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.