nLab empiricism





physics, mathematical physics, philosophy of physics

Surveys, textbooks and lecture notes

theory (physics), model (physics)

experiment, measurement, computable physics



In the philosophy of science, and particularly the philosophy of physics. empiricism is the philosophical sentiment that knowledge about the observable universe does and, ultimately, can only derive from empirical observation (measurement, experiment), as opposed to from intellectual reflection, such as in exceptional naturalism and/or (absolute) idealism.

A variant of empiricism due to van Fraasen 80 came to be known as constructive empiricism which (according to SEP-CE, here)

holds that science aims at truth about observable aspects of the world, but that science does not aim at truth about unobservable aspects.

A contemporary variant of empriricism appears in discussion of the “multiverse” to the extent that this rejects the existence of a fundamental theory from which reality may be derived, and proclaims the necessity to simply observe fundamental fields and “constants of nature” as what they appear, giving up on theoretical explanation.


See also

Authors articulating the stance of empiricism:

  • Max Born, Experiment and theory in physics, Address to the Durham Philosophical Socienty 1943, published by Dover 1956

The idea of constructive empiricism

Discussion in view of contemporary issues in particle physics and string theory:


  • Sabine Hossenfelder, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, Basic Books 2018. German translation: Das hässliche Universum: Warum unsere Suche nach Schönheit die Physik in die Sackgasse führt, Fischer 2018

  • Sabine Hossenfelder, Was läuft falsch in der gegenwärtigen Physik?, talk at University of Stuttgart, 2019 (video)

Last revised on November 30, 2022 at 18:16:08. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.