What Is an Empirical Statement?

A student and instructor looking at a test tube in a science lab.
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A correct statement of fact could have several origins. It could be just a random guess which happens to be true. It could come from a logical proof; if one thing is true, then it must follow that another thing is true. That's deductive reasoning, a progression from known facts to a conclusion. Or, it could be empirical, based on observation or experience. That's inductive reasoning, where an observed pattern suggests a conclusion.

1 Seeing Is Believing, But the Belief Can Still Be Wrong

Although empirical statements are based on observation or experience, that doesn't automatically make them correct. They can still be proven wrong by further observation. Consider someone saying that because every fire truck they've ever seen was red, all fire trucks are probably red. The first part could be true, but their conclusion is incorrect because the observations leading to it are limited. Show that person a yellow fire truck, and their claim is proven wrong.

2 Empiricism in the Scientific Method

Empiricism is knowledge based on observation and experience. The root of the word is "empiric," meaning someone trained informally through experience, as opposed to formal training. Empiricism is the reason for scientific experimentation; the experiment seeks to test the truth of a hypothesis, which by itself is speculation. If others repeat the experiment and confirm the results, the hypothesis may become a theory. But a theory isn't a proof, because further experiments might yet prove it wrong.

3 Empiricism in Philosophy

In philosophy, Empiricism argues that knowledge is gained from sensory experience. Famous proponents include John Locke and David Hume. For example, no amount of words describing a color to someone who has never seen it can inform them as well as that person's experience of seeing it firsthand. Empiricism also considers probability, rather than dealing only in certainties. Where deductive reasoning holds that a conclusion must be true if its premises are true, inductive Empiricism ventures to guess that a conclusion is probably true.

4 Elements of a Strong Empirical Statement

To be considered strong, an empirical statement needs consistent premises -- they could all be true, and one does not preclude any of the others. It also needs premises that are relevant to each other, and mutually supportive. When taken together, they all point toward the conclusion. If the premises are demonstrably true, and they support the conclusion, the statement is said to be cogent. However, it can still be strong even if the premises and conclusion are false.

An ecological blogger, technical writer and trainer, Alex Silbajoris also leads a nonprofit watershed group. He is an avid gardener and cook. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in journalism, from The Ohio State University. Other studies include geology and biological sciences.