Reflection on Philosophy of Rationalism and Empiricism

Categories: Philosophy

There is not one definition of rationalism due to the fact that it implies a lot of various things. The Rationalists believe that understanding is gained a priori or individually of experience. You know that 4 + 3 = 7, which this will not change wherever or you go to another country or to the moon. Understanding of the world is gained through reasonable intuition (clear and unique idea) and reasoning & & understanding. A priori knowledge can be a hundred percent certain and is necessarily true.

A priori can be divided into four types: Previous to experience, which means that you have the understanding prior to any experience.

This is inherent knowledge. Second and 3rd ones are independent of experience and experience is unimportant to a priori ideas or knowledge. An example of these is that you understand that it can’t drizzle and not rain at the same time. The last one is that experience can’t validate a priori knowledge claims. This indicates that for a priori knowledge, you require more than experience.

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This causes thinking and understanding. We can get a priori understanding in three various methods. The first one is that the knowledge already might be in our minds at the mind’s inception, for example the Types, which is Descartes’ concept of God.

This goes back to the first method of a priori: Previous to experience. The second one is instinct, which is the term we use when something is just apparent and we can’t explain how we understand.

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Here we can utilize the exact same example as on 2nd and third way of a priori: It can’t rain and not rain at the same time. The last method we can get a priori knowledge is through thinking. You know that all humans are mortal which you are a human. For that reason, through thinking, you know that you are mortal.

In rationalism, thinking and understanding is more crucial than the senses to the establishment of understanding. Sense experience is an incoming visual, aural, touch, taste and smell data. Empiricists think that sense experience is the source of all knowledge or is most important for us to gain knowledge. Where knowledge is gotten independently of experience in rationalism, knowledge remains in empiricism a posteriori, reliant on experience. Example of a posteriori understanding can be that human beings are mortal due to the fact that you have experienced individuals passing away.

Empiricists claim that all a priori knowledge is analytic, that you understand independently of experience that ‘The sun will set today at sunset’, because you understand the meaning of the words: A sunset is when the sun sets. They also claim that only a posteriori knowledge (dependent on experience) is synthetic, which gives information about how the world is. An example of this can be ‘The sun will set today behind a veil of cloud’. This is, as Hume called it, a matter of fact, because you have experienced the sun going behind a veil of cloud.

While empiricists claim that synthetic a priori knowledge is impossible, rationalists claim that it is possible. You can know that for instance most tables are made of wood because you understand it. We can have factual or substantive knowledge of how the world is, which in this case is what most tables are made of, through reason or understanding alone. The Rationalist says that if knowledge understood by reason does not come through the senses, but independently of sense experience, where then does it come from? According to rationalism, we are born with such innate knowledge.

The Rationalist claims that a priori knowledge is the truth of logic and mathematics. We understand that 3 + 4 = 7 because it is obvious to us. Although we use our eyes when learning to count things, we still understand that three books and four books put together is the same as seven books. Descartes’ Wax example is a good example of how our a priori knowledge depends on reason. You know about wax, that it is yellow, doesn’t have any smell, hard, solid, tasteless and scratchable etc. and that it gets squashy and lighter when warmed up.

These sense experiences alone cannot account for our understanding because it is just a stream of incoming data. This proves that the mind must have innate abilities to form understanding when sense data is fed into it. It is the same with another example of Descartes about people in the street seen from above. His claims are that our sense experience tells us that there are hats and coats moving below. Our reasoning and understanding tells us they are people. In my opinion Rationalists are not always right to claim that knowledge is a priori and depends primarily on reason.

In my opinion, you need to experience certain things before you can reason and understand it. For instance, if you haven’t been to the Isle of Wight Festival, but you know what kind of music the bands are playing and you know what people are going, it doesn’t make you know what the festival is like. This makes me closer to empiricism. On the other hand, though empiricism says that you know that 3 + 4 = 7 because you were taught this, I believe you have this is a priori knowledge primarily because of reason.

I believe the truths of mathematics and logic are not there to experience, but to understand. This view makes me closer to rationalism. I have difficulties imagining synthetic a priori knowledge, because it is logical that we need to experience that the sun goes behind a veil a cloud, to be able to reason and understand that this is how the world works. You cannot have the knowledge that the sun will set today behind a veil a cloud before you have even experienced it – it is just obvious that you need the experience.

It is the same with the statement that ‘It can’t rain and not rain at the same time’. You can reason this fact because only you have experienced both rain and not rain. It is not independent on experience because you need to experience rain and not rain to understand that there is nothing in between. This view makes me closer empiricism. I believe that I understand the concept of sunset because I know the concept of sun and the concept of set. You can make two statements: I know that the word ‘sun’ is that big shiny circle in the sky and I know that the word ‘set’ means something that goes down.

Therefore, through my reasoning, I know that the shiny circle in the sky will go down at ‘sunset’. This makes me closer to rationalism. According to these examples, it looks like I will place myself in the middle of this line. But the fact that I claim that synthetic I priori knowledge is impossible and that I can’t get to understand how synthetic a priori knowledge is possible, and that this view in my opinion is decisive to where you stand on this line, I will place myself closer to empiricism.

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Reflection on Philosophy of Rationalism and Empiricism. (2016, Nov 04). Retrieved from

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