Philosophy classes often call for research papers to be written on philosophical movements. Rationalism is a type of philosophic school of thought that has been debated for many years. Some examples of famous rationalists that you may want to write an essay on include:
- Rene Descartes
- Immanual Kant
Individuals who align themselves with the Rationalism are called Rationalists. According to the Rationalist Association, Rationalists are individuals who follow the philosophical school of rationalism, the discipline that regards reason as the highest source of knowledge. The theory of rationalism holds as its central thesis that truth comes through intellect and deduction, rather than sensory input. The first rationalists were the Ancient Greeks. Pythagoras, famous for his geometric theorem, saw the world governed by mathematical formula. Rationalists believe that reason is the best way to gain and test knowledge. Rationalists believe that reality should be understood with logic. Rationalists believe so much in the power of reason that they do not require proof or evidence.
Plato, another Greek rationalist, postulated the Theory of Forms, in which every physical object had its idealized form from which human knowledge derived. Modern rationalism began with the writings of Rene Descartes, who believed that the only way to obtain knowledge was through reason and the scientific method. “I think, therefore I am” is a classic statement of rationalism. Spinoza was another Enlightenment rationalist, who first proposed that God only existed philosophically.
Rationalists and Knowledge
Rationalists hold that all knowledge is derived a priori, or through logic. Rationalists contrast their philosophy with empiricism, which holds that all knowledge comes to man a posteriori, meaning through experience. Modern rationalists trace their intellectual foundation from Immanuel Kant, who stated that both reason and experience were required for human knowledge, theories he outlined in his classic work The Critique of Pure Reason. It is possible to be both a rationalist and an empiricist.
The Claims of Rationalists
Rationalism is built on three different claims. In order for someone to be a rationalist, they must adopt at least one of these claims. These three claims are the Intuition/Deduction Thesis, The Innate Knowledge Thesis, and The Innate Concept Thesis. Two other optional claims that Rationalists must decide if they will adopt are Indispensability of Reason and the Superiority of Reason.
The Intuition/Deduction Thesis states that people can gain knowledge through their intuition. They can use this intuition to gain insight and reach conclusions. Deduction is using reasonable arguments to get draw a conclusion. The Innate Knowledge Thesis claims that human already have innate knowledge within themselves. As people live through different experiences, they access the knowledge that has always been within them. The Innate Concept Thesis is closely related to The Innate Knowledge Thesis. The difference in the Innate Concept Thesis is the belief that some concepts are part of a human’s rational nature and does not require experience to unlock it.
The two non-essential theses that can be adopted by Rationalists are the Indispensability of Reason and the Superiority of Reason. Indispensability of Reason Thesis states “experience can not provide what we gain from reason.” The Superiority of Reason Thesis holds that the greatest way to gain knowledge is through reason and not through experience.
Empiricism, which is the belief that knowledge is gained from sensory experience, is the greatest rival to Rationalism and often these two are contrasted against each other. It is possible, for a person to be both a rationalist and an empiricist at the same time.