Rationalism vs Empiricism

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 3 November 2016

Rationalism vs Empiricism

Rationalism believes that some ideas or concept are independent of experience and that some truth is known by reason alone. Rationalist support the idea of priori knowledge which means knowledge that comes before experience and independent of experience Philosophers that support that are associated with rationalism are Descartes, Kant, and Leibniz. Empiricism believes that some ideas or concepts are independent of experience and that truth must be established by reference to experience alone. Empiricist support the idea of posteriori which means knowledge that comes after experience or dependent on experience.

Locke, Humes, and Berkeley are philosophers that support the idea of Empiricism. Rationalism claims that all known is innate. It claims that we are born with knowledge and find answer to questions by thinking logically. Descartes is a rationalist that strongly supports rationalism. He used skepticism to doubt everything that he knew. He doubted until he found one idea that was beyond a doubt, and the one idea was that he cannot doubt his own existence. He said “I cannot doubt my own existence; I think therefore I must exist. I think therefore I am.

” He also claims that he cannot depend on senses because there is a demon manipulating your thoughts. Let’s take a look at Descartes’s statement. He doubts everything else but his own existence. He is thinking, and alive. Therefore, he is alive. By being able to think and knowing his exist, it makes the argument valid and sound. Rationalist tends to believe knowledge is a bit like math. It requires no observations or sense perception. The idea of 2+2=4, we all know it is 4. There are no observations or experience required. Let’s say you have two apples, and you were given two apples, you will then have a total of 4 apples.

If you were to take away two apples, you are left with two apples. The logical approach requires no experience and no observation and has clear understanding which makes this argument sound and valid. Locke argued that nothing could be known before experience and that a baby was like a ‘blank slate’ that had to be filled up with information by experience; meaning we know knowing and everything we know is learned through observation and our sense perceptions. Empiricism is strongly correlates to Science where rationalism correlates with Math and Empiricism depend on experimentation and observation.

How can innate knowledge explain certain things that we have no experience before? Let’s examine food as an example. Someone trying a new dish for the first time, they have no idea how it may taste, look, for even smell. The only way they will know is by eating it (observation and experiment). Empiricism depends on its senses to learn. We can also examine a new born baby growing through the ages. The baby uses its life experience and observes the world using its senses in order to gain knowledge. The baby has no past knowledge. It cannot talk or communicate, but over time it will learn through experience.

A baby is empty and clear, we fill it with knowledge and let it has its own experience. Locke claim’s seems to be very sound and valid. Now comparing Empiricism vs. Rationalism, the two are complete opposite. The two co-exist and are total polar opposites. They will always counter argue each other and one is no more right than the other. These idea are based on self-awareness and in today’s modern world, I personally think there should be a good balance between both parties. Sometimes it may be better to think rationally or sometimes to think empirically.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 3 November 2016

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