Differences between the empirical and theoretical...

Differences between the empirical and theoretical levels of scientific knowledge

The features of the levels of scientific knowledge under consideration are most clearly revealed when they are compared and differences are detected between them.

First. The empirical and theoretical levels of scientific knowledge differ in the subject. At both levels, the same object, but the research approach to this object and its reflection in the scientific knowledge of each of these levels will be different.

Empirical research on its goals and research capabilities is aimed at studying phenomena and discovering the interdependencies between these phenomena in the process of scientific experiments and using other methods of empirical cognition: observations, measurements. At this level (due to its capabilities and its methodological equipment), the essence of the objects under study and the essential links between the objects can not be identified. Here, manifestations of the essence, are examined but not the very essence of things.

At the theoretical level of scientific knowledge, the identification of essential links acts as the main research task. At the same time, the essence of the object under study at the theoretical level is expressed through the laws discovered and formulated by the researcher.

Second. The empirical and theoretical levels of scientific knowledge differ in the specific interaction of the researcher with the object. The empirical study is based on immediate (although often mediated by instruments and research tools) the interaction of the scientist with the object under investigation.

Theoretical research does not initially imply such a direct interaction of the subject of cognition with the object. Here it is studied indirectly, because at this level the researcher works with an ideal, abstracted image of the object using the results of empirical cognition (which does not exclude the subsequent empirical refinement of this image). For example, and at this level, we can talk about experiment and modeling, but we mean the "thought experiment" and ideal modeling.

Third. The levels of scientific knowledge are significantly different using the conceptual tools and language of scientific reasoning. The terms used at the level of empirical cognition are so-called empirical terms, the content of which is a collection of properties of "empirical objects", formed on the basis of a real object, but endowed with a fixed and limited set of properties (attributes).

Thus, the empirical object - is the ideal, abstracted image of a real object, in which only some of the properties inherent in the latter are present. In this regard, the content of the concept, denoting an empirical object, is poorer in content than the concept describing the real object.

The sentences of the language of the empirical description (they can be called empirical statements - sentences of the language of the empirical level of scientific knowledge) are amenable to immediate verification. For example, the above quotation "voltmeter needle stopped at the division of the scale 12" is true if the device does give such an indication. Thus, most empirical statements are verifiable (verifiable). The limitation of the principle of verification, put forward in the neo-positivist version of the philosophy of science, was precisely that the properties of empirical statements were extended to the all language of science, including theoretical statements .

However, theoretical statements (sentences that make up the language of scientific theories) are compared with the results of observations and experiments not in isolation ("every sentence with each experience result"), but systemically - within the framework of a certain theory. Moreover, the same empirical facts can find a satisfactory explanation in various theories. Thus, the laws of reflection and refraction of light fixed on the empirical level were satisfactorily explained both in I. Newton's corpuscular theory of light and in the wave theory of H. Huygens (1629-1695).

It should be specially noted that if the content of empirical objects is the attributes present in real objects, then in the language of theoretical research terms are used whose contents are the signs of "theoretical ideal objects".

Examples are the "material point", "absolutely solid", "ideal gas" (in physics), biocenosis (in the environment), product (in the economic theory in the formula "commodity - money - goods"). In this case, such idealized objects may have properties that are not present in real objects. So, there are no unextended physical objects. However, the material point is an idealized object with zero extension.

The question arises: once the idealized objects of scientific theory are endowed with properties that do not exist in real objects, how can they be used to explore the real world with their help? That is the value of such idealized objects that they allow us to identify laws and essential relations in the "pure form".

Fourth. The empirical and theoretical levels of scientific knowledge differ by the specifics of the methods used. The tasks solved using the methods of empirical research are aimed at obtaining the most objective characteristics of the studied object, as much as possible freed from possible subjective influences of the researcher. The task of this level of research is in a kind of "rendering beyond brackets characteristics of the personality of the researcher himself.

Specific methods of empirical cognition contribute to the solution of this problem, among which observation and experiment play an important role. In the implementation of these methods, the sensual level of cognition (which does not exclude the decisive role of rational cognition in understanding the results of sensory cognition) is essential.

In a theoretical study, the personal qualities of the subject of cognition, his scientific imagination and, to some extent, fantasy (a fantasy correlated with the results of empirical cognition) are often of decisive importance. Illustrative examples of such an influence may be the dispute between I. Newton and G. V. Leibniz concerning the corpuscular or wave nature of light. It was the free flight of scientific imagination that enabled M. Faraday (1791-1867) to form an image of the wave lines of the electromagnetic field in spite of the beliefs about the point nature of electromagnetic phenomena, established by most physicists - contemporaries of M. Faraday.

Since the mind plays a decisive role at this level, a specific system of methods is used that develops the power of rational knowledge: analysis and synthesis, induction and deduction, abstraction and concretization, etc.

Fifth. In the developed system of modern science, the empirical and theoretical levels of scientific knowledge differ in quality, and often - and the level of professional training of subjects of scientific knowledge. The increasing complexity of each level of scientific research often requires a specific system of knowledge, skills and skills from a researcher at each of these levels.

A typical example is the development of physics in the XX-XXI centuries, when there was a differentiation of specialists into experimental physicists and theoretical physicists. Often they even speak different languages. Thus, the highest level of engineering training is required from the experimental physicist, from the theoretical physicist - the level of mathematical training is almost deeper than that of professional mathematicians.

Sixth. The levels of scientific knowledge considered differ substantially in the nature of the organization of knowledge.

The most important requirement of theoretical knowledge is its consistency and consistency. No wonder one of the criteria of truth is the coherence of scientific knowledge - the correspondence of new knowledge to the old knowledge, the truth of which is reliably justified. In this regard, any logical and contentious contradiction in the system of theoretical knowledge is a signal about its underdevelopment, incompleteness of knowledge, the need to continue theoretical studies.

For empirical knowledge, the consistency criterion is not critical. This is due to the fact that the content of empirical knowledge is the study of individual objects or different sides and properties of the same object, therefore empirical knowledge gives the researcher a system of relative truths, often at a superficial glance, contradictory to each other. The task of reconciling these truths lies with the theoretical level of scientific knowledge.

So, the Geiger counter or Wilson's camera fix corpuscular properties of microworld objects. Radio receivers, radio telescopes and similar scientific devices record wave properties of photons as objects of the microworld. At first glance, two experiments give contradictory empirical knowledge about the nature of the microworld. And only at the level of the scientific theory, through the introduction of the principle of corpuscular-wave dualism, Heisenberg's uncertainty principles, N. Bohr's complementarity principle, it is possible to reconcile the apparent contradictions of the empirical level of scientific knowledge.

A successful visual comparison of empirical and theoretical knowledge through a tabular representation of their criteria was proposed by GI and NI Ikonnikov. Summarize the material presented by them in a single table 4.1

Table 4.1. Comparison of the components of empirical and theoretical cognition

Purpose of learning


and cognition methods


as a result of cognition

Empirical knowledge

1. Finding a scientific fact, or getting a factual knowledge

Observation Measurement Comparison Experiment Model experiment

Empirical scientific fact (factual knowledge)

2. Identifying



Analysis and synthesis Induction and deduction Analogy

The empirical law

3. Extension of the empirical (descriptive hypothesis)

Systematization Classification, etc.

Empirical descriptive hypothesis

Theoretical cognition

1. Building an Idealized Object

Abstraction Idealization Formalization Mental experiment Mathematical (computer) modeling, etc.

Concepts, ideas, principles

Ideal (signed) models Laws

Axioms, postulates, etc.

2. Building a scientific theory

Hypothetical-inductive Structural-genetic

Hypothesis Scientific concept

3. Justification and proof of scientific theory

Historical and logical methods (as a logical historical correspondence) Ascent from concrete to abstract and from abstract to concrete System approach Induction, deduction, abduction, analogy

Hypothetical-deductive method, deductive-nomological model of explanation, etc.



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