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Empiricism and the Interpretive Approach to Human Behavior

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2474 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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Empiricism is a theory that argues that the origin of all knowledge is an experience. Empiricists argue that we learn everything through perception and that it is not possible to have knowledge without experience. Empiricisms comprises few classes, which include classical empiricism and radical empiricism. The classical empiricism is characterized by the rejection of inborn concepts as John Locke, one of the famous empiricists, explains that the mind is blank at birth and is furnished with information through experience. The radical empiricism, on the other hand, explains that all knowledge is gotten from the senses, and it describes it in a principle which states that the meaning of declarations is inseparably tied to the experiences that could confirm them. According to the principle, it is only possible to empirically test that a claim has a meaning (Locke 614). That said, the statements that are not tied to people’s experiences do not have a meaning; the moderate empiricism allows some cases in which sense is not based on the knowledge attained but holds that the exceptions are too general truths. The general truths are like the mathematical additions such as 1+1=2 or that there is no three-sided rectangle. Empiricism offers a good and real view of events as it gives those bases and explains the occurrence of everything and when compared with interpretive approach by Max Weber, which supports the existence of subjective beliefs and ideas, it clearly explains the human behavior in a better way.

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The usual form of empiricism, also known as the substantive empiricism, explains the human behavior in the contemporary society. Substantive empiricists are not convinced by the attempts which have been made to interpret the formal concepts empirically; therefore, they agree that formal concepts should be a priori. However, they deny that categorical concepts and the theoretical concepts of physics are posterior. This view alleges a priori categorical or theoretical concept as defective, reduced to empirical concepts or useful fiction that are used for the organization and prediction of experience. This explains the human behavior well as people try to justify their actions and in the case they cannot, they leave it to some preexistence concept which can be hard to debate against.

The parallel argument of view about knowledge has the assumption that the reality of logical and mathematical propositions is determined (Locke 615). The definitional axioms and the relationships between meanings are established before the experience. The truth that is espoused by empiricists so that one is obliged to rescue a person from drowning only if it is possible and it is a matter of meanings and not facts about the world. That said, propositions that are in contrast to the preceding example are a postriori. Even if there exist priori propositions, they are usually verbal, formal or conceptual in nature and their truth is derived from the meanings that are attached to the words that they contain.

Empiricism is important to humans as they are able to explain some events. In real life, a person understands to drive a car because someone else was exposed to that experience before him or her. However, some facts, such as mathematical equations, are predetermined, and thus, they do not apply to the empiristic view. Substantive empiricism offers a moderate view of the facts and issues surrounding people. It explains that priori knowledge is important because it makes the hidden implications of substantive factual assertions to be explicit. However, a priori propositions do not express the new knowledge of the world genuinely as they are empty. For instance, saying “all Catholic priests are unmarried” only gives an explicit recognition to the commitment to describe as unmarried anyone who has been described as a Catholic priest. The substantive empiricism of knowledge regards all priori propositions as more of concealed tautologies. If one’s duty is defined as that which he or she should always do, the statement “An individual is obliged to do his/her duty” becomes “An individual is obliged to do what he/she should always do.” The deductive reasoning is conceived as a way of bringing this concealed tautological status to light.

Further, an interpretivism is an approach that emphasizes the meaningful nature of people’s characters and participation in the social and cultural life. It shows that some methods of the research which chooses the position that people’s knowledge of reality is a social construction of human factors and overrules the methods of natural science. Interpretivism usually looks for meanings and motives behind people’s actions like interactions and behaviors with other seen in the society (Miller 59). They also argue that cultures can be understood by studying people’s ideas, meanings, and thinking. In the view of interpretivism, free data cannot be obtained as the enquirers use their preconceptions to guide them in the process of inquiry and the researcher must interact with the human subjects of the inquiry, thus, changing the perceptions of both parties. Interpretivists look for the absence or presence of a causal relationship and specific ways in which the relationship is manifested and occurs. Thus, the researchers are able to understand not only understand what relationship occurs but also how they occur.

Max Weber illustrated the dominance of interpretive approaches in the research of the real world through his study of the Protestant ethics and capitalism. He believed that the human behavior is a science which should address the meaningful character of social actions through understanding rather than the quantitative analysis used by natural scientists. Weber saw a deficiency in the positivistic sociology prompting him to develop interpretive sociology. He, however, understood that the positivistic approach is not able to get all social phenomena or to fully explain what is necessary to understand about them (Miller 54). Interpretive sociology works to understand how groups actively develop the reality of their everyday lives through the meaning they give to their actions. They also contend to understand their experiences and actions from their perspectives. Max Weber argued that everyone’s feelings deeds and thoughts unite with everyone else’s into recognizable patterns he considered social actions. Individuals practice free will in the manner in which they are comfortable. However, people are also sensitive to the effects their conduct has on other people, and they are prepared to alter it accordingly. The interpretive and the empiricist theories have affected the human behavior differently. In globalization, sociology focuses on the economic, cultural and political aspects, and the consequences on the globally integrated society. The problem with this view is that it leads people to be selfish, aiming to define their own existence by justifying their actions on some beliefs and reacting on people’s actions for their own good.

Empiricists explain that their experiences influence the human behavior. For instance, activities such as migration and the inequality in the society are a continuation of what they have seen. The reaction of most people towards migration is bored from their experiences or other people’s experiences. The idea of inequality is gotten as people interact. At birth, no one thinks of other people lesser or greater than them. The interpretive views argue that the capitalistic nature depicted in the way people connect around the world is based on their feelings. Empiricists have led to varying behavior of humans such as the development of atheism a concept that argues that all things only as a result of their being perceived or by virtue of the circumstance that they are a body doing the perceiving. This is because most religious views are based on ideas whose origin cannot be verified (Locke 617). Human beings have long supported these ideas as they explain their objection of the religious views. Empiricists have also developed the idea of skepticism where they argue that the human knowledge can be divided into two categories that is the matters of fact such as mathematical and logical propositions and relations to ideas such as some propositions involving liable observation of the earth such as the sun rises in the East. That said, it is evident that according to empirics, the existence of the self or the most elementary beliefs about the natural world cannot be conclusively be established by reason, but people accept them because of the instinct and custom. Otherwise, all other beliefs must have a justifiable source or cause.

The Weberian approach provides some useful insights and an alternative approach to issues affecting people. For instance, the ideas related to nationalism may override economic factors, or even be in obstruction to the best economic interests of the population (Miller 59). Struggles against groups that have exploited people may be associated with the development of new groups of oppressors and exploiters. Some of the activities include declarations of independence in Eastern Europe, Quebecois nationalism, and the happenings in Yugoslavia. Culture, language, and religion can dominate some of the movements and are characterized by a scenario whereby the notion of independence becomes important than their economic considerations. In the case of Eastern Europe, the drive was the desire to get rid of the communist rule appears to have been motivated as much by ideas as by the practical consequences of this.

The interpretive view by Weber talks more of what’s happening by giving independence a real meaning to those who struggled for independence and acquiring enough meaning to those who were ready to detriment their lives. Weber argues that things like culture and language are real and they are developed from a set of experiences that has a real meaning in many aspects of life, and they cannot be reduced to an economic situation but present forces that affect people in a real sense (Miller 60). His approach also demonstrates the multiple bases from which people act and from which people get their power. It is evident that his approach argues that it is or the meaning of something that people attach ideas and affects how people relate and work. He is more concerned with actions that are first considered by the actors, and the decisions are made. The reflexive actions are not of sociological interests, and he is therefore not concerned with the mental process.

Empiricist and interpretive approaches have many differences as far as the human behavior is concerned. The interpretive theory is contrasted with the structural theories, which aim to remove the partiality of the actor and the researcher and assumes that the human behavior can only be understood as determined by the pulls and pushes of the structural forces. The interpretive theory accepts the free will and observes human behavior as the outcome of his or her subjective interpretation of the environment (Nikolic and Glynn 36). The theory focuses on the actor’s definition of the situation in which they are acting. It seeks to understand given subjects in a reciprocal way. It is evident in religions such as Christianity, Judaism Confucianism Hinduism, and Islam.

In a counter argument, empiricists led by Locke argue that all knowledge comes from a reflection that is the introspective awareness of the workings if a person’s mind. They argue that infants are not aware of anything and since human beings know what they are capable of knowing, then all knowledge is innate. Empiricists, unlike interpretive idealists, do not accept all beliefs. Therefore, they do not approve of almost concepts of religion. They explain that all concepts are empirical and explained that the simple ideas that have already been experienced could be combined resulting in complex ideas which have not been experienced (Nikolic and Glynn 36). They therefore lack a source of their actions which are not based on reason or experience thus lacking a strong argument towards the matters they do not support such as some aspects of religion.

Another major difference between the two theories is that the interpretivist view is only concerned with the meaning and it seeks to understand the social member’s definition of a given situation. It involves building a second order theory that is a theory according to the members in question views. Interpretivists have the assumption that meaning and knowledge are acts of interpretation; therefore, there is no objective knowledge that is independent of human reasoning (Miller 52). In contrast, empiricism is concerned with objective reality and acknowledges meanings that are independent of people. This gives everyone in the society a fair chance to express themselves without prejudice from people who believe otherwise.

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In summary, empiricism generalizes the views of people and understands human behavior from a general view which is not bound by beliefs and cultures. Empiricisms is a netter argument because the followers are not believers of religion as they lack the personal experience to which the basis of the religion is formed and they view all people as equal and offer equal opportunities to individuals to prove themselves. On the other hand, interpretivists usually group people with class based on their actions. This has created different classes of people in the world. The capitalistic nature of interpretivists also shows the fault in the argument unlike the empiricists who judge things from the objective perspective, and this makes the world to be equal. They base their decisions by using arguments which cannot be refuted by any subjective beliefs such as religion, culture and a system of government. That said, it is evident that the world can be a better place if people embrace the empiricists approach in their daily actions.

Works Cited

Locke, Karen. “Pragmatic Reflections on a Conversation About Grounded Theory in

Management and Organization Studies.” Organizational Research Methods 18.4 (2015):


Miller, Joyce. “Religious Extremism, Religious Education, and the Interpretive

Approach.” Religion & Education 40.1 (2013): 50-61.

Nikolic, Aleksandar Vuc, and Simon Glynn. “The Illusory Nature of the So-Called Objective

World.” FAU Undergraduate Research Journal 5.1 (2016): 36.


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