The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 7, 2000

Modern Philosophy

Michael Ayers
Pages 111-127

Can There Be a New Empiricism?

‘Empiricism’ has become for many a dirty word, and many writers have in mind the kind of neo-Humean Positivism that is the target of Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument, Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, or Merleau-Ponty’s Phénoménologie de la perception. But examination of the Empiricist tradition before Hume uncovers views that do not involve anything like the much-abused “Myth of the Given” or twentieth-century sensedatum theory. This paper identifies the particular line of seventeenth-century thought that eventually gave rise to sense-datum theory, and discusses other notions of experience that avoid it. The aim of this history lesson is to point to the possibility of an essentially empiricist approach today, an approach that avoids the neo-idealism or conceptualism of popular modern alternatives to sensedatum theory.