Rationalism Empiricism Compare Contrast Essays

Rationalism And Empiricism Essay

Rationalism and Empiricism

Rationalism and Empiricism are most likely the two most famous and intriguing schools of philosophy. The two schools deal specifically with epistemology, or, the origin of knowledge. Although not completely opposite, they are often considered so, and are seen as the "Jordan vs. Bird" of the philosophy world. The origins of rationalism and empiricism can be traced back to the 17th century, when many important advancements were made in scientific fields such as astronomy and mechanics. These advancements were most likely the basis for a sudden philosophical argument: What do we truly know? People wondered whether science was really giving us knowledge of reality. The quest for the answer to this question led to the development of these two schools of philosophy. Two of the most famous philosophers of epistemology are Rene Descartes and David Hume, the former being a rationalist, and the latter an empiricist. In this paper I will attempt to give an understanding of both rationalism and empiricism, show the ideas and contributions each of the men made to their respective schools, and hopefully give my personal reasoning why one is more true than the other.
Rationalism was developed by several important philosophers all around the 17th century. Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz are all given credit for developing rationalism. Rationalism is the idea that reason and logic are the basis of knowledge. It says that knowledge is innate, and that it cannot come from sources such as the senses. Rationalists believe that we are all born with a means of obtaining truth and knowledge. Empiricism also came about in the 17th Century, mostly through the ideas of the philosophers Locke and Bacon. Although Hume wrote several decades after these two, he probably wrote the strongest arguments for empiricism, covering some questions not answered by Locke and Bacon. Empiricism says that all real knowledge is based on experience. It claims that people are born with no innate knowledge, and that everything that happens in the mind is a result of our perceptions.
Descartes begins his theory of knowledge by assuming that nothing exists. He trusts nothing, not what he has seen or heard, not anything that he has thought. After careful deliberation, he comes to the foundation of his proof: I think, therefore, I am. What he means by this is that he knows that he exists because he thinks. This of course cannot be disproved, because to do so, would require thinking. Descartes believed that in order to obtain knowledge, there must be some rational method for obtaining it, and that the use of senses, or any personal experience was not a reliable source. In his third meditation he says, "I know that even bodies are not…perceived by the senses, or by the faculty of imagination, but by the intellect alone" (Descartes 69). He believed that this was the same for every human, that we all have innate ideas in our soul. This...

Loading: Checking Spelling


Read more

Rationalism vs. Empiricism Essay

1570 words - 6 pages Rationalism and empiricism were two philosophical schools in the 17th and 18th centuries, that were expressing opposite views on some subjects, including knowledge. While the debate between the rationalist and empiricist schools did not have any relationship to the study of psychology at the time, it has contributed greatly to facilitating the possibility of establishing the discipline of Psychology. This essay will describe the empiricist and...

Rationalism Vs Empiricism Essay

2210 words - 9 pages In this paper I will discuss the similarities and differences between Rene Descartes and John Locke, David Hume and Plato. They believe in rationalism or empiricism respectively. Rationalist believed that an important group of fundamental concepts are known...

Rationalism Vs Empiricism

2210 words - 9 pages In this paper I will discuss the similarities and differences between Rene Descartes and John Locke, David Hume and Plato. They believe in rationalism or empiricism respectively. Rationalist believed that an important group of fundamental concepts are known...

Extreme Rationalism

882 words - 4 pages Extreme Rationalism Rationalism is the idea that we can gain knowledge through the processes of mind alone. Empiricism is the idea that we can only gain knowledge through the senses. Empiricism has been adopted by the Western world because it is the foundation of the scientific approach to life that we use. Various popular sayings such as...

Of Mircacles

805 words - 3 pages David Hume wrote An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1748 and contained in this was an essay entitled “Of Miracles”. David Hume was a Scottish Philosopher that lived in the 18th century he was born on May 7th, 1711 and would die on August 25th, 1776. He was from a philosophical school known as Empiricism, which basically means that everything originates through sense experience. He believed that everything we know ultimately started in...


1401 words - 6 pages Empiricists and rationalists have proposed opposing theories of the acquisition of knowledge, which appear unable to coexist. Each theory holds its own strengths but does not demonstrate a strong argument in itself to the questions, “Is knowledge truly possible?” and “How is true knowledge obtained?”. Immanual Kant successfully merged the two philosophies and provided a convincing argument with his theory of empirical relativism, or what some...

Framing the Innateness Hypothesis

1597 words - 6 pages Framing the Innateness Hypothesis Perhaps the most traditional way of framing the innateness hypothesis would be in terms of an opposition between rationalism and empiricism. This is an opposition that is frequently encountered in philosophical debates over language acquisition, with the one side arguing that language acquisition is a phenomenon associated with the maturation of a language faculty or "organ," while the other side argues that...

The main tenets of both rationalistic and empiricist epistemologies?

1469 words - 6 pages What are the main tenets of both rationalistic and empiricist epistemologies? The history of philosophy has undergone many battles over many various issues. One of the most significant battles has been involving the foundations of our knowledge. Epistemology is the study of philosophy that focuses on how we acquire knowledge and how we are able to differentiate the truth from fiction. Although there are various thoughts on epistemology, the...

The Christian Worldview

1456 words - 6 pages Due to the "highly subjective nature of most scientific theorizing... [we should] let the Bible speak for itself and modify our scientific view of origins accordingly." (as cited in Downey, D., & Porter, S., 2009). God is an intelligent, creative, relational Being. God created all that exists (Gen 1-2) and right from the beginning God affirmed and blessed man’s participation in His creation (Gen 1:28-30, Gen 2:19-20). He created man in His...

Kant as a Philosopher

1684 words - 7 pages Kant as a Philosopher How does one label Kant as a philosopher? Is he a rationalist or an empiricist? Kant makes a distinction between appearances and things in themselves. He also says that things in themselves exist, and that we have no knowledge of things in themselves. This could be labeled "CLOSE TO NONSENSE", but we know Kant better than that. No matter how many laps on the track of metaphysics Kant takes us through, he is still...

Relativism vs. Empiricism

615 words - 2 pages 2. RELATIVISM VS. EMPIRICISMKnowledge for science is more empiricist, it is based on foundation, experience, data but there is also such thing as rationalism where for rationalists, experience is not the only basis for acquiring knowledge that maybe there is more to what we see and experience.For rationalists, knowledge can be acquired through norms,...

Empiricism v. rationalism

THE EMPIRICISTS:  Empiricists share the view that there is no such thing as innate knowledge, and that instead knowledge is derived from experience (either sensed via the five senses or reasoned via the brain or mind).  Locke, Berkeley, and Hume are empiricists (though they have very different views about metaphysics).

The rationalists:  Rationalists share the view that there is innate knowledge; they differ in that they choose different objects of innate knowledge.  Plato is a rationalist because he thinks that we have innate knowledge of the Forms [mathematical objects and concepts (triangles, equality, largeness), moral concepts (goodness, beauty, virtue, piety), and possibly color – he doesn’t ever explicitly state that there are Forms of colors]; Descartes thinks that the idea of God, or perfection and infinity, and knowledge of my own existence is innate; G.W. Leibniz thinks that logical principles are innate; and Noam Chomsky thinks that the ability to use language (e.g., language rules) is innate.

Empiricism (In favor of Empiricism, against Rationalism):

1.      Empiricism is Simpler:  Compared to Empiricism, Rationalism has one more entity that exists:  Innate knowledge.  According to the Empiricist, the innate knowledge is unobservable and inefficacious; that is, it does not do anything.  The knowledge may sit there, never being used.  Using Ockham’s Razor (= when deciding between competing theories that explain the same phenomena, the simpler theory is better),1 Empiricism is the better theory.

2.      Colors:  How would you know what the color blue looks like if you were born blind?  The only way to come to have the idea of blue is to experience it with your senses. (This objection only works possibly against Plato; see the introduction above again to see why this objection would not faze Descartes, Leibniz, or Chomsky.)

3.      Imagination and Experience:  How can we get the idea of perfect triangularity?  We can extrapolate from our experience with crooked, sensible triangles and use our imagination to straighten out what is crooked and see what perfect triangularity is.

4.      Rationalists have been Wrong about Their “Innate Knowledge”:  Some medieval rationalists claimed that the notion of a vacuum was rationally absurd and hence it was impossible for one to exist.  However, we have shown that it is possible.2  Reason is not the only way to discover the truth about a matter.

5.      The Advance of Science:  Much of science is founded on empiricist principles, and would not have advanced without it.  If we base our conclusions about the world on empiricism, we can change our theories and improve upon them and see our mistakes.  A rationalist seems to have to say that we’ve discovered innate knowledge and then be embarrassed if he or she is ever wrong (see examples such as the vacuum, above).

6.      All Rationalists do Not Agree about Innate Knowledge:  Rationalists claim that there is innate knowledge that gives us fundamental truths about reality, but even among rationalists (e.g., Plato, who believes in reincarnation and Forms and Descartes, who does not believe in either but does believe in a soul), there is disagreement about the nature of reality, the self, etc.  How can this be, if there is innate knowledge of these things?

Rationalism (In favor of Rationalism, against Empiricism):

1.      Math and Logic are Innate:  Doesn’t it seem that mathematical and logical truths are true not because of our five senses, but because of reason’s ability to connect ideas?

2.      Morality is Innate:  How do we get a sense of what right and wrong are with our five senses?  Since we cannot experience things like justice, human rights, moral duties, moral good and evil with our five senses, what can the empiricist’s ethical theory like?  Hume (an empiricist) says morality is based solely on emotions; Locke says experience can provide us with data to show what is morally right and wrong, but does it seem that way to you?

3.      Verifying Empiricism:  Locke (an empiricist) says that our experiences tell us about the nature of reality, but how can we ever check our experience with what reality really is, in order to know that?  Rationalists do not think we can, so we have to rely on reason.

4.      Poverty of Stimulus Problem:  Three year olds use language in ways that they are not explicitly taught.  For example, they form original sentences from words that they haven’t heard put together in precisely that way before.  Also, they start to understand grammatical rules before they even know what a noun or a verb is.  If we can only say what we’ve heard said by others, how can three year olds speak as well as they do?  This is known as the poverty of stimulus problem.  You may think that Rationalism is strange, but it does a better job of explaining this problem than Empiricism.  One way of choosing which of two theories is better (in addition to or instead of Ockham’s Razor – see Empiricism point #1 above) is asking, “Which theory explains the phenomena better?”1

5.      Empiricism Undermines Creativity?  According to Empiricism, you can combine things, separate them, and nothing else.  With Rationalism, we come to experience with ready-made tools for creativity.  E.g., Plato would say that we’re in touch with abstract, immutable realities, which provide lots of material with which to create.

6.      Controllable Humans?  According to Empiricism, human beings can be controlled and manipulated exceptionally easily.  If we are nothing other than what we experience, then we should be able to be made to do whatever we’re taught.  Rationalism has it that there is an invariable core (call it “human nature”) that refuses to be manipulated, which is what makes us unique.

© 2013 by David J. Yount

0 Replies to “Rationalism Empiricism Compare Contrast Essays”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *