Comparing the Approaches of Rationalism and Empiricism Towards a Theory of Knowledge
Rene Descartes was the main rationalist. He said he believed he had to
doubt everything known to him to really understand knowledge.
Rationalism first began in Ancient Greece with two extreme
rationalists - Parmenides and Zeno. Rationalists believed in innate
ideas - ones that are present at birth, in the mind.
When Descartes started his thoughts, it was in the 17th century,
during the rise of science. Descartes decided to set up a new system
of knowledge to replace the knowledge of the church. This is where
Descartes introduced his 'Method of Doubt'. In his 'Method of Doubt',
he couldn't question every single object, so concentrated on three
Â§ The Senses
Â§ Physical Bodies
Â§ Maths and The Sciences
He said he could doubt all by the following explanations
Â§ The Senses - can be deceived - e.g. Optical Illusions, you think you
can see something when it's not there
Â§ Physical Bodies - dreaming - e.g. do you know you are awake now? Or
are you dreaming?
Â§ Maths and The Sciences - Descartes couldn't think of a valid reason,
so blamed an Evil Demon.
All Descartes knew, was his thoughts. He felt he could doubt
everything about everything, but all he thought that was real was his
thoughts. This is where he came up with his famous quote,
"I Think Therefore I Am"
Spinoza was another rationalist. He was Jewish, and fled from
persecution from his home in Spain. His beliefs upset the Jewish faith
and his family disowned him. He was a very odd man. On the death of
his wealthy parents, his sister got all of their wealth, so he went to
court to get his share. He won and gave all the money back to his
sister. He worked as a lens grinder, which led to an early death, due
to the effects of glass dust on his lungs.
Spinoza thought that everything was an aspect of God. Descartes said
everything was from the mind or made from matter. Spinoza believed
that all we are, are ideas in the mind of God.
Leibniz, a supreme intellect in his day, was a very shallow, but
ambitious. He thought that matter with no material form, were called
Monads, which are spiritual forms that from complexes which are seen
as matter. In other words, these 'Monads', bits of spiritual
nothingness, can from material objects.
Because of Descartes emphasis on the mind, it became easier to know
than the body. He also found it difficult to bring back the subject of
matter back into his philosophy. Descartes set up a problemâ€¦
"How do the mind and the body connect?"
This question has presented problems to all rationalists. To make it
easier, the mind and the body were...