The Empirical

I was going through my stored books earlier today, and found my copy of The
Order of Things, which I started reading again, and came across something
that bothered me, and which I never bothered clarifying before. Thus, I am
hoping someone may be able to clear up a problem of terminology for me.
Early on, Foucault continually juxtaposes science with the empirical. For

"In France at least, the history of science and thought give pride of place
to mathematics, cosmology, and physics - noble sciences, rigorous sciences,
sciences of the necessary, all close to philosophy: one can observe in their
history the almost uniterrupted emergence of truth and pure reason. The
other disciplines, however - those, for example, that concern living beings,
languages, or economic facts - are considered too tinged with empirical
thought, too exposed to the vagaries of chance or imagery, to age-old
tradition and external events, for it to be supposed that their history
could be anything other than irregular." - pg ix.

"The fundamental coes of a culture [...] establish for every man, from the
very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within
which he will be at home. At the other extremity of thought, there are the
scientific theories or the philsoophical interpretations which explain why
order exists in general, what what universal law it obeys, what principle
can account for itm and why this particular order has been established and
not some other." - pg xx.

Reading over these passages, one is not immediately struck by any problem.
Certainly, science seems to deal, or is perceived to deal, with
abstractions, of that which lies beyond the particular. However, when one
thinks of the 'empirical', one tends, as an Anglo-American anyway, to think
of science. And yet here, Foucault equates it with non-science, that which
is too immersed in singularity to constitute science. Furthermore, he
equates science with philosophy, even placing philosophy in the arbiter's
chair, a position that most Anglo's would not be immediately taken with. My
cultural associations with philosophy are opposed to science. Science is
that which deals with the physical, the empirical (however abstractly),
while philosophy is that which is so abstract as to be unrelated to the
realm of the noumenal. To be clear about the matter (and how ironic that
this is in regard to The Order of Things), the empirical belongs in the same
list as the natural sciences, while philosophy belongs with psychology and
literary criticism. (Of course, I am not saying I subscribe to these

My point here is that I wonder if the discrepacy between my own set of
presumptions about what is being talked about when one talks about the
empirical is not radically different than Foucault's, because of a cultural
difference in the value of the phrase. I am not attempting to make any
interesting philosophical points, but am asking if anyone can clear up this
vague sense of dis-ease with his use of the term I am feeling. Does the
Academie perceive science, philosophy and the empirical in a way alien to
the Anglo-American? I should emphasize that this is a dis-ease, because
again, when I re-read these passages, I am absolutely clear on what he is
getting at. I am only concerned that there is a difference in emphasis, one
which I am hoping someone here might clear up.

I look forward to any responses.

Stuart Chaulk


Partial thread listing: