Yesterday, I gave a talk at SPLASH Onward in Vancouver introducing my essay “Concept analysis in programming language research: Done well it is all right” [ACM DL] [Author’s PDF] [presentation slides (PDF)]. Both reader comments earlier and some of the questions after my presentation leads me to think that I was not quite clear enough in my essay and my presentation:
I am not advocating abandoning empirical research. Quite the contrary! I believe it should be used wherever it makes sense. I just happen to think that conceptual questions cannot be resolved based on empirical stuff (alone – though empirical research can function as reasons in a philosophical argument quite fine).
A related question is, is nonempirical research science? I believe it is. If we restricted science to empirical stuff only, we would have to reject mathematics from the halls of science. I believe the key characteristic that separates science from non-science is intellectual honesty combined with the use of best available methodology. Concept analysis, done well, fits that bill.