Did Herbert Armstrong Steal “The Empirical Self” Idea?

By Armstrong Plagiarism Research

Did Herbert Armstrong steal the phrase “empirical self” and the concept of the empirical self?  The term is used in psychology and predates Armstrong.  His Autobiography says he studied psychology, so he could have picked it up from psychology.  The basic concept, as used by the famous psychologist William James, is very similar to the way Armstrong used it.

The WCG’s old Bible Correspondence Course describes the term “empirical self” as “a little empire”, or larger self, extending beyond the self, out to include things we own or identify with.  The concept of a larger self is also used in psychology, but the word “empirical” is a scientific term that does not refer to an empire at all.  Armstrong and his WCG seem to have confused the term “empirical” with “imperial”. Only the latter term is related to empire.  The correct meaning of the term “empirical” makes sense in the science of psychology but doesn’t really make sense in theology.

It seems that Armstrong made a mistake which helps us detect his (apparent) plagiarism. If Armstrong had used the word that actually describes what he was trying to say, i.e. the self as a little empire, the “imperial self”, it would be harder to trace his use of the term back to the science of psychology.  In that case we could suppose that he came up with the term independently.  But since he apparently thought “empirical” was related to “empire”, an easy mistake to make, we can see that he likely plagiarized the concept of the empirical self from psychology.

Furthermore, when discussing the empirical self, Armstrong used the expression “to coin a phrase” as if he is originated the term himself.

If he only plagiarized this one thing it might not be a major issue.  But there is evidence that he took many other doctrines, even key doctrines, from other churches even though he always said he did not get his doctrines from men.  In some cases the copying was nearly word-for-word.  This subject (the empirical self and other plagiarisms) is examined in detail (the evidence, the arguments, and the repercussions) on the Armstrong Plagiarism Research site, which gathers together information on the question of Armstrong’s plagiarism from various sources and perspectives.

12 Replies to “Did Herbert Armstrong Steal “The Empirical Self” Idea?”

  1. If I may say so, you have again amazed me with your level of sophistication, which I can only hope myself to achieve as a pale imitator! This article is pure genious! It is something I would have never seen myself. You have really triumphed on this one!

    And it’s funny too. Subtle!

    The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experimentation. As you say, Herbert Armstrong didn’t even know what emperical meant in this context. This is the wonder of having only an eighth grade education as a high school drop out while being Chancellor of a College… several of them… all unaccredited — just like his supposed superior vocabulary was very much unaccredited.

    For the objective among us, this blog entry represents a major mortal blow to Herbert Armstrong’s egotistical superiority: He was very much inferior in everything but stealing everything in sight and claiming it for his own. By confusing empirical with imperical, he showed himself to be a fool.

    This is a major epiphany.

    I cannot imagine what could be ahead in this series and certainly look forward to the new material you reveal.

    Keep up the good work!


  2. Certainly anyone who has been involved with science to a large degree would see the wrong use of the word “empirical”. Herb used the wrong word, but his intentions were good(and of course we know about the road to hell and good intentions).

    However, the intended point is accurate, but he should have expressed “narcissism” using psychological terms, to describe the tendency to extend the “imperial” self into the world around us. Basically, narcissism is the need to extend one’s self in a linear fashion into all one’s surrounding environment. Maybe that’s why he failed to use correct wording. It described him too well.

    1. It’s nice to read someone at this website credit Herbert W. Armstrong for some good intentions. You may be interested to know what he said about this matter in a sermon of his the transcript of which I’ll cite here: “Well, if you’ve ever studied a type of psychology that I remember studying when I was into my early twenties: there was a book of psychology that came out at that time, and it really had a lot of psychology that the modern psychologists are not teaching in the universities today. It taught about self and what self is. It taught about an empire-ical self. Now, there’s no such word in the dictionary. There’s a word ’empirical’. That’s a different word with a different meaning. But he meant ’empire-ical’ from the sense of an empire.
      “Your self is a sort of an empire. Now it includes, first, whatever is yours, whatever is closest to you—your clothes; the house you live in (if it’s yours), then your children, maybe even your mother and father (you call them yours—your mother, your father), whatever you call yours. Then it extends on to even your relatives. Then, as you grow up in your teens, you get interested in sports. Your team is part of self, and your team is against the other team. It’s always competitive. Self is against whatever is not self. Your team is self; and therefore you love that to that extent, instead of loving the one that it’s in competition against. Now, you can carry that on; and you see, in the case of war, your country is part of self. That’s why people are willing to go to war and even die; for their country. It’s dying for self-love; and self-love is the very essence of sin, and it started from the very, very beginning” ( What Is Sin? December 5, 1981).
      It is apparent here that Herbert Armstrong either misremembered, or had misconstrued in the first place, the words of William James (It seems evident that this is the book of psychology that he had in mind).
      Who among us has never been guilty of “getting the facts wrong”, or of misconstruing another’s words, or of misreading something, or of misremembering?
      However, what is far more important to consider here is an understanding of the fundamental nature of human beings, and of the human mind, which Herbert W. Armstrong laid out in the passage just cited, in very plain, simple, easy-to-understand language, but which is simply lost on “the wise and prudent”. you can read a million books by brilliant, erudite men, such as William James, and not find the simple of explanation of why humanity can’t solve its problems. Herbert W. Armstrong explained it over and over again, in just a few sentences.

      1. Scott,

        You have a limited view on the intelligence of man.

        Now consider, without self love mankind would not survive. They would kill themselves, as the view you have is one that goes against human nature.

        Men go to war because they have a belief in being on the right side of the dispute. It has nothing to do with self love.

        1. James, certainly, what I wrote here, and what I cited, is very limited indeed. I was just trying to draw attention to what I find is an important insight ( just one) into human nature and how our minds work, that is, in the sense of how we think about ourselves in relation to others and to what is “ours”.

          HWA was talking about an aspect of self love, which is, as you say, necessary for survival, that puts the interests of self ahead of those of others, that is, puts the love of self ahead of the love of others.

          Yes, it is indeed a matter of survival. We see it playing out in Putin’s war. No doubt, Mr. Putin thinks he is right, and he has convinced , apparently, the majority of his fellow countrymen that they are right to attack Ukraine, in “self-defence”, for the survival of their “selfs”, lest the “evil forces” of Nato “sneak up” on them before it’s too late. Yes, by their vital capacity for self love, the Russians are defending their “mother Russia”.

          By the way, I’m not taking sides in the war, only pointing out that it illustrates well the point of what HWA explained in elementary terms, why mankind keeps going to war.

          Whether one believes in Christ or not, it’s a central theme of the Bible that human beings are utterly incapable , of and by themselves, of finding the way to peace. Not to quote chapter and verse, but it’s obvious to me that the way to peace we humans know not, and that everything is moving in the direction of total human annihilation.

          As you know, Jesus is quoted as saying that a time so terrible is coming that if it were not cut short not a human being would be left alive. It’s true that HWA thought that such a time would have come long before this, even in his own lifetime. However, it sure looks a lot closer to me now than it did 40 years ago!

          And by the way, I do share many of the concerns expressed at this website about what went on in WCG. I first attended there back in 1979.

          Thank you, James, for affording me the opportunity to share my views.

          1. Look at this way. Human nature/behaviors never change. What has been before will be again.

            Therefore we should learn from our past mistakes, but because humans are generally very stupid and refuse to look at the past and understand the consequences of certain behaviors/actions we make the same mistakes endlessly.

            You would think that senile old bastard in the white house would look to the past and understand that NATO will lose in attacking Russia and China. But no, the deep state wants this death and destruction for their worldwide hegemony, so the same mistakes are made as in the past. Morons sit in office in literally every nation with the exception of Russia. I know why they are invading the corrupt country of Ukraine. All you have to do is to listen to Putin speeches. What you wrote tells me you are also on the ball. Refreshing to talk with someone who can think for themselves. It is indeed a lonely perch.

          2. Scott Fraser 3/8/23 @ 9:18 AM said: “…Whether one believes in Christ or not, it’s a central theme of the Bible that human beings are utterly incapable , of and by themselves, of finding the way to peace. Not to quote chapter and verse, but it’s obvious to me that the way to peace we humans know not, and that everything is moving in the direction of total human annihilation.”

            If I may recount a funny—to me at least!—coincidence that occurred way back in the mid-late 1990s during the “Middle East peace process” and some Israel-Palestinian conflict that was being reported about on the TV. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mom having dinner. Listening to the news report I sighed and remarked quoting that Biblical verse, “They always say ‘peace peace’ when there is no peace!” As I finished saying this the news report cut to an Israeli woman who had been a victim of the attacks who angrily shouted at the camera, “They’re always saying ‘peace peace’ when there is no peace!” It was hilarious to see my mom turn to me with a mixed look of fear and awe at the same time as if she wanted to say “WTH?! How did you know she was going to say that?!” But, she was dead silent and filled with a sense of wonder in what just happened myself I continued to finish my supper lol!

  3. I remember when HWA first brought this up at Friday evening Bible Study in the AC gym sometime back in the early 1970’s. Science classes in high school had been amongst my favorite, and I was aware of the scientific meaning of the word empirical. Although at the time, I didn’t consider it to be a deal breaker between myself and the church (1975 accomplished that!), it was one of an assortment of laughable gaffes perpetrated by the ministry. File it under “malapropism”. Another HWA classic was the edict that aluminum pots and pans did not break down into one’s vegetables during the cooking process. (Try tomatoes, they’ll always clean the aluminum oxide from your pan!)

    HWA was certainly not the only “Dan Quayle” amongst the senior ministry, as anyone who ever heard Les McCullough pronounce “epitome” would know.

    And, we were the dumb sheep who would be unsophisticated to the point of not being able to have one-on-one relationships with international dignitaries!


  4. We wrongly learned a lot of things, and we then learned that it was not true. However, I have become convinced that what happened to us was part of a design. We have been conditioned by our governemt and the media to follow like sheep. HWA made us aware that we did have a choice, even if he was that only proposed choice. Simply by opening our minds to the possibility of thinking for our selves, and making our own choices, we ultimately became free, at least some of us.

    Many of us never “woke up”, and never will. Discovering that HWA didn’t have the answers, many just keep looking for another group, then another, and another…all because they can’t simply accept the fact that they are free and responsible for their own choices.(Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result) Whether you choose atheism, or whether you realize that you are free to pursue God as a sovereign being, you have fulfilled the statement attributed to Jesus: You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free. What more could you want?

  5. “Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.”

    Another way of putting it is: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

    Those of us who were lucid enough to realize that the whole program was a joke and a travesty were better able to extricate ourselves. I’m very thankful that I didn’t continue to hold onto the fantasy like so many of my very sincere but very deluded former associates.

    Some went along with a COG splinter and others returned to the vomit of traditional Xianity. Some others skipped back past Herbert and aligned themselves with COG7day. The virus that started at the Council of Nicea has mutated countless times over the centuries and each mutation is just as pernicious as any of the others.

  6. “The virus that started at the Council of Nicea has mutated countless times over the centuries and each mutation is just as pernicious as any of the others.”

    That is what has always intrigued me about religion from a biblical perspective. If God had wanted men to organize under one banner, the Tower of Babel story would have a different conclusion. God would have looked down and said “Oh look! They’re building a little tower to get to me! Isn’t that cute!”

    Instead, he scattered them by confusing their language, creating a linguistic “virus” that continually caused confusion. THEN, he created Israel, but NOT to organize or overcome the nations. Instead, he told them to have nothing to do with the “leaven” of other nations, which they were n’t able to do. In fact, he gave them a law which was against their nature, and allowed them to “infect” other nations, which had the result of dividing and splintering other nations the a me way it had done to Israel.

    But notice that during the time Jesus allegedly walked the earth, the Pharisees had found a way of unifying their con clusions recorded in Mishna, Gemorra, and Talmud into what Hillel called his “seven laws” or rules of thought. Then came Jesus, admitted they sat in “Moses seat”(called “ex cathedra” in other circles), and proceeded to call them hypocrites, condemned them for proselytizing, accused them of “shutting up the kingdom of God” to men, which was like closing off the courts to the people today. Notice it. he admited their authority, then called them children of the devil(John 8) and told his followers to “beware the leaven” of the Pharisees. What does leavening do? It expands, organizes, builds, and feeds off the energy of the loaf until it collapses of its own weight. The Pharisees had developed a unifying “language” which Jesus as readily condemned as God did in Genesis 11. He then said that he did NOT come to bring peace but a “sword” of division, of necessary individuality.

    Then Paul, a “renegade Pharisee”, so he said, spit right in Hillel’s eye by declaring that the natural mind is enmity against God and cannot be subject to God’s laws, thereby declaring that all Pharisees are full of crap, as Jesus had done. What did HWA and all the other Xians do? Same garbage, try to con vince us to do what Jesus plainly s aid we should NOT do in Matthew 24:23. Don’t believe any of them!

  7. I forgot to add, that’s why you can’t serve God and mammon. There’s no great wealth to be controlled if you can’t organize the minds of men. If every individual is free to think for him/her self, you have to actually learn how to cooperate and respect their rights.

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