Rationalism is defined as the concept that we naturally gain some of our knowledge from the mind and not through experience (Lawhead 262). The source of knowledge is a common topic in epistemology, and rationalism tries to explain it. The word rationalism comes from a Latin word that means reason. The ultimate source of knowledge, according to rationalism theory, his natural intelligence, and sense. The most notable rationalists include Baruch Spinoza and Rene Descartes.
The principles of rationalism vary according to the scope of the study. They include; reliance on inborn ideologies and the theory that people are naturally intelligent to some degree. The doctrines that are there since birth is a product of evolution and existence. All human beings are born with this gift which is the primary principle of rationalism. The other definition is that knowledge is a product of intuition and deduction. Both are intellectual processes. Intuition is the essential learning of phenomena, whereas speculation is derived or interpreted knowledge from a range of learned knowledge in a specific field. The third principle sustains that there exist self-explanatory and interpretable facts. The view that self-explanatory points exist means that knowledge can be obtained without experience or understanding (Lawhead 276). We can confirm truths in the principle of rationalism through mathematical logic but not its presence as a self-explanatory fact.
Empiricism is the concept that defines knowledge to be gained only through sensual means and experiences (Lawhead 227). The description of an empirical situation is physical or sensed. Empiricism, therefore, defines knowledge from previous experiences. Mathematical logic is excluded from this definition. The human sensory mechanism helps to perceive the experiences (scent, sight, touch, taste, and hearing). The empirical theory is that everything that exists in mind was first a sensed mechanism or knowledge. Empiricism is the opposite of rationalism. Renowned empiricists include George Berkeley and John Locke.
The principles of empiricism also have varying degrees depending on the scope of the study. The first argument refutes inborn ideologies supported by rationalists. Empiricism does not believe in the existence of knowledge without previous experience of a situation. Therefore, all the current or past knowledge had to be experienced at some point in time; otherwise, it would not have been in mind. The second argument is the definition of the mind as a tabula rasa (Lawhead 230). This argument means that the mind at birth is empty and has no knowledge before human experiences. Nothing is, therefore, in mind, and all the knowledge or inscriptions after delivery are a product of the five human senses. The third empiricist argument is the predominance of feelings as a root of all knowledge learned by humans. The principle states that if a fact is not available to humans in the form of relatable experiences, then the element cannot be discovered. Every knowledge learnable to man must therefore come from perception or sense.
Figure 1: Humorous Cartoon on Skepticism
Skepticism and Analysis of the Cartoon
The image above is a humorous portrayal of skepticism. In epistemology, skepticism is defined as the theory that some aspect of human knowledge or defensible belief is impossible (Harman 1). Skepticism is a comprehensible theory that seeks to determine whether doubtful ideas can have reason and be explained and passed as the proven theories we know. Psychological questions rise on whether beliefs can be interpreted. The hypothesis refutes that proven facts can render skepticism to be incorrect. Just as in the cartoon, an individual can imagine drawing evidence that it is plausible to send parents through a spacetime continuum and come back to fully grown and contented children who will by then be old enough to look like the parents’ grandparents. The cartoon is dependent on the time dilation theory by Einstein that a cruise through space at near the speed of light results in the slow progression of time, which is the fourth dimension. Time is much slower when moving at relativistic speeds through a cosmological realm than Earth’s time. The parents on space will come back and look not to have aged a bit and therefore younger than their kids. If skepticism is valid by imagination, then knowledge cannot refute its claims.
The same theory is confirmed when analyzing the inconsistency in skepticism. Therefore, a person’s imagination is not considered incorrect because the argument that their approach is wrong goes against the person’s interpretation of the imagination. In identifying the source of knowledge, the correct imagination or belief has to be conceived at that instance.
Personal Opinion and Standpoint
From the first and second sections of the paper, I believe rationalism is a more coherent and sensible theory for the source of knowledge. The rationalist standpoints adopt three approaches to support rationalism; intuition or deduction, inborn ability, and inborn concept theories (“Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy” 2). Intuition reveals that some studies and propositions can only be learned through intuition and deduced from pre-existing principles. This theory can be explained through mathematics which is leaned through intuition but confirmed by deduction. Ethical knowledge, the scientific and metaphysical phenomena, human free will, out-of-body consciousness and experiences, and the belief in God can be explained through intuition and evaluated by deduction. Rationalism can be deep-seated and complex depending on the scope of the study and the elements included as the basis for knowledge.
Another reason I believe rationalism to be the superior theory is the inborn knowledge principle. The theory states that some facts and information that we have been ingrained in our nature. Human beings are therefore born rational with an insatiable hunger for a reason. This theory means that knowledge can be gained even without having to experience a scenario. The difference between intuition and innate rationalism is the way knowledge is obtained. Inborn knowledge is not a learned trait but a process that experiences can trigger. The triggered experiences then provide the knowledge already ingrained in our minds. The knowledge, however, does not come from the backgrounds themselves. Some of the inborn rationalism is gotten from evolutionary processes, while some arguments attribute it to God. At creation, human beings are instilled with knowledge, as can be argued by religious men. The evolutionary-gained knowledge can be explained through natural selection. Human beings, for example, are born with an instinct to sense danger in their environments.
The other explanation of rationalism being the predominant source of knowledge is from the inborn concept principle. Some of the ideas human beings have are specific to us, and our opinions will depend on our rationalization. This type of rationalization is not from experience, but past experiences can influence or trigger the process. Experience, however, will not give the knowledge itself. Some rationalists argue that the inborn concept and the inborn ability are interdependent. A person’s opinion of a phenomenon will likely be related to their genetic knowledge of the subject. For example, people’s belief in God can be changed, but their standpoint is the same they have carried since inception.
Harman, Gilbert. Skepticism And The Definition Of Knowledge. 1st ed., Routledge, 2015, pp. 1-2.
Lab-initio. Children Needn’t Be Our Future. 2021, https://lab-initio.com/soc_skeptic.html. Accessed 26 Apr 2021.
Lawhead, William F. Cengage Advantage Series: Voyage Of Discovery: A Historical Introduction To Philosophy. 4th ed., Cengage Learning, 2014, pp. 213-354.
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. “Rationalism Vs. Empiricism”. Plato.Stanford.Edu, 2017, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-empiricism/. Accessed 25 Apr 2021.