Empiricism is the view that all knowledge comes from sense experience. It is the opposite of rationalism which claims that knowledge stems from innate ideas in the mind. Thus, with empiricism, the five senses are the basis for knowledge.
Empiricist ideas can be traced to the ancient Greeks. In contrast to Plato who stressed “forms” and “ideas” as the true realities in another dimension, Aristotle stressed earthly realities as being at the heart of reality. Empiricism, though, officially developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the teachings of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. Locke, in particular, is known for pioneering the empiricist school. He argued that the mind of a person at birth is a tabula rasa which means “blank slate.” These three empiricists—Locke, Berkeley, and Hume—are often known as the British Empiricist School; they reacted against the rationalism of Rene Descartes.
Empiricism is often viewed as being at the heart of modern scientific method with its stress on observation of the physical world.