: Quantitative and qualitative inquiry in the study of religious phenomena. Pastoral Psychology, 61(5), 721–734.Google Scholar
  33. Slife, B. D., & Wiggins, B. J. (2009). Taking relationship seriously in psychotherapy: Radical relationality. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 39(1), 17–24.Google Scholar
  34. Slife, B. D., Wiggins, B. J., & Graham, J. T. (2005). Avoiding an EST monopoly: Toward a pluralism of methods and philosophies. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 35, 83–97.Google Scholar
  35. Slife, B. D., & Williams, R. N. (1995). What’s behind the research: Hidden assumptions in the behavioral assumptions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Strong, S. R. (1991). Theory-driven science and naive empiricism in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38(2), 204–210. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.38.2.204.Google Scholar
  37. Taylor, C. (1966). Marxism and empiricism. In B. Williams & A. Montefiore (Eds.), British analytical philosophy. London: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  38. Taylor, C. (1985). Philosophical papers: Vol. 1. Human agency and language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Tovino, S. A. (2007). Functional neuroimaging and the law: Trends and directions for future scholarship. The American Journal of Bioethics, 7(9), 44–56.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Viney, W., & King, B. (2003). A history of psychology: Ideas and context. New York: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  41. Walter, M. (1990). Science and cultural crisis: An intellectual biography of Percy Williams Bridgman (1882–1961). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Yalom, I. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar

Online Resources

  1. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy – operationalism. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/operationalism/
  2. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy – rationalism versus empiricism. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-empiricism/

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational Psychology and Higher EducationUniversity of NevadaLas VegasUSA