The Disappearance of the Empirical: Some Reflections on Contemporary Culture Theory and Historiography
This paper surveys the parallel fates of the notion of the empirical in philosophy of science in the 20th century and the notion of experience as evidence in one important line of debate in historiography/philosophy of history. The focus concerns the presumably crucial role some notion of the empirical plays in the assessment of knowledge claims. The significance of 'the empirical' disappears on the assumption that theories either determine what counts as experience or explain away any apparently discordant evidence. One consequence of this has been the suggestion that the analysis of meaning somehow replaces or supplants that played by evidence qua fact. This dispute impacts in parallel ways the turf wars between philosophers of science and practitioners of science studies as well as disputes in historiography between literary theorists and those not so kindly disposed. The parallels suggest why historiographic debate has stalled for three decades.