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...