BBC – Religions – Atheism: Rationalism

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker

Rationalism is an approach to life based on reason and evidence.

Rationalism encourages ethical and philosophical ideas that can be tested by experience and rejects authority that cannot be proved by experience.

Because rationalism encourages people to think for themselves, rationalists have many different and diverse ideas and continue in a tradition from the nineteenth century known as freethought.

However, most rationalists would agree that:

Almost all rationalists are atheists or agnostics. There has been a long link between rationalism and scientific method.

There is also a long tradition of philosophers who have approached philosophical and ethical questions from a rationalist perspective.

Bertrand Russell's "The Faith of a Rationalist" is an example of a rationalist approach to religious belief.

As well as approaching life through reason, rationalists enjoy those things in life where emotion and imagination are to the fore.

There has been a long tradition of artists and writers who have been associated with rationalism and its sister movement, humanism, or have pre-empted rationalist ideas in their writings. George Eliot, E.M. Forster and Emile Zola are all examples of such writers.

Rationalism encourages people to think for themselves, to look at the evidence before them and to come to their own conclusions. For this reason, the logo of the Rationalist Press Association is based on Rodin's "The Thinker".

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BBC - Religions - Atheism: Rationalism

What is CR? – critical rationalism blogcritical …

I like to think of CR (critical rationalism) as a kind of evolving philosophical tradition concerning how we should approach knowledge. It is the Socratic method only with a little bit of modern awareness. While most philosophical traditions regard knowledge as something that has to be certain and justified, CR takes the view that we dont have ultimate answers, but knowledge is nevertheless possible. Truth is an endless quest.

The modern founder of critical rationalism was Karl Popper. Popper pointed out we can never justify anything, we merely criticize and weed out bad ideas and work with whats left. Poppers initial emphasis was on empirical science, where he solved the problem of induction, something that had been haunting philosophers and scientists for centuries. The problem of induction is this. No matter how many times weve seen an apple fall to the ground after weve dropped it, do we have any way to prove the same thing will happen next time we drop it. The answer is no. What Popper pointed out is that you can never justify any scientific theory, but you can falsify it. If I were to claim that all swans were white, one black swan would falsify my theory. In this way, science moves forward by weeding out bad theories, so to speak.

Popper said that science moves forward through a method of conjecture and refutation. While Popper was primarily interested in science, he often commented on political problems as well. Popper liked to emphasize the need for an open society, a society where people can speak out and criticize. After all, if science progresses through refutations, criticizing becomes essential. We need to speak out and therefore we need the freedom to do so. Popper was against any form of government that didnt give people the chance to speak out. Poppers thinking could probably best be summed up in this quote, I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth.

Popper worked hard to expand his ideas, and so have several other people. CR should not be viewed as one mans philosophy, but as a growing philosophical tradition. One in which several people have contributed and are still contributing. One notable person was William Warren Bartley, III. Bartley worked towards expanding the idea of critical rationalism to cover all areas of knowledge, not just empirical science. Bartley felt that while in almost all areas of knowledge we seek justification, we should instead seek criticism. While nothing can ever be justified in any ultimate sense, certainly we can see error and weed it out. This is true whether we are dealing with empirical science and perhaps even knowledge of what is ethical. An important part of Bartleys thinking could probably best be summed up in this quote, How can our intellectual life and institutions, our tradition, and even our etiquette, sensibility, manners and customs, and behavior patterns, be arranged so as to expose our beliefs, conjectures, ideologies, policies, positions, programs, sources of ideas, traditions, and the like, to optimum criticism, so as at once to counteract and eliminate as much intellectual error as possible, and also so as to contribute to and insure the fertility of the intellectual econiche: to create an environment in which not only negative criticism but also positive creation of ideas, and the development of rationality, are truly inspired.

Neither Bartley or Popper have exhaustively explored the full potential of the CR philosophical tradition. Indeed, there are unlimited possibilities. While CR often emphasizes criticism, it also encourages new approaches and creative thinking. We need to come up with as many new ideas as we can, then let the process of criticism weed out the less workable ones. As CR accepts that the truth is out there and we are working towards it, it is actually a very optimistic philosophical tradition. Perhaps the most optimistic among the big three philosophical traditions. What are the big three traditions. Let me give you a quick summary.

One, dogmatism. Decide that you are privy to ultimate truth and then just follow that truth no matter what. Does such an attitude contribute to fanaticism? Perhaps.

Two, pessimism. Decide that truth is impossible, relative, random, meaningless. Just do whatever you want because nothing matters anyway. Does such an attitude contribute to random violence? Perhaps.

Three, critical rationalism, the truth is out there, but no one has a monopoly on it, so lets work together to try and get a little closer to it. Does such an attitude contribute to progress and mutual respect? More than likely.

If youd like more details than this then thats what this blog is for, please look around and explore.

Matt Dioguardi, blog administrator

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What is CR? - critical rationalism blogcritical ...

Rationalism and Empiricism – Ohio Northern University

Rationalism and EmpiricismRationalism and EmpiricismSome Notes on Epistemological Strategies and their Implications in Ethics

While the main focus in an ethics course is on ethics and the problems and issues that ethics raises, it is impossible to investigate these problems in isolation, without at least some excursions into the other philosophical sub-disciplines. While all the philosophical sub-disciplines consider what, on one level, are separate questions and issues, there are considerable interconnections, as assumptions in one area will have repercussions in other areas. One question that all ethical theories must address is where ethical knowledge arises, i.e., where does the knowledge about general ethical principles or the knowledge that certain actions are moral or immoral originate? These and other similar questions raise issues that are no longer unique to ethics, rather these issues touch upon more general epistemological questions, i.e., questions about knowledgeits sources, nature and justification. To some the question Where does knowledge originate? might seem rather strange. While knowledge acquisition and manipulation are essential to human beings, the more usual epistemological questions concern some particular ideas source or some statements truth conditions. So, while it is common to inquire into a statement or ideas source, to inquire into all knowledges source seems strange. Some might question whether an answer is even possible. Nevertheless, it is a legitimate (indeed, an essential) philosophical question and though there are difficultiesreal difficultiesanswers are possible. Rationalism and empiricism represent the traditional Western philosophical responses to these epistemological questions. As epistemological theories these philosophical traditions each trace their origins to ancient Greece and the earliest philosophical speculations about the human condition and each also brings unique insights and assumptions to questions about human knowledges nature and origins.


Rationalism distinguishes between empirical knowledge, i.e., knowledge that arises through experience, and a priori knowledge, i.e., knowledge that is prior to experience and that arises through reason. As knowledge that arises through our experiences, empirical knowledge is about the material universe (and the various entities and phenomena in that universe). Sentences such as Edinburgh is in Scotland, It is 75o outside, John Locke was a philosopher, The average moose weights 1500 pounds each express statements about certain entities in the universe and so represent empirical knowledge. In contrast a priori knowledge is not about phenomena in the empirical universe or our experiences, though some a priori knowledge is applicable to that universe. The sense in which a priori knowledge is prior to experience is logical rather than temporal, i.e., it is possible that one learns some a priori knowledge through experience, nevertheless that knowledge neither requires experience in order to be known, nor is about experience. Perhaps it is easier, then, to consider a priori knowledge as knowledge that arises through reason alone, i.e., it depends upon no experience. Consider, e.g., mathematical knowledge or logical knowledge. The statement All triangles have three sides makes no claim about experience or the empirical universe since there are no triangles in the universe. There are, to be sure, triangular entities, i.e., physical entities that have a triangular shape, but no triangles themselves. In a similar manner, the statement 3+3=6 makes no claims about the universe as there are no 3s or 6s that one can experience and so possess empirical knowledge about. Again, while it is obvious that some mathematical knowledge is applicable to experience (e.g., 3+3=6 is applicable when one has 3 apples and someone gives one 3 more applesone then knows that one has 6 apples), this fails to demonstrate that the mathematical statement 3+3=6 is an empirical statement. The logical statements x = x, All the entities in the universe are either x or not-x and No entities in the universe are both x and not-x are also statements that while applicable to experience are not about experience.[1] There is another difference between empirical and a priori knowledge in addition to their respective sources and content. This difference has to do with their truth conditions. A truth condition specifies under what conditions a given statement can be said to be true or false, i.e., it indicates what one needs to do to prove a statement true or false. Consider the statement It is 75o outside. Under what conditions is this statement true? It should be obvious that the statement is true so long as the outside temperature is 75o. How would one prove whether the statement is true or false? Again, it should be obvious that one would need to determine, through some procedure or apparatus, the outside temperature. In short, one appeals to experience and the empirical data it provides. In contrast to this empirical statement, consider again the statement 3+3=6. Under what conditions is this statement true and how is it possible to prove it? Well, it is true so long as 3+3 does indeed equal 6, this much seems obvious. But, and here is the principal difference between empirical and a priori knowledge, how does one prove the statement to be true? Perhaps the most obvious response is: Well, take three apples and add them to three more apples and then there are six apples. While this demonstration is to the point, does it suffice to prove that 3+3=6? No, at best this little exercise confirms the statement, but it fails to prove it. To understand the difference between prove and confirm consider another illustration. It is a quiet summer afternoon and James decides to rest on the grass beside a river. Some moments later a white swan swims down stream. As James continues to rest seven more swans, that are also white, swim down stream. James considers this experience and realizes that all the swans he has ever seen have been white. So, James formulates the statement All swans are white and sure enough the next swan he passes is white. Did this last experience prove that the statement All swans are white is true? No, since James has not seen all swans, it is possible that there is at least one that is some non-white color. James experience does, however, provide additional confirmation that the statement is true (at least until James discovers there are non-white swans). To prove that 3+3=6 is true then requires that one appeals to more than experience. To be precise, one must appeal to other mathematical knowledge. At this point someone will perhaps take exception with this analysis and point out that since one learns mathematics through experience, so mathematics must also be empirical knowledge! The point is well taken. The source, however, is not the real issue. The real issue is what the knowledge is about and its truth conditions. Moreover, even though some a priori knowledge might arise through experience, it should be obvious that most does not, i.e., while one might argue that one learns basic mathematical truths, e.g., 1+1=2, 2+2=4 and so on, through experience, it seems clear that there are other mathematical truths that it is much more difficult to learn through experience, e.g., 3525+2353=5858 or a2+b2=c2. The rationalists point here is that a priori knowledge is about more than experience and as such it provides knowledge that experience is unable to provide. A similar analysis will demonstrate that logical statements such as All the entities in the universe are either x or not-x also depend upon no experience to determine their truth. Indeed, since the statement is about all the entities in the universe, the experience one needs to prove it as an empirical claim is impossible. It should be obvious, however, that one needs no experience or empirical data to prove the statement, i.e., whatever characteristic one chooses as x, it is apparent that all the entities in the universe either have x or do not have x. All the entities in the universe are either purple or not purple, bigger than a cat or not bigger than a cat, spherical or not spherical, and so on. One can know that this statement is true even when one has no idea what the characteristic in question is. Thus, one knows that all the entities in the universe are either merbalis or not-merbalis, even though no one else in the universe knows what merbalis is (since I made it up!). To rationalists this power to discern and generate universal truths is quite impressive. Indeed, the differences between rationalism and empiricism as to (a) what constitutes genuine knowledge, (b) what such knowledge is about, and (c) its truth conditions, suggest to the rationalists that there is a real qualitative difference between empirical and a priori knowledge. To be precise, most rationalists argue that a priori knowledge is superior to empirical knowledge. The one consideration that is seen as the most decisive in this argument is the difference in truth conditions between empirical and a priori knowledge. Most rationalists consider there to be a fundamental problem with empirical knowledge. Empirical knowledge depends upon our senses, senses that, the rationalist wastes no time to demonstrate, are unreliable. Here the rationalist appeals to common sense deceptions and perceptual illusionswhen one places a straight rod into water the rod appears to bend, at a distance a square tower appears to be round, parallel lines appear to converge in the distance, and so on.[2] Thus, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to ever know that an empirical statement is true. It seems that it is possible to doubt even the most certain sense perceptions. In contrast, a priori knowledge is certain knowledge. While it might be possible to doubt that I see a map on the wall beside the computer (I might have a bizarre optical disease or it might be a hallucination), it seems impossible to doubt that 2+2=4. Furthermore, while empirical knowledge represents conditional knowledge, i.e., knowledge that might have been otherwise, a priori knowledge is universal and eternal. Again, while it is possible to imagine a universe in which the earths circumference was 30,000 miles rather than 25,000 miles or a universe in which politicians are honest or a universe in which the Chicago Cubs do win a World Series, it seems impossible to imagine a universe in which 2+2=6 or where triangles have more (or less) than three sides. As with most philosophical theories there is some disagreement between rationalists on certain issues. One issue that separates rationalists is the answer to the question where a priori knowledge originates. The more radical rationalists (e.g., Plato and Rene Descartes) argue that a priori knowledge is innate, i.e., the knowledge is in some manner latent within the mind or even built into the mind. At best then experience acts to elicit the knowledge, but the knowledge was there prior to the experience. Plato argues that all genuine knowledge is innate and education is mere recollection or remembrance (see Platos dialogue Meno), while Descartes claims that certain critical conceptsGod, material substance, and mental substanceare innate. Given these three innate ideas and reason, Descartes argues that other a priori knowledge is derivable. The obvious problem that these radical rationalist strategies face is the need to explain where the mind acquires these innate ideas. In Platos case the solution is an immortal soul-mind that lives through countless lives (i.e., reincarnations), whereas Descartes argues that God places these ideas in human minds. It is also possible to argue that evolution is responsible, i.e., the minds biological structure contains the ideas. While this sounds rather strange, the linguist Noam Chomsky argues this precise thesis. Unless one assumes that certain linguistic structures, e.g., deep grammar, are innate, the argument goes, it is impossible to explain the apparent ease with which human beings learn natural languages. Immanual Kant argues a less radical rationalist line. Kant accepts the rationalist claim that reason alone can provide certain knowledge. Nevertheless, Kant also accepts the empiricist claim that all knowledge begins in experience, i.e., without sense experience as the initial data upon which reason can operate, the knowledge acquisition process can never start. Knowledge, as Kant conceives it then is what the mind produces as it orders and structures otherwise chaotic sense data. The rather radical idea here is that it is the mind that imposes the order and structure on the sense data, the implication being that the sense data have no intrinsic order or structure. The main organizational principles that the mind imposes on sense data are its spatial and temporal structure. These considerations led Kant to a metaphysical distinctionthe distinction between the noumenal universe and the phenomenal universe. The noumenal universe comprises entities-in-themselves, while the phenomenal universe comprises entities-through-their-appearances (White 1996: 296). This is rather technical so it is best to go through it in stages. Suppose someone presents us with a blue glass sphere. It is through our senses that we perceive this sphere. In this case the principal senses are visual and tactileour visual sense indicates that it is blue and spherical and our tactile sense that it is glass and also that it is spherical. Philosophers call these qualitiesbeing blue, being glass and being sphericalproperties or characteristics. All entities have propertiesa size, a shape, a color, a taste, a texture, an odor, and sound and so on. Kants point is that it is through these properties, and through these properties alone, that all the knowledge we have about the entities in the universe arises. All knowledge about entities comes through their properties (which Kant calls appearances). Our commonsense intuitions suggest, however, that there must be some substance or matter that has the properties that our senses perceive, i.e., that the properties cannot exist without some substance that underlies them and possesses them as properties. While the substance that underlies the properties is unseen, nevertheless reason and commonsense insist that it must exist. Descartes suggests that such inferences are rather common occurrences, e.g., when one peers out a window on a cold winter afternoon one might see a person move across the lawn. But does one see a person? No, all that one sees is a cap, a coat and perhaps trousers and shoes. Nevertheless, no one doubts that there is someone under all the apparel. Even though one is unable to see the person one still reasons that there must be one there, since clothes seldom stroll across lawns on their own. Kant agrees that there must be entities that possess the properties our senses perceive, but argues that while logic necessitates their existence, these entities-in-themselves (which comprise the noumenal universe) are unperceivable and so incomprehensible to the human mind. All that is knowable are the properties (i.e., appearances) that our senses perceive and our mind structures. These appearances are the entities that comprise the phenomenal universe. There are no means then to, as it were, move outside our senses to see entities in themselves, to see the real universe rather than the universe that our senses communicate to us through perception. Since all our knowledge comes through the senses and reason, these act as filters which order and structure all our perceptions and thoughts. The entities-in-themselves that underlie the perceptions remain forever elusive. While perhaps more plausible, Kants rationalism imposes limitations on knowledge that more radical rationalists would refuse to accept. Nevertheless, Kants approach is rationalist since it is the mind (to be precise, reason), that gives our sense perceptions the structure that changes them into knowledge (White 1996: 297). The main point to remember is that rationalists believe that, even though it might require experience to initiate the knowledge process, there is some knowledge that is irreducible to experience, i.e., the knowledge is neither about experience nor is it possible to use experience to demonstrate that the knowledge is true or false.


Empiricism denies the rationalist distinction between empirical and a priori knowledge. All knowledge, the empiricist argues, arises through, and is reducible to, sense perception. Thus, there is no knowledge that arises through reason alone. It is essential to be clear here: it is not reasons existence that empiricism denies, or that reason has a role in knowledge acquisition and manipulation, rather it is that reason has some special access to knowledge over and above the knowledge that experience provides. All empiricists acknowledge that human beings possess reasonreason is the instrument that allows us to manipulate and augment the knowledge that experience provides. Knowledge, however, has its origins in experience rather than in reason. Empiricism begins with the distinction between sense data and ideas. Sense data represent the basic information that the senses present to the mind through our perceptual experiences, i.e., sights, tastes, textures, sounds and odors. To illustrate, suppose that one sees a blue sphere. This sense experience is reducible to the visual act and the sense data (i.e., the information that the visual act contains). In this case the information that the visual act contains is that there is a visible blueness and a sphericalness. At this stage there is no conscious recognition that one sees a blue sphere, all there is is the pure sense data that the senses present to the mind through the sense experiences. The mind processes and represents each individual sense datum as an idea, in this case the ideas blue and spherical. The mind then associates and combines the ideas it creates through sense experience to create the conscious idea blue sphere. To the empiricist, sense data represent the basic material that the mind uses to construct the ideas that comprise all our knowledge. Thus, no matter what the idea is, it is possible to trace that idea to some sense experience(s). While the precise details differ, these are the basic cognitive mechanisms that the principal empiricist philosophersJohn Locke, George Berkeley and David Humeall appeal to in order to explain the process through which sense data becomes knowledge. Although empiricism denies a priori knowledges existence, as knowledge that depends upon no experience, there is still the recognition that some knowledge goes further than experience in the sense that it is not about experience. Nevertheless, empiricism argues that such knowledge is still reducible to experience. Again, this is the crucial notionthat it is possible to trace all knowledge, whether or not it is about experience, to some particular experience or experiences. Rather than preserve what is thought to be an inaccurate distinction, empiricism recasts the distinction between a priori knowledge and empirical knowledge into the distinction between analytic knowledge and synthetic knowledge. Through this distinction empiricism denies the rationalist claim that a priori knowledge is superior to empirical knowledge. Indeed, the distinction provides the basis to argue the precise opposite. The statements that the rationalists cite as paradigmatic a priori knowledgeA triangle has three sides, 3+3=6 and so onthe empiricist sees as analytic statements. An analytic statement is one where the statement analyzes the concept in question. Thus, the statement A triangle has three sides does no more than analyze the concept triangle, and the statement 3=3=6 does no more than analyzes the concept six. Moreover, the empiricist argues, these statements never do more than analyze the concepts in question. In a real sense then these statements provide no additional knowledge, all the knowledge that analytic statements contain is given is within the original concept the statement analyzes (White 1996: 280). Synthetic statements, in contrast, do provide additional knowledgeknowledge that goes further than the original concept. Consider the statement: The temperature outside is 75o. This is a synthetic statement since, while it has to be some temperature outside, there is no reason that it has to be 75o rather than some other temperature. The concepts temperature and outside then have no intrinsic connection to some specific outside temperature, rather what the temperature depends upon are various other environmental conditions. So statement such as The temperature outside is 75o provide us with additional (and sometimes valuable) information. All synthetic statements then share the characteristic that, because there is no intrinsic or logical connection between the statements elements, these statements provide information about a connection or relation that is unavailable in the original concepts themselves. Given that analytic statements reveal no additional insights, while synthetic statements do provide novel ideas and associations, it should come as no surprise that empiricism argues that empirical knowledge is superior to a priori knowledge rather than the reverse (or to be more precise, that synthetic knowledge is superior to analytic knowledge). With the focus on analytic truths rationalism never quite reaches the real universe in the manner that synthetic statements are able to do. There is, however, a philosophical price to be paid. While the empiricist gains additional insights and knowledge there is a loss in certitude, since the empiricist still must deal with senses that (the rationalist is correct to maintain) are unreliable. The rationalist can be certain that 2+2=4, the empiricist, however, must accept that empirical knowledge is at best probable, never certain. The problem is that the empiricist has no real response to the claim that it is possible to doubt even the most persuasive sense impressions, since it is possible to doubt them without logical contradiction. In philosophical terms, the problem is that our sense perceptions underdetermine their causes, i.e., a given sense perception has more than one explanation. Consider, e.g., that one sees a white rabbit. What might explain this perception? The obvious answer is that one sees a white rabbit because there is a white rabbit there. It is also possible, however, that one has a rare optical disease and the rabbit is some other color, rather than white. It is also possible that one hallucinates or dreams the rabbit. As Alice will attest, these are all logical possibilities and the sense experiences in themselves provide no certain means to decide which explanation is correct. This suggests another potential problem that empiricism must addresshow to explain mathematics and logic? Remember that empiricism maintains that all knowledge is reducible to experience. Thus, the empiricist must explain how it is possible to reduce sometimes arcane mathematical knowledge to common sense experience. This means that, since mathematical knowledge is thought to be certain knowledge, the empiricist must explain how it is possible to derive certain knowledge through a processsense experiencethat provides knowledge that is, at best, probable. Moreover, the empiricist must also explain how it is possible to prove mathematical statements through experience. There have been numerous attempts to demonstrate how it is possible to derive mathematics and logic through experience. Though commendable these attempts all have had serious difficulties and so have met with little general acceptance. Even were it possible to reduce mathematics to experience, the questions (1) whether experiences whose truth is probable can produce certain mathematical knowledge and (2) how it is possible to prove mathematical statements through experience, pose rather more serious difficulties. Perhaps the easiest, though least intuitive, solution is to argue that there is no certitude in mathematics. This is John Stuart Mills tactic. Mill, a radical empiricist, argues that, as with all other all empirical statements, mathematical statements express mere probabilities. All that distinguishes them is that mathematical statements have undergone more extensive con-firmation than other statements (Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2: 503). The disadvantage to this tactic is obvious: one must give up all claims to absolute truth in mathematics. Most philosophers (as well as mathematicians) consider this concession to be as difficult as it is undesirable. In contrast to Mill, less radical empiricists, e.g., David Hume and John Locke, still want to maintain mathematics certitude. This too, however, comes at a price. To preserve mathematical truths as absolute truths Locke argues that some perceptions, and the ideas that represent these perceptions, can be more certain than others. To be precise, Locke argues that, when reason operates on experience, the ideas, and the associations between ideas, that it produces result in knowledge that is either intuitive, demonstrative or sensitive. Locke maintains that intuitive knowledge and demonstrative knowledge are certain knowledge (Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2: 501). Lockes arguments here are technical and, to most, less than a complete success. To all intents and purposes, however, what Locke does in order to guarantee certain knowledge is to introduce certain rationalist elements. The consequence is that Lockes certain knowledge is rather too similar to the rationalists a priori knowledge to please most empiricists. Since empiricism argues that there is no knowledge that arises through reason alone, it should be obvious that empiricism also denies that there are innate ideas, i.e., ideas that are in the mind prior to experience or that are built into the mind in some manner. The standard argument against innate ideas is that were there such ideas then all rational beings should possess and acknowledge them. Since it is obvious that there are neither universal ideas, i.e., ideas that all human beings possess, nor ideas upon which their is universal agreement, then there are no innate ideas (see John Lockes Essays on the Law of Nature and Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and David Humes A Treatise on Human Nature). The empiricist considers the pre-experience mind to be a tabula rasaa clean slateand it is through experience that knowledge comes to be written on this slate. Thus, empiricisms credo is that where there is (or can be) no experience there is (and can be) no knowledge.


The debate between rationalism and empiricism continues, and it is quite possible some issues will be impossible to resolve, at least given our finite human intelligence. To the degree that it is possible to determine the correct solutions to these issues, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell concludes that the score is even. Russell argues that while it seems clear that the empiricists are correct that all knowledge must arise through experience, it also seems obvious that there is some knowledge that it is impossible to reduce to experience, i.e., reason is able to use experience to produce knowledge that it is nevertheless impossible to prove through experience (see The Problems of Philosophy). The main purpose here, however, is to illustrate that ones general philosophical assumptions about knowledges nature and origins will have consequences in other philosophical investigations, in particular in ethics. And to illustrate that all theories involve compromises, i.e., no matter the initial assumptions, there will be advantages and disadvantages. It is to a philosophers credit then to be able to detect and acknowledge the disadvantages as well as the advantages that their positions entail.

John Locke:Lockes natural law ethics reveals the same tensions that run through Lockes general approach to knowledge. The desire to have some knowledge be certain knowledge, even though all knowledge arises through experience, forces Locke to argue that reason is able to combine some ideas in a manner that produces certain knowledge. Such knowledge is irresistible, i.e., it leaves no room to hesitate or doubt (Encyclopedia of Philosophy 4: 497). Thus, Locke argues that certain knowledge is possible. Perhaps most important to Lockes ethics is the conviction it is possible to be certain that God exists. More than this, since Locke bases what is moral on what God wills, it is even possible to know what it is that Gods desires human beings to do, i.e., the divine law. The divine law as discoverable through reason becomes the natural lawthe command to preserve human beings. The natural law, Locke argues, underlies and governs all human interaction. Thus, through the nature law reason is able to derive all the particular natural rights and moral duties that human beings possess. These are rights and duties that all human beings possess as human beings and that human beings must use as a guide in their behavior. The universal and absolute character is what reason supplies to experience to produce certain knowledge.

Immanual Kant:While Kant thought there was much to admire in the empiricist philosopher David Humes A Treatise on Human Nature, and though he even accepts the empiricist principle that all knowledge arises in experience, Kant is without doubt a rationalist. This rationalism is quite apparent in Kants philosophical investigations into ethics. Kant believes that the supreme principle that underlies all moralsthe categorical imperativemust be absolute and universal. Such a principle can never arise in experience, Kant argues, since all experience is particular (i.e., about particular entities in particular situations at particular times). Neither can experience prove this principle. Experience can at best, Kant insists, confirm the categorical imperative. In contrast to the knowledge that arises through experience, the knowledge that arises through reason is abstract and universal. To illustrate the difference consider the statements There are wombats in Tasmania and a2+b2=c2. It is clear that the empirical statement There are wombats in Tasmania is about particular entities (wombats) and a particular situation (being in Tasmania). The mathematical statement has no such limitations. This statement is abstract in that it mentions no particular entities and universal in that it applies to all appropriate as, bs and cs. It is reason alone then that is able to determine and prove the categorical imperative as the supreme moral principle. Kant distinguishes here between theoretical reason and practical reason. It is theoretical reason that investigates the empirical universe. This is the reason that science uses. Practical reasons concern is the will, that motive force in human beings that underlies all moral behavior. To be precise, it is practical reasons role to create a good will. To do this practical reason determines the moral principle that the will must follow, i.e., the categorical imperative. The general epistemological limitations that arise because Kant accepts the empiricist principle that all knowledge begins in experience are also apparent in Kants ethics. Since it is impossible to know entities-in-themselves there are certain entities and ideas, whose importance to ethics are immeasurable, about which human beings can have no knowledge whatsoever. In particular, it is impossible to have knowledge as to whether (1) God exists, (2) the soul is immortal and (3) that human possess free will. Kant argues, however, that even without certain knowledge, it is still essential to assume that all these are true, otherwise ethics is impossible.

John Stuart Mill:Mills utilitarian ethics incorporates the radical interpretation that Mill gives the empiricist principle that all knowledge arises in experience. Mill interprets the all to mean all knowledge. Thus, Mill assumes that even mathematical and logical knowledge are empirical knowledge with all the limitations that such knowledge possesses. Mill manages to overcome, however, the scepticism that characterizes Humes empiricism (Encyclopedia of Philosophy 5: 318). The Greatest Happiness Principle that underlies utilitarian ethics states that those actions are moral which provide the greatest happiness to the greatest number. What determines happiness is without a doubt an empirical matter, i.e., it is through our experience that we realize what actions cause the pleasures that increase happiness and what actions cause the pains that decrease happiness. Reasons role in this process is to learn through these experiences and to formulate the general moral rules that will, over time, lead to the greatest happiness. It is essential to realize, however, that while these general moral rules are meant to guide behavior, because our experiences change, these rules can and do change over time. There are no certain, or absolute, or universal moral rules. Experience is unable to provide such permanence. Mill also acknowledges, that it is impossible to prove that happiness is the ultimate end that drives all human desire and action. As a consequence Mill must concede, and this is a rather radical concession, that it is impossible to provide a logical demonstration that the Greatest Happiness Principle is the fundamental moral law. Logical analysis, Mill argues, has no place in ethics. In contrast to Locke and Kant then Mill denies that ethics is, or can be, a science. In the end, Mills normative ethics rests upon psychological observations and arguments, whereas Locke and Kant believe their normative theories to rest upon logical arguments.


1. Bertrand Russell argues that, more that obvious logical truths, without at least the assumption that these principles are true, rational argument becomes impossible (1912: 72). 2. There is an extensive discussion about these problems in Rene Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy.

Sources and References

Blau, J.L. 1967 Immanual Kant. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1967 John Locke. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.Descartes, Rene 1993 Meditations on First Philosophy. Indianpolis: Hackett.Hamlyn, D.W. 1967 Empiricism. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.Hume, David 1969 A Treatise of Human Nature. London: Penguin.Locke, John 1950 Essays on the Law of Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1975 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Plato 1981 Five Dialogues. Indianapolis: Hackett.Russell, Bertrand 1912 The Problems of Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett.Schneewind, J. B. 1967 John Stuart Mill. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.White, Thomas I. 1996 Discovering Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Williams, Bernard 1967 Rationalism. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Rationalism and Empiricism - Ohio Northern University

Rationalism | Britannica.com

Rationalism has somewhat different meanings in different fields, depending upon the kind of theory to which it is opposed.

In the psychology of perception, for example, rationalism is in a sense opposed to the genetic psychology of the Swiss scholar Jean Piaget (18961980), who, exploring the development of thought and behaviour in the infant, argued that the categories of the mind develop only through the infants experience in concourse with the world. Similarly, rationalism is opposed to transactionalism, a point of view in psychology according to which human perceptual skills are achievements, accomplished through actions performed in response to an active environment. On this view, the experimental claim is made that perception is conditioned by probability judgments formed on the basis of earlier actions performed in similar situations. As a corrective to these sweeping claims, the rationalist defends a nativism, which holds that certain perceptual and conceptual capacities are innateas suggested in the case of depth perception by experiments with the visual cliff, which, though platformed over with firm glass, the infant perceives as hazardousthough these native capacities may at times lie dormant until the appropriate conditions for their emergence arise.

In the comparative study of languages, a similar nativism was developed in the 1950s by the innovating syntactician Noam Chomsky, who, acknowledging a debt to Ren Descartes (15961650), explicitly accepted the rationalistic doctrine of innate ideas. Though the thousands of languages spoken in the world differ greatly in sounds and symbols, they sufficiently resemble each other in syntax to suggest that there is a schema of universal grammar determined by innate presettings in the human mind itself. These presettings, which have their basis in the brain, set the pattern for all experience, fix the rules for the formation of meaningful sentences, and explain why languages are readily translatable into one another. It should be added that what rationalists have held about innate ideas is not that some ideas are full-fledged at birth but only that the grasp of certain connections and self-evident principles, when it comes, is due to inborn powers of insight rather than to learning by experience.

Common to all forms of speculative rationalism is the belief that the world is a rationally ordered whole, the parts of which are linked by logical necessity and the structure of which is therefore intelligible. Thus, in metaphysics it is opposed to the view that reality is a disjointed aggregate of incoherent bits and is thus opaque to reason. In particular, it is opposed to the logical atomisms of such thinkers as David Hume (171176) and the early Ludwig Wittgenstein (18891951), who held that facts are so disconnected that any fact might well have been different from what it is without entailing a change in any other fact. Rationalists have differed, however, with regard to the closeness and completeness with which the facts are bound together. At the lowest level, they have all believed that the law of contradiction A and not-A cannot coexist holds for the real world, which means that every truth is consistent with every other; at the highest level, they have held that all facts go beyond consistency to a positive coherence; i.e., they are so bound up with each other that none could be different without all being different.

In the field where its claims are clearestin epistemology, or theory of knowledgerationalism holds that at least some human knowledge is gained through a priori (prior to experience), or rational, insight as distinct from sense experience, which too often provides a confused and merely tentative approach. In the debate between empiricism and rationalism, empiricists hold the simpler and more sweeping position, the Humean claim that all knowledge of fact stems from perception. Rationalists, on the contrary, urge that some, though not all, knowledge arises through direct apprehension by the intellect. What the intellectual faculty apprehends is objects that transcend sense experienceuniversals and their relations. A universal is an abstraction, a characteristic that may reappear in various instances: the number three, for example, or the triangularity that all triangles have in common. Though these cannot be seen, heard, or felt, rationalists point out that humans can plainly think about them and about their relations. This kind of knowledge, which includes the whole of logic and mathematics as well as fragmentary insights in many other fields, is, in the rationalist view, the most important and certain knowledge that the mind can achieve. Such a priori knowledge is both necessary (i.e., it cannot be conceived as otherwise) and universal, in the sense that it admits of no exceptions. In the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant (17241804), epistemological rationalism finds expression in the claim that the mind imposes its own inherent categories or forms upon incipient experience (see below Epistemological rationalism in modern philosophies).

In ethics, rationalism holds the position that reason, rather than feeling, custom, or authority, is the ultimate court of appeal in judging good and bad, right and wrong. Among major thinkers, the most notable representative of rational ethics is Kant, who held that the way to judge an act is to check its self-consistency as apprehended by the intellect: to note, first, what it is essentially, or in principlea lie, for example, or a theftand then to ask if one can consistently will that the principle be made universal. Is theft, then, right? The answer must be No, because, if theft were generally approved, peoples property would not be their own as opposed to anyone elses, and theft would then become meaningless; the notion, if universalized, would thus destroy itself, as reason by itself is sufficient to show.

In religion, rationalism commonly means that all human knowledge comes through the use of natural faculties, without the aid of supernatural revelation. Reason is here used in a broader sense, referring to human cognitive powers generally, as opposed to supernatural grace or faiththough it is also in sharp contrast to so-called existential approaches to truth. Reason, for the rationalist, thus stands opposed to many of the religions of the world, including Christianity, which have held that the divine has revealed itself through inspired persons or writings and which have required, at times, that its claims be accepted as infallible, even when they do not accord with natural knowledge. Religious rationalists hold, on the other hand, that if the clear insights of human reason must be set aside in favour of alleged revelation, then human thought is everywhere rendered suspecteven in the reasonings of the theologians themselves. There cannot be two ultimately different ways of warranting truth, they assert; hence rationalism urges that reason, with its standard of consistency, must be the final court of appeal. Religious rationalism can reflect either a traditional piety, when endeavouring to display the alleged sweet reasonableness of religion, or an antiauthoritarian temper, when aiming to supplant religion with the goddess of reason.

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Rationalism | Britannica.com

Rationalism – History of rationalism | Britannica.com

The first Western philosopher to stress rationalist insight was Pythagoras, a shadowy figure of the 6th century bce. Noticing that, for a right triangle, a square built on its hypotenuse equals the sum of those on its sides and that the pitches of notes sounded on a lute bear a mathematical relation to the lengths of the strings, Pythagoras held that these harmonies reflected the ultimate nature of reality. He summed up the implied metaphysical rationalism in the words All is number. It is probable that he had caught the rationalists vision, later seen by Galileo (15641642), of a world governed throughout by mathematically formulable laws.

The difficulty in this view, however, is that, working with universals and their relations, which, like the multiplication table, are timeless and changeless, it assumes a static world and ignores the particular, changing things of daily life. The difficulty was met boldly by the rationalist Parmenides (born c. 515 bce), who insisted that the world really is a static whole and that the realm of change and motion is an illusion, or even a self-contradiction. His disciple Zeno of Elea (c. 495c. 430 bce) further argued that anything thought to be moving is confronted with a row of points infinite in number, all of which it must traverse; hence it can never reach its goal, nor indeed move at all. Of course, perception tells us that we do move, but Zeno, compelled to choose between perception and reason, clung to reason.

The exalting of rational insight above perception was also prominent in Plato (c. 427c. 347 bce). In the Meno, Socrates (c. 470399 bce) dramatized the innateness of knowledge by calling upon an illiterate slave boy and, drawing a square in the sand, proceeding to elicit from him, step by step, the proof of a theorem in geometry of which the boy could never have heard (to double the size of a square, draw a square on the diagonal). Such knowledge, rationalists insist, is certain, universal, and completely unlearned.

Plato so greatly admired the rigorous reasoning of geometry that he is alleged to have inscribed over the door of his Academy the phrase Let no one unacquainted with geometry enter here. His famous forms are accessible only to reason, not to sense. But how are they related to sensible things? His answers differed. Sometimes he viewed the forms as distilling those common properties of a class in virtue of which one identifies anything as a member of it. Thus, what makes anything a triangle is its having three straight sides; this is its essence. At other times, Plato held that the form is an ideal, a non-sensible goal to which the sensible thing approximates; the geometers perfect triangle never was on sea or land, though all actual triangles more or less embody it. He conceived the forms as more real than the sensible things that are their shadows and saw that philosophers must penetrate to these invisible essences and see with their minds eye how they are linked together. For Plato they formed an orderly system that was at once eternal, intelligible, and good.

Platos successor Aristotle (384322 bce) conceived of the work of reason in much the same way, though he did not view the forms as independent. His chief contribution to rationalism lay in his syllogistic logic, regarded as the chief instrument of rational explanation. Humans explain particular facts by bringing them under general principles. Why does one think Socrates will die? Because he is human, and humans are mortal. Why should one accept the general principle itself that all humans are mortal? In experience such principles have so far held without exception. But the mind cannot finally rest in this sort of explanation. Humans never wholly understand a fact or event until they can bring it under a principle that is self-evident and necessary; they then have the clearest explanation possible. On this central thesis of rationalism, the three great Greeks were in accord.

Nothing comparable in importance to their thought appeared in rationalistic philosophy in the next 1,800 years, though the work of St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 122574) was an impressive attempt to blend Greek rationalism and Christian revelation into a single harmonious system.

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Rationalism - History of rationalism | Britannica.com

Critical rationalism – Wikipedia

Critical rationalism is an epistemological philosophy advanced by Karl Popper. Popper wrote about critical rationalism in his works: The Logic of Scientific Discovery,[1] The Open Society and its Enemies,[2] Conjectures and Refutations,[3] The Myth of the Framework,[4] and Unended Quest.[5] Ernest Gellner is another notable proponent of this approach.[6]

Critical rationalists hold that scientific theories and any other claims to knowledge can and should be rationally criticized, and (if they have empirical content) can and should be subjected to tests which may falsify them. Thus claims to knowledge may be contrastingly and normatively evaluated. They are either falsifiable and thus empirical (in a very broad sense), or not falsifiable and thus non-empirical. Those claims to knowledge that are potentially falsifiable can then be admitted to the body of empirical science, and then further differentiated according to whether they are retained or are later actually falsified. If retained, further differentiation may be made on the basis of how much subjection to criticism they have received, how severe such criticism has been, and how probable the theory is, with the least[7] probable theory that still withstands attempts to falsify it being the one to be preferred. That it is the least[7] probable theory that is to be preferred is one of the contrasting differences between critical rationalism and classical views on science, such as positivism, who hold that one should instead accept the most probable theory. (The least probable theory is the one with the highest information content and most open to future falsification.)Critical Rationalism as a discourse positioned itself against what its proponents took to be epistemologically relativist philosophies, particularly post-modernist or sociological approaches to knowledge. Critical rationalism has it that knowledge is objective (in the sense of being embodied in various substrates and in the sense of not being reducible to what humans individually "know"), and also that truth is objective (exists independently of social mediation or individual perception, but is "really real").

However, this contrastive, critical approach to objective knowledge is quite different from more traditional views that also hold knowledge to be objective. (These include the classical rationalism of the Enlightenment, the verificationism of the logical positivists, or approaches to science based on induction, a supposed form of logical inference which critical rationalists reject, in line with David Hume.) For criticism is all that can be done when attempting to differentiate claims to knowledge, according to the critical rationalist. Reason is the organon of criticism, not of support; of tentative refutation, not of proof.

Supposed positive evidence (such as the provision of "good reasons" for a claim, or its having been "corroborated" by making successful predictions) actually does nothing to bolster, support, or prove a claim, belief, or theory.

In this sense, critical rationalism turns the normal understanding of a traditional rationalist, and a realist, on its head. Especially the view that a theory is better if it is less likely to be true is in direct opposition to the traditional positivistic view, which holds that one should seek for theories that have a high probability.[7] Popper notes that this "may illustrate Schopenhauer's remark that the solution of a problem often first looks like a paradox and later like a truism". Even a highly unlikely theory that conflicts current observation (and is thus false, like "all swans are white") must be considered to be better than one which fits observations perfectly, but is highly probable (like "all swans have a color"). This insight is the crucial difference between naive falsificationism and critical rationalism. The lower probability theory is favoured by critical rationalism because the higher the informative content of a theory the lower will be its probability, for the more information a statement contains, the greater will be the number of ways in which it may turn out to be false. The rationale behind this is simply to make it as easy as possible to find out whether the theory is false so that it can be replaced by one that is closer to the truth. It is not meant as a concession to justificatory epistemology, like assuming a theory to be "justifiable" by asserting that it is highly unlikely and yet fits observation.

Critical rationalism rejects the classical position that knowledge is justified true belief; it instead holds the exact opposite:[citation needed] That, in general, knowledge is unjustified untrue unbelief. It is unjustified because of the non-existence of good reasons. It is untrue, because it usually contains errors that sometimes remain unnoticed for hundreds of years. And it is not belief either, because scientific knowledge, or the knowledge needed to build a plane, is contained in no single person's mind. It is only available as the content of books.

William Warren Bartley compared critical rationalism to the very general philosophical approach to knowledge which he called justificationism, the view that scientific theories can be justified. Most justificationists do not know that they are justificationists. Justificationism is what Popper called a "subjectivist" view of truth, in which the question of whether some statement is true, is confused with the question of whether it can be justified (established, proven, verified, warranted, made well-founded, made reliable, grounded, supported, legitimated, based on evidence) in some way.

According to Bartley, some justificationists are positive about this mistake. They are nave rationalists, and thinking that their knowledge can indeed be founded, in principle, it may be deemed certain to some degree, and rational.

Other justificationists are negative about these mistakes. They are epistemological relativists, and think (rightly, according to the critical rationalist) that you cannot find knowledge, that there is no source of epistemological absolutism. But they conclude (wrongly, according to the critical rationalist) that there is therefore no rationality, and no objective distinction to be made between the true and the false.

By dissolving justificationism itself, the critical rationalist (a proponent of non-justificationism)[8] regards knowledge and rationality, reason and science, as neither foundational nor infallible, but nevertheless does not think we must therefore all be relativists. Knowledge and truth still exist, just not in the way we thought.

The rejection of "positivist" approaches to knowledge occurs due to various pitfalls that positivism falls into.

1. The nave empiricism of induction was shown to be illogical by Hume. A thousand observations of some event A coinciding with some event B does not allow one to logically infer that all A events coincide with B events. According to the critical rationalist, if there is a sense in which humans accrue knowledge positively by experience, it is only by pivoting observations off existing conjectural theories pertinent to the observations, or off underlying cognitive schemas which unconsciously handle perceptions and use them to generate new theories. But these new theories advanced in response to perceived particulars are not logically "induced" from them. These new theories may be wrong. The myth that we induce theories from particulars is persistent because when we do this we are often successful, but this is due to the advanced state of our evolved tendencies. If we were really "inducting" theories from particulars, it would be inductively logical to claim that the sun sets because I get up in the morning, or that all buses must have drivers in them (if you've never seen an empty bus).

2. Popper and David Miller showed in 1983[9] that evidence supposed to partly support a hypothesis can, in fact, only be neutral to, or even be counter-supportive of the hypothesis.

3. Related to the point above, David Miller,[10] attacks the use of "good reasons" in general (including evidence supposed to support the excess content of a hypothesis). He argues that good reasons are neither attainable, nor even desirable. Basically, Miller asserts that all arguments purporting to give valid support for a claim are either circular or question-begging. That is, if one provides a valid deductive argument (an inference from premises to a conclusion) for a given claim, then the content of the claim must already be contained within the premises of the argument (if it is not, then the argument is ampliative and so is invalid). Therefore, the claim is already presupposed by the premises, and is no more "supported" than are the assumptions upon which the claim rests, i.e. begging the question.

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Critical rationalism - Wikipedia

Rationalism – RationalWiki

Not to be confused with Rationality, which simply refers to the process of being reasonable.

Rationalism is a philosophy in which a high regard is given to reason (specifically logic) and to empirical observation.

From the strict philosophical standpoint, rationalism is the view that all or most truth is deductive and a priori, deriving logically from a set of axioms gained by intuition or inherent knowledge (and not from studying the world around us empirically).[1] However, the term is not very often used so strictly, so this form of rationalism is generally known in English-speaking philosophy as continental rationalism or Cartesian rationalism, as its original proponents, such as Ren Descartes, were largely situated in continental Europe.[2]

The term is more commonly used to refer to a synthesis of continental rationalism with its former rival philosophy, empiricism. This looser rationalism holds that empirical observation is more useful than intuition for gaining one's starting axioms, but one can use deductive reasoning from these axioms just as well. The best embodiment of this way of gaining knowledge is the scientific method; hence, rationalists tend to give high regard to science, designating it as the primary or sole proper source of truth.

RationalWiki is devoted to this sort of rational analysis of empirical evidence to form conclusions; most RationalWiki editors are very skeptical of other ways of knowing.

The idea of being "rational" is distinct and broader than the philosophy of rationalism. To be "rational" is synonymous with a "sane" or "functional" way of thinking. If one is "rational," then in common parlance this means that one can think clearly and is capable of intelligently assessing new ideas when presented.

The opposite term, "irrational," is used to signify someone who cannot or will not think clearly. If a thought or action is irrational, it signifies something that is not just incorrect, but perverse, insane, or beneath consideration.

Rationalism was first formulated in classical times by philosophers such as Socrates and Plato. Many of the Socratic dialogues would use a conversational process to work out logical inconsistencies in ideas that were held by contemporaries to be "common sense," such as the definition of "the good." In this historical sense Rationalism was distinct and separate from Empiricism (see below), as these early Rationalists didn't deem it necessary to use observation - in the modern use, Rationalists who would combine both the logical reasoning of Rationalism with the observational checks of Empiricism.

But at the time, virtually everyone even the great philosophers believed that various things were known by people inherently. Aside from a few schools of thought which suggested that nothing could ever be known as true (pyrrhonism), few thought to discard a priori beliefs and start from scratch with only that which was known to be true. Thus, at this point historical Rationalism closely resembled the way philosophers still define the philosophy.

The 16th century philosopher Descartes, however, attempted to create a whole philosophy through pure reason in his Discourse on Method and its succeeding works: he began with the only thing of which he thought he could be certain, that there was an "I" that was thinking - often rendered in the Latin of cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am."). His process ushered in a new era in rationalism, concurrent with the greater Enlightenment. At that time the philosophy began to resemble modern empiricism more than its own ancient ancestor, especially during the era of Romanticism when Enlightenment ideas were challenged and sensory perception was given more of a hearing.

Loose use in the time since has led to the fuzzy state of the term today, particularly when combined with the similar but much broader notion of being rational.

Rationalism is a term of art in psychology referring to the school of thought that sees certain elements of cognition as innate. (For this reason, it is sometimes used synonymously with the terms "innatism" or "nativism.") Rationalism in psychology is identified with the philosophical tradition of the same name. During the 20th century, Noam Chomsky became associated with rationalism due to his positing the concept of an innate "language acquisition device."[3]

Rationalism, or "economic rationalism," is also a term of art in economics. It is generally used today in Australia to refer to the local brand of neoliberal economic and political policy, though it was also used by scholars such as Max Weber in reference to the Protestant work ethic.[4]

Rationalism is also used as a self-descriptor by followers of Eliezer Yudkowsky, and the community that has grown up around him (in particular the website LessWrong).[5] Scott Alexander argues that, in this context, it refers less to a particular set of beliefs (an ideology), but more to the social community those beliefs support, a "tribe".[5]

Another straightforward conception of rationality is that an individual acts rationally if they act in the way that, on reflection, they believe best suits achievement of their aims. This conception, naturally, gives rise to the common conception when on reflection it is believed that the aim of truth can best be achieved through factual analysis and the scientific method.

This approach, however, is problematic, as it denies the existence of any sort of objective logic independent of human perception. Many, on reflection, believe that astrology, Scientology, homeopathy and other ridiculous nonsense best suits achievement of their aims. If these people are to be held to be irrational, a new criterion must be put in the place of on reflection. Usually the criterion is modified such that the rational person must reasonably believe they have a methodology to achieve their aims, leaving question of what it means to reasonably believe that a methodology will achieve certain aims.[6]

Alvin Plantinga's concept of rationalism neatly distinguishes reason from "raving madness" by conceiving of reason as "not raving mad".[7] Of course Plantinga has to give us a good idea of what is not "raving mad", which he does with his concept of "proper function". Just as a clock, functioning properly, is a reliable indicator of the time, human senses, functioning properly, are reliable indicators of the world. Acting in accordance with the proper function of our faculties is rational.

The problem of what constitutes function, and proper function at that, is more than a question of what our faculties do (a fast clock tells the incorrect time, but this is not its function). Both function and proper function have an element of what things should be doing. As should is a difficult concept to introduce in a mechanistic description of how things happen to be, Plantinga sources the "should", the "purpose" of our faculties in a concept of God.

Critical rationalism ( Karl Popper) differentiates from the above conceptions of rationality by rejecting any positive content in reason. Reason, critical rationalism holds, does not provide 'reasons': it does not give positive recommendations about what beliefs should be held. Reason operates negatively, restricting the beliefs that can be held. It does this through criticism, subjecting pre-adopted beliefs to tests in an effort to refute them.

The dispute between rationalism and empiricism concerns the extent to which we are dependent upon sense experience in our effort to gain knowledge. Rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience. Empiricists claim that sense experience is the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.

Rationalists generally develop their view in two ways. First, they argue that there are cases where the content of our concepts or knowledge outstrips the information that sense experience can provide. Second, they construct accounts of how reason in some form or other provides that additional information about the world. Empiricists present complementary lines of thought. First, they develop accounts of how experience provides the information that rationalists cite, insofar as we have it in the first place. (Empiricists will at times opt for skepticism as an alternative to rationalism: if experience cannot provide the concepts or knowledge the rationalists cite, then we don't have them.) Second, empiricists attack the rationalists' accounts of how reason is a source of concepts or knowledge.

A serious problem for the Innate Knowledge thesis remains, however. We know a proposition only if it is true, we believe it and our belief is warranted. Rationalists who assert the existence of innate knowledge are not just claiming that, as a matter of human evolution, God's design or some other factor, at a particular point in our development, certain sorts of experiences trigger our belief in particular propositions in a way that does not involve our learning them from the experiences. Their claim is even bolder: In at least some of these cases, our empirically triggered, but not empirically warranted, belief is nonetheless warranted and so known. How can these beliefs be warranted if they do not gain their warrant from the experiences that cause us to have them or from intuition and deduction?

Some rationalists think that a reliabilist account of warrant provides the answer. According to Reliabilism, beliefs are warranted if they are formed by a process that generally produces true beliefs rather than false ones. The true beliefs that constitute our innate knowledge are warranted, then, because they are formed as the result of a reliable belief-forming process. Carruthers maintains that Innate beliefs will count as known provided that the process through which they come to be innate is a reliable one (provided, that is, that the process tends to generate beliefs that are true) (1992, p. 77). He argues that natural selection results in the formation of some beliefs and is a truth-reliable process.

An appeal to Reliabilism, or a similar causal theory of warrant, may well be the best way for rationalists to develop the Innate Knowledge thesis. They have a difficult row to hoe, however. First, such accounts of warrant are themselves quite controversial. Second, rationalists must give an account of innate knowledge that maintains and explains the distinction between innate knowledge and a posteriori knowledge, and it is not clear that they will be able to do so within such an account of warrant. Suppose for the sake of argument that we have innate knowledge of some proposition, P. What makes our knowledge that P innate? To sharpen the question, what difference between our knowledge that P and a clear case of a posteriori knowledge, say our knowledge that something is red based on our current visual experience of a red table, makes the former innate and the latter not innate? In each case, we have a true, warranted belief. In each case, presumably, our belief gains its warrant from the fact that it meets a particular causal condition, e.g., it is produced by a reliable process. In each case, the causal process is one in which an experience causes us to believe the proposition at hand (that P; that something is red), for, as defenders of innate knowledge admit, our belief that P is triggered by an experience, as is our belief that something is red. The insight behind the Innate Knowledge thesis seems to be that the difference between our innate and a posteriori knowledge lies in the relation between our experience and our belief in each case. The experience that causes our belief that P does not contain the information that P, while our visual experience of a red table does contain the information that something is red. Yet, exactly what is the nature of this containment relation between our experiences, on the one hand, and what we believe, on the other, that is missing in the one case but present in the other? The nature of the experience-belief relation seems quite similar in each. The causal relation between the experience that triggers our belief that P and our belief that P is contingent, as is the fact that the belief-forming process is reliable. The same is true of our experience of a red table and our belief that something is red. The causal relation between the experience and our belief is again contingent. We might have been so constructed that the experience we describe as being appeared to redly caused us to believe, not that something is red, but that something is hot. The process that takes us from the experience to our belief is also only contingently reliable. Moreover, if our experience of a red table contains the information that something is red, then that fact, not the existence of a reliable belief-forming process between the two, should be the reason why the experience warrants our belief. By appealing to Reliablism, or some other causal theory of warrant, rationalists may obtain a way to explain how innate knowledge can be warranted. They still need to show how their explanation supports an account of the difference between innate knowledge and a posteriori knowledge.

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Rationalism - RationalWiki

Rationalism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

I. Definition

Rationalism is the philosophy that knowledge comes from logic and a certain kind of intuitionwhen we immediately know something to be true without deduction, such as I am conscious. Rationalists hold that the best way to arrive at certain knowledge is using the minds rational abilities. The opposite of rationalism is empiricism, or the view that knowledge comes from observing the outside world. However, in practice almost all philosophers and scientists use a combination of empiricism and rationalism.

Rationalism is an idea about where knowledge comes from, and is therefore part of the philosophical sub-field of epistemology.

Math provides a good illustration of rationalism: to a rationalist, you dont have to observe the world or have experiences in order to know that 1+1=2. You just have to understand the concepts one and addition, and then you can know that its true. Empiricists, on the other hand, argue that this is not true; they point out that we can only rely on mathematical equations based on some experience of the world, for example having one cookie, being given another, and then having two.

Rationalism and empiricism both play a role in science, though they correspond to different branches of science. Rationalism corresponds to mathematical analysis, whereas empiricism corresponds to experiments and observation.

Of course, the best route to knowledge combines rational contemplation and empirical observation. Rationalists and empiricists agree on that; they just disagree on which one is more important or primary.

Constructivism is an effort to combine empiricism and rationalism. According to constructivists, we can observe the world around us and gain a lot of knowledge this way (thats the empiricist part), but in order to understand or explain what we know, we have to fit it into an existing structure. That is, we have to construct a rational set of ideas that can make sense of the empirical data (thats the rationalist part). Constructivism is a popular idea among teachers, who find it helpful in structuring lessons: constructivist teaching involves presenting new information in a way designed to fit in with what the student already knows, so that they can gradually build up an understanding of the world for themselves.

Many people think that the progress of the human race is based on experiences of an empirical, critical nature, but I say that true knowledge is to be had only through a philosophy of deduction . . . Intuition makes us look at unrelated facts and then think about them until they can all be brought under one law. (Albert Einstein)

Many people think of science as an inherently empirical discipline after all, its based mainly on observation and experiments, right? But theres also a rationalist side to science as seen in this quote from Einstein. Einstein was not big on experiments or peering through telescopes. Instead, he took data that other people had collected and tried to understand it rationally (i.e. mathematically). His brilliant theories of special and general relativity were not the results of new experiments, but rather the result of applying a keen rational eyeand intuitionto existing data.

Music has always been inseparable from religious expression, since, like religion at its best, music marks the limits of reason. Because a territory is defined by its extremities, it follows that music must be definitively rational. (Karen Armstrong)

Many rationalist philosophers are fascinated by music, for exactly the reasons that Karen Armstrong points out in this quote. Music is intensely rational in some ways (you can analyze its structures and frequencies and find all sorts of mathematical patterns there), but its also extremely emotional and seems to short-circuit our rational brains. Thus, music exists right on the boundary between rational and anti-rational. Armstrong also makes the more controversial, but no less interesting, claim that religion works in a similar way, operating at the boundaries between rational thought and non-rational emotions.

Rationalism has deep historical roots; you might even say that its discovery defines the birth of philosophy in various cultures. The ancient Greeks are probably the most famous example: ancient philosophers such as Plato and Pythagoras argued that reality is characterized by some basic abstract logical principles, and that if we know these principles, then we can derive further truths about reality. (Thats the same Pythagoras who invented the famous Pythagorean Theorem more evidence of the connection between rationalism and math.)

However, other Greeks disagreed. Aristotle, for example, based much of his philosophy on observation. He was fascinated by the natural world and spent much of his time gathering samples of plants and animals; in some ways he was the first modern biologist. This method is, of course, based on observation and therefore is a kind of empiricism.

Rationalism really took off in the Medieval Islamic world, where Muslim philosophers looked to Plato for inspiration. Platos rationalism proved to be extremely important to medieval Islam, which was an intensely rationalistic religion based on logical deduction. Its first principle was tawheed, or the Unity of God, and all other truths were thought to be logical consequences of that single revelation.

Both rationalism and empiricism played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. Empiricists did experiments and made observations by, for example, looking through telescopes. But many of the most important discoveries were made by rational analysis, not empirical observation. And of course, the experiments were also partially inspired by reason and intuition.

Isaac Newton developed his theory of gravity by working out the mathematical relationship between falling objects and orbiting planets. (Sometimes people say that Newton discovered gravity, but really its more accurate to say that he explained gravity.)

The debate between rationalists and empiricists was resolved to some extent by Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential philosophers who ever lived. Kants theory was that empiricism and rationalism were both true in their own ways: he agreed with the empiricists when he said that all human knowledge comes from observation. This, he said, is in fact the way that people learn about the world. But our observations are also based on certain innate ways of reasoning; our brains are hard-wired to make certain conclusions from observation and reason further in certain ways. So, he also agreed with the rationalists that knowledge is determined by rationality. As you might expect, many constructivists can trace their lineage back to Kant.

In Civilization V, one of the social policy options is Rationalism. This social policy improves science output for your civilization and allows you to produce more Great Scientists. This makes sense since rationalism was so important in the early scientific revolution. However, the game illustrates rationalism with a picture of a scientist looking through a prism, presumably as part of an experiment. So the picture would fit better under the heading of empiricism rather than rationalism!

Vulcanians do not speculate. I speak from pure logic. (Spock, Star Trek)

Spock is the perfect rationalist. His powerful brain can compute logical probabilities faster than any human being, and he is not distracted by pesky emotions or personal biases (at least most of the time; he is half-human, after all). He is capable of incredible feats of logic, such as playing three-dimensional chess.

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Rationalism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

critical rationalism blog – An exploration of critical …

Rafe Championand Brian Gladish, Independent Scholars

The Austrian-born philosopher Karl Popper charted new direction in the philosophy of science in the 1930s with Logik der Forschung (The Logic of Scientific Discovery 1959). His ideas can be recruited to support the little-known Austrian school of economics, to improve the quality of scientific research and to indicate how a unit on critical thinking can be a core subject in liberal education. If Poppers ideas are robust then the main features of his thinking should be the common property of all educated people. Some would say the same applies to Austrian economics.

The paper begins with a summary of the key features of Poppers critical rationalism followed by an introduction to Austrian economics and the way that some of his ideas can elevate the profile of the Austrian school. The paper then turns to the rising tide of concern about the quality and reliability of the scientific research that is published in some fields. Finally there is a proposal for short course to introduce various forms of critical appraisal of ideas that could be a core component of liberal education to promote imaginative problem-solving and lateral thinking.


In his introduction to Poppers philosophy Mark Notturno wrote Popper was an outspoken champion of rationalism and a constant critic of subjectivist and authoritarian tendencies in science and society. (Notturno, 2003, Preface). His philosophy can be described as critical rationalism with a historical and evolutionary approach. He liked to sum it up in two nutshells. One is the critical rationalist credo I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort we may get nearer to the truth. The other is the four-stage problem solving scheme that is described below.

Wade Hands demonstrated the difference that it makes to perceive Popper as a critical rationalist rather than the more usual falsificationist, a label that implies that his ideas are merely a variation on the theme of logical empiricism. Hands is a leading contributor to the literature on the philosophy and methodology of economics and for many years he was a critic of Poppers views until he radically changed his perception. He wrote that Popper is best depicted as a critical rationalist and he concluded that critical rationalism fits both the practice of mainstream economics and Poppers specific contribution to social studies Situational Analysis and the Rationality Principle.

If Poppers real message is critical rationalism, rather than falsificationist rules, then the method of SA seems to be quite fine. Popper explains in detail how to modify a particular SA explanation when it seems to be in conflict with the empirical data, internally inconsistent, or in conflict with more corroborated theories if there are many paths to effective criticism, then preserving the RP and modifying the rest of the SA could be a perfectly reasonable response. The critical rationalist reading of Poppers philosophy thus relaxes the tension between scientific rationality and SA social science and it does so within a framework that is both more contemporary than, and devoid of many of the problems of, strict falsificationism. (Hands, 2001).

Popper (1902-1994) was born in Vienna, the son of a prominent liberal lawyer with scholarly interests. He dropped out of high school and attended lectures at the university as an unmatriculated student, trained as a cabinet-maker and eventually matriculated. In 1928 he qualified to teach high school science and mathematics after a course that included a doctoral thesis on habit formation in children. He worked on the philosophy of science in his spare time and in 1935 he published Logik der Forschung that appeared many years later in English (Popper 1959).

He criticized the traditional idea that scientific theories are developed by collecting observations followed by confirmation of the theories with more observations. He argued that the creation of theories is a matter of inspiration and guesswork because new ideas arise as conjectures or speculations and the really vital function of observations is to act as tests or attempted falsifications of theories.

In the 1960s biological themes became more prominent in his work and he contributed to the revival of evolutionary epistemology by exploring the principle of natural selection in relation to the development of scientific theories and other forms of knowledge. Evolutionary epistemology is concerned with problem-solving and error-elimination under various forms of selective pressure unlike theories of knowledge that focus on the justification of beliefs and the numerical probability of theories.

Popper started with the old idea that knowledge grows by trial and error or in more learned terms by conjecture and refutation. He postulated that every organism from the amoeba to Einstein can be described as constantly engaged in problem solving (not necessarily consciously of course). Innovations in the plant and animal world arise from mutations which generate new reactions, new organs, new forms of life. For humans the most important innovations are new ideas. Living organisms confront selective pressures exerted by the biological environment and competing forms of life. Ideas meet the competition of alternative theories, critical arguments and experimental tests.

The central motif of Poppers evolutionary epistemology is a cyclic four-step problem-solving schema:

P1 > TS > EE > P2, P3, P4 etc

The starting point is a problem situation. In response the organism generates tentative solutions. These are subjected to the process of error elimination by various selective pressures. Humans can make the process of error elimination conscious and systematic by critical discussion and experimental testing. In the course of these activities new problems emerge.

This approach to scientific knowledge has at least two important consequences; (1) it resolves conflicting ideas about the various processes and activities which are involved in creative thinking and problem-solving and (2) it highlights the importance of finding unresolved issues (problems) and the willingness to recognize them, even to create them!

On the first point the evolutionary schema can be used to challenge views about science that can tend to promote antagonism between the rational (scientific) and the imaginative (literary) frames of mind. For example Peter Medawar in his book Plutos Republic described the tension between the romantic and the rational views of science; the romantic points to the poetic inspiration involved in creating new theories while in contrast the rationalist makes much of data collection, experimentation and logical analysis. This conflict has broad cultural implications. The triumph of Newtonian mechanics was widely perceived as the full flowering of the so-called inductive method to find the truth by accumulating observations. This achievement provoked a revolt by romantics and poets who could not stomach a view of human activity that had no place for the imagination. Nor could they accept the mechanical universe. The result of this collision has been a kind of cultural clash with imagination set against reason, the organic set against the mechanical, the inspiration of the poet set against the empiricism of the scientist.

Poppers theory offers a cure for this cultural conflict by harmonising the relationship between the various elements of the situation for both scientists and artists and indeed for anyone. These elements include traditional beliefs, criticism, logic, imagination and experimental trials. These elements each have a role to play and so there is no need for the tensions and antagonisms that flow from partial and narrow views of problem-solving and creativity, whether in science, art, technology or daily life. A helpful selection of Poppers thoughts can be found in David Millers A Pocket Popper (Miller, 1983) and in a collection of Cliffs Notes for Poppers first five books Champion (2016).

On the second point the schema brings out the importance of recognizing problems and working on them in a critical and imaginative spirit. In this schema a problem functions as an ecological niche to be colonised by tentative solutions. Problems are welcomed as a challenge, not an impediment to science because they are the growing point or perhaps a habitat for new species of ideas. This provides a theory of discovery, based on the creative function of criticism. To grasp the full power of evolutionary epistemology it is necessary to understand this creative function of criticism in generating problems that can be seen as spaces for new ideas Problems are the habitat where new ideas grow and criticism has two functions, which are about equally valuable: (1) to eliminate error and (2) to reveal new problems, i.e. new habitats. Thus Poppers theory brings out both the error elimination and the creative function of criticism and we need to maximise the play of criticism to get the best out of both its functions.

Watson and Crick systematically used the critical approach in their pursuit of the double helix structure of DNA. As Crick described it:

Our other advantage was that we had evolved unstated but fruitful methods of collaboration, something that was lacking in the London group. If either of us suggested a new idea the other, while taking it seriously, would attempt to demolish it in a candid but non hostile manner. This turned out to be quite crucial. In solving scientific problems of this type, it is almost impossible to avoid falling into errorNow, to obtain the correct solution of a [complex] problem usually requires a sequence of logical steps. If one of these is a mistake, the answer is often hidden, since the error usually puts one on completely the wrong track. It is therefore extremely important not to be trapped by ones own mistakes. (Crick, 1988, 70) [my emphasis].

In an interview he stated Its getting rid of false ideas which is the most important thing in developing the good ones You should not get bogged down with experimental details. You should make some sort of bold assumptions, and try them out (Wolpert and Richards, 1989, 94-5). Richard Feynman was an exemplary critical rationalist. He famously said science is organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion and he introduced his students to scientific discovery as guessing followed by the deduction and computation of results from the guess to check with experimental observations (Feynman, 2013). This is what Popper called conjecture and refutation. It seems that Feynman never encountered Poppers ideas and his impatience with philosophy and the soft social sciences was legendary (Feynman 1985).

Poppers student Bartley described four forms of criticism: (1) experience; (2) theories; (3) problems; and (4) logic (Bartley, 1982, section xiii onward). The criticism by test or experience is closely related to the main concern of theories of knowledge which are based on observations. The crucial difference is that for critical rationalists the observations are designed to test ideas, not to verify or confirm them. Of course good theories will pass a lot of tests but that is not the end of the matter because even the best theories have rivals and also internal problems which call for more work. The second form of criticism by theories consists of comparing the assumptions and implications of the theory under consideration with other well-tested theories. Criticism by problems or check on the problem means assessing how effectively the theory (or the policy proposal) addresses the problems that it was formulated to solve.

As for the process of forming critical preferences among rival theories, Popper suggested several criteria rather than one over-riding principle which leaves open the possibility that some theories will have different performances on the different criteria. This is consistent with Poppers support for theoretical pluralism and the desirability of competing research programs. His first proposal applies to major breakthrough developments.

The new theory should proceed from some simple, new, and powerful unifying idea about some connection or relation (such as gravitational attraction) between hitherto unconnected things (such as apples and planets) or facts (such as inertial and gravitational mass) or new theoretical entities (such as field and particles). (Popper, 1963, 241)

Other features of the preferable theory are: it makes more precise predictions and these stand up to more precise tests; it explains more facts; it describes or explains the facts in more detail; it has passed tests where the rival failed; it has suggested new experimental tests and passed them.


The argument in this section is that some features of Poppers ideas can improve the image of the Austrian school which currently makes up only about 2% of American economists. The Austrians have suffered from the perception that their methods do not meet the standards which have been taught in the philosophy of science since it became professionalised and specialised as an academic discipline under the influence of the logical empiricists led by Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) and Karl Hempel (1905-1997).

Austrian economics is not widely taught and some background information will be helpful for most readers. It is pursued by a confederation of scholars who trace their intellectual ancestry to the founding father Carl Menger (1840-1921) and his colleagues Eugene Bohm Bawerk and Friedrich Weiser. Other significant early figures were John Bates Clark, Frank Fetter and Herbert J. Davenport in the US, Philip Wicksteed in England and Knut Wicksell in Sweden (Salerno 2010). Prominent Austrians in the next generation were Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), Friedrich Hayek (1898-1992) and Lionel Robbins (1898-1984) in the first part of his career.

Until the 1930s the members of the school were concentrated in Austria with scattered supporters around the world. Now most of the Austrians are in the United States with two prominent hives of activity, one at the George Mason University in Virginia and another at the Mises Institute in Alabama. There are doctoral programs at George Mason University, Texas Tech, Texas Baylor and Virginia. The Austrians are closely affiliated with the Virginia school of public choice theory (Coase, Buchanan, Tullock) and the Ostrom/Bloomington school of public administration.

In the early 20th century the Austrian ideas appeared to be firmly planted in the mainstream of the economics profession but the impact of Keynes in the 1930s and the rise of mathematics in the 1940s transformed the situation. The Austrians rejected the Keynesian revolution and they also object to much of the mathematical analysis that rapidly became standard in the profession after the war. They insisted that mathematical analysis can be misleading if it is not handled with care and insight into the economic issues as well as the mathematical formalism. Consequently the Austrians were widely perceived to be out of date and amidst the mushrooming postwar growth of the profession they became practically invisible until the movement staged a revival during the 1970s (Vaughn 1990, Boettke 2015). Another adverse influence from the 1930s was the rise of the philosophy of science known as logical positivism in Vienna and logical empiricism in the United States.

Mises did not live long enough to see the Austrian revival although he did more than anyone to keep the ideas alive. Prominent in the revival were Hayek, Ludwig Lachmann (1906-1990), Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) and Israel Kirzner (1930 ) . The numbers have increased rapidly in recent years and it is hazardous to mention the names of contemporaries because any short list will give offence to many worthy scholars who are left out! For a concise and masterly account of the progress of the school from Menger to the present day see Boettke (2015).

In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis 2008 the Austrians emerged with a deal of credit for the insights they provided into the mechanism of the collapse (Thornton, 2009).

Several high profile investment advisers and financial commentators have employed the Austrian Business Cycle Theory in their interpretation of the crisis. They have been inspired to revisit this theory as a result of the manifest failure of mainstream macroeconomists to foresee or explain the subprime mortgage crisis and its subsequent metamorphosis into a pandemic financial meltdowna number of economists and journalists associated with the modern Austrian school had warned of an emerging housing bubble during the Greenspan era when the conventional wisdom was that the Federal Reserve System had matters well in hand (Salerno, 2012).

The leading emphases of the school include the salience of dynamic competition and entrepreneurial innovation in the marketplace, the origin of social institutions as the unintended consequences of human action, the subjective theory of value, recognition of the time factor in social and economic processes, and the uncertainty of human knowledge. Those ideas are not unique to the Austrians although they been especially diligent in drawing out their implications. They have distinctive ideas regarding the boom and bust business cycle (as described by Salerno), capital theory and especially the methodology and philosophy of research.

The Austrian approach can be described as the situational analysis of human action, combining the language of von Mises, Talcott Parsons and Karl Popper. A central resource for Austrians is Human Action by von Mises, first published in 1949. A similar framework of analysis can be found in The Structure of Human Action published by Talcott Parsons in 1937 (summarized in Devereaux, 1964) and in The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism (Popper, 1945, 1957). The common features of the schemes of Parsons, von Mises and Popper are summarised in Champion (2010). The analysis starts with the human actor making plans and taking action to achieve his or her objectives. The actors take account of the various elements in the situation as they are subjectively perceived. These include the resources and capacities of the actors, the opportunities and constraints offered by the physical environment, the institutional framework of laws and regulations, and the social/cultural framework of written and unwritten mores, traditions, values and belief systems.

Some of the elements can change rapidly but many can only be changed slowly and the individual actor has very limited capacity to change the major elements of the situation. The outcome of actions are mediated (limited) by natural laws whether the actors are aware of them or not. The situation offers problems and opportunities for the actor/entrepreneur and Parsons in particular emphasised the element of individual choice and he thought of his approach as a voluntarist theory of human action (Devereaux, 1964).

Economists focus on the economic system, prices and production and the like but the framework is sufficiently expansive to take account of the impact of other factors and to coordinate the work in many areas of the social sciences and humanities. The framework drafted by the gang of three in the 1930s could have been used to maintain sociology and economics as an integrated discipline and to sponsor partnerships between economists and all students of social institutions law, politics, literature, religion and cultural studies at large. There was a window of opportunity for these three leading figures in their respective fields to form a united front across the disciplines of sociology, economics and philosophy to promote the ideas that they shared and to debate the issues where they disagreed. This did not happen; there was no united front, no dialogue to resolve differences and the defective ideas that all three identified in the 1930s became embedded in the rapidly growing community of academics and researchers after the war. Consequently the kind of research programs which were implicit in the situational analysis of human action were blindsided by the dominance of logical empiricism, Keynesianism and mathematical formalism. This is not to decry the use of mathematics but the efficacy of numerical analysis has to be decided on a case by case basis by people who are understand both the mathematics and the economics.

The Achilles heel of the Austrian school in the eyes of the modern mainstream is the claim that the basic principles of economics can be established by logical analysis in advance of evidence (apriori) and they cannot and need not be empirically tested. Not surprisingly this position raised eyebrows after the rise of logical positivism/empiricism and Poppers ideas in the philosophy of science created a demand for empirical verification or at least testing of scientific theories. Living in Vienna von Mises saw this coming because he was alert to the activities of the famous Vienna Circle of logical positivists and he wrote a long criticism of positivism in his master work (von Mises 1949).

The strong form of apriorism is apparent in his comparison of monetary theory with geometry where all of the theorems are implied in the axioms. The quantity theory does not add to our knowledge anything that is which is not virtually contained in the concept of money (von Mises, 1966, 38). The starting point of praxeology is not a choice of axioms and a decision about methods of procedure, but reflection about the essence of action (ibid, 39). Rothbard took the same strong position. The fundamental axiom that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious action towards chosen goals [in contrast with reflex or knee-jerk behavior], furthermore, since praxeology begins with a true axiom, A, all the propositions that can be deduced from this axiom must also be true. For if A implies B, and A is true, then B must also be true. (Rothbard, 1976). He asserted that these propositions are justified because they are deduced from the axiom of purposeful action. Apart from the fact that these conclusions cannot be tested by historical or statistical means, there is no need to test them since their truth has already been established. (ibid).

In view of those arguments Mark Blaug wrote Mises made important contributions to monetary economics, business cycle theory and of course socialist economics, but his later writings on the foundations of economic science are so cranky and idiosyncratic that we can only wonder that they have been taken seriously by anyone (Blaug, 1992, 81). He quoted Samuelsons famous rejoinder to the Austrians. Well, in connection with the exaggerated claims that used to be made in economics for the power of deduction and a priori reasoningI tremble for the reputation of my subject.

Poppers approach offers a corrective to the methodological rhetoric of the Austrians and simultaneously a rejoinder to Blaug and Samuelson. For Popper the test of evidence applies to the explanations and predictions generated by a scientific research program. The program itself is a system of ideas including philosophical and metaphysical framework assumptions and methodological procedures and principles that generate explanations and predictions. Not all of these parts are amenable to empirical testing and this applies to the natural sciences as much as the human sciences.

Hence it is not a departure from standard scientific practice to make use of untestable propositions. The critical rationalist does not insist that all the premises and presuppositions in scientific discourse should be verified, merely that they stand up to criticism as well or better than other options (Hands, 2001, 301). Recall the four forms of criticism: empirical tests are a particular kind of criticism but they are not appropriate for all assumption, especially those of methodology and the philosophical framework assumptions of the program. They prove themselves at one step removed by the power of the explanatory theories and the research programs that they generate.

The basic principles of Austrian economics such as the axiom of action can be regarded as working assumptions in the form of indispensable methodological procedures and assumptions which are required in all sciences. The axiom is often described as self-evidently true but it is better to describe as a methodological assumption that contributes to explanatory theories which are tested by their capacity to account for the phenomena under investigation, such as money, the Great Depression, unemployment, inflation and trade cycles including the Great Financial Crisis.

Popper made two other relevant contributions. One is the framework of Situational Analysis and the Rationality Principle which is functionally equivalent to the Austrian approach using the axiom of human action (Popper 1994). The second is to introduce students to the critical/creative problem-solving approach of the scientist who operates like an entrepreneur in a world of intellectual problems and opportunities, generating conjectures which are tested and criticised in the laboratory and the marketplace of ideas. Students who bring this approach to a course on Austrian economics will have less to unlearn than students who have encountered the philosophy of science in the more usual mode of collecting data and attempting to confirm theories. Harper explicitly drew on Poppers evolutionary epistemology in his work on entrepreneurial activities (Harper, 1996 and 2003).


There is a rapidly-growing literature on problems in the quality of published research. The editor in chief of Lancet wrote The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may be simply untrueScience has taken a turn towards darkness with reference to small sample sizes, invalid analyses, conflicts of interest and obsession with fashionable trends (Horton, 2015). There is concern about the increasing incidence of retractions and the higher rate of retractions in high impact journals (Fang et al., 2011) and the dangerous liaison of science and politics (Butos and McQuade, 2006). Less than 12% of articles in 2004 in The Journal of Economic Theory passed three tests stating a theory, explaining why it mattered and testing it (Klein and Romero, 2007). There are problems of replication of results and politicization in some fields. Another concern is the declining publication of negative results (Fanelli, 2012).

Popper provided two ways to approach this complex of issues. One is the social or institutional analysis of scientific and industrial progress which he proposed in The Poverty of Historicism. The other is the approach of critical rationalism and multi-faceted criticism to offset tendencies to confirmation bias that are built into the courses in the philosophy of science which focus on confirmation and the quest for inductive probabilities.

In The Poverty of Historicism Popper confronted Comte and Mill who adopted a psychological approach and regarded progress as inevitable due to the progressive tendencies in the human mind. Popper noted that there are other tendencies in the human mind such as forgetfulness, laziness and dogmatism. Instead of the psychological approach he urged a search for the conditions of progress using a situational approach to imagine ways that progress could be stopped. This is a very counterintuitive approach and it is presented in a few highly compressed paragraphs, summarized below.

Popper did not pursue these early thoughts in depth and others made important contributions. The art historian Ernst Gombrich applied Poppers ideas to a wide range of issues including the drift of linguistic usage, architecture, the popularity of modern art and trends in music and fashion including hemlines (Gombrich 1974). Ian Jarvie published a major work to explain what he called Poppers social turn to institutional analysis almost a decade after Popper died (Jarvie, 2001). He previously applied the situational approach in sociology (Jarvie, 1972). Roger James applied critical rationalism to some episodes of central planning in Britain (James, 1980) and Tyrell Burgess used Poppers approach in education planning and administration in Britain (Burgess, 1985). Paul Knepper explained the work that has been done on situational crime prevention inspired by both Popper and the Austrian economists (Knepper 2007).

As for stopping progress in science, Popper proposed that this might be achieved in various ways.

By closing down or controlling laboratories for research, by suppressing or controlling scientific periodicals and other means of discussion, by suppressing scientific congresses and conferences, by suppressing Universities and other schools, by suppressing books, the printing press, writing, and, in the end, speaking. All these things which indeed might be suppressed (or controlled) are social institutionsScientific method itself has social aspects. Science, and more especially scientific progress, are the results not of isolated efforts but of the free competition of thought. For science needs ever more competition between hypotheses and ever more rigorous tests. And the competing hypotheses need personal representation, as it were: they need advocates, they need a jury, and even a public. This personal representation must be institutionally organized if we wish to ensure that it works. (Popper, 1961, 154-5)

Popper also used the social approach to suggest how science can achieve a degree of objectivity through cooperative criticism of the kind practiced by Watson and Crick. When he wrote about this in the 1930s and 1940s the sociology of knowledge was becoming popular under the influence of Marxists and others such as Karl Mannheim. This approach aimed to explain our personal beliefs as a reflection of the social and political climate of ideas around us.

Popper did not challenge the importance of intellectual influences. However he turned the sociology of knowledge on its head to argue that it is a mistake focus on the formation of subjective beliefs because this does not engage with the proper object of inquiry, namely knowledge as a public or inter-subjective social product. In other words we are students and critics of spoken and written propositions and arguments, not subjective beliefs or states of mind. Thus it follows that the objectivity of science, such as it is, does not arise from the a lack of prejudices among scientists or their unique impartiality. Instead it depends on a process of more or less free criticism in the scientific community.

It may be said that what we call scientific objectivity is not a product of the individual scientists impartiality, but a product of the social or public character of scientific method; and the individual scientists impartiality is, so far as it exists, not the source but rather the result of this socially or institutionally organized objectivity of science. (Popper, 1966, 217).

It is important to note that criticism may be more or less free and this raises some issues about free speech and the factors which limit criticism. Following Poppers line of thought to promote scientific objectivity it seems that we need such things as diversity of ideas (points of view and theoretical pluralism), clear formulation of the problems that the theories are supposed to solve, and access to journals, seminars and conferences to facilitate critical discussion. Some of these requirements have to be provided by individual scientists, especially new ideas and imaginative criticism while others are social and institutional.

Turning to the contribution of the philosophy of science to the quality of scientific work and especially the declining publication of negative results, it may be that the function of criticism is underplayed in teaching the philosophy of science compared with the effort devoted to confirmation theory and the technical aspects of assigning inductive probabilities to theories. In addition much of this work proceeds in isolation from live problems in science. Mulligan and associates deplored this tendency in philosophy at large (Mulligan, Simons and Smith, 2006) and a recent example is a contribution to The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science (Sprenger, 2016).

Sprenger posed two problems of induction; first whether inferences beyond the evidence are justified and second, assuming a positive answer to the first, to assess the various methods used to justify inferences about the future performance of general scientific theories. Regarding the first problem he briefly noted Poppers critical approach and work by Deborah Mayo on testing in some specific scientific situations. That could have led to a survey of work by philosophers in relation to substantive scientific problems, such as Alan Chalmers on the contribution of philosophy to the development of atomic theory in chemistry (Chalmers, 2009). This could arouse the interest of working scientists. However almost all of the paper addressed the latest developments in probability theory without seriously engaging with any contemporary scientific issues. There is an impression of a mighty engine of philosophical thought which is not transmitting any power to the wheels of science.


Critical thinking is an important part of philosophy and this section suggests how a short course on critical thinking could be part of a Philosophy major or indeed a part of any liberal education curriculum. The idea is to introduce the four types of criticism suggested by Bartley (above); the test of experience; the test of comparison with other theories; the check on the problem; and the test of logical consistency. This could be pursued at school, it could be used for an introduction to university courses in philosophy, it could be a core subject for all tertiary students. The students would explore the implications and applications of the four methods of criticism applied to some theories or beliefs which interest the class. The topics should have some scientific or practical relevance but it would be unhelpful to select the most pressing issues of the day if these generate too much polarization of opinion to permit a civil discussion.

Explaining the test of evidence and experience could lead into the philosophy of science, the logic of experimental design and hypothesis-testing, to a study of rules of evidence in law, to the use of diagnostic tests by doctors, motor mechanics or plumbers, and to the use of clues by detectives and archaeologists. The test of comparison with other theories would raise questions about the weight and authority to be assigned to assumptions imported into arguments from other domains. For example the psychological theories assumed by literary critics, the physical theories assumed by geologists, the sociological theories assumed by engineers, the economic theories assumed by politicians. This part of the course should open students eyes to the interdependence of the disciplines and the artificial nature of boundaries between subjects. At the same time students may learn how to use readily available resources, including other students and staff to pursue problems from one discipline to another (for example by walking from the Philosophy Department to Physics or Life Sciences).

The check on the problem can lead in particularly interesting directions. This part of the course could indicate how a revised formulation of a problem may be decisive, how background theories can unconsciously direct how problems are identified and formulated, how fashions, fads and funding can influence the direction of research. It would lead to a study of the history of ideas, showing that problems have histories, that philosophical problems usually have their roots elsewhere, in science, or religion or in social and moral dilemmas, that powerful themes can leak from one discipline to another and preoccupations often run in parallel in more than one field.

The section on logic would call for study of both the formal and informal methods of argument. Formal logic concerns rules of inference and the way that logical steps can be used to draw out the consequences of an argument or of a scientific theory, perhaps for testing or for technological application. Informal logic encompasses the tricks of debate that may be used to cover up logical and factual defects in a position. Discourse by politicians, creation scientists and advertisers would furnish material for critical study.

If this approach is used for philosophy students it could be followed by exploratory reading of the Great Philosophers, though preferably not until the students have a firm sense of their own interests and problems. In this mood they might be less deferential to the greats, more critical and at the same time more willing to learn. This would contrast with the common situation where the young student is confronted with the soaring abstractions and profound arguments produced by the titans of the past. The novice is likely to be overwhelmed (who am I to criticise the great?) or else clings to a critique provided by the teacher. The result is likely to be either a student who is inducted into a system of thought or a graduate who is highly skilled in certain methods and techniques which are not necessarily connected to issues outside philosophy.

It is important to note that this approach is very different from most of the literature on critical thinking surveyed by Miller (2005). He discovered that there was a great deal of effort dedicated to critical thinking in recent times, citing an annotated bibliography of material on critical thinking with 903 books and papers published between 1980 and 1991 (Cassell and Congleton, 1993). Scanning the literature he found that practically all of it defined the purpose of arguments in terms of justification of beliefs and persuading other people to come to the same point of view. He quoted a typical example from the preface of a book on the philosophy of argument. Argument is a social practice, arguable part of the core of any culturethe finding of reasons to justify beliefs and the response to disagreement by rational persuasion. (Blair, 1999).

The purpose of the course proposed here is very different from justification and persuasion because it is focussed on the criticism of arguments and it can be explained in the language of used by Stuart Firestein in his book Ignorance: How it Drives Science (Firestein, 2012). More precisely, discovering ignorance (unsolved problems) drives science. Criticism a la Watson and Crick uncovers ignorance especially false assumptions and that drives the quest for better assumptions and new ideas. According to Firestein the great Italian physicist Enrico Fermi told his students that an experiment that successfully proves a hypothesis is a measurement and one that doesnt is a discovery an uncovering of new ignorance (Firestein, 2012, 57). Firesteins book could be the text for the course.


Popper has a low profile these days judging from the negligible references to his work in The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy (Jackson and Smith, 2005) and The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science (Humphries, 2016). He enjoyed a high profile during the philosophy of science wars in the 1960s and 1970s but he became classified as a transitional figure between the logical empiricists and the new waves generated by Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend. It seems that he went out of fashion before the full implications of his critical rationalism and evolutionary epistemology were explored (Champion, 2011). In the philosophy and methodology of economics that view is strongly supported by Hands (2001). This paper argues that there is still plenty of mileage in Poppers work including a potentially fruitful partnership with Austrian economics, a contribution to improve the quality of science and ideas to promote critical and imaginative thinking.


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Blaug, M. (1992). The Methodology of Economics: Or How Economists Explain. Second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boettke, P. (2015). The Methodology of Austrian Economics as a Sophisticated, Rather Than Nave, Philosophy of Economics. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 37, (1). 79-85.

Butos W. N. & McQuade T. (2006). Government and Science: A Dangerous Liaison? The Independent Review, 11(2): 177208.

Burgess, T. (1985). Applying Popper to Social Problems: Practical Solutions to Practical Problems. ETC Fall. 299-309.

Cassell, J. F. & Congleton, R. J. (1993). Critical Thinking: An Annotated Bibliography. London: The Scarecrow Press.

Chalmers, A. (2009). The Scientists Atom and the Philosophers Stone: How Science Succeeded and Philosophy Failed to Gain Knowledge of Atoms. Springer.

Champion, R. (2010). The Common Ground of Parsons, Mises and Popper in the 1930s: The Action Frame of Reference, Praxeology and Situational Analysis. Retrieved from http://www.the-rathouse.com/EvenMoreAustrianProgram/Convergence.html

Champion, R. (2011). In Defence of Fallible Apriorism and The Aristotelian Program for Economics. Nuova civilt delle macchine, Vol. 1-2. 69-88.

Champion, R. (2016). Popper: The Champion Guides. Amazon https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=rafe+champion

Crick, F. (1988). What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic Books.

Deveraux, E. C. (1961). Parsons Social Theory. In M. Black (Ed) The Social Theories of Talcott Parsons. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1-63.

Fang, F. C., Casadevall, A. & Morrison, R. P. (2011). Retracted Science and the retraction index. Infect. Immunol. 78, (10) 3855-3859. http://iai.asm.org/content/79/10/3855.

Fanelli, D. (2012). Negative results are disappearing from most disciplines and countries. Sociometrics, 90, (3). 891904.

Feynman, R. (1985). Surely Youre Joking, Mr Feynman: The Adventures of a Curious Character. New York: W.W. Norton.

Feynman, R. (2013). The Scientific Method Richard Feynman. Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL6-x0modwY

Firestein, S. (2012). Ignorance: How it Drives Science. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gombrich, E . H. (1974). The Logic of Vanity Fair: Alternatives to Historicism in the Study of Fashions, Style and Taste. In P. A. Schilpp (Ed) The Philosophy of Karl Popper, La Salle: Open Court. 925-960.

Hands, D. W. 2001. Reflection Without Rules: Economic Methodology and Contemporary Science Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Harper, D. (1996). Entrepreneurship and the Market Process: An Enquiry into the Growth of Knowledge. London: Routledge.

Harper, D. (2003). Foundations of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. New York: Routledge.

Horton, R. (2015). What is medicines 5 sigma? http://www.thelancet.com Vol. 385 April 11.

Humphreys, P. (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jackson, F. & Smith, M (2005). The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

James, R. (1980) Return to Reason: Karl Poppers Thought in Public Life. Wells, Somerset: Open Books Publishing Co.

Jarvie, I. C. (1972). Concepts and Society. Routledge: London.

Jarvie, I. C. (2001). The Republic of Science: The Emergence of Poppers Social View of Science 1935-1945. Amsterdam: Ripodi.

Klein, D. B. & Romero, P. P. (2007). Model Building versus Theorizing: The Paucity of Theory in the Journal of Economic Theory. Econ Journal Watch, 45, (2). 241-271.

Medawar, P. B. (1982). Plutos Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Knepper, P. (2007). Situational Logic in Social Science Inquiry: From Economics to Criminology. Review of Austrian Economics 20. 25-41.

Miller, D. (1983). A Pocket Popper. Fontana Pocket Readers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Rationalism – New World Encyclopedia

Rationalism is a broad family of positions in epistemology. Perhaps the best general description of rationalism is the view that there are some distinctive aspects or faculties of the mind that (1) are distinct from passive aspects of the mind such as sense-perceptions and (2) someway or other constitute a special source (perhaps only a partial source) of knowledge. These distinctive aspects are typically associated or identified with human abilities to engage in mathematics and abstract reasoning, and the knowledge they provide is often seen as of a type that could not have come from other sources. Philosophers who resist rationalism are usually grouped under the heading of empiricists, who are often allied under the claim that all human knowledge comes from experience.

The debate around which the rationalism/empiricism distinction revolves is one of the oldest and most continuous in philosophy. Some of Plato's most explicit arguments address the topic and it was arguably the central concern of many of the Modern thinkers. Indeed, Kant's principal works were concerned with "pure" faculties of reason. Contemporary philosophers have advanced and refined the issue, though there are current thinkers who align themselves with either side of the tradition.

It is difficult to identify a major figure in the history to whom some rationalist doctrine has not been attributed at some point. One reason for this is that there is no question that humans possess some sort of reasoning ability that allows them to come to know some facts they otherwise wouldn't (for instance, mathematical facts), and every philosopher has had to acknowledge this fact. Another reason is that the very business of philosophy is to achieve knowledge by using the rational faculties, in contrast to, for instance, mystical approaches to knowledge. Nevertheless, some philosophical figures stand out as attributing even greater significance to reasoning abilities. Three are discussed here: Plato, Descartes, and Kant.

The most famous metaphysical doctrine of the great Greek philosopher Plato is his doctrine of "Forms," as espoused in The Republic and other dialogues. The Forms are described as being outside of the world as experience by the senses, but as somehow constituting the metaphysical basis of the world. Exactly how they fulfill this function is generally only gestured at through analogies, though the Timaeus describes the Forms as operating as blueprints for the craftsman of the universe.

The distinctiveness of Plato's rationalism lies in another aspect of his theory of Forms. Though the common sense position is that the senses are one's best means of getting in touch with reality, Plato held that human reasoning ability was the one thing that allowed people to approach the Forms, the most fundamental aspects of reality. It is worth pausing to reflect on how radical this idea is: On such a view, philosophical attempts to understand the nature of "good" or "just" are not mere analyses of concepts formed, but rather explorations of eternal things that are responsible for shaping the reality of the sensory world.

The French philosopher Ren Descartes, whose Meditations on First Philosophy defined the course of much philosophy from then up till the present day, stood near the beginning of the Western European Enlightenment. Impressed by the power of mathematics and the development of the new science, Descartes was confronted with two questions: How was it that people were coming to attain such deep knowledge of the workings of the universe, and how was it that they had spent so long not doing so?

Regarding the latter question, Descartes concluded that people had been mislead by putting too much faith in the testimony of their senses. In particular, he thought such a mistake was behind the then-dominant physics of Aristotle. Aristotle and the later Scholastics, in Descartes' mind, had used their reasoning abilities well enough on the basis of what their senses told them. The problem was that they had chosen the wrong starting point for their inquiries.

By contrast, the advancements in the new science (some of which Descartes could claim for himself) were based in a very different starting point: The "pure light of reason." In Descartes' view, God had equipped humans with a faculty that was able to understand the fundamental essence of the two types of substance that made up the world: Intellectual substance (of which minds are instances) and physical substance (matter). Not only did God give people such a faculty, Descartes claimed, but he made them such that, when using the faculty, they are unable to question its deliverances. Not only that, but God left humanity the means to conclude that the faculty was a gift from a non-deceptive omnipotent creator.

In some respects, the German philosophy Immanuel Kant is the paradigm of an anti-rationalist philosopher. A major portion of his central work, the 1781 Critique of Pure Reason, is specifically devoted to attacking rationalist claims to have insight through reason alone into the nature of the soul, the spatiotemporal/causal structure of the universe, and the existence of God. Plato and Descartes are among his most obvious targets.

For instance, in his evaluation of rationalist claims concerning the nature of the soul (the chapter of the Critique entitled "The Paralogisms of Pure Reason"), Kant attempts to diagnose how a philosopher like Descartes could have been tempted into thinking that he could accomplish deep insight into his own nature by thought alone. One of Descartes' conclusions was that his mind, unlike his body, was utterly simple and so lacked parts. Kant claimed that Descartes mistook a simple experience (the thought, "I think") for an experience of simplicity. In other words, he saw Descartes as introspecting, being unable to find any divisions within himself, and thereby concluding that he lacked any such divisions and so was simple. But the reason he was unable to find divisions, in Kant's view, was that by mere thought alone we are unable to find anything.

At the same time, however, Kant was an uncompromising advocate of some key rationalist intuitions. Confronted with the Scottish philosopher David Hume's claim that the concept of "cause" was merely one of the constant conjunction of resembling entities, Kant insisted that all Hume really accomplished was in proving that the concept of causation could not possibly have its origin in human senses. What the senses cannot provide, Kant claimed, is any notion of necessity, yet a crucial part of our concept of causation is that it is the necessary connection of two entities or events. Kant's conclusion was that this concept, and others like it, must be a precondition of sensory experience itself.

In his moral philosophy (most famously expounded in his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals), Kant made an even more original claim on behalf of reason. The sensory world, in his view, was merely ideal, in that the spatiotemporal/sensory features of the objects people experience have their being only in humanity's representations, and so are not features of the objects in themselves. But this means that most everyday concepts are simply inadequate for forming any notion whatsoever of what the world is like apart from our subjective features. By contrast, Kant claimed that there was no parallel reason for thinking that objects in themselves (which include our soul) do not conform to the most basic concepts of our higher faculties. So while those faculties are unable to provide any sort of direct, reliable access to the basic features of reality as envisioned by Plato and Descartes, they and they alone give one the means to at least contemplate what true reality might be like.

In the early part of the twentieth century, a philosophical movement known as Logical Positivism set the ground for a new debate over rationalism. The positivists (whose ranks included Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap) claimed that the only meaningful claims were those that could potentially be verified by some set of experiential observations. Their aim was to do away with intellectual traditions that they saw as simply vacuous, including theology and the majority of philosophy, in contrast with science.

As it turned out, the Positivists were unable to explain how all scientific claims were verifiable by experience, thus losing their key motivation (for instance, no set of experiences could verify that all stars are hot, since no set of experiential observations could itself confirm that one had observed all the stars). Nevertheless, their vision retained enough force that later philosophers felt hard-pressed to explain what, if anything, was epistemically distinctive about the non-sensory faculties. One recent defense of rationalism can be found in the work of contemporary philosophers such as Laurence Bonjour (the recent developments of the position are, in general, too subtle to be adequately addressed here). Yet the charge was also met by a number of thinkers working in areas as closely related to psychology as to philosophy.

A number of thinkers have argued for something like Kant's view that people have concepts independently of experience. Indeed, the groundbreaking work of the linguist Noam Chomsky (which he occasionally tied to Descartes) is largely based on the assumption that there is a "universal grammar"that is, some basic set of linguistic categories and abilities that necessarily underlie all human languages. One task of linguistics, in Chomsky's view, is to look at a diversity of languages in order to determine what the innate linguistic categories and capacities are.

A similar proposal concerning human beliefs about mentality itself has been advanced by Peter Carruthers. One intuitive view is that each of us comes to attribute mental states to other people only after a long developmental process where people learn to associate observable phenomena with their own mental states, and thereby with others. Yet, Carruthers argues, this view simply cannot account for the speed and complexity of humans' understanding of others' psychology at very early ages. The only explanation is that some understanding of mentality is "hard-wired" in the human brain.

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Difference Between Empiricism and Rationalism

August 5, 2011 Posted by koshal

Empiricism and rationalism are two schools of thoughts in philosophy that are characterized by different views, and hence, they should be understood regarding the differences between them. First let us define these two thoughts. Empiricism is an epistemological standpoint that states that experience and observation should be the means of gaining knowledge. On the other hand, Rationalism is a philosophical standpoint that believes that opinions and actions should be based on reason rather than on religious beliefs or emotions. The main difference between the two philosophical standpoints is as follows. While rationalism believes that pure reason is sufficient for the production of knowledge, empiricism believes that it is not so. According to empiricism, it should be created through observation and experience. Through this article let us examine the differences between the two philosophical thoughts while gaining a comprehensive understanding of each standpoint.

Empiricism is an epistemological standpoint that states that experience and observation should be the means of gaining knowledge. An empiricist would say that one cannot have the knowledge about God by reason. Empiricism believes that all kinds of knowledge related to existence can be derived only from experience. There is no place for the pure reason to get the knowledge about the world. In short, it can be said that empiricism is a mere negation of rationalism.

Empiricism teaches that we should not try to know substantive truths about God and the soul from reason. Instead, an empiricist would recommend two projects, namely, constructive and critical. Constructive project centers on commentaries of religious texts. Critical projects aim at the elimination of what is said to have been known by the metaphysicians. In fact, the elimination process is based on experience. Thus, it can be said that empiricism relies more on experience than pure reason.

David Hume was an empiricist

Rationalism is a philosophical standpoint that believes that opinions and actions should be based on reason rather than on religious beliefs or emotions. The rationalist would say that one can get the knowledge of God by mere reason. In other words, pure reason would suffice for one to have a thorough understanding of the Almighty.

Even when it comes to their acceptance of the sources of knowledge, these two standpoints are different from one another. Rationalism believes in intuition, whereas empiricism does not believe in intuition. It is important to know that we can be rationalists as far as the subject of mathematics is concerned, but can be empiricist as far as the other physical sciences are concerned. Intuition and deduction may hold good for mathematics, but they may not hold good for other physical sciences. These are the subtle differences between empiricism and rationalism.

Plato believed in rational insight

Empiricism is an epistemological standpoint that states that experience and observation should be the means of gaining knowledge.

Rationalism is a philosophical standpoint that believes that opinions and actions should be based on reason rather than on religious beliefs or emotions.

An empiricist would say that one cannot have the knowledge about God by reason. Empiricism believes that all kinds of knowledge related to existence can be derived only from experience.

The rationalist would say that one can get the knowledge of God by mere reason.

Empiricism is a mere negation of rationalism.

Empiricism teaches that we should not try to know substantive truths about God and the soul from reason.

An empiricist would recommend two projects, namely, constructive and critical.

Rationalism would ask to follow pure reason.

Empiricism does not believe in intuition.

Rationalism believes in intuition.

Images Courtesy:David Humeand Plato via Wikicommons (Public Domain)

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Difference Between Empiricism and Rationalism

Critique of Pure Reason – Wikipedia

Critique of Pure Reason

Title page of the 1781 edition

The Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft) is a 1781 book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in which the author seeks to determine the limits and scope of metaphysics. A heavily-revised second edition was published in 1787. Also referred to as Kant's "First Critique," it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgment (1790). In the preface to the first edition, Kant explains that by a "critique of pure reason" he means not "a critique of books and systems, but of the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience" and that he aims to reach a decision about "the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics". The First Critique is often viewed as culminating several centuries of early-modern philosophy, and inaugurating modern philosophy.

Kant builds on the work of empiricist philosophers such as John Locke and David Hume, as well as rationalists such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff. He expounds new ideas on the nature of space and time, and tries to provide solutions to Hume's scepticism regarding human knowledge of the relation of cause and effect, and Ren Descartes' scepticism regarding knowledge of the external world. This is argued through the transcendental idealism of objects (as appearance) and their form of appearance. Kant regards the former "as mere representations and not as things in themselves", and the latter as "only sensible forms of our intuition, but not determinations given for themselves or conditions of objects as things in themselves". This grants the possibility of a priori knowledge, since objects as appearance "must conform to our cognition . . . which is to establish something about objects before they are given to us". Knowledge independent of experience Kant calls "a priori" knowledge, while knowledge obtained through experience is termed "a posteriori". According to Kant, a proposition is a priori if it is necessary and universal. A proposition is necessary if it could not possibly be false, and so cannot be denied without contradiction. A proposition is universal if it is true in all cases, and so does not admit of any exceptions. Knowledge gained a posteriori through the senses, Kant argues, never imparts absolute necessity and universality, because it is always possible that we might encounter an exception.

Kant claims to have discovered another attribute of propositions: the distinction between "analytic" and "synthetic" judgments. According to Kant, a proposition is analytic if the content of the predicate-concept of the proposition is already contained within the subject-concept of that proposition. For example, Kant considers the proposition "All bodies are extended" analytic, since the predicate-concept ('extended') is already contained withinor "thought in"the subject-concept of the sentence ('body'). The distinctive character of analytic judgements was therefore that they can be known to be true simply by an analysis of the concepts contained in them; they are true by definition. In synthetic propositions, on the other hand, the predicate-concept is not already contained within the subject-concept. For example, Kant considers the proposition "All bodies are heavy" synthetic, since the concept 'body' does not already contain within it the concept 'weight'. Synthetic judgments therefore add something to a concept, whereas analytic judgments only explain what is already contained in the concept.

Prior to Kant, it was thought that all a priori knowledge must be analytic. Kant, however, argues that our knowledge of mathematics, of the first principles of natural science, and of metaphysics, is both a priori and synthetic. The peculiar nature of this knowledge, Kant argues, cries out for explanation. The central problem of the Critique is therefore to answer the question: "How are synthetic a priori judgements possible?" It is a "matter of life and death" to metaphysics and to human reason, Kant argues, that the grounds of this kind of knowledge be explained.

Though it received little attention when it was first published, the Critique later attracted attacks from both empiricist and rationalist critics, and became a source of controversy. It has exerted an enduring influence on Western philosophy, and helped to bring about the development of German idealism.

Before Kant, it was generally held that truths of reason must be analytic, meaning that what is stated in the predicate must already be present in the subject (for example, "An intelligent man is intelligent" or "An intelligent man is a man").[8] In either case, the judgment is analytic because it is ascertained by analyzing the subject. It was thought that all truths of reason, or necessary truths, are of this kind: that in all of them there is a predicate that is only part of the subject of which it is asserted.[8] If this were so, attempting to deny anything that could be known a priori (for example, "An intelligent man is not intelligent" or "An intelligent man is not a man") would involve a contradiction. It was therefore thought that the law of contradiction is sufficient to establish all a priori knowledge.[9]

David Hume (17111776) at first accepted the general view of rationalism about a priori knowledge. However, upon closer examination of the subject, Hume discovered that some judgments thought to be analytic, especially those related to cause and effect, were actually synthetic (i.e., no analysis of the subject will reveal the predicate). They thus depend exclusively upon experience and are therefore a posteriori.

Before Hume, rationalists had held that effect could be deduced from cause; Hume argued that it could not and from this inferred that nothing at all could be known a priori in relation to cause and effect. Kant (17241804), who was brought up under the auspices of rationalism, was deeply disturbed by Hume's skepticism. "Kant tells us that David Hume awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers."[10]

Kant decided to find an answer and spent at least twelve years thinking about the subject.[11] Although the Critique of Pure Reason was set down in written form in just four to five months, while Kant was also lecturing and teaching, the work is a summation of the development of Kant's philosophy throughout that twelve-year period.[12]

Kant's work was stimulated by his decision to take seriously Hume's skeptical conclusions about such basic principles as cause and effect, which had implications for Kant's grounding in rationalism. In Kant's view, Hume's skepticism rested on the premise that all ideas are presentations of sensory experience. The problem that Hume identified was that basic principles such as causality cannot be derived from sense experience only: experience shows only that one event regularly succeeds another, not that it is caused by it.

In section VI ("The General Problem of Pure Reason") of the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explains that Hume stopped short of considering that a synthetic judgment could be made 'a priori'. Kant's goal was to find some way to derive cause and effect without relying on empirical knowledge. Kant rejects analytical methods for this, arguing that analytic reasoning cannot tell us anything that is not already self-evident, so his goal was to find a way to demonstrate how the synthetic a priori is possible.

To accomplish this goal, Kant argued that it would be necessary to use synthetic reasoning. However, this posed a new problemhow is it possible to have synthetic knowledge that is not based on empirical observationthat is, how are synthetic a priori truths possible? This question is exceedingly important, Kant maintains, because he contended that all important metaphysical knowledge is of synthetic a priori propositions. If it is impossible to determine which synthetic a priori propositions are true, he argues, then metaphysics as a discipline is impossible. The remainder of the Critique of Pure Reason is devoted to examining whether and how knowledge of synthetic a priori propositions is possible.

Kant argues that there are synthetic judgments such as the connection of cause and effect (e.g., "...Every effect has a cause.") where no analysis of the subject will produce the predicate. Kant reasons that statements such as those found in geometry and Newtonian physics are synthetic judgments. Kant uses the classical example of 7 + 5 = 12. No amount of analysis will find 12 in either 7 nor 5. Thus Kant arrives at the conclusion that all pure mathematics is synthetic though a priori; the number 7 is seven and the number 5 is five and the number 12 is twelve and the same principle applies to other numerals; in other words, they are universal and necessary. For Kant then, mathematics is synthetic judgment a priori. Conventional reasoning would have regarded such an equation to be analytic a priori by considering both 7 and 5 to be part of one subject being analyzed, however Kant looked upon 7 and 5 as two separate values, with the value of five being applied to that of 7 and synthetically arriving at the logical conclusion that they equal 12. This conclusion led Kant into a new problem as he wanted to establish how this could be possible: How is pure mathematics possible?[11] This also led him to inquire whether it could be possible to ground synthetic a priori knowledge for a study of metaphysics, because most of the principles of metaphysics from Plato through to Kant's immediate predecessors made assertions about the world or about God or about the soul that were not self-evident but which could not be derived from empirical observation (B18-24). For Kant, all post-Cartesian metaphysics is mistaken from its very beginning: the empiricists are mistaken because they assert that it is not possible to go beyond experience and the dogmatists are mistaken because they assert that it is possible to go beyond experience through theoretical reason.

Therefore, Kant proposes a new basis for a science of metaphysics, posing the question: how is a science of metaphysics possible, if at all? According to Kant, only practical reason, the faculty of moral consciousness, the moral law of which everyone is immediately aware, makes it possible to know things as they are.[13] This led to his most influential contribution to metaphysics: the abandonment of the quest to try to know the world as it is "in itself" independent of sense experience. He demonstrated this with a thought experiment, showing that it is not possible to meaningfully conceive of an object that exists outside of time and has no spatial components and is not structured in accordance with the categories of the understanding (Verstand), such as substance and causality. Although such an object cannot be conceived, Kant argues, there is no way of showing that such an object does not exist. Therefore, Kant says, the science of metaphysics must not attempt to reach beyond the limits of possible experience but must discuss only those limits, thus furthering the understanding of ourselves as thinking beings. The human mind is incapable of going beyond experience so as to obtain a knowledge of ultimate reality, because no direct advance can be made from pure ideas to objective existence.[14]

Kant writes, "Since, then, the receptivity of the subject, its capacity to be affected by objects, must necessarily precede all intuitions of these objects, it can readily be understood how the form of all appearances can be given prior to all actual perceptions, and so exist in the mind a priori" (A26/B42). Appearance is then, via the faculty of transcendental imagination (Einbildungskraft), grounded systematically in accordance with the categories of the understanding. Kant's metaphysical system, which focuses on the operations of cognitive faculties (Erkenntnisvermgen), places substantial limits on knowledge not founded in the forms of sensibility (Sinnlichkeit). Thus it sees the error of metaphysical systems prior to the Critique as failing to first take into consideration the limitations of the human capacity for knowledge. According to Heidegger, transcendental imagination is what Kant also refers to as the unknown common root uniting sense and understanding, the two component parts of experience. Transcendental imagination is described in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason but Kant omits it from the second edition of 1787.[15]

It is because he takes into account the role of people's cognitive faculties in structuring the known and knowable world that in the second preface to the Critique of Pure Reason Kant compares his critical philosophy to Copernicus' revolution in astronomy. Kant writes: "Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge" (Bxvi). Just as Copernicus revolutionized astronomy by taking the position of the observer into account, Kant's critical philosophy takes into account the position of the knower of the world in general and reveals its impact on the structure of the known world. Kant's view is that in explaining the movement of celestial bodies Copernicus rejected the idea that the movement is in the stars and accepted it as a part of the spectator. Knowledge does not depend so much on the object of knowledge as on the capacity of the knower.[16]

Kant's transcendental idealism should be distinguished from idealistic systems such as that of George Berkeley. While Kant claimed that phenomena depend upon the conditions of sensibility, space and time, and on the synthesizing activity of the mind manifested in the rule-based structuring of perceptions into a world of objects, this thesis is not equivalent to mind-dependence in the sense of Berkeley's idealism. Kant defines transcendental idealism:

In Kant's view, a priori intuitions and concepts provide some a priori knowledge, which also provides the framework for a posteriori knowledge. Kant also believed that causality is a conceptual organizing principle imposed upon nature, albeit nature understood as the sum of appearances that can be synthesized according to a priori concepts.

In other words, space and time are a form of perceiving and causality is a form of knowing. Both space and time and conceptual principles and processes pre-structure experience.

Things as they are "in themselves"the thing in itself or das Ding an sichare unknowable. For something to become an object of knowledge, it must be experienced, and experience is structured by the mindboth space and time being the forms of intuition (Anschauung in German; for Kant, intuition is the process of sensing or the act of having a sensation)[17] or perception, and the unifying, structuring activity of concepts. These aspects of mind turn things-in-themselves into the world of experience. There is never passive observation or knowledge.

According to Kant, the transcendental egothe "Transcendental Unity of Apperception"is similarly unknowable. Kant contrasts the transcendental ego to the empirical ego, the active individual self subject to immediate introspection. One is aware that there is an "I," a subject or self that accompanies one's experience and consciousness. Since one experiences it as it manifests itself in time, which Kant proposes is a subjective form of perception, one can know it only indirectly: as object, rather than subject. It is the empirical ego that distinguishes one person from another providing each with a definite character.[18]

The Critique of Pure Reason is arranged around several basic distinctions. After the two Prefaces (the A edition Preface of 1781 and the B edition Preface of 1787) and the Introduction, the book is divided into the Doctrine of Elements and the Doctrine of Method:

The Doctrine of Elements sets out the a priori products of the mind, and the correct and incorrect use of these presentations. Kant further divides the Doctrine of Elements into the Transcendental Aesthetic and the Transcendental Logic, reflecting his basic distinction between sensibility and the understanding. In the Transcendental Aesthetic he argues that space and time are pure forms of intuition inherent in our faculty of sense. The Transcendental Logic is separated into the Transcendental Analytic and the Transcendental Dialectic:

The Doctrine of Method contains four sections. The first section, Discipline of Pure Reason, compares mathematical and logical methods of proof, and the second section, Canon of Pure Reason, distinguishes theoretical from practical reason.

The Divisions of Critique of Pure Reason



The Transcendental Aesthetic, as the Critique notes, deals with "all principles of a priori sensibility". As a further delimitation, it "constitutes the first part of the transcendental doctrine of elements, in contrast to that which contains the principles of pure thinking, and is named transcendental logic". In it, what is aimed at is "pure intuition and the mere form of appearances, which is the only thing that sensibility can make available a priori". It is thus an analytic of the a priori constitution of sensibility; through which "Objects are therefore given to us . . . , and it alone affords us intuitions". This in itself is an explication of the "pure form of sensible intuitions in general [that] is to be encountered in the mind a priori". Thus, pure form or intuition is the a priori "wherein all of the manifold of appearances is intuited in certain relations". from this, "a science of all principles of a priori sensibility [is called] the transcendental aesthetic". The above stems from the fact that "there are two stems of human cognition . . . namely sensibility and understanding". This division, as the critique notes, comes "closer to the language and the sense of the ancients, among whom the division of cognition into is very well known". An exposition on a priori intuitions is an analysis of the intentional constitution of sensibility. Since this lies a prior in the mind prior to actual object relation; "The transcendental doctrine of the senses will have to belong to the first part of the science of elements, since the conditions under which alone the objects of human cognition are given precede those under which those objects are thought".

Kant distinguishes between the matter and the form of appearances. The matter is "that in the appearance that corresponds to sensation" (A20/B34). The form is "that which so determines the manifold of appearance that it allows of being ordered in certain relations" (A20/B34). Kant's revolutionary claim is that the form of appearanceswhich he later identifies as space and timeis a contribution made by the faculty of sensation to cognition, rather than something that exists independently of the mind. This is the thrust of Kant's doctrine of the transcendental ideality of space and time.

Kant's arguments for this conclusion are widely debated among Kant scholars. Some see the argument as based on Kant's conclusions that our representation (Vorstellung) of space and time is an a priori intuition. From here Kant is thought to argue that our representation of space and time as a priori intuitions entails that space and time are transcendentally ideal. It is undeniable from Kant's point of view that in Transcendental Philosophy, the difference of things as they appear and things as they are is a major philosophical discovery.[27] Others see the argument as based upon the question of whether synthetic a priori judgments are possible. Kant is taken to argue that the only way synthetic a priori judgments, such as those made in geometry, are possible is if space is transcendentally ideal.

In Section I (Of Space) of Transcendental Aesthetic in the Critique of Pure Reason Kant poses the following questions: What then are time and space? Are they real existences? Or, are they merely relations or determinations of things, such, however, as would equally belong to these things in themselves, though they should never become objects of intuition; or, are they such as belong only to the form of intuition, and consequently to the subjective constitution of the mind, without which these predicates of time and space could not be attached to any object?[28] The answer that space and time are real existences belongs to Newton. The answer that space and time are relations or determinations of things even when they are not being sensed belongs to Leibniz. Both answers maintain that space and time exist independently of the subject's awareness. This is exactly what Kant denies in his answer that space and time belong to the subjective constitution of the mind.[29]:8788

Kant gives two expositions of space and time: metaphysical and transcendental. The metaphysical expositions of space and time are concerned with clarifying how those intuitions are known independently of experience. The transcendental expositions attempt to show how the metaphysical conclusions might be applied to enrich our understanding.

In the transcendental exposition, Kant refers back to his metaphysical exposition in order to show that the sciences would be impossible if space and time were not kinds of pure a priori intuitions. He asks the reader to take the proposition, "two straight lines can neither contain any space nor, consequently, form a figure", and then to try to derive this proposition from the concepts of a straight line and the number two. He concludes that it is simply impossible (A47-48/B65). Thus, since this information cannot be obtained from analytic reasoning, it must be obtained through synthetic reasoning, i.e., a synthesis of concepts (in this case two and straightness) with the pure (a priori) intuition of space.

In this case, however, it was not experience that furnished the third term; otherwise, the necessary and universal character of geometry would be lost. Only space, which is a pure a priori form of intuition, can make this synthetic judgment, thus it must then be a priori. If geometry does not serve this pure a priori intuition, it is empirical, and would be an experimental science, but geometry does not proceed by measurementsit proceeds by demonstrations.

Kant rests his demonstration of the priority of space on the example of geometry. He reasons that therefore if something exists, it needs to be intelligible. If someone attacked this argument, he would doubt the universality of geometry (which Kant believes no honest person would do).

The other part of the Transcendental Aesthetic argues that time is a pure a priori intuition that renders mathematics possible. Time is not a concept, since otherwise it would merely conform to formal logical analysis (and therefore, to the principle of non-contradiction). However, time makes it possible to deviate from the principle of non-contradiction: indeed, it is possible to say that A and non-A are in the same spatial location if one considers them in different times, and a sufficient alteration between states were to occur (A32/B48). Time and space cannot thus be regarded as existing in themselves. They are a priori forms of sensible intuition.

The current interpretation of Kant states that the subject inherently possesses the underlying conditions to perceive spatial and temporal presentations. The Kantian thesis claims that in order for the subject to have any experience at all, then it must be bounded by these forms of presentations (Vorstellung). Some scholars have offered this position as an example of psychological nativism, as a rebuke to some aspects of classical empiricism.

Kant's thesis concerning the transcendental ideality of space and time limits appearances to the forms of sensibilityindeed, they form the limits within which these appearances can count as sensible; and it necessarily implies that the thing-in-itself is neither limited by them nor can it take the form of an appearance within us apart from the bounds of sensibility (A48-49/B66). Yet the thing-in-itself is held by Kant to be the cause of that which appears, and this is where an apparent paradox of Kantian critique resides: while we are prohibited from absolute knowledge of the thing-in-itself, we can impute to it a cause beyond ourselves as a source of representations within us. Kant's view of space and time rejects both the space and time of Aristotelian physics and the space and time of Newtonian physics.

In the Transcendental Logic, there is a section (titled The Refutation of Idealism) that frees Kant's doctrine from any vestiges of subjective idealism, which would either doubt or deny the existence of external objects (B274-79). However, Senderowics warns that "...If the Refutation of Idealism indeed addresses a question left unanswered by the previous introductory pages of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant's preceding comments contain a gap that needs to be bridged."[30] Kant's distinction between the appearance and the thing-in-itself is not intended to imply that nothing knowable exists apart from consciousness, as with subjective idealism. Rather, it declares that knowledge is limited to phenomena as objects of a sensible intuition. In the Fourth Paralogism ("...A Paralogism is a logical fallacy"),[31] Kant further certifies his philosophy as separate from that of subjective idealism by defining his position as a transcendental idealism in accord with empirical realism (A36680), a form of direct realism.[32][a] "The Paralogisms of Pure Reason" is the only chapter of the Dialectic that Kant rewrote for the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. In the first edition, the Fourth Paralogism offers a defence of transcendental idealism, which Kant reconsidered and relocated in the second edition.

Whereas the Transcendental Aesthetic was concerned with the role of the sensibility, the Transcendental Logic is concerned with the role of the understanding, which Kant defines as the faculty of the mind that deals with concepts. Knowledge, Kant argued, contains two components: intuitions, through which an object is given to us in sensibility, and concepts, through which an object is thought in understanding. In the Transcendental Aesthetic, he attempted to show that the a priori forms of intuition were space and time, and that these forms were the conditions of all possible intuition. It should therefore be expected that we should find similar a priori concepts in the understanding, and that these pure concepts should be the conditions of all possible thought. The Logic is divided into two parts: the Transcendental Analytic and the Transcendental Dialectic. The Analytic Kant calls a "logic of truth"; in it he aims to discover these pure concepts which are the conditions of all thought, and are thus what makes knowledge possible. The Transcendental Dialectic Kant calls a "logic of illusion"; in it he aims to expose the illusions that we create when we attempt to apply reason beyond the limits of experience.

The idea of a transcendental logic is that of a logic that gives an account of the origins of our knowledge as well as its relationship to objects. Kant contrasts this with the idea of a general logic, which abstracts from the conditions under which our knowledge is acquired, and from any relation that knowledge has to objects. According to Helge Svare "...It is important to keep in mind what Kant says here about logic in general, and transcendental logic in particular, being the product of abstraction, so that we are not misled when a few pages later he emphasizes the pure, non-empirical character of the transcendental concepts or the categories."[39]

Kant's investigations in the Transcendental Logic lead him to conclude that the understanding and reason can only legitimately be applied to things as they appear phenomenally to us in experience. What things are in themselves as being noumenal, independent of our cognition, remains limited by what is known through phenomenal experience.

The Transcendental Analytic is divided into an Analytic of Concepts and an Analytic of Principles, as well as a third section concerned with the distinction between phenomena and noumena. In Chapter III (Of the ground of the division of all objects into phenomena and noumena) of the Transcendental Analytic, Kant generalizes the implications of the Analytic in regard to transcendent objects preparing the way for the explanation in the Transcendental Dialectic about thoughts of transcendent objects, Kant's detailed theory of the content (Inhalt) and origin of our thoughts about specific transcendent objects.[29]:198199 The main sections of the Analytic of Concepts are The Metaphysical Deduction and The Transcendental Deduction of the Categories. The main sections of the Analytic of Principles are the Schematism, Axioms of Intuition, Anticipations of Perception, Analogies of Experience, Postulates and follow the same recurring tabular form:

In the 2nd edition, these sections are followed by a section titled the Refutation of Idealism.

In the Metaphysical Deduction, Kant aims to derive twelve pure concepts of the understanding (which he calls "categories") from the logical forms of judgment. In the following section, he will go on to argue that these categories are conditions of all thought in general. Kant arranges the forms of judgment in a table of judgments, which he uses to guide the derivation of the table of categories.

The role of the understanding is to make judgments. In judgment, the understanding employs concepts which apply to the intuitions given to us in sensibility. Judgments can take different logical forms, with each form combining concepts in different ways. Kant claims that if we can identify all of the possible logical forms of judgment, this will serve as a "clue" to the discovery of the most basic and general concepts that are employed in making such judgments, and thus that are employed in all thought.

Logicians prior to Kant had concerned themselves to classify the various possible logical forms of judgment. Kant, with only minor modifications, accepts and adopts their work as correct and complete, and lays out all the logical forms of judgment in a table, reduced under four heads:

Under each head, there corresponds three logical forms of judgement:

This Aristotelian method for classifying judgments is the basis for his own twelve corresponding concepts of the understanding. In deriving these concepts, he reasons roughly as follows. If we are to possess pure concepts of the understanding, they must relate to the logical forms of judgement. However, if these pure concepts are to be applied to intuition, they must have content. But the logical forms of judgement are by themselves abstract and contentless. Therefore, to determine the pure concepts of the understanding we must identify concepts which both correspond to the logical forms of judgement, and are able to play a role in organising intuition. Kant therefore attempts to extract from each of the logical forms of judgement a concept which relates to intuition. For example, corresponding to the logical form of hypothetical judgement ('If p, then q'), there corresponds the category of causality ('If one event, then another'). Kant calls these pure concepts 'categories', echoing the Aristotelian notion of a category as a concept which is not derived from any more general concept. He follows a similar method for the other eleven categories, then represents them in the following table:

These categories, then, are the fundamental, primary, or native concepts of the understanding. These flow from, or constitute the mechanism of understanding and its nature, and are inseparable from its activity. Therefore, for human thought, they are universal and necessary, or a priori. As categories they are not contingent states or images of sensuous consciousness, and hence not to be thence derived. Similarly, they are not known to us independently of such consciousness or of sensible experience. On the one hand, they are exclusively involved in, and hence come to our knowledge exclusively through, the spontaneous activity of the understanding. This understanding is never active, however, until sensible data are furnished as material for it to act upon, and so it may truly be said that they become known to us "only on the occasion of sensible experience." For Kant, in opposition to Christian Wolff and Thomas Hobbes, the categories exist only in the mind.[43]

These categories are "pure" conceptions of the understanding, in as much as they are independent of all that is contingent in sense. They are not derived from what is called the matter of sense, or from particular, variable sensations. However, they are not independent of the universal and necessary form of sense. Again, Kant, in the "Transcendental Logic," is professedly engaged with the search for an answer to the second main question of the Critique, How is pure physical science, or sensible knowledge, possible? Kant, now, has said, and, with reference to the kind of knowledge mentioned in the foregoing question, has said truly, that thoughts, without the content which perception supplies, are empty. This is not less true of pure thoughts, than of any others. The content which the pure conceptions, as categories of pure physical science or sensible knowledge, cannot derive from the matter of sense, they must and do derive from its pure form. And in this relation between the pure conceptions of the understanding and their pure content there is involved, as we shall see, the most intimate community of nature and origin between sense, on its formal side (space and time), and the understanding itself. For Kant, space and time are a priori intuitions. Out of a total of six arguments in favor of space as a priori intuition, Kant presents four of them in the Metaphysical Exposition of space: two argue for space a priori and two for space as intuition.[29]:75

In the Transcendental Deduction, Kant aims to show that the categories derived in the Metaphysical Deduction are conditions of all possible experience. He achieves this proof roughly by the following line of thought: all representations must have some common ground if they are to be the source of possible knowledge (because extracting knowledge from experience requires the ability to compare and contrast representations that may occur at different times or in different places). This ground of all experience is the self-consciousness of the experiencing subject, and the constitution of the subject is such that all thought is rule-governed in accordance with the categories. It follows that the categories feature as necessary components in any possible experience.[44]

In order for any concept to have meaning, it must be related to sense perception. The 12 categories, or a priori concepts, are related to phenomenal appearances through schemata. Each category has a schema. It is a connection through time between the category, which is an a priori concept of the understanding, and a phenomenal a posteriori appearance. These schemata are needed to link the pure category to sensed phenomenal appearances because the categories are, as Kant says, heterogeneous with sense intuition. Categories and sensed phenomena, however, do share one characteristic: time. Succession is the form of sense impressions and also of the Category of causality. Therefore, time can be said to be the schema of Categories or pure concepts of the understanding. According to Heidegger, for Kant "...The schemata of pure concepts of understanding, the categories, are a priori time-determinations and as such they are a transcendental product of the pure power of imagination."[45]

In order to answer criticisms of the Critique of Pure Reason that Transcendental Idealism denied the reality of external objects, Kant added a section to the second edition (1787) titled "The Refutation of Idealism" that turns the "game" of idealism against itself by arguing that self-consciousness presupposes external objects in space. Defining self-consciousness as a determination of the self in time, Kant argues that all determinations of time presuppose something permanent in perception and that this permanence cannot be in the self, since it is only through the permanence that one's existence in time can itself be determined. This argument inverted the supposed priority of inner over outer experience that had dominated philosophies of mind and knowledge since Ren Descartes. In Book II, chapter II, section III of the Transcendental Analytic, right under "The Postulates of Empirical Thought", Kant adds his well-known "Widerlegung des Idealismus" (Refutation of Idealism) where he refutes both Descartes' problematic idealism and Berkeley's dogmatic idealism. According to Kant, in problematic idealism the existence of objects is doubtful or impossible to prove while in dogmatic idealism, the existence of space and therefore of spatial objects is impossible. In contradistinction, Kant holds that external objects may be directly perceived and that such experience is a necessary presupposition of self-consciousness.[46]

As an Appendix to the First Division of Transcendental Logic, Kant intends the "Amphiboly of the Conceptions of Reflection" to be a critique of Leibniz's metaphysics and a prelude to Transcendental Dialectic, the Second Division of Transcendental Logic. Kant introduces a whole set of new ideas called "concepts of reflection": identity/difference, agreement/opposition, inner/outer and matter/form. According to Kant, the categories do have but these concepts have no synthetic function in experience. These special concepts just help to make comparisons between concepts judging them either different or the same, compatible or incompatible. It is this particular action of making a judgement that Kant calls "logical reflection."[29]:206 As Kant states: "Through observation and analysis of appearances we penetrate to nature's inner recesses, and no one can say how far this knowledge may in time extend. But with all this knowledge, and even if the whole of nature were revealed to us, we should still never be able to answer those transcendental questions which go beyond nature. The reason of this is that it is not given to us to observe our own mind with any other intuition than that of inner sense; and that it is yet precisely in the mind that the secret of the source of our sensibility is located. The relation of sensibility to an object and what the transcendental ground of this [objective] unity may be, are matters undoubtedly so deeply concealed that we, who after all know even ourselves only through inner sense and therefore as appearance, can never be justified in treating sensibility as being a suitable instrument of investigation for discovering anything save always still other appearances eager as we yet are to explore their non-sensible cause." (A278/B334)

Following the systematic treatment of a priori knowledge given in the transcendental analytic, the transcendental dialectic seeks to dissect dialectical illusions. Its task is effectively to expose the fraudulence of the non-empirical employment of the understanding. The Transcendental Dialectic shows how pure reason should not be used. According to Kant, the rational faculty is plagued with dialectic illusions as man attempts to know what can never be known.[47]

This longer but less dense section of the Critique is composed of five essential elements, including an Appendix, as follows: (a) Introduction (to Reason and the Transcendental Ideas), (b) Rational Psychology (the nature of the soul), (c) Rational Cosmology (the nature of the world), (d) Rational Theology (God), and (e) Appendix (on the constitutive and regulative uses of reason).

In the introduction, Kant introduces a new faculty, human reason, positing that it is a unifying faculty that unifies the manifold of knowledge gained by the understanding. Another way of thinking of reason is to say that it searches for the 'unconditioned'; Kant had shown in the Second Analogy that every empirical event has a cause, and thus each event is conditioned by something antecedent to it, which itself has its own condition, and so forth. Reason seeks to find an intellectual resting place that may bring the series of empirical conditions to a close, to obtain knowledge of an 'absolute totality' of conditions, thus becoming unconditioned. All in all, Kant ascribes to reason the faculty to understand and at the same time criticize the illusions it is subject to.[48][verification needed]

One of the ways that pure reason erroneously tries to operate beyond the limits of possible experience is when it thinks that there is an immortal Soul in every person. Its proofs, however, are paralogisms, or the results of false reasoning.

Every one of my thoughts and judgments is based on the presupposition "I think." "I" is the subject and the thoughts are the predicates. Yet I should not confuse the ever-present logical subject of my every thought with a permanent, immortal, real substance (soul). The logical subject is a mere idea, not a real substance. Unlike Descartes who believes that the soul may be known directly through reason, Kant asserts that no such thing is possible. Descartes declares cogito ergo sum but Kant denies that any knowledge of "I" may be possible. "I" is only the background of the field of apperception and as such lacks the experience of direct intuition that would make self-knowledge possible. This implies that the self in itself could never be known. Like Hume, Kant rejects knowledge of the "I" as substance. For Kant, the "I" that is taken to be the soul is purely logical and involves no intuitions. The "I" is the result of the a priori consciousness continuum not of direct intuition a posteriori. It is apperception as the principle of unity in the consciousness continuum that dictates the presence of "I" as a singular logical subject of all the representations of a single consciousness. Although "I" seems to refer to the same "I" all the time, it is not really a permanent feature but only the logical characteristic of a unified consciousness.[49]

The only use or advantage of asserting that the soul is simple is to differentiate it from matter and therefore prove that it is immortal, but the substratum of matter may also be simple. Since we know nothing of this substratum, both matter and soul may be fundamentally simple and therefore not different from each other. Then the soul may decay, as does matter. It makes no difference to say that the soul is simple and therefore immortal. Such a simple nature can never be known through experience. It has no objective validity. According to Descartes, the soul is indivisible. This paralogism mistakes the unity of apperception for the unity of an indivisible substance called the soul. It is a mistake that is the result of the first paralogism. It is impossible that thinking (Denken) could be composite for if the thought by a single consciousness were to be distributed piecemeal among different consciousnesses, the thought would be lost. According to Kant, the most important part of this proposition is that a multi-faceted presentation requires a single subject. This paralogism misinterprets the metaphysical oneness of the subject by interpreting the unity of apperception as being indivisible and the soul simple as a result. According to Kant, the simplicity of the soul as Descartes believed cannot be inferred from the "I think" as it is assumed to be there in the first place. Therefore, it is a tautology.

In order to have coherent thoughts, I must have an "I" that is not changing and that thinks the changing thoughts. Yet we cannot prove that there is a permanent soul or an undying "I" that constitutes my person. I only know that I am one person during the time that I am conscious. As a subject who observes my own experiences, I attribute a certain identity to myself, but, to another observing subject, I am an object of his experience. He may attribute a different persisting identity to me. In the third paralogism, the "I" is a self-conscious person in a time continuum, which is the same as saying that personal identity is the result of an immaterial soul. The third paralogism mistakes the "I", as unit of apperception being the same all the time, with the everlasting soul. According to Kant, the thought of "I" accompanies every personal thought and it is this that gives the illusion of a permanent I. However, the permanence of "I" in the unity of apperception is not the permanence of substance. For Kant, permanence is a schema, the conceptual means of bringing intuitions under a category. The paralogism confuses the permanence of an object seen from without with the permanence of the "I" in a unity of apperception seen from within. From the oneness of the apperceptive "I" nothing may be deduced. The "I" itself shall always remain unknown. The only ground for knowledge is the intuition, the basis of sense experience.

The soul is not separate from the world. They exist for us only in relation to each other. Whatever we know about the external world is only a direct, immediate, internal experience. The world appears, in the way that it appears, as a mental phenomenon. We cannot know the world as a thing-in-itself, that is, other than as an appearance within us. To think about the world as being totally separate from the soul is to think that a mere phenomenal appearance has independent existence outside of us. If we try to know an object as being other than an appearance, it can only be known as a phenomenal appearance, never otherwise. We cannot know a separate, thinking, non-material soul or a separate, non-thinking, material world because we cannot know things, as to what they may be by themselves, beyond being objects of our senses. The fourth paralogism is passed over lightly or not treated at all by commentators. In the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, the fourth paralogism is addressed to refuting the thesis that there is no certainty of the existence of the external world. In the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, the task at hand becomes the Refutation of Idealism. Sometimes, the fourth paralogism is taken as one of the most awkward of Kant's invented tetrads. Nevertheless, in the fourth paralogism, there is a great deal of philosophizing about the self that goes beyond the mere refutation of idealism. In both editions, Kant is trying to refute the same argument for the non-identity of mind and body.[52] In the first edition, Kant refutes the Cartesian doctrine that there is direct knowledge of inner states only and that knowledge of the external world is exclusively by inference. Kant claims mysticism is one of the characteristics of Platonism, the main source of dogmatic idealism. Kant explains skeptical idealism by developing a syllogism called "The Fourth Paralogism of the Ideality of Outer Relation:"

Kant may have had in mind an argument by Descartes:

It is questionable that the fourth paralogism should appear in a chapter on the soul. What Kant implies about Descartes' argument in favor of the immaterial soul is that the argument rests upon a mistake on the nature of objective judgement not on any misconceptions about the soul. The attack is mislocated.[54]

These Paralogisms cannot be proven for speculative reason and therefore can give no certain knowledge about the Soul. However, they can be retained as a guide to human behavior. In this way, they are necessary and sufficient for practical purposes. In order for humans to behave properly, they can suppose that the soul is an imperishable substance, it is indestructibly simple, it stays the same forever, and it is separate from the decaying material world. On the other hand, anti-rationalist critics of Kant's ethics consider it too abstract, alienating, altruistic or detached from human concern to actually be able to guide human behavior. It is then that the Critique of Pure Reason offers the best defense, demonstrating that in human concern and behavior, the influence of rationality is preponderant.[55]

Kant presents the four antinomies of reason in the Critique of Pure Reason as going beyond the rational intention of reaching a conclusion. For Kant, an antinomy is a pair of faultless arguments in favor of opposite conclusions. Historically, Gottfried Leibniz and Samuel Clarke (Newton's spokesman) had just recently engaged in a titanic debate of unprecedented repercussions. Kant's formulation of the arguments was affected accordingly.[56]

The Ideas of Rational Cosmology are dialectical. They result in four kinds of opposing assertions, each of which is logically valid. The antinomy, with its resolution, is as follows:

According to Kant, rationalism came to fruition by defending the thesis of each antinomy while empiricism evolved into new developments by working to better the arguments in favor of each antithesis.

Pure reason mistakenly goes beyond its relation to possible experience when it concludes that there is a Being who is the most real thing (ens realissimum) conceivable. This ens realissimum is the philosophical origin of the idea of God. This personified object is postulated by Reason as the subject of all predicates, the sum total of all reality. Kant called this Supreme Being, or God, the Ideal of Pure Reason because it exists as the highest and most complete condition of the possibility of all objects, their original cause and their continual support. However, Kant's explication of the theological idea is notoriously unfathomable.

The ontological proof can be traced back to Anselm of Canterbury (10331109). Anselm presented the proof in chapter II of a short treatise titled "Discourse on the existence of God." It was not Kant but the monk Gaunilo and later the Scholastic Thomas Aquinas who first challenged the logical consistency of the proof. Aquinas went on to provide his own proofs for the existence of God in what are known as the Five Ways.[59]

The ontological proof considers the concept of the most real Being (ens realissimum) and concludes that it is necessary.The ontological argument states that God exists because he is perfect. If he didn't exist, he would be less than perfect. Existence is assumed to be a predicate or attribute of the subject, God, but Kant asserted that existence is not a predicate. Existence or Being is merely the infinitive of the copula or linking, connecting verb "is" in a declarative sentence. It connects the subject to a predicate. "Existence is evidently not a real predicate ... The small word is, is not an additional predicate, but only serves to put the predicate in relation to the subject." (A599) Also, we cannot accept a mere concept or mental idea as being a real, external thing or object. The Ontological Argument starts with a mere mental concept of a perfect God and tries to end with a real, existing God.

The argument is essentially deductive in nature. Given a certain fact, it proceeds to infer another from it. The method pursued, then, is that of deducing the fact of God's being from the a priori idea of him. If man finds that the idea of God is necessarily involved in his self-consciousness, it is legitimate for him to proceed from this notion to the actual existence of the divine being. In other words, the idea of God necessarily includes existence. It may include it in several ways. One may argue, for instance, according to the method of Descartes, and say that the conception of God could have originated only with the divine being himself, therefore the idea possessed by us is based on the prior existence of God himself. Or we may allege that we have the idea that God is the most necessary of all beingsthat is to say, he belongs to the class of realities; consequently it cannot but be a fact that he exists. This is held to be proof per saltum. A leap takes place from the premise to the conclusion, and all intermediate steps are omitted. The implication is that premise and conclusion stand over against one another without any obvious, much less necessary, connection. A jump is made from thought to reality. Kant here objects that being or existence is not a mere attribute that may be added onto a subject, thereby increasing its qualitative content. The predicate, being, adds something to the subject that no mere quality can give. It informs us that the idea is not a mere conception, but is also an actually existing reality. Being, as Kant thinks, actually increases the concept itself in such a way as to transform it. You may attach as many attributes as you please to a concept; you do not thereby lift it out of the subjective sphere and render it actual. So you may pile attribute upon attribute on the conception of God, but at the end of the day you are not necessarily one step nearer his actual existence. So that when we say God exists, we do not simply attach a new attribute to our conception; we do far more than this implies. We pass our bare concept from the sphere of inner subjectivity to that of actuality. This is the great vice of the Ontological argument. The idea of ten dollars is different from the fact only in reality. In the same way the conception of God is different from the fact of his existence only in reality. When, accordingly, the Ontological proof declares that the latter is involved in the former, it puts forward nothing more than a mere statement. No proof is forthcoming precisely where proof is most required. We are not in a position to say that the idea of God includes existence, because it is of the very nature of ideas not to include existence.

Kant explains that being not being a predicate could not characterize a thing. Logically, it is the copula of a judgment. In the proposition, "God is almighty", the copula "is" does not add a new predicate; it only unites a predicate to a subject. To take God with all its predicates and say that "God is" is equivalent to "God exists" or that "There is a God" is to jump to a conclusion as no new predicate is being attached to God. The content of both subject and predicate is one and the same. According to Kant then, existence is not really a predicate. Therefore, there is really no connection between the idea of God and God's appearance or disappearance. No statement about God whatsoever may establish God's existence. Kant makes a distinction between "in intellectus" (in mind) and "in re" (in reality or in fact) so that questions of being are a priori and questions of existence are resolved a posteriori.[60]

The cosmological proof considers the concept of an absolutely necessary Being and concludes that it has the most reality. In this way, the cosmological proof is merely the converse of the ontological proof. Yet the cosmological proof purports to start from sense experience. It says, "If anything exists in the cosmos, then there must be an absolutely necessary Being. " It then claims that there is only one concept of an absolutely necessary object. That is the concept of a Supreme Being who has maximum reality. Only such a supremely real being would be necessary and independently sufficient without compare, but this is the Ontological Proof again, which was asserted a priori without sense experience.

Summarizing the cosmological argument further, it may be stated as follows: "Contingent things existat least I exist; and as they are not self-caused, nor capable of explanation as an infinite series, it is requisite to infer that a necessary being, on whom they depend, exists." Seeing that this being exists, he belongs to the realm of reality. Seeing that all things issue from him, he is the most necessary of beings, for only a being who is self-dependent, who possesses all the conditions of reality within himself, could be the origin of contingent things. And such a being is God. This proof is invalid for three chief reasons. First, it makes use of a category, namely, Cause. And, as has been already pointed out, it is not possible to apply this, or any other, category except to the matter given by sense under the general conditions of space and time. If, then, we employ it in relation to Deity, we try to force its application in a sphere where it is useless, and incapable of affording any information. Once more, we are in the now familiar difficulty of the paralogism of Rational Psychology or of the Antinomies. The category has meaning only when applied to phenomena. Yet God is a noumenon. Second, it mistakes an idea of absolute necessityan idea that is nothing more than an idealfor a synthesis of elements in the phenomenal world or world of experience. This necessity is not an object of knowledge, derived from sensation and set in shape by the operation of categories. It cannot be regarded as more than an inference. Yet the cosmological argument treats it as if it were an object of knowledge exactly on the same level as perception of any thing or object in the course of experience. Thirdly, it presupposes the Ontological argument, already proved false. It does this, because it proceeds from the conception of the necessity of a certain being to the fact of his existence. Yet it is possible to take this course only if idea and fact are convertible with one another, and it has just been proved that they are not so convertible.[61]

The physico-theological proof of God's existence is supposed to be based on a posteriori sensed experience of nature and not on mere a priori abstract concepts. It observes that the objects in the world have been intentionally arranged with great wisdom. The fitness of this arrangement could never have occurred randomly, without purpose. The world must have been caused by an intelligent power. The unity of the relation between all of the parts of the world leads us to infer that there is only one cause of everything. That one cause is a perfect, mighty, wise, and self-sufficient Being. This physico-theology does not, however, prove with certainty the existence of God. For this, we need something absolutely necessary that consequently has all-embracing reality, but this is the Cosmological Proof, which concludes that an all-encompassing real Being has absolutely necessary existence. All three proofs can be reduced to the Ontological Proof, which tried to make an objective reality out of a subjective concept.

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant abandons the attempt to prove the existence of God although Kant's real intention is to attempt to disprove the non-existence of God. Rather than proving the existence of God, Kant is really trying to disprove the non-existence of God since no one can prove the non-existence of God. In abandoning any attempt to prove the existence of God, Kant declares the three proofs of rational theology known as the ontological, the cosmological and the physico-theological as quite untenable.[62]

The second book in the Critique, and by far the shorter of the two, attempts to lay out the formal conditions of the complete system of pure reason.

In the Transcendental Dialectic, Kant showed how pure reason is improperly used when it is not related to experience. In the Method of Transcendentalism, he explained the proper use of pure reason.

In section I, the discipline of pure reason in the sphere of dogmatism, of chapter I, the discipline of pure reason, of Part II, transcendental discipline of method, of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant enters into the most extensive discussion of the relationship between mathematical theory and philosophy.[63]

Discipline is the restraint, through caution and self-examination, that prevents philosophical pure reason from applying itself beyond the limits of possible sensual experience. Philosophy cannot possess dogmatic certainty. Philosophy, unlike mathematics, cannot have definitions, axioms or demonstrations. All philosophical concepts must be ultimately based on a posteriori, experienced intuition. This is different from algebra and geometry, which use concepts that are derived from a priori intuitions, such as symbolic equations and spatial figures. Kant's basic intention in this section of the text is to describe why reason should not go beyond its already well-established limits. In section I, the discipline of pure reason in the sphere of dogmatism, Kant clearly explains why philosophy cannot do what mathematics can do in spite of their similarities. Kant also explains that when reason goes beyond its own limits, it becomes dogmatic. For Kant, the limits of reason lie in the field of experience as, after all, all knowledge depends on experience. According to Kant, a dogmatic statement would be a statement that reason accepts as true even though it goes beyond the bounds of experience.[64]

Restraint should be exercised in the polemical use of pure reason. Kant defined this polemical use as the defense against dogmatic negations. For example, if it is dogmatically affirmed that God exists or that the soul is immortal, a dogmatic negation could be made that God doesn't exist or that the soul is not immortal. Such dogmatic assertions can't be proved. The statements are not based on possible experience. In section II, the discipline of pure reason in polemics, Kant argues strongly against the polemical use of pure reason. The dogmatic use of reason would be the acceptance as true of a statement that goes beyond the bounds of reason while the polemic use of reason would be the defense of such statement against any attack that could be raised against it. For Kant, then, there cannot possibly be any polemic use of pure reason. Kant argues against the polemic use of pure reason and considers it improper on the grounds that opponents cannot engage in a rational dispute based on a question that goes beyond the bounds of experience.[64]

Kant claimed that adversaries should be freely allowed to speak reason. In return, they should be opposed through reason. Dialectical strife leads to an increase of reason's knowledge. Yet there should be no dogmatic polemical use of reason. The critique of pure reason is the tribunal for all of reason's disputes. It determines the rights of reason in general. We should be able to openly express our thoughts and doubts. This leads to improved insight. We should eliminate polemic in the form of opposed dogmatic assertions that cannot be related to possible experience.

According to Kant, the censorship of reason is the examination and possible rebuke of reason. Such censorship leads to doubt and skepticism. After dogmatism produces opposing assertions, skepticism usually occurs. The doubts of skepticism awaken reason from its dogmatism and bring about an examination of reason's rights and limits. It is necessary to take the next step after dogmatism and skepticism. This is the step to criticism. By criticism, the limits of our knowledge are proved from principles, not from mere personal experience.

If criticism of reason teaches us that we can't know anything unrelated to experience, can we have hypotheses, guesses, or opinions about such matters? We can only imagine a thing that would be a possible object of experience. The hypotheses of God or a soul cannot be dogmatically affirmed or denied, but we have a practical interest in their existence. It is therefore up to an opponent to prove that they don't exist. Such hypotheses can be used to expose the pretensions of dogmatism. Kant explicitly praises Hume on his critique of religion for being beyond the field of natural science. However, Kant goes so far and not further in praising Hume basically because of Hume's skepticism. If only Hume would be critical rather than skeptical, Kant would be all-praises. In concluding that there is no polemical use of pure reason, Kant also concludes there is no skeptical use of pure reason. In section II, the discipline of pure reason in polemics, in a special section, scepticism not a permanent state for human reason, Kant mentions Hume but denies the possibility that skepticism could possibly be the final end of reason or could possibly serve its best interests.[65]

Proofs of transcendental propositions about pure reason (God, soul, free will, causality, simplicity) must first prove whether the concept is valid. Reason should be moderated and not asked to perform beyond its power. The three rules of the proofs of pure reason are: (1) consider the legitimacy of your principles, (2) each proposition can have only one proof because it is based on one concept and its general object, and (3) only direct proofs can be used, never indirect proofs (e.g., a proposition is true because its opposite is false). By attempting to directly prove transcendental assertions, it will become clear that pure reason can gain no speculative knowledge and must restrict itself to practical, moral principles. The dogmatic use of reason is called into question by the skeptical use of reason but skepticism does not present a permanent state for human reason. Kant proposes instead a critique of pure reason by means of which the limitations of reason are clearly established and the field of knowledge is circumscribed by experience. According to the rationalists and skeptics, there are analytic judgments a priori and synthetic judgments a posteriori. Analytic judgments a posteriori do not really exist. Added to all these rational judgments is Kant's great discovery of the synthetic judgment a priori.[66]

The canon of pure reason is a discipline for the limitation of pure reason. The analytic part of logic in general is a canon for the understanding and reason in general. However, the Transcendental Analytic is a canon of the pure understanding for only the pure understanding is able to judge synthetically a priori.[67]

The speculative propositions of God, immortal soul, and free will have no cognitive use but are valuable to our moral interest. In pure philosophy, reason is morally (practically) concerned with what ought to be done if the will is free, if there is a God, and if there is a future world. Yet, in its actual practical employment and use, reason is only concerned with the existence of God and a future life. Basically, the canon of pure reason deals with two questions: Is there a God? Is there a future life? These questions are translated by the canon of pure reason into two criteria: What ought I to do? and What may I hope for? yielding the postulates of God's own existence and a future life, or life in the future.[68]

The greatest advantage of the philosophy of pure reason is negative, the prevention of error. Yet moral reason can provide positive knowledge. There can't be a canon, or system of a priori principles, for the correct use of speculative reason. However, there can be a canon for the practical (moral) use of reason.

Reason has three main questions and answers:

Reason tells us that there is a God, the supreme good, who arranges a future life in a moral world. If not, moral laws would be idle fantasies. Our happiness in that intelligible world will exactly depend on how we have made ourselves worthy of being happy. The union of speculative and practical reason occurs when we see God's reason and purpose in nature's unity of design or general system of ends. The speculative extension of reason is severely limited in the transcendental dialectics of the Critique of Pure Reason, which Kant would later fully explore in the Critique of Practical Reason.[69]

In the transcendental use of reason, there can be neither opinion nor knowledge. Reason results in a strong belief in the unity of design and purpose in nature. This unity requires a wise God who provides a future life for the human soul. Such a strong belief rests on moral certainty, not logical certainty. Even if a person has no moral beliefs, the fear of God and a future life acts as a deterrent to evil acts, because no one can prove the non-existence of God and an afterlife. Does all of this philosophy merely lead to two articles of faith, namely, God and the immortal soul? With regard to these essential interests of human nature, the highest philosophy can achieve no more than the guidance, which belongs to the pure understanding. Some would even go so far as to interpret the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason as a return to the Cartesian epistemological tradition and a search for truth through certainty.[70]

All knowledge from pure reason is architectonic in that it is a systematic unity. The entire system of metaphysic consists of: (1.) Ontologyobjects in general; (2.) Rational Physiologygiven objects; (3.) Rational cosmologythe whole world; (4.) Rational TheologyGod. Metaphysic supports religion and curbs the extravagant use of reason beyond possible experience. The components of metaphysic are criticism, metaphysic of nature, and metaphysic of morals. These constitute philosophy in the genuine sense of the word. It uses science to gain wisdom. Metaphysic investigates reason, which is the foundation of science. Its censorship of reason promotes order and harmony in science and maintains metaphysic's main purpose, which is general happiness. In chapter III, the architectonic of pure reason, Kant defines metaphysics as the critique of pure reason in relation to pure a priori knowledge. Morals, analytics and dialectics for Kant constitute metaphysics, which is philosophy and the highest achievement of human reason.[71]

Kant writes that metaphysics began with the study of the knowledge of God and the nature of a future world. It was concluded early that good conduct would result in happiness in another world as arranged by God. The object of rational knowledge was investigated by sensualists (Epicurus), and intellectualists (Plato). Sensualists claimed that only the objects of the senses are real. Intellectualists asserted that true objects are known only by the understanding mind. Aristotle and Locke thought that the pure concepts of reason are derived only from experience. Plato and Leibniz contended that they come from reason, not sense experience, which is illusory. Epicurus never speculated beyond the limits of experience. Locke, however, said that the existence of God and the immortality of the soul could be proven. Those who follow the naturalistic method of studying the problems of pure reason use their common, sound, or healthy reason, not scientific speculation. Others, who use the scientific method, are either dogmatists (Wolff) or skeptics (Hume). In Kant's view, all of the above methods are faulty. The method of criticism remains as the path toward the completely satisfying answers to the metaphysical questions about God and the future life in another world.

Kant distinguishes between two different fundamental types of representation: intuitions and concepts:

Kant divides intuitions in the following ways:

Kant also distinguished between a priori (pure) and a posteriori (empirical) concepts.

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Critique of Pure Reason - Wikipedia

Philosophical Battles: Empiricism versus Rationalism

The history of philosophy has seen many warring camps fighting battles over some major issue or other. One of the major battles historically has been over the foundations of all our knowledge. What is most basic in any human set of beliefs? What are our ultimate starting points for any world view? Where does human knowledge ultimately come from?

Empiricists have always claimed that sense experience is the ultimate starting point for all our knowledge. The senses, they maintain, give us all our raw data about the world, and without this raw material, there would be no knowledge at all. Perception starts a process, and from this process come all our beliefs. In its purest form, empiricism holds that sense experience alone gives birth to all our beliefs and all our knowledge. A classic example of an empiricist is the British philosopher John Locke (16321704).

Its easy to see how empiricism has been able to win over many converts. Think about it for a second. Its interestingly difficult to identify a single belief that you have that didnt come your way by means of some sense experience sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste. Its natural, then, to come to believe that the senses are the sole source and ultimate grounding of belief.

But not all philosophers have been convinced that the senses fly solo when it comes to producing belief. We seem to have some beliefs that cannot be read off sense experience, or proved from any perception that we might be able to have. Because of this, there historically has been a warring camp of philosophers who give a different answer to the question of where our beliefs ultimately do, or should, come from.

Rationalists have claimed that the ultimate starting point for all knowledge is not the senses but reason. They maintain that without prior categories and principles supplied by reason, we couldnt organize and interpret our sense experience in any way. We would be faced with just one huge, undifferentiated, kaleidoscopic whirl of sensation, signifying nothing. Rationalism in its purest form goes so far as to hold that all our rational beliefs, and the entirety of human knowledge, consists in first principles and innate concepts (concepts that we are just born having) that are somehow generated and certified by reason, along with anything logically deducible from these first principles.

How can reason supply any mental category or first principle at all? Some rationalists have claimed that we are born with several fundamental concepts or categories in our minds ready for use. These give us what the rationalists call innate knowledge. Examples might be certain categories of space, of time, and of cause and effect.

We naturally think in terms of cause and effect. And this helps organize our experience of the world. We think of ourselves as seeing some things cause other things to happen, but in terms of our raw sense experience, we just see certain things happen before other things, and remember having seen such before-and-after sequences at earlier times. For example, a rock hits a window, and then the window breaks. We dont see a third thing called causation. But we believe it has happened. The rock hitting the window caused it to break. But this is not experienced like the flight of the rock or the shattering of the glass. Experience does not seem to force the concept of causation on us. We just use it to interpret what we experience. Cause and effect are categories that could never be read out of our experience and must therefore be brought to that experience by our prior mental disposition to attribute such a connection. This is the rationalist perspective.

Rationalist philosophers have claimed that at the foundations of our knowledge are propositions that are self-evident, or self-evidently true. A self-evident proposition has the strange property of being such that, on merely understanding what it says, and without any further checking or special evidence of any kind, we can just intellectually see that it is true. Examples might be such propositions as:

The claim is that, once these statements are understood, it takes no further sense experience whatsoever to see that they are true.

Descartes was a thinker who used skeptical doubt as a prelude to constructing a rationalist philosophy. He was convinced that all our beliefs that are founded on the experience of the external senses could be called into doubt, but that with certain self-evident beliefs, like I am thinking, there is no room for creating and sustaining a reasonable doubt. Descartes then tried to find enough other first principles utterly immune to rational doubt that he could provide an indubitable, rational basis for all other legitimate beliefs.

Philosophers do not believe that Descartes succeeded. But it was worth a try. Rationalism has remained a seductive idea for individuals attracted to mathematics and to the beauties of unified theory, but it has never been made to work as a practical matter.

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Philosophical Battles: Empiricism versus Rationalism

Rationalism, Continental | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Continental rationalism is a retrospective category used to group together certain philosophers working in continental Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, in particular, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, especially as they can be regarded in contrast with representatives of British empiricism, most notably, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Whereas the British empiricists held that all knowledge has its origin in, and is limited by, experience, the Continental rationalists thought that knowledge has its foundation in the scrutiny and orderly deployment of ideas and principles proper to the mind itself. The rationalists did not spurn experience as is sometimes mistakenly alleged; they were thoroughly immersed in the rapid developments of the new science, and in some cases led those developments. They held, however, that experience alone, while useful in practical matters, provides an inadequate foundation for genuine knowledge.

The fact that Continental rationalism and British empiricism are retrospectively applied terms does not mean that the distinction that they signify is anachronistic. Leibnizs New Essays on Human Understanding, for instance, outlines stark contrasts between his own way of thinking and that of Locke, which track many features of the rationalist/empiricist distinction as it tends to be applied in retrospect. There was no rationalist creed or manifesto to which Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz all subscribed (nor, for that matter, was there an empiricist one). Nevertheless, with due caution, it is possible to use the Continental rationalism category (and its empiricist counterpart) to highlight significant points of convergence in the philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, inter alia. These include: (1) a doctrine of innate ideas; (2) the application of mathematical method to philosophy; and (3) the use of a priori principles in the construction of substance-based metaphysical systems.

According to the Historisches Worterbuch der Philosophie, the word rationaliste appears in 16th century France, as early as 1539, in opposition to empirique. In his New Organon, first published in 1620 (in Latin), Francis Bacon juxtaposes rationalism and empiricism in memorable terms:

Those who have treated of the sciences have been either empiricists [Empirici] or dogmatists [Dogmatici]. Empiricists [Empirici], like ants, simply accumulate and use; Rationalists [Rationales], like spiders, spin webs from themselves; the way of the bee is in between: it takes material from the flowers of the garden and the field; but it has the ability to convert and digest them. (The New Organon, p. 79; Spedding, 1, 201)

Bacons association of rationalists with dogmatists in this passage foreshadows Kants use of the term dogmatisch in reference, especially, to the Wolffian brand of rationalist philosophy prevalent in 18th century Germany. Nevertheless, Bacons use of rationales does not refer to Continental rationalism, which developed only after the New Organon, but rather to the Scholastic philosophy that dominated the medieval period. Moreover, while Bacon is, in retrospect, often considered the father of modern empiricism, the above-quoted passage shows him no friendlier to the empirici than to the rationales. Thus, Bacons juxtaposition of rationalism and empiricism should not be confused with the distinction as it develops over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, although his imagery is certainly suggestive.

The distinction appears in an influential form as the backdrop to Kants critical philosophy (which is often loosely understood as a kind of synthesis of certain aspects of Continental rationalism and British empiricism) at the end of the 18th century. However, it was not until the time of Hegel in the first half of the 19th century that the terms rationalism and empiricism were applied to separating the figures of the 17th and 18th centuries into contrasting epistemological camps in the fashion with which we are familiar today. In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel describes an opposition between a priori thought, on the one hand, according to which the determinations which should be valid for thought should be taken from thought itself, and, on the other hand, the determination that we must begin and end and think, etc., from experience. He describes this as the opposition between Rationalismus and Empirismus (Werke 20, 121).

Perhaps the best recognized and most commonly made distinction between rationalists and empiricists concerns the question of the source of ideas. Whereas rationalists tend to think (with some exceptions discussed below) that some ideas, at least, such as the idea of God, are innate, empiricists hold that all ideas come from experience. Although the rationalists tend to be remembered for their positive doctrine concerning innate ideas, their assertions are matched by a rejection of the notion that all ideas can be accounted for on the basis of experience alone. In some Continental rationalists, especially in Spinoza, the negative doctrine is more apparent than the positive. The distinction is worth bearing in mind, in order to avoid the very false impression that the rationalists held to innate ideas because the empiricist alternative had not come along yet. (In general, the British empiricists came after the rationalists.) The Aristotelian doctrine, nihil in intellectu nisi prius in sensu (nothing in the intellect unless first in the senses), had been dominant for centuries, and it was in reaction against this that the rationalists revived in modified form the contrasting Platonic doctrine of innate ideas.

Descartes distinguishes between three kinds of ideas: adventitious (adventitiae), factitious (factae), and innate (innatae). As an example of an adventitious idea, Descartes gives the common idea of the sun (yellow, bright, round) as it is perceived through the senses. As an example of a factitious idea, Descartes cites the idea of the sun constructed via astronomical reasoning (vast, gaseous body). According to Descartes, all ideas which represent true, immutable, and eternal essences are innate. Innate ideas, for Descartes, include the idea of God, the mind, and mathematical truths, such as the fact that it pertains to the nature of a triangle that its three angles equal two right angles.

By conceiving some ideas as innate, Descartes does not mean that children are born with fully actualized conceptions of, for example, triangles and their properties. This is a common misconception of the rationalist doctrine of innate ideas. Descartes strives to correct it in Comments on a Certain Broadsheet, where he compares the innateness of ideas in the mind to the tendency which some babies are born with to contract certain diseases: it is not so much that the babies of such families suffer from these diseases in their mothers womb, but simply that they are born with a certain faculty or tendency to contract them (CSM I, 304). In other words, innate ideas exist in the mind potentially, as tendencies; they are then actualized by means of active thought under certain circumstances, such as seeing a triangular figure.

At various points, Descartes defends his doctrine of innate ideas against philosophers (Hobbes, Gassendi, and Regius, inter alia) who hold that all ideas enter the mind through the senses, and that there are no ideas apart from images. Descartes is relatively consistent on his reasons for thinking that some ideas, at least, must be innate. His principal line of argument proceeds by showing that there are certain ideas, for example, the idea of a triangle, that cannot be either adventitious or factitious; since ideas are either adventitious, factitious, or innate, by process of elimination, such ideas must be innate.

Take Descartes favorite example of the idea of a triangle. The argument that the idea of a triangle cannot be adventitious proceeds roughly as follows. A triangle is composed of straight lines. However, straight lines never enter our mind via the senses, since when we examine straight lines under a magnifying lens, they turn out to be wavy or irregular in some way. Since we cannot derive the idea of straight lines from the senses, we cannot derive the idea of a true triangle, which is made up of straight lines, through the senses. Sometimes Descartes makes the point in slightly different terms by insisting that there is no similarity between the corporeal motions of the sense organs and the ideas formed in the mind on the occasion of those motions (CSM I, 304; CSMK III, 187). One such dissimilarity, which is particularly striking, is the contrast between the particularity of all corporeal motions and the universality that pure ideas can attain when conjoined to form necessary truths. Descartes makes this point in clear terms to Regius:

I would like our author to tell me what the corporeal motion is that is capable of forming some common notion to the effect that things which are equal to a third thing are equal to each other, or any other he cares to take. For all such motions are particular, whereas the common notions are universal and bear no affinity with, or relation to, the motions. (CSM I, 304-5)

Next, Descartes has to show that the idea of a triangle is not factitious. This is where the doctrine of true and immutable natures comes in. For Descartes, if, for example, the idea that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles were his own invention, it would be mutable, like the idea of a gold mountain, which can be changed at whim into the idea of a silver mountain. Instead, when Descartes thinks about his idea of a triangle, he is able to discover eternal properties of it that are not mutable in this way; hence, they are not invented (CSMK III, 184).

Since, therefore, the triangle can be neither adventitious nor factitious, it must be innate; that is to say, the mind has an innate tendency or power to form this idea from its own purely intellectual resources when prompted to do so.

Descartes insistence that there is no similarity between the corporeal motions of our sense organs and the ideas formed in the mind on the occasion of those motions raises a difficulty for understanding how any ideas could be adventitious. Since none of our ideas have any similarity to the corporeal motions of the sense organs even the idea of motion itself it seems that no ideas can in fact have their origin in a source external to the mind. The reason that we have an idea of heat in the presence of fire, for instance, is not, then, because the idea is somehow transmitted by the fire. Rather, Descartes thinks that God designed us in such a way that we form the idea of heat on the occasion of certain corporeal motions in our sense organs (and we form other sensory ideas on the occasion of other corporeal motions). Thus, there is a sense in which, for Descartes, all ideas are innate, and his tripartite division between kinds of ideas becomes difficult to maintain.

Per his so-called doctrine of parallelism, Spinoza conceives the mind and the body as one and the same thing, conceived under different attributes (to wit, thought and extension). (See Benedict de Spinoza: Metaphysics.) As a result, Spinoza denies that there is any causal interaction between mind and body, and so Spinoza denies that any ideas are caused by bodily change. Just as bodies can be affected only by other bodies, so ideas can be affected only by other ideas. This does not mean, however, that all ideas are innate for Spinoza, as they very clearly are for Leibniz (see below). Just as the body can be conceived to be affected by external objects conceived under the attribute of extension (that is, as bodies), so the mind can (as it were, in parallel) be conceived to be affected by the same objects conceived under the attribute of thought (that is, as ideas). Ideas gained in this way, from encounters with external objects (conceived as ideas) constitutes knowledge of the first kind, or imagination, for Spinoza, and all such ideas are inadequate, or in other words, confused and lacking order for the intellect. Adequate ideas, on the other hand, which can be formed via Spinozas second and third kinds of knowledge (reason and intuitive knowledge, respectively), and which are clear and distinct and have order for the intellect, are not gained through chance encounters with external objects; rather, adequate ideas can be explained in terms of resources intrinsic to the mind. (For more on Spinozas three kinds of knowledge and the distinction between adequate and inadequate ideas, see Benedict de Spinoza: Epistemology.)

The mind, for Spinoza, just by virtue of having ideas, which is its essence, has ideas of what Spinoza calls common notions, or in other words, those things which are equally in the part and in the whole. Examples of common notions include motion and rest, extension, and indeed God. Take extension for example. To think of any body however small or however large is to have a perfectly complete idea of extension. So, insofar as the mind has any idea of body (and, for Spinoza, the human mind is the idea of the human body, and so always has ideas of body), it has a perfectly adequate idea of extension. The same can be said for motion and rest. The same can also be said for God, except that God is not equally in the part and in the whole of extension only, but of all things. Spinoza treats these common notions as principles of reasoning. Anything that can be deduced on their basis is also adequate.

It is not clear if Spinozas common notions should be considered innate ideas. Spinoza speaks of active and passive ideas, and adequate and inadequate ideas. He associates the former with the intellect and the latter with the imagination, but innate idea is not an explicit category in Spinozas theory of ideas as it is in Descartes and also Leibnizs. Common notions are not in the mind independent of the minds relation with its object (the body); nevertheless, since it is the minds nature to be the idea of the body, it is part of the minds nature to have common notions. Commentators differ over the question of whether Spinoza had a positive doctrine of innate ideas; it is clear, however, that he denied that all ideas come about through encounters with external objects; moreover, he believed that those ideas which do come about through encounters with external objects are of an inferior epistemic value than those produced through the minds own intrinsic resources; this is enough to put him in the rationalist camp on the question of the origin of ideas.

Of the three great rationalists, Leibniz propounded the most thoroughgoing doctrine of innate ideas. For Leibniz, all ideas are strictly speaking innate. In a general and relatively straightforward sense, this viewpoint is a direct consequence of Leibnizs conception of individual substance. According to Leibniz, each substance is a world apart, independent of everything outside of itself except for God. Thus all our phenomena, that is to say, all the things that can ever happen to us, are only the results of our own being (L, 312); or, in Leibnizs famous phrase from the Monadology, monads have no windows, meaning there is no way for sensory data to enter monads from the outside. In this more general sense, then, to give an explanation for Leibnizs doctrine of innate ideas would be to explain his conception of individual substance and the arguments and considerations which motivate it. (See Section 4, b, iii, below for a discussion of Leibnizs conception of substance; see also Gottfried Leibniz: Metaphysics.) This would be to circumvent the issues and questions which are typically at the heart of the debate over the existence of innate ideas, which concern the extent to which certain kinds of perceptions, ideas, and propositions can be accounted for on the basis of experience. Although Leibnizs more general reasons for embracing innate ideas stem from his unique brand of substance metaphysics, Leibniz does enter into the debate over innate ideas, as it were, addressing the more specific questions regarding the source of given kinds of ideas, most notably in his dialogic engagement with Lockes philosophy, New Essays on Human Understanding.

Due to Leibnizs conception of individual substance, nothing actually comes from a sensory experience, where a sensory experience is understood to involve direct concourse with things outside of the mind. However, Leibniz does have a means for distinguishing between sensations and purely intellectual thoughts within the framework of his substance metaphysics. For Leibniz, although each monad or individual substance expresses (or represents) the entire universe from its own unique point of view, it does so with a greater or lesser degree of clarity and distinctness. Bare monads, such as comprise minerals and vegetation, express the rest of the world only in the most confused fashion. Rational minds, by contrast, have a much greater proportion of clear and distinct perceptions, and so express more of the world clearly and distinctly than do bare monads. When an individual substance attains a more perfect expression of the world (in the sense that it attains a less confused expression of the world), it is said to act; when its expression becomes more confused, it is said to be acted upon. Using this distinction, Leibniz is able to reconcile the terms of his philosophy with everyday conceptions. Although, strictly speaking, no monad is acted upon by any other, nor acts upon any other directly, it is possible to speak this way, just as, Leibniz says, Copernicans can still speak of the motion of the sun for everyday purposes, while understanding that the sun does not in fact move. It is in this sense that Leibniz enters into the debate concerning the origin of our ideas.

Leibniz distinguishes between ideas (ides) and thoughts (penses) (or, sometimes, notions (notions) or concepts (conceptus)). Ideas exist in the soul whether we actually perceive them or are aware of them or not. It is these ideas that Leibniz contends are innate. Thoughts, by contrast is Leibnizs designation for ideas which we actually form or conceive at any given time. In this sense, thoughts can be formed on the basis of a sensory experience (with the above caveats regarding the meaning a sensory experience can have in Leibnizs thought) or on the basis of an internal experience, or a reflection. Leibniz alternatively characterizes our ideas as aptitudes, preformations, and as dispositions to represent something when the occasion for thinking of it arises. On multiple occasions, Leibniz uses the metaphor of the veins present in marble to illustrate his understanding of innate ideas. Just as the veins dispose the sculptor to shape the marble in certain ways, so do our ideas dispose us to have certain thoughts on the occasion of certain experiences.

Leibniz rejects the view that the mind cannot have ideas without being aware that it has them. (See Gottfried Leibniz: Philosophy of Mind.) Much of the disagreement between Locke and Leibniz on the question of innate ideas turns on this point, since Locke (at least as Leibniz represents him in the New Essays) is not able to make any sense out of the notion that the mind can have ideas without being aware of them. Much of Leibnizs defense of his innate ideas doctrine takes the form of replying to Lockes charge that it is absurd to hold that the mind could think (that is, have ideas) without being aware of it.

Leibniz marshals several considerations in support of his view that the mind is not always aware of its ideas. The fact that we can store many more ideas in our understanding than we can be aware of at any given time is one. Leibniz also points to the phenomenology of attention; we do not attend to everything in our perceptual field at any given time; rather we focus on certain things at the expense of others. To convey a sense of what it might be like for the mind to have perceptions and ideas in a dreamless sleep, Leibniz asks the reader to imagine subtracting our attention from perceptual experience; since we can distinguish between what is attended to and what is not, subtracting attention does not eliminate perception altogether.

While such considerations suggest the possibility of innate ideas, they do not in and of themselves prove that innate ideas are necessary to explain the full scope of human cognition. The empiricist tends to think that if innate ideas are not necessary to explain cognition, then they should be abandoned as gratuitous metaphysical constructs. Leibniz does have arguments designed to show that innate ideas are needed for a full account of human cognition.

In the first place, Leibniz recalls favorably the famous scenario from Platos Meno where Socrates teaches a slave boy to grasp abstract mathematical truths merely by asking questions. The anecdote is supposed to indicate that mathematical truths can be generated by the mind alone, in the absence of particular sensory experiences, if only the mind is prompted to discover what it contains within itself. Concerning mathematics and geometry, Leibniz remarks: one could construct these sciences in ones study and even with ones eyes closed, without learning from sight or even from touch any of the needed truths (NE, 77). So, on these grounds, Leibniz contends that without innate ideas, we could not explain the sorts of cognitive capacities exhibited in the mathematical sciences.

A second argument concerns our capacity to grasp certain necessary or eternal truths. Leibniz says that necessary truths can be suggested, justified, and confirmed by experience, but that they can be proved only by the understanding alone (NE, 80). Leibniz does not explain this point further, but he seems to have in mind the point later made by both Hume and Kant (to different ends), that experience on its own can never account for the kind of certainty that we find in mathematical and metaphysical truths. For Leibniz, if it can be granted that we can be certain of propositions in mathematics and metaphysics and Leibniz thinks this must be granted recourse must be had to principles innate to the mind in order to explain our ability to be certain of such things.

It is worth noting briefly the position of Nicolas Malebranche on innate ideas, since Malebranche is often considered among the rationalists, yet he denied the doctrine of innate ideas. Malebranches reasons for rejecting innate ideas were anything but empiricist in nature, however. His leading objection stems from the infinity of ideas that the mind is able to form independently of the senses; as an example, Malebranche cites the infinite number of triangles of which the mind could in principle, albeit not in practice, form ideas. Unlike Descartes and Leibniz, who view innate ideas as tendencies or dispositions to form certain thoughts under certain circumstances, Malebranche understands them as fully formed entities that would have to exist somehow in the mind were they to exist there innately. Given this conception, Malebranche finds it unlikely that God would have created so many things along with the mind of man (The Search After Truth, p. 227). Since God already contains the ideas of all things within Himself, Malebranche thinks that it would be much more economical if God were simply to reveal to us the ideas of things that already exist in him rather than placing an infinity of ideas in each human mind. Malebranches tenet that we see all things in God thus follows upon the principle that God always acts in the simplest ways. Malebranche finds further support for this doctrine from the fact that it places human minds in a position of complete dependence on God. Thus, if Malebranches rejection of innate ideas distinguishes him from other rationalists, it does so not from an empiricist standpoint, but rather because of the extent to which his position on ideas is theologically motivated.

In one sense, what it means to be a rationalist is to model philosophy on mathematics, and, in particular, geometry. This means that the rationalist begins with definitions and intuitively self-evident axioms and proceeds thence to deduce a philosophical system of knowledge that is both certain and complete. This at least is the goal and (with some qualifications to be explored below) the claim. In no work of rationalist philosophy is this procedure more apparent than in Spinozas Ethics, laid out famously in the geometrical manner (more geometrico). Nevertheless, Descartes main works (and those of Leibniz as well), although not as overtly more geometrico as Spinozas Ethics, are also modelled after geometry, and it is Descartes celebrated methodological program that first introduces mathematics as a model for philosophy.

Perhaps Descartes clearest and most well-known statement of mathematics role as paradigm appears in the Discourse on the Method:

Those long chains of very simple and easy reasonings, which geometers customarily use to arrive at their most difficult demonstrations, had given me occasion to suppose that all the things which can fall under human knowledge are interconnected in the same way. (CSM I, 120)

However, Descartes promotion of mathematics as a model for philosophy dates back to his early, unfinished work, Rules for the Direction of the Mind. It is in this work that Descartes first outlines his standards for certainty that have since come to be so closely associated with him and with the rationalist enterprise more generally.

In Rule 2, Descartes declares that henceforth only what is certain should be valued and counted as knowledge. This means the rejection of all merely probable reasoning, which Descartes associates with the philosophy of the Schools. Descartes admits that according to this criterion, only arithmetic and geometry thus far count as knowledge. But Descartes does not conclude that only in these disciplines is it possible to attain knowledge. According to Descartes, the reason that certainty has eluded philosophers has as much to do with the disdain that philosophers have for the simplest truths as it does with the subject matter. Admittedly, the objects of arithmetic and geometry are especially pure and simple, or, as Descartes will later say, clear and distinct. Nevertheless, certainty can be attained in philosophy as well, provided the right method is followed.

Descartes distinguishes between two ways of achieving knowledge: through experience and through deduction [] [W]e must note that while our experiences of things are often deceptive, the deduction or pure inference of one thing from another can never be performed wrongly by an intellect which is in the least degree rational [] (CSM I, 12). This is a clear statement of Descartes methodological rationalism. Building up knowledge through accumulated experience can only ever lead to the sort of probable knowledge that Descartes finds lacking. Pure inference, by contrast, can never go astray, at least when it is conducted by right reason. Of course, the truth value of a deductive chain is only as good as the first truths, or axioms, whose truth the deductions preserve. It is for this reason that Descartes method relies on intuition as well as deduction. Intuition provides the first principles of a deductive system, for Descartes. Intuition differs from deduction insofar as it is not discursive. Intuition grasps its object in an immediate way. In its broadest outlines, Descartes method is just the use of intuition and deduction in the orderly attainment and preservation of certainty.

In subsequent Rules, Descartes goes on to elaborate a more specific methodological program, which involves reducing complicated matters step by step to simpler, intuitively graspable truths, and then using those simple truths as principles from which to deduce knowledge of more complicated matters. It is generally accepted by scholars that this more specific methodological program reappears in a more iconic form in the Discourse on the Method as the four rules for gaining knowledge outlined in Part 2. There is some doubt as to the extent to which this more specific methodological program actually plays any role in Descartes mature philosophy as it is expressed in the Meditations and Principles (see Garber 2001, chapter 2). There can be no doubt, however, that the broader methodological guidelines outlined above were a permanent feature of Descartes thought.

In response to a request to cast his Meditations in the geometrical style (that is, in the style of Euclids Elements), Descartes distinguishes between two aspects of the geometrical style: order and method, explaining:

The order consists simply in this. The items which are put forward first must be known entirely without the aid of what comes later; and the remaining items must be arranged in such a way that their demonstration depends solely on what has gone before. I did try to follow this order very carefully in my Meditations [] (CSM II, 110)

Elsewhere, Descartes contrasts this order, which he calls the order of reasons, with another order, which he associates with scholasticism, and which he calls the order of subject-matter (see CSMK III, 163). What Descartes understands as geometrical order or the order of reasons is just the procedure of starting with what is most simple, and proceeding in a step-wise, deliberate fashion to deduce consequences from there. Descartes order is governed by what can be clearly and distinctly intuited, and by what can be clearly and distinctly inferred from such self-evident intuitions (rather than by a concern for organizing the discussion into neat topical categories per the order of subject-matter)

As for method, Descartes distinguishes between analysis and synthesis. For Descartes, analysis and synthesis represent different methods of demonstrating a conclusion or set of conclusions. Analysis exhibits the path by which the conclusion comes to be grasped. As such, it can be thought of as the order of discovery or order of knowledge. Synthesis, by contrast, wherein conclusions are deduced from a series of definitions, postulates, and axioms, as in Euclids Elements, for instance, follows not the order in which things are discovered, but rather the order that things bear to one another in reality. As such, it can be thought of as the order of being. God, for example, is prior to the human mind in the order of being (since God created the human mind), and so in the synthetic mode of demonstration the existence of God is demonstrated before the existence of the human mind. However, knowledge of ones own mind precedes knowledge of God, at least in Descartes philosophy, and so in the analytic mode of demonstration the cogito is demonstrated before the existence of God. Descartes preference is for analysis, because he thinks that it is superior in helping the reader to discover the things for herself, and so in bringing about the intellectual conversion which it is the Meditations goal to effectuate in the minds of its readers. According to Descartes, while synthesis, in laying out demonstrations systematically, is useful in preempting dissent, it is inferior in engaging the mind of the reader.

Two primary distinctions can be made in summarizing Descartes methodology: (1) the distinction between the order of reasons and the order of subject-matter; and (2) the analysis/synthesis distinction. With respect to the first distinction, the great Continental rationalists are united. All adhere to the order of reasons, as we have described it above, rather than the order of subject-matter. Even though the rationalists disagree about how exactly to interpret the content of the order of reasons, their common commitment to following an order of reasons is a hallmark of their rationalism. Although there are points of convergence with respect to the second, analysis/synthesis distinction, there are also clear points of divergence, and this distinction can be useful in highlighting the range of approaches the rationalists adopt to mathematical methodology.

Of the great Continental rationalists, Spinoza is the most closely associated with mathematical method due to the striking presentation of his magnum opus, the Ethics, (as well as his presentation of Descartes Principles), in geometrical fashion. The fact that Spinoza is the only major rationalist to present his main work more geometrico might create the impression that he is the only philosopher to employ mathematical method in constructing and elaborating his philosophical system. This impression is mistaken, since both Descartes and Leibniz also apply mathematical method to philosophy. Nevertheless, there are differences between Spinozas employment of mathematical method and that of Descartes (and Leibniz). The most striking, of course, is the form of Spinozas Ethics. Each part begins with a series of definitions, axioms, and postulates and proceeds thence to deduce propositions, the demonstrations of which refer back to the definitions, axioms, postulates and previously demonstrated propositions on which they depend. Of course, this is just the method of presenting findings that Descartes in the Second Replies dubbed synthesis. For Descartes, analysis and synthesis differ only in pedagogical respects: whereas analysis is better for helping the reader discover the truth for herself, synthesis is better in compelling agreement.

There is some evidence that Spinozas motivations for employing synthesis were in part pedagogical. In Lodewijk Meyers preface to Spinozas Principles of Cartesian Philosophy, Meyer uses Descartes Second Replies distinction between analysis and synthesis to explain the motivation for the work. Meyer criticizes Descartes followers for being too uncritical in their enthusiasm for Descartes thought, and attributes this in part to the relative opacity of Descartes analytic mode of presentation. Thus, for Meyer, the motivation for presenting Descartes Principles in the synthetic manner is to make the proofs more transparent, and thereby leave less excuse for blind acceptance of Descartes conclusions. It is not clear to what extent Meyers explanation of the mode of presentation of Spinozas Principles of Cartesian Philosophy applies to Spinozas Ethics. In the first place, although Spinoza approved the preface, he did not author it himself. Secondly, while such an explanation seems especially suited to a work in which Spinozas chief goal was to present another philosophers thought in a different form, there is no reason to assume that it applies to the presentation of Spinozas own philosophy. Scholars have differed on how to interpret the geometrical form of Spinozas Ethics. However, it is generally accepted that Spinozas use of synthesis does not merely represent a pedagogical preference. There is reason to think that Spinozas methodology differs from that of Descartes in a somewhat deeper way.

There is another version of the analysis/synthesis distinction besides Descartes that was also influential in the 17th century, that is, Hobbes version of the distinction. Although there is little direct evidence that Spinoza was influenced by Hobbes version of the distinction, some scholars have claimed a connection, and, in any case, it is useful to view Spinozas methodology in light of the Hobbesian alternative.

Synthesis and analysis are not modes of demonstrating findings that have already been made, for Hobbes, as they are for Descartes, but rather complementary means of generating findings; in particular, they are forms of causal reasoning. For Hobbes, analysis is reasoning from effects to causes; synthesis is reasoning in the other direction, from causes to effects. For example, by analysis, we infer that geometrical objects are constructed via the motions of points and lines and surfaces. Once motion has been established as the principle of geometry, it is then possible, via synthesis, to construct the possible effects of motion, and thereby, to make new discoveries in geometry. According to the Hobbesian schema, then, synthesis is not merely a mode of presenting truths, but a means of generating and discovering truths. (For Hobbes method, see The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, vol. 1, ch. 6.) There is reason to think that synthesis had this kind of significance for Spinoza, as well as a means of discovery, not merely presentation. Spinozas methodology, and, in particular, his theory of definitions, bear this out

Spinozas method begins with reflection on the nature of a given true idea. The given true idea serves as a standard by which the mind learns the distinction between true and false ideas, and also between the intellect and the imagination, and how to direct itself properly in the discovery of true ideas. The correct formulation of definitions emerges as the most important factor in directing the mind properly in the discovery of true ideas. To illustrate his conception of a good definition, Spinoza contrasts two definitions of a circle. On one definition, a circle is a figure in which all the lines from the center to the circumference are equal. On another, a circle is the figure described by the rotation of a line around one of its ends, which is fixed. For Spinoza, the second definition is superior. Whereas the first definition gives only a property of the circle, the second provides the cause from which all of the properties can be deduced. Hence, what makes a definition a good definition, for Spinoza, is its capacity to serve as a basis for the discovery of truths about the thing. The circle, of course, is just an example. For Spinoza, the method is perfected when it arrives at a true idea of the first cause of all things, that is, God. Only the method is perfected with a true idea of God, however, not the philosophy. The philosophy itself begins with a true idea of God, since the philosophy consists in deducing the consequences from a true idea of God. With this in mind, the definition of God is of paramount importance. In correspondence, Spinoza compares contrasting definitions of God, explaining that he chose the one which expresses the efficient cause from which all of the properties of God can be deduced.

In this light, it becomes clear that the geometrical presentation of Spinozas philosophy is not merely a pedagogic preference. The definitions that appear at the outset of the five parts of the Ethics do not serve merely to make explicit what might otherwise have remained only implicit in Descartes analytic mode of presentation. Rather, key definitions, such as the definition of God, are principles that underwrite the development of the system. As a result, Hobbes conception of the analysis/synthesis distinction throws an important light on Spinozas procedure. There is a movement of analysis in arriving at the causal definition of God from the preliminary given true idea. Then there is a movement of synthesis in deducing consequences from that causal definition. Of course, Descartes analysis/synthesis distinction still applies, since, after all, Spinozas system is presented in the synthetic manner in the Ethics. But the geometrical style of presentation is not merely a pedagogical device in Spinozas case. It is also a clue to the nature of his system.

Leibniz is openly critical of Descartes distinction between analysis and synthesis, writing, Those who think that the analytic presentation consists in revealing the origin of a discovery, the synthetic in keeping it concealed, are in error (L, 233). This comment is aimed at Descartes formulation of the distinction in the Second Replies. Leibniz is explicit about his adherence to the viewpoint that seems to be implied by Spinozas methodology: synthesis is itself a means of discovering truth no less than analysis, not merely a mode of presentation. Leibnizs understanding of analysis and synthesis is closer to the Hobbesian conception, which views analysis and synthesis as different directions of causal reasoning: from effects to causes (analysis) and from causes to effects (synthesis). Leibniz formulates the distinction in his own terms as follows:

Synthesis is achieved when we begin from principles and run through truths in good order, thus discovering certain progressions and setting up tables, or sometimes general formulas, in which the answers to emerging questions can later be discovered. Analysis goes back to the principles in order to solve the given problems only [] (L, 232)

Leibniz thus conceives synthesis and analysis in relation to principles.

Leibniz lays great stress on the importance of establishing the possibility of ideas, that is to say, establishing that ideas do not involve contradiction, and this applies a fortiori to first principles. For Leibniz, the Cartesian criterion of clear and distinct perception does not suffice for establishing the possibility of an idea. Leibniz is critical, in particular, of Descartes ontological argument on the grounds that Descartes neglects to demonstrate the possibility of the idea of a most perfect being on which the argument depends. It is possible to mistakenly assume that an idea is possible, when in reality it is contradictory. Leibniz gives the example of a wheel turning at the fastest possible rate. It might at first seem that this idea is legitimate, but if a spoke of the wheel were extended beyond the rim, the end of the spoke would move faster than a nail in the rim itself, revealing a contradiction in the original notion.

For Leibniz, there are two ways of establishing the possibility of an idea: by experience (a posteriori) and by reducing concepts via analysis down to a relation of identity (a priori). Leibniz credits mathematicians and geometers with pushing the practice of demonstrating what would otherwise normally be taken for granted the furthest. For example, in Meditations on Knowledge, Truth, and Ideas, Leibniz writes, That brilliant genius Pascal agrees entirely with these principles when he says, in his famous dissertation on the geometrical spirit [] that it is the task of the geometer to define all terms though ever so little obscure and to prove all truths though little doubtful (L, 294). Leibniz credits his own doctrine of the possibility of ideas with clarifying exactly what it means for something to be beyond doubt and obscurity.

Leibniz describes the result of the reduction of concepts to identity variously as follows: when the thing is resolved into simple primitive notions understood in themselves (L, 231); when every ingredient that enters into a distinct concept is itself known distinctly; when analysis is carried through to the end (L, 292). Since, for Leibniz, all true ideas can be reduced to simple identities, it is, in principle, possible to derive all truths via a movement of synthesis from such simple identities in the way that mathematicians produce systems of knowledge on the basis of their basic definitions and axioms. This kind of a priori knowledge of the world is restricted to God, however. According to Leibniz, it is only possible for our finite minds to have this kind of knowledge which Leibniz calls intuitive or adequate in the case of things which do not depend on experience, or what Leibniz also calls truths of reason, which include abstract logical and metaphysical truths, and mathematical propositions. In the case of truths of fact, by contrast, with the exception of immediately graspable facts of experience, such as, I think, and Various things are thought by me, we are restricted to formulating hypotheses to explain the phenomena of sensory experience, and such knowledge of the world can, for us, only ever achieve the status of hypothesis, though our hypothetical knowledge can be continually improved and refined. (See Section 5, c, below for a discussion of hypotheses in Leibniz.)

Leibniz is in line with his rationalist predecessors in emphasizing the importance of proper order in philosophizing. Leibnizs emphasis on establishing the possibility of ideas prior to using them in demonstrating propositions could be understood as a refinement of the geometrical order that Descartes established over against the order of subject-matter. Leibniz emphasizes order in another connection vis--vis Locke. As Leibniz makes clear in his New Essays, one of the clearest points of disagreement between him and Locke is on the question of innate ideas. In preliminary comments that Leibniz drew up upon first reading Lockes Essay, and which he sent to Locke via Burnett, Leibniz makes the following point regarding philosophical order:

Concerning the question whether there are ideas and truths born with us, I do not find it absolutely necessary for the beginnings, nor for the practice of the art of thinking, to answer it; whether they all come to us from outside, or they come from within us, we will reason correctly provided that we keep in mind what I said above, and that we proceed with order and without prejudice. The question of the origin of our ideas and of our maxims is not preliminary in philosophy, and it is necessary to have made great progress in order to resolve it. (Philosophische Schriften, vol. 5, pp. 15-16)

Leibnizs allusion to what he said above refers to remarks regarding the establishment of the possibility of ideas via experience and the principle of identity. This passage makes it clear that, from Leibnizs point of view, the order in which Locke philosophizes is quite misguided, since Locke begins with a question that should only be addressed after great progress has already been made, particularly with respect to the criteria for distinguishing between true and false ideas, and for establishing legitimate philosophical principles. Empiricists generally put much less emphasis on the order of philosophizing, since they do not aim to reason from first principles grasped a priori.

A fundamental tenet of rationalism perhaps the fundamental tenet is that the world is intelligible. The intelligibility tenet means that everything that happens in the world happens in an orderly, lawful, rational manner, and that the mind, in principle, if not always in practice, is able to reproduce the interconnections of things in thought provided that it adheres to certain rules of right reasoning. The intelligibility of the world is sometimes couched in terms of a denial of brute facts, where a brute fact is something that just is the case, that is, something that obtains without any reason or explanation (even in principle). Many of the a priori principles associated with rationalism can be understood either as versions or implications of the principle of intelligibility. As such, the principle of intelligibility functions as a basic principle of rationalism. It appears under various guises in the great rationalist systems and is used to generate contrasting philosophical systems. Indeed, one of the chief criticisms of rationalism is the fact that its principles can consistently be used to generate contradictory conclusions and systems of thought. The clearest and best known statement of the intelligibility of the world is Leibnizs principle of sufficient reason. Some scholars have recently emphasized this principle as the key to understanding rationalism (see Della Rocca 2008, chapter 1).

The intelligibility principle raises some classic philosophical problems. Chief among these is a problem of question-begging or circularity. The task of proving that the world is intelligible seems to have to rely on some of the very principles of reasoning in question. In the 17th century, discussion of this fundamental problem centered around the so-called Cartesian circle. The problem is still debated by scholars of 17th century thought today. The viability of the rationalist enterprise seems to depend, at least in part, on a satisfactory answer to this problem.

The most important rational principle in Descartes philosophy, the principle which does a great deal of the work in generating its details, is the principle according to which whatever is clearly and distinctly perceived to be true is true. This principle means that if we can form any clear and distinct ideas, then we will be able to trust that they accurately represent their objects, and give us certain knowledge of reality. Descartes clear and distinct ideas doctrine is central to his conception of the worlds intelligibility, and indeed, it is central to the rationalists conception of the worlds intelligibility more broadly. Although Spinoza and Leibniz both work to refine understanding of what it is to have clear and distinct ideas, they both subscribe to the view that the mind, when directed properly, is able to accurately represent certain basic features of reality, such as the nature of substance.

For Descartes, it cannot be taken for granted from the outset that what we clearly and distinctly perceive to be true is in fact true. It is possible to entertain the doubt that an all-powerful deceiving being fashioned the mind so that it is deceived even in those things it perceives clearly and distinctly. Nevertheless, it is only possible to entertain this doubt when we are not having clear and distinct perceptions. When we are perceiving things clearly and distinctly, their truth is undeniable. Moreover, we can use our capacity for clear and distinct perceptions to demonstrate that the mind was not fashioned by an all-powerful deceiving being, but rather by an all-powerful benevolent being who would not fashion us so as to be deceived even when using our minds properly. Having proved the existence of an all-powerful benevolent being qua creator of our minds, we can no longer entertain any doubts regarding our clear and distinct ideas even when we are not presently engaged in clear and distinct perceptions.

Descartes legitimation of clear and distinct perception via his proof of a benevolent God raises notorious interpretive challenges. Scholars disagree about how to resolve the problem of the Cartesian circle. However, there is general consensus that Descartes procedure is not, in fact, guilty of vicious, logical circularity. In order for Descartes procedure to avoid circularity, it is generally agreed that in some sense clear and distinct ideas need already to be legitimate before the proof of Gods existence. It is only in another sense that Gods existence legitimates their truth. Scholars disagree on how exactly to understand those different senses, but they generally agree that there is some sense at least in which clear and distinct ideas are self-legitimating, or, otherwise, not in need of legitimation.

That some ideas provide a basic standard of truth is a fundamental tenet of rationalism, and undergirds all the other rationalist principles at work in the construction of rationalist systems of philosophy. For the rationalists, if it cannot be taken for granted in at least some sense from the outset that the mind is capable of discerning the difference between truth and falsehood, then one never gets beyond skepticism.

The Continental rationalists deploy the principle of intelligibility and subordinate rational principles derived from it in generating much of the content of their respective philosophical systems. In no aspect of their systems is the application of rational principles to the generation of philosophical content more evident and more clearly illustrative of contrasting interpretations of these principles than in that for which the Continental rationalists are arguably best known: substance metaphysics.

Descartes deploys his clear and distinct ideas doctrine in justifying his most well-known metaphysical position: substance dualism. The first step in Descartes demonstration of mind-body dualism, or, in his terminology, of a real distinction (that is, a distinction between two substances) between mind and body is to show that while it is possible to doubt that one has a body, it is not possible to doubt that one is thinking. As Descartes makes clear in the Principles of Philosophy, one of the chief upshots of his famous cogito argument is the discovery of the distinction between a thinking thing and a corporeal thing. The impossibility of doubting ones existence is not the impossibility of doubting that one is a human being with a body with arms and legs and a head. It is the impossibility of doubting, rather, that one doubts, perceives, dreams, imagines, understands, wills, denies, and other modalities that Descartes attributes to the thinking thing. It is possible to think of oneself as a thing that thinks, and to recognize that it is impossible to doubt that one thinks, while continuing to doubt that one has a body with arms and legs and a head. So, the cogito drives a preliminary wedge between mind and body.

At this stage of the argument, however, Descartes has simply established that it is possible to conceive of himself as a thinking thing without conceiving of himself as a corporeal thing. It remains possible that, in fact, the thinking thing is identical with a corporeal thing, in other words, that thought is somehow something a body can do; Descartes has yet to establish that the epistemological distinction between his knowledge of his mind and his knowledge of body that results from the hyperbolic doubt translates to a metaphysical or ontological distinction between mind and body. The move from the epistemological distinction to the ontological distinction proceeds via the doctrine of clear and distinct ideas. Having established that whatever he clearly and distinctly perceives is true, Descartes is in a position to affirm the real distinction between mind and body.

In this life, it is never possible to clearly and distinctly perceive a mind actually separate from a body, at least in the case of finite, created minds, because minds and bodies are intimately unified in the composite human being. So Descartes cannot base his proof for the real distinction of mind and body on the clear and distinct perception that mind and body are in fact independently existing things. Rather, Descartes argument is based on the joint claims that (1) it is possible to have a clear and distinct idea of thought apart from extension and vice versa; and (2) whatever we can clearly and distinctly understand is capable of being created by God exactly as we clearly and distinctly understand it. Thus, the fact that we can clearly and distinctly understand thought apart from extension and vice versa entails that thinking things and extended things are really distinct (in the sense that they are distinct substances separable by God).

The foregoing argument relies on certain background assumptions which it is now necessary to explain, in particular, Descartes conception of substance. In the Principles, Descartes defines substance as a thing which exists in such a way as to depend on no other thing for its existence (CSM I, 210). Properly speaking, only God can be understood to depend on no other thing, and so only God is a substance in the absolute sense. Nevertheless, Descartes allows that, in a relative sense, created things can count as substances too. A created thing is a substance if the only thing it relies upon for its existence is the ordinary concurrence of God (ibid.). Only mind and body qualify as substances in this secondary sense. Everything else is a modification or property of minds and bodies. A second point is that, for Descartes, we do not have a direct knowledge of substance; rather, we come to know substance by virtue of its attributes. Thought and extension are the attributes or properties in virtue of which we come to know thinking and corporeal substance, or mind and body. This point relies on the application of a key rational principle, to wit, nothingness has no properties. For Descartes, there cannot simply be the properties of thinking and extension without these properties having something in which to inhere. Thinking and extension are not just any properties; Descartes calls them principal attributes because they constitute the nature of their respective substances. Other, non-essential properties, cannot be understood without the principal attribute, but the principal attribute can be understood without any of the non-essential properties. For example, motion cannot be understood without extension, but extension can be understood without motion.

Descartes conception of mind and body as distinct substances includes some interesting corollaries which result from a characteristic application of rational principles and account for some characteristic doctrinal differences between Descartes and empiricist philosophers. One consequence of Descartes conception of the mind as a substance whose principal attribute is thought is that the mind must always be thinking. Since, for Descartes, thinking is something of which the thinker is necessarily aware, Descartes commitment to thought as an essential, and therefore, inseparable, property of the mind raises some awkward difficulties. Arnauld, for example, raises one such difficulty in his Objections to Descartes Meditations: presumably there is much going on in the mind of an infant in its mothers womb of which the infant is not aware. In response to this objection, and also in response to another obvious problem, that is, that of dreamless sleep, Descartes insists on a distinction between being aware of or conscious of our thoughts at the time we are thinking them, and remembering them afterwards (CSMK III, 357). The infant is, in fact, aware of its thinking in the mothers womb, but it is aware only of very confused sensory thoughts of pain and pleasure and heat (not, as Descartes points out, metaphysical matters (CSMK III, 189)) which it does not remember afterwards. Similarly, the mind is always thinking even in the most dreamless sleep, it is just that the mind often immediately forgets much of what it had been aware.

Descartes commitment to embracing the implications however counter-intuitive of his substance-attribute metaphysics, puts him at odds with, for instance, Locke, who mocks the Cartesian doctrine of the always-thinking soul in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. For Locke, the question whether the soul is always thinking or not must be decided by experience and not, as Locke says, merely by hypothesis (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Chapter 1). The evidence of dreamless sleep makes it obvious, for Locke, that the soul is not always thinking. Because Locke ties personal identity to memory, if the soul were to think while asleep without knowing it, the sleeping man and the waking man would be two different persons.

Descartes commitment to the always-thinking mind is a consequence of his commitment to a more basic rational principle. In establishing his conception of thinking substance, Descartes reasons from the attribute of thinking to the substance of thinking on the grounds that nothing has no properties. In this case, he reasons in the other direction, from the substance of thinking, that is, the mind, to the property of thinking on the converse grounds that something must have properties, and the properties it must have are the properties that make it what it is; in the case of the mind, that property is thought. (Leibniz found a way to maintain the integrity of the rational principle without contradicting experience: admit that thinking need not be conscious. This way the mind can still think in a dreamless sleep, and so avoid being without any properties, without any problem about the recollection of awareness.)

Another consequence of Descartes substance metaphysics concerns corporeal substance. For Descartes, we do not know corporeal substance directly, but rather through a grasp of its principal attribute, extension. Extension qua property requires a substance in which to inhere because of the rational principle, nothing has no properties. This rational principle leads to another characteristic Cartesian position regarding the material world: the denial of a vacuum. Descartes denies that space can be empty or void. Space has the property of being extended in length, breadth, and depth, and such properties require a substance in which to inhere. Thus, nothing, that is, a void or vacuum, is not able to have such properties because of the rational principle, nothing has no properties. This means that all space is filled with substance, even if it is imperceptible. Once again, Descartes answers a debated philosophical question on the basis of a rational principle.

If Descartes is known for his dualism, Spinoza, of course, is known for monism the doctrine that there is only one substance. Spinozas argument for substance monism (laid out in the first fifteen propositions of the Ethics) has no essential basis in sensory experience; it proceeds through rational argumentation and the deployment of rational principles; although Spinoza provides one a posteriori argument for Gods existence, he makes clear that he presents it only because it is easier to grasp than the a priori arguments, and not because it is in any way necessary.

The crucial step in the argument for substance monism comes in Ethics 1p5: In Nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute. It is at this proposition that Descartes (and Leibniz, and many others) would part ways with Spinoza. The most striking and controversial implication of this proposition, at least from a Cartesian perspective, is that human minds cannot qualify as substances, since human minds all share the same nature or attribute, that is, thought. In Spinozas philosophy, human minds are actually themselves properties Spinoza calls them modes of a more basic, infinite substance.

The argument for 1p5 works as follows. If there were two or more distinct substances, there would have to be some way to distinguish between them. There are two possible distinctions to be made: either by a difference in their affections or by a difference in their attributes. For Spinoza, a substance is something which exists in itself and can be conceived through itself; an attribute is what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence (Ethics 1d4). Spinozas conception of attributes is a matter of longstanding scholarly debate, but for present purposes, we can think of it along Cartesian lines. For Descartes, substance is always grasped through a principal property, which is the nature or essence of the substance. Spinoza agrees that an attribute is that through which the mind conceives the nature or essence of substance. With this in mind, if a distinction between two substances were to be made on the basis of a difference in attributes, then there would not be two substances of the same attribute as the proposition indicates. This means that if there were two substances of the same attribute, it would be necessary to distinguish between them on the basis of a difference in modes or affections.

Spinoza conceives of an affection or mode as something which exists in another and needs to be conceived through another. Given this conception of affections, it is impossible, for Spinoza, to distinguish between two substances on the basis of a difference in affections. Doing so would be somewhat akin to affirming that there are two apples on the basis of a difference between two colors, when one apple can quite possibly have a red part and a green part. As color differences do not per se determine differences between apples, in a similar way, modal differences cannot determine a difference between substances you could just be dealing with one substance bearing multiple different affections. It is notable that in 1p5, Spinoza uses virtually the same substance-attribute schema as Descartes to deny a fundamental feature of Descartes system.

Having established 1p5, the next major step in Spinozas argument for substance monism is to establish the necessary existence and infinity of substance. For Spinoza, if things have nothing in common with each other, one cannot be the cause of the other. This thesis depends upon assumptions that lie at the heart of Spinozas rationalism. Something that has nothing in common with another thing cannot be the cause of the other thing because things that have nothing in common with one another cannot be understood through one another (Ethics 1a5). But, for Spinoza, effects should be able to be understood through causes. Indeed, what it is to understand something, for Spinoza, is to understand its cause. The order of knowledge, provided that the knowledge is genuine, or, as Spinoza says, adequate, must map onto the order of being, and vice versa. Thus, Spinozas claim that if things have nothing in common with one another, one cannot be the cause of the other, is an expression of Spinozas fundamental, rationalist commitment to the intelligibility of the world. Given this assumption, and given the fact that no two substances have anything in common with one another, since no two substances share the same nature or attribute, it follows that if a substance is to exist, it must exist as causa sui (self-caused); in other words, it must pertain to the essence of substance to exist. Moreover, Spinoza thinks that since there is nothing that has anything in common with a given substance, there is therefore nothing to limit the nature of a given substance, and so every substance will necessarily be infinite. This assertion depends on another deep-seated assumption of Spinozas philosophy: nothing limits itself, but everything by virtue of its very nature affirms its own nature and existence as much as possible.

At this stage, Spinoza has argued that substances of a single attribute exist necessarily and are necessarily infinite. The last major stage of the argument for substance monism is the transition from multiple substances of a single attribute to only one substance of infinite attributes. Scholars have expressed varying degrees of satisfaction with the lucidity of this transition. It seems to work as follows. It is possible to attribute many attributes to one substance. The more reality or being each thing has, the more attributes belong to it. Therefore, an absolutely infinite being is a being that consists of infinite attributes. Spinoza calls an absolutely infinite being or substance consisting of infinite attributes God. Spinoza gives four distinct arguments for Gods existence in Ethics 1p11. The first is commonly interpreted as Spinozas version of an ontological argument. It refers back to 1p7 where Spinoza proved that it pertains to the essence of substance to exist. The second argument is relevant to present purposes, since it turns on Spinozas version of the principle of sufficient reason: For each thing there must be assigned a cause, or reason, both for its existence and for its nonexistence (Ethics 1p11dem). But there can be no reason for Gods nonexistence for the same reasons that all substances are necessarily infinite: there is nothing outside of God that is able to limit Him, and nothing limits itself. Once again, Spinozas argument rests upon his assumption that things by nature affirm their own existence. The third argument is a posteriori, and the fourth pivots like the second on the assumption that things by nature affirm their own existence.

Having proven that a being consisting of infinite attributes exists, Spinozas argument for substance monism is nearly complete. It remains only to point out that no substance besides God can exist, because if it did, it would have to share at least one of Gods infinite attributes, which, by 1p5, is impossible. Everything that exists, then, is either an attribute or an affection of God.

Leibnizs universe consists of an infinity of monads or simple substances, and God. For Leibniz, the universe must be composed of monads or simple substances. His justification for this claim is relatively straightforward. There must be simples, because there are compounds, and compounds are just collections of simples. To be simple, for Leibniz, means to be without parts, and thus to be indivisible. For Leibniz, the simples or monads are the true atoms of nature (L, 643). However, material atoms are contrary to reason (L, 456). Manifold a priori considerations lead Leibniz to reject material atoms. In the first place, the notion of a material atom is contradictory in Leibnizs view. Matter is extended, and that which is extended is divisible into parts. The very notion of an atom, however, is the notion of something indivisible, lacking parts.

From a different perspective, Leibnizs dynamical investigations provide another argument against material atoms. Absolute rigidity is included in the notion of a material atom, since any elasticity in the atom could only be accounted for on the basis of parts within the atom shifting their position with respect to each other, which is contrary to the notion of a partless atom. According to Leibnizs analysis of impact, however, absolute rigidity is shown not to make sense. Consider the rebound of one atom as a result of its collision with another. If the atoms were absolutely rigid, the change in motion resulting from the collision would have to happen instantaneously, or, as Leibniz says, through a leap or in a moment (L, 446). The atom would change from initial motion to rest to rebounded motion without passing through any intermediary degrees of motion. Since the body must pass through all the intermediary degrees of motion in transitioning from one state of motion to another, it must not be absolutely rigid, but rather elastic; the analysis of the parts of the body must, in correlation with the degree of motion, proceed to infinity. Leibnizs dynamical argument against material atoms turns on what he calls the law of continuity, an a priori principle according to which no change occurs through a leap.

The true unities, or true atoms of nature, therefore, cannot be material; they must be spiritual or metaphysical substances akin to souls. Since Leibnizs spiritual substances, or monads, are absolutely simple, without parts, they admit neither of dissolution nor composition. Moreover, there can be no interaction between monads, monads cannot receive impressions or undergo alterations by means of being affected from the outside, since, in Leibnizs famous phrase from the Monadology, monads have no windows (L, 643). Monads must, however, have qualities, otherwise there would be no way to explain the changes we see in things and the diversity of nature. Indeed, following from Leibnizs principle of the identity of indiscernibles, no two monads can be exactly alike, since each monad stands in a unique relation to the rest, and, for Leibniz, each monads relation to the rest is a distinctive feature of its nature. The way in which, for Leibniz, monads can have qualities while remaining simple, or in other words, the only way there can be multitude in simplicity is if monads are characterized and distinguished by means of their perceptions. Leibnizs universe, in summary, consists in monads, simple spiritual substances, characterized and distinguished from one another by a unique series of perceptions determined by each monads unique relationship vis--vis the others.

Of the great rationalists, Leibniz is the most explicit about the principles of reasoning that govern his thought. Leibniz singles out two, in particular, as the most fundamental rational principles of his philosophy: the principle of contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason. According to the principle of contradiction, whatever involves a contradiction is false. According to the principle of sufficient reason, there is no fact or true proposition without there being a sufficient reason for its being so and not otherwise (L, 646). Corresponding to these two principles of reasoning are two kinds of truths: truths of reasoning and truths of fact. For Leibniz, truths of reasoning are necessary, and their opposite is impossible. Truths of fact, by contrast, are contingent, and their opposite is possible. Truths of reasoning are by most commentators associated with the principle of contradiction because they can be reduced via analysis to a relation between two primitive ideas, whose identity is intuitively evident. Thus, it is possible to grasp why it is impossible for truths of reasoning to be otherwise. However, this kind of resolution is only possible in the case of abstract propositions, such as the propositions of mathematics (see Section 3, c, above). Contingent truths, or truths of fact, by contrast, such as Caesar crossed the Rubicon, to use the example Leibniz gives in the Discourse on Metaphysics, are infinitely complicated. Although, for Leibniz, every predicate is contained in its subject, to reduce the relationship between Caesars notion and his action of crossing the Rubicon would require an infinite analysis impossible for finite minds. Caesar crossed the Rubicon is a contingent proposition, because there is another possible world in which Caesar did not cross the Rubicon. To understand the reason for Caesars crossing, then, entails understanding why this world exists rather than any other possible world. It is for this reason that contingent truths are associated with the principle of sufficient reason. Although the opposite of truths of fact is possible, there is nevertheless a sufficient reason why the fact is so and not otherwise, even though this reason cannot be known by finite minds.

Truths of fact, then, need to be explained; there must be a sufficient reason for them. However, according to Leibniz, a sufficient reason for existence cannot be found merely in any one individual thing or even in the whole aggregate and series of things (L, 486). That is to say, the sufficient reason for any given contingent fact cannot be found within the world of which it is a part. The sufficient reason must explain why this world exists rather than another possible world, and this reason must lie outside the world itself. For Leibniz, the ultimate reason for things must be contained in a necessary substance that creates the world, that is, God. But if the existence of God is to ground the series of contingent facts that make up the world, there must be a sufficient reason why God created this world rather than any of the other infinite possible worlds contained in his understanding. As a perfect being, God would only have chosen to bring this world into existence rather than any other because it is the best of all possible worlds. Gods choice, therefore, is governed by the principle of fitness, or what Leibniz also calls the principle of the best (L, 647). The best world, according to Leibniz, is the one which maximizes perfection; and the most perfect world is the one which balances the greatest possible variety with the greatest possible order. God achieves maximal perfection in the world through what Leibniz calls the pre-established harmony. Although the world is made up of an infinity of monads with no direct interaction with one another, God harmonizes the perceptions of each monad with the perceptions of every other monad, such that each monad represents a unique perspective on the rest of the universe according to its position vis--vis the others.

According to Leibnizs philosophy, in the case of all true propositions, the predicate is contained in the subject. This is often known as the predicate-in-notion principle. The relationship between predicate and subject can only be reduced to an identity relation in the case of truths of reason, whereas in the case of truths of fact, the reduction requires an infinite analysis. Nevertheless, in both cases, it is possible in principle (which is to say, for an infinite intellect) to know everything that will ever happen to an individual substance, and even everything that will happen in the world of an individual substance on the basis of an examination of the individual substances notion, since each substance is an expression of the entire world. Leibnizs predicate-in-notion principle therefore unifies both of his two great principles of reasoning the principle of contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason since the relation between predicate and subject is either such that it is impossible for it to be otherwise or such that there is a sufficient reason why it is as it is and not otherwise. Moreover, it represents a particularly robust expression of the principle of intelligibility at the very heart of Leibnizs system. There is a reason why everything is as it is, whether that reason is subject to finite or only to infinite analysis.

(See also: 17th Century Theories of Substance.)

Rationalism is often criticized for placing too much confidence in the ability of reason alone to know the world. The extent to which one finds this criticism justified depends largely on ones view of reason. For Hume, for instance, knowledge of the world of matters of fact is gained exclusively through experience; reason is merely a faculty for comparing ideas gained through experience; it is thus parasitic upon experience, and has no claim whatsoever to grasp anything about the world itself, let alone any special claim. For Kant, reason is a mental faculty with an inherent tendency to transgress the bounds of possible experience in an effort to grasp the metaphysical foundations of the phenomenal realm. Since knowledge of the world is limited to objects of possible experience, for Kant, reason, with its delusions of grasping reality beyond those limits, must be subject to critique.

Sometimes rationalism is charged with neglecting or undervaluing experience, and with embarrassingly having no means of accounting for the tremendous success of the experimental sciences. While the criticism of the confidence placed in reason may be defensible given a certain conception of reason (which may or may not itself be ultimately defensible), the latter charge of neglecting experience is not; more often than not it is the product of a false caricature of rationalism

Descartes and Leibniz were the leading mathematicians of their day, and stood at the forefront of science. While Spinoza distinguished himself more as a political thinker, and as an interpreter of scripture (albeit a notorious one) than as a mathematician, Spinoza too performed experiments, kept abreast of the leading science of the day, and was renowned as an expert craftsman of lenses. Far from neglecting experience, the great rationalists had, in general, a sophisticated understanding of the role of experience and, indeed, of experiment, in the acquisition and development of knowledge. The fact that the rationalists held that experience and experiment cannot serve as foundations for knowledge, but must be fitted within, and interpreted in light of, a rational epistemic framework, should not be confused with a neglect of experience and experiment.

One of the stated purposes of Descartes Meditations, and, in particular, the hyperbolic doubts with which it commences, is to reveal to the mind of the reader the limitations of its reliance on the senses, which Descartes regards as an inadequate foundation for knowledge. By leading the mind away from the senses, which often deceive, and which yield only confused ideas, Descartes prepares the reader to discover the clear and distinct perceptions of the pure intellect, which provide a proper foundation for genuine knowledge. Nevertheless, empirical observations and experimentation clearly had an important role to play in Descartes natural philosophy, as evidenced by his own private empirical and experimental research, especially in optics and anatomy, and by his explicit statements in several writings on the role and importance of observation and experiment.

In Part 6 of the Discourse on the Method, Descartes makes an open plea for assistance both financial and otherwise in making systematic empirical observations and conducting experiments. Also in Discourse Part 6, Descartes lays out his program for developing knowledge of nature. It begins with the discovery of certain seeds of truth implanted naturally in our souls (CSM I, 144). From them, Descartes seeks to derive the first principles and causes of everything. Descartes Meditations illustrates these first stages of the program. By seeds of truth Descartes has in mind certain intuitions, including the ideas of thinking, and extension, and, in particular, of God. On the basis of clearly and distinctly perceiving the distinction between what belongs properly to extension (figure, position, motion) and what does not (colors, sounds, smells, and so forth), Descartes discovers the principles of physics, including the laws of motion. From these principles, it is possible to deduce many particular ways in which the details of the world might be, only a small fraction of which represent the way the world actually is. It is as a result of the distance, as it were, between physical principles and laws of nature, on one hand, and the particular details of the world, on the other, that, for Descartes, observations and experiments become necessary.

Descartes is ambivalent about the relationship between physical principles and particulars, and about the role that observation and experiment play in mediating this relationship. On the one hand, Descartes expresses commitment to the ideal of a science deduced with certainty from intuitively grasped first principles. Because of the great variety of mutually incompatible consequences that can be derived from physical principles, observation and experiment are required even in the ideal deductive science to discriminate between actual consequences and merely possible ones. According to the ideal of deductive science, however, observation and experiment should be used only to facilitate the deduction of effects from first causes, and not as a basis for an inference to possible explanations of natural phenomena, as Descartes makes clear at one point his Principles of Philosophy (CSM I, 249). If the explanations were only possible, or hypothetical, the science could not lay claim to certainty per the deductive ideal, but merely to probability.

On the other hand, Descartes states explicitly at another point in the Principles of Philosophy that the explanations provided of such phenomena as the motion of celestial bodies and the nature of the earths elements should be regarded merely as hypotheses arrived at on the basis of a posteriori reasoning (CSM I, 255); while Descartes says that such hypotheses must agree with observation and facilitate predictions, they need not in fact reflect the actual causes of phenomena. Descartes appears to concede, albeit reluctantly, that when it comes to explaining particular phenomena, hypothetical explanations and moral certainty (that is, mere probability) are all that can be hoped for.

Scholars have offered a range of explanations for the inconsistency in Descartes writings on the question of the relation between first principles and particulars. It has been suggested that the inconsistency within the Principles of Philosophy reflects different stages of its composition (see Garber 1978). However the inconsistency might be explained, it is clear that Descartes did not take it for granted that the ideal of a deductive science of nature could be realized. Moreover, whether or not Descartes ultimately believed the ideal of deductive science was realizable, he was unambiguous on the importance of observation and experiment in bridging the distance between physical principles and particular phenomena. (For further discussion, see Ren Descartes: Scientific Method.)

The one work that Spinoza published under his own name in his lifetime was his geometrical reworking of Descartes Principles of Philosophy. In Spinozas presentation of the opening sections of Part 3 of Descartes Principles, Spinoza puts a strong emphasis on the hypothetical nature of the explanations of natural phenomena in Part 3. Given the hesitance and ambivalence with which Descartes concedes the hypothetical nature of his explanations in his Principles, Spinozas unequivocal insistence on hypotheses is striking. Elsewhere Spinoza endorses hypotheses more directly. In the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, Spinoza describes forming the concept of a sphere by affirming the rotation of a semicircle in thought. He points out that this idea is a true idea of a sphere even if no sphere has ever been produced this way in nature (The Collected Works of Spinoza, Vol. 1, p. 32). Spinozas view of hypotheses relates to his conception of good definitions (see Section 3, b, above). If the cause through which one conceives something allows for the deduction of all possible effects, then the cause is an adequate one, and there is no need to fear a false hypothesis. Spinoza appears to differ from Descartes in thinking that the formation of hypotheses, if done properly, is consistent with deductive certainty, and not tantamount to mere probability or moral certainty.

Again in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, Spinoza speaks in Baconian fashion of identifying aids that can assist in the use of the senses and in conducting orderly experiments. Unfortunately, Spinozas comments regarding aids are very unclear. This is perhaps explained by the fact that they appear in a work that Spinoza never finished. Nevertheless, it does seem clear that although Spinoza, like Descartes, emphasized the importance of discovering proper principles from which to deduce knowledge of everything else, he was no less aware than Descartes of the need to proceed via observation and experiment in descending from such principles to particulars. At the same time, given his analysis of the inadequacy of sensory images, the collection of empirical data must be governed by rules and rational guidelines the details of which it does not seem that Spinoza ever worked out.

A valuable perspective on Spinozas attitude toward experimentation is provided by Letter 6, which Spinoza wrote to Oldenburg with comments on Robert Boyles experimental research. Among other matters, at issue is Boyles redintegration (or reconstitution) of niter (potassium nitrate). By heating niter with a burning coal, Boyle separated the niter into a fixed part and a volatile part; he then proceeded to distill the volatile part, and recombine it with the fixed part, thereby redintegrating the niter. Boyles aim was to show that the nature of niter is not determined by a Scholastic substantial form, but rather by the composition of parts, whose secondary qualities (color, taste, smell, and so forth) are determined by primary qualities (size, position, motion, and so forth). While taking no issue with Boyles attempt to undermine the Scholastic analysis of physical natures, Spinoza criticized Boyles interpretation of the experiment, arguing that the fixed niter was merely an impurity left over, and that there was no difference between the niter and the volatile part other than a difference of state.

Two things stand out from Spinozas comments on Boyle. On the one hand, Spinoza exhibits a degree of impatience with Boyles experiments, charging some of them with superfluity on the grounds either that what they show is evident on the basis of reason alone, or that previous philosophers have already sufficiently demonstrated them experimentally. In addition, Spinozas own interpretation of Boyles experiment is primarily based in a rather speculative, Cartesian account of the mechanical constitution of niter (as Boyle himself points out in response to Spinoza). On the other hand, Spinoza appears eager to show his own fluency with experimental practice, describing no fewer than three different experiments of his own invention to support his interpretation of the redintegration. What Spinoza is critical of is not so much Boyles use of experiment per se as his relative neglect of relevant rational considerations. For instance, Spinoza at one point criticizes Boyle for trying to show that secondary qualities depend on primary qualities on experimental grounds. Spinoza thought the proposition needed to be demonstrated on rational grounds. While Spinoza acknowledges the importance and necessity of observation and experiment, his emphasis and focus is on the rational framework needed for making sense of experimental findings, without which the results are confused and misleading.

In principle, Leibniz thinks it is not impossible to discover the interior constitution of bodies a priori on the basis of a knowledge of God and the principle of the best according to which He creates the world. Leibniz sometimes remarks that angels could explain to us the intelligible causes through which all things come about, but he seems conflicted over whether such understanding is actually possible for human beings. Leibniz seems to think that while the a priori pathway should be pursued in this life by the brightest minds in any case, its perfection will only be possible in the afterlife. The obstacle to an a priori conception of things is the complexity of sensible effects. In this life, then, knowledge of nature cannot be purely a priori, but depends on observation and experimentation in conjunction with reason

Apart from perception, we have clear and distinct ideas only of magnitude, figure, motion, and other such quantifiable attributes (primary qualities). The goal of all empirical research must be to resolve phenomena (including secondary qualities) into such distinctly perceived, quantifiable notions. For example, heat is explained in terms of some particular motion of air or some other fluid. Only in this way can the epistemic ideal be achieved of understanding how phenomena follow from their causes in the same way that we know how the hammer stroke after a period of time follows from the workings of a clock (L, 173). To this end, experiments must be carried out to indicate possible relationships between secondary qualities and primary qualities, and to provide a basis for the formulation of hypotheses to explain the phenomena.

Nevertheless, there is an inherent limitation to this procedure. Leibniz explains that if there were people who had no direct experience of heat, for instance, even if someone were to explain to them the precise mechanical cause of heat, they would still not be able to know the sensation of heat, because they would still not distinctly grasp the connection between bodily motion and perception (L, 285). Leibniz seems to think that human beings will never be able to bridge the explanatory gap between sensations and mechanical causes. There will always be an irreducibly confused aspect of sensible ideas, even if they can be associated with a high degree of sophistication with distinctly perceivable, quantifiable notions. However, this limitation does not mean, for Leibniz, that there is any futility in human efforts to understand the world scientifically. In the first place, experimental knowledge of the composition of things is tremendously useful in practice, even if the composition is not distinctly perceived in all its parts. As Leibniz points out, the architect who uses stones to erect a cathedral need not possess a distinct knowledge of the bits of earth interposed between the stones (L, 175). Secondly, even if our understanding of the causes of sensible effects must remain forever hypothetical, the hypotheses themselves can be more or less refined, and it is proper experimentation that assists in their refinement.

When citing the works of Descartes, the three volume English translation by Cottingham, Stoothoff, Murdoch, and Kenny was used. For the original language, the edition by Adam and Tannery was consulted.

When citing Spinozas Ethics, the translation by Curley in A Spinoza Reader was used. The following system of abbreviation was used when citing passages from the Ethics: the first number designates the part of the Ethics (1-5); then, p is for proposition, d for definition, a for axiom, dem for demonstration, c for corollary, and s for scholium. So, 1p17s refers to the scholium of the seventeenth proposition of the first part of the Ethics. For the original language, the edition by Gebhardt was consulted.

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Rationalism vs. Romanticism | Ramblings of a Psychology …

Rationalism is a particular view about the way the world is; what we can know about it; and a bit about what people are like.

The basic idea is that you cant trust your senses, only your intellect. There are a number of reasons for believing this, the simplest and most commonly-cited of which are the ones listed by Descartes, often thought of as the first rationalist, in his Meditations. One is that sometimes your senses deceive you; for example, a straight stick in a glass of water looks bent. As Descartes put it, it is unwise to ever really trust those who have deceived you once; if your senses deceive you sometimes, how do you know they arent deceiving you all the time?

Descartes examined everything he believed, and if he thought it was even possible that he might be wrong, he cast that belief out; in the end, the only thing he was sure he knew was that he was thinking, and it takes something to be there to be thinking, so he could infer that he existed (this move has been criticized by later philosophers). Rationalists see the existence of external objects as open to doubt.

On top of this, Descartes added a set of things he could be sure about because they were true by definition, like all triangles have three corners or all bachelors are unmarried men. These are things he could know without knowing anything else about the world (called a priori in philosophy) and that everyone is born knowing (because they are true by definition, you cannot not know them; thats contentious, but its what he said. These are called innate beliefs). For this reason, rationalism is also used to describe any view that attributes a lot of significance to mental properties or innate intellectual abilities; in trying to explain how children learn to speak, Naom Chomsky famously said that children are born with an innate aptitude for language, almost like knowing a language all of their own, before they are born; this is a rationalist approach to language-learning.

Romanticism is a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual.It Elicits emotion and glamorizes the events. Not romantic as in candles, soft music, and good food, but romanticism as in patriotism, nationalism, or devotion to a cause

Romanticism was a reaction to rationalism as much as it was a result of the social changes. As rationalism became more popular, more people started questioning the assumption that human nature was rooted in rationalism. The romantics are the philosophers and literary writers who addressed irrational motivations in human nature, particularly emotions.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was considered the first romanticist, and romanticism grew with the increasing popularity of his books. In The Social Contract, Rousseau questions the whole idea that people need government and argues that education

should focus on individuality, not society.

Man is born free and yet we see him everywhere in chains.

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What is CR? – critical rationalism blog

I like to think of CR (critical rationalism) as a kind of evolving philosophical tradition concerning how we should approach knowledge. It is the Socratic method only with a little bit of modern awareness. While most philosophical traditions regard knowledge as something that has to be certain and justified, CR takes the view that we dont have ultimate answers, but knowledge is nevertheless possible. Truth is an endless quest.

The modern founder of critical rationalism was Karl Popper. Popper pointed out we can never justify anything, we merely criticize and weed out bad ideas and work with whats left. Poppers initial emphasis was on empirical science, where he solved the problem of induction, something that had been haunting philosophers and scientists for centuries. The problem of induction is this. No matter how many times weve seen an apple fall to the ground after weve dropped it, do we have any way to prove the same thing will happen next time we drop it. The answer is no. What Popper pointed out is that you can never justify any scientific theory, but you can falsify it. If I were to claim that all swans were white, one black swan would falsify my theory. In this way, science moves forward by weeding out bad theories, so to speak.

Popper said that science moves forward through a method of conjecture and refutation. While Popper was primarily interested in science, he often commented on political problems as well. Popper liked to emphasize the need for an open society, a society where people can speak out and criticize. After all, if science progresses through refutations, criticizing becomes essential. We need to speak out and therefore we need the freedom to do so. Popper was against any form of government that didnt give people the chance to speak out. Poppers thinking could probably best be summed up in this quote, I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth.

Popper worked hard to expand his ideas, and so have several other people. CR should not be viewed as one mans philosophy, but as a growing philosophical tradition. One in which several people have contributed and are still contributing. One notable person was William Warren Bartley, III. Bartley worked towards expanding the idea of critical rationalism to cover all areas of knowledge, not just empirical science. Bartley felt that while in almost all areas of knowledge we seek justification, we should instead seek criticism. While nothing can ever be justified in any ultimate sense, certainly we can see error and weed it out. This is true whether we are dealing with empirical science and perhaps even knowledge of what is ethical. An important part of Bartleys thinking could probably best be summed up in this quote, How can our intellectual life and institutions, our tradition, and even our etiquette, sensibility, manners and customs, and behavior patterns, be arranged so as to expose our beliefs, conjectures, ideologies, policies, positions, programs, sources of ideas, traditions, and the like, to optimum criticism, so as at once to counteract and eliminate as much intellectual error as possible, and also so as to contribute to and insure the fertility of the intellectual econiche: to create an environment in which not only negative criticism but also positive creation of ideas, and the development of rationality, are truly inspired.

Neither Bartley or Popper have exhaustively explored the full potential of the CR philosophical tradition. Indeed, there are unlimited possibilities. While CR often emphasizes criticism, it also encourages new approaches and creative thinking. We need to come up with as many new ideas as we can, then let the process of criticism weed out the less workable ones. As CR accepts that the truth is out there and we are working towards it, it is actually a very optimistic philosophical tradition. Perhaps the most optimistic among the big three philosophical traditions. What are the big three traditions. Let me give you a quick summary.

One, dogmatism. Decide that you are privy to ultimate truth and then just follow that truth no matter what. Does such an attitude contribute to fanaticism? Perhaps.

Two, pessimism. Decide that truth is impossible, relative, random, meaningless. Just do whatever you want because nothing matters anyway. Does such an attitude contribute to random violence? Perhaps.

Three, critical rationalism, the truth is out there, but no one has a monopoly on it, so lets work together to try and get a little closer to it. Does such an attitude contribute to progress and mutual respect? More than likely.

If youd like more details than this then thats what this blog is for, please look around and explore.

Matt Dioguardi, blog administrator

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What is CR? - critical rationalism blog


From time immemorial philosophy has captivated man as no other subject has as it deals with the very things we find most important and pertinent to human existence. The word philosophy was first coined by the mathematical, universal genius Pythagoras, sometime in the 6th century BC, and means friend or lover of wisdom. Even before Pythagoras, men of wisdom were contemplating the issues which still interests modern philosophers to this very day. For Pythagoras however, philosophy wasnt just a subject to be used to answer a question, only for it to be deposited out of mind until a future problem arose which needed answering. No, Pythagoras coined the term based on an actual, literal love of philosophy, which permeated throughout his life and formed the basis of his actions and goals. Pythagoras in this sense, was a full time philosopher and everything he done was a direct response to his philosophical ideas.

Today, modern philosophy has been consigned to the rubbish heap of academia, and is regarded as nothing more than a joke in scientific circles. A philosophy degree is seen as wholly impractical and pointless, because of its impracticability and is usually used as a show of intelligence to gain employment in other sectors, out with philosophy.

Philosophy is deemed useless by society because it isnt directly concerned or involved in making money students choose degrees based on which one can make them the most money. They dont choose the subject that they like best because more than anything they like money best. Capitalisms values have already been internalised at this young age for most people, and so it transfers into academia and beyond. But this is not the full extent of the truth as some philosophical skills such as critical thinking and predicate logic are valued because they can be utilised in the wider workplace. Nearly every British prime minister and senior member of the the Tory party has taken the same group of subjects at University, known as P.P.E philosophy, politics, and economics. The power elite realise the value that philosophy plays in the wider world, but this only extends as far as what is practical in purely monetary terms Cameron et al utilise philosophy as a means to an end, that end being the power of others in matters of argument and persuasion. Philosophy will never be taught in the current school curriculum because a critical thinker is a danger to the prevailing establishment. Imagine a whole school year being taught critical thinking on mass, and taking that knowledge into the world, then imagine every subsequent school year being taught this year after year within 10 years the world would have a definite rational revolution on its hands.

How hypocritical are our leaders when the very subjects they took at university are the subjects they conspire against in their political tenures? Instead of P.P.E being promoted in schools, subjects such as home cooking, woodwork and physical education are pushed to the fore. No one is going to change the world by becoming a world class cook or athlete, or carpenter (although that one is contestable), and the power elite know this fine well. On top of that, modern philosophy has become an absolute joke, more concerned with if the king of France is bald, rather than with absolute knowledge. The joke that is modern philosophy can be categorised into three groups:

Historical Philosophy, which deals with all pre-modern philosophers and ideologies, and seeks to only summarise philosophical views, their historical developments and how they influence future philosophers and systems of though. Historical philosophy is the gate keeper for everything thats not modern, no new developments are produced my this group. They keep everything in the past, where it cant trouble anyone. Historical philosophy thinks that nothing new can be said, thats not previously be said before, and is more focused on historical placement than any form of present application or synthesis.

Semantic Philosophy, in academic circles, primarily deals with understanding human expression through the analysis of language. However rather than the field dealing with deep philosophical concepts such as semiotics or other psychological uses such as proxemics. It is instead involved in pedantic pursuits such as whether the king of France is bald or not. Yes, this semantic paradox is actually taken serious, and a lot of time is spent on it in academic philosophy.

finally, philosophy of science is the hidden sin non qua of empirical science, as it deals with defending and promoting the empirical experimental paradigm throughout the academic, and intellectual. Empiricism as a worldview is never challenged, only certain experimental models, methods are analysed and contrast against other competing models in regards to reliability and whether it matches our empirical senses best. No prominent philosophy within the field of P.O.S will ever critique the empirical method because he would be attacking his own livelihood and thats where the problem lies for modern philosophy, and by extension the whole world the age of the specialist has replaced the universal genius. Subsequently academics based within a specialised field dare not question the prevailing paradigm for fear of ostracisation from the community, or loss of senior positions at universities. Specialisation runs rampant within every sector of modern life. With the advent of the internet with unlimited knowledge at everybodys fingertips, and everybody is becoming more specialised and selective within their own range of exacting knowledge.

The great problems in this world will never be solved if the extent of human knowledge is compartmentalised with specific subject fields that care more about money than truth. The geniuss of the past were universal in their knowledge and applications Pythagoras coined the term lover of wisdom to denote ones interests in all fields of knowledge. A grounding in philosophy should be fundamental to all disciplines Students horizons should be broadened not specialised. How can one possibly know their calling in life if they havent experienced at least some of it?

Its time for the resurgence of the universal genius, the concept of the renaissance man should be plastered on every university, on every campus and library in the world. The universal genius is concerned more with knowledge and truth than option and material possessions. Universities should be producing student formed in the mood of Pythagoras not Keynes or Buffet. Philosophy has to be at the centre of all intellectual institutions if this world is to truly progress in a way that will benefit all of its inhabitants, not just the rich and their scientific enablers.

Pythagoras first institution of learning was the predecessor upon which all modern universities were built on, but instead of taking his pursuit of ultimate knowledge to a higher level, they have instead turned it into a place were societies lowliest values are conditioned into its brightest minds. In effect, they have turned what was a God factory into a zombie factory, where capitalism reigns supreme. Most academics can be considered to be nothing more than part-timers half their time is dedicated to their specialised field, the other half to making money. The full time philosopher is either seen as a madman or someone not to be trusted. The pursuit ofAcademia truth and knowledge has been replaced with the pursuit of mammon. Where are the renaissance men and women? Where are the universal Geniuses? Where are the system builders? Who is concerned with truth and knowledge over money and prestige? Education should be about lifting ones mind to a higher place perfecting an individual and teaching them about whats most important in life. Modern education does the exact opposite it encourages memorised, verbatim learning and a closed mind, thats conditioned to accept the materialist paradigm without question. Even within the most open minded subject of all; philosophy empiricism goes generally unquestioned, as most are unable to move beyond their sense perceptions, because the vast majority of the intellectually inclined are sensing types rather than thinking types. This worldview is then continually reinforced throughout our culture which in the end amounts to an entirely faith based position, akin to any form of Abrahamism. The difference is today, that Abrahamism is only critiqued in modern societies whereas materialism isnt.

Academia wouldnt be in the place it is today if real philosophical integrity had stayed at the heart of the intellectual world. It woundt have sold out to capitalism and it certainly wouldnt have allowed such absurd contradictions as lifeless atoms giving birth to conscious human beings. Metaphysics and epistemology are completely in thrall to materialist models of reality, and no challenge to them is even considered. And this is all dictated by illiterate autistic physicists how havent done a days work in philosophy in their lives. Humanity must promote the concept of the full-time philosopher once again. Its time for metaphysics, politics, epistemology, rationalism and most importantly mathematics to return to their rightful place as the greatest subjects known to man. Its time for the new, modern renaissance man, whos educated in every field of practical knowledge, whos life is dedicated to being a full time philosopher of reason, knowledge and truth. To be rational is not enough, you must live that rationality, every second of every day to become Hypperrational: one who embodies and applies mathematical rationalism in all aspects of their lifes. For those of you unfamiliar with the Illuminist concept of Hyperrationalism I will be dealing with it in my next post.

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Theory of Knowledge Rationalism

Rationalism holds, in contrast to empiricism, that it is reason, not experience, that is most important for our acquisition of knowledge. There are three distinct types of knowledge that the rationalist might put forward as supporting his view and undermining that of the empiricist.

First, the rationalist might argue that we possess at least some innate knowledge. We are not born, as the empiricist John Locke thought, with minds like blanks slates onto which experience writes items of knowledge. Rather, even before we experience the world there are some things that we know. We at least possess some basic instincts; arguably, we also possess some innate concepts, such as a faculty for language.

Second, the rationalist might argue that there are some truths that, though not known innately, can be worked out independent of experience of the world. These might be truths of logic or mathematics, or ethical truths. We can know the law of the excluded middle, answers to sums, and the difference between right and wrong, without having to base that knowledge in experience.

Third, the rationalist might argue that there are some truths that, though grounded in part in experience, cannot be derived from experience alone. Aesthetic truths, and truths about causation, for instance, seem to many to be of this kind. Two people may observe the same object, yet reach contradictory views as to its beauty or ugliness. This shows that aesthetic qualities are not presented to us by our senses, but rather are overlaid onto experience by reason. Similarly, we do not observe causation, we merely see one event followed by another; it is the mind, not the world, that provides us with the idea that the former event causes the latter.

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Theory of Knowledge Rationalism

Empiricism versus Rationalism – Mesa Community College

Empiricism v. rationalism

THE EMPIRICISTS: Empiricists share the view that there is no such thing as innate knowledge, and that instead knowledge is derived from experience (either sensed via the five senses or reasoned via the brain or mind). Locke, Berkeley, and Hume are empiricists (though they have very different views about metaphysics).

The rationalists: Rationalists share the view that there is innate knowledge; they differ in that they choose different objects of innate knowledge. Plato is a rationalist because he thinks that we have innate knowledge of the Forms [mathematical objects and concepts (triangles, equality, largeness), moral concepts (goodness, beauty, virtue, piety), and possibly color he doesnt ever explicitly state that there are Forms of colors]; Descartes thinks that the idea of God, or perfection and infinity, and knowledge of my own existence is innate; G.W. Leibniz thinks that logical principles are innate; and Noam Chomsky thinks that the ability to use language (e.g., language rules) is innate.

Empiricism (In favor of Empiricism, against Rationalism):

1. Empiricism is Simpler: Compared to Empiricism, Rationalism has one more entity that exists: Innate knowledge. According to the Empiricist, the innate knowledge is unobservable and inefficacious; that is, it does not do anything. The knowledge may sit there, never being used. Using Ockhams Razor (= when deciding between competing theories that explain the same phenomena, the simpler theory is better),1 Empiricism is the better theory.

2. Colors: How would you know what the color blue looks like if you were born blind? The only way to come to have the idea of blue is to experience it with your senses. (This objection only works possibly against Plato; see the introduction above again to see why this objection would not faze Descartes, Leibniz, or Chomsky.)

3. Imagination and Experience: How can we get the idea of perfect triangularity? We can extrapolate from our experience with crooked, sensible triangles and use our imagination to straighten out what is crooked and see what perfect triangularity is.

4. Rationalists have been Wrong about Their Innate Knowledge: Some medieval rationalists claimed that the notion of a vacuum was rationally absurd and hence it was impossible for one to exist. However, we have shown that it is possible.2 Reason is not the only way to discover the truth about a matter.

5. The Advance of Science: Much of science is founded on empiricist principles, and would not have advanced without it. If we base our conclusions about the world on empiricism, we can change our theories and improve upon them and see our mistakes. A rationalist seems to have to say that weve discovered innate knowledge and then be embarrassed if he or she is ever wrong (see examples such as the vacuum, above).

6. All Rationalists do Not Agree about Innate Knowledge: Rationalists claim that there is innate knowledge that gives us fundamental truths about reality, but even among rationalists (e.g., Plato, who believes in reincarnation and Forms and Descartes, who does not believe in either but does believe in a soul), there is disagreement about the nature of reality, the self, etc. Howcan this be, if there is innate knowledge of these things?

Rationalism (In favor of Rationalism, against Empiricism):

1. Math and Logic are Innate: Doesnt it seem that mathematical and logical truths are true not because of our five senses, but because of reasons ability to connect ideas?

2. Morality is Innate: How do we get a sense of what right and wrong are with our five senses? Since we cannot experience things like justice, human rights, moral duties, moral good and evil with our five senses, what can the empiricists ethical theory like? Hume (an empiricist) says morality is based solely on emotions; Locke says experience can provide us with data to show what is morally right and wrong, but does it seem that way to you?

3. Verifying Empiricism: Locke (an empiricist) says that our experiences tell us about the nature of reality, but how can we ever check our experience with what reality really is, in order to know that? Rationalistsdo not think we can, so we have to rely on reason.

4. Poverty of Stimulus Problem: Three year olds use language in ways that they are not explicitly taught. Forexample, they form original sentences from words that they havent heard put together in precisely that way before. Also, they start to understand grammatical rules before they even know what a noun or a verb is. If we can only say what weve heard said by others, how can three year olds speak as well as they do? This is known as the poverty of stimulus problem. You may think that Rationalism is strange, but it does a better job of explaining this problem than Empiricism. One way of choosing which of two theories is better (in addition to or instead of Ockhams Razor see Empiricism point #1 above) is asking, Which theory explains the phenomena better?1

5. Empiricism Undermines Creativity? According to Empiricism, you can combine things, separate them, and nothing else. With Rationalism, we come to experience with ready-made tools for creativity. E.g., Plato would say that were in touch with abstract, immutable realities, which provide lots of material with which to create.

6. Controllable Humans? According to Empiricism, human beings can be controlled and manipulated exceptionally easily. If we are nothing other than what we experience, then we should be able to be made to do whatever were taught. Rationalism has it that there is an invariable core (call it human nature) that refuses to be manipulated, which is what makes us unique.


1 I hasten to add that Ockham's Razor is simply a rule of thumb, and that I would recommend that the reader track down an excellent paper by Elliot Sober, entitled, "Let's Razor Ockham's Razor," wherein he demonstrates that if one uses Ockham's razor in a certain case of evolutionary biology, one will choose the wrong theory to explain the phenomena, because the situation is more complex than it may seem. I am persuaded by this argument and think we should not use Ockham's razor; I have it here because people seem to like using it, but hopefully they will be persuaded by Dr. Sober's argument as I am.2 I have recently seen an episode of "Through the Wormhole" with God, I mean, Morgan Freeman, and scientists have apparently discovered that, even in a vaccum, there are some sort of subatomic particles there, so there is no such thing as nothing, or that even nothing is something.

2013 by David J. Yount

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Empiricism versus Rationalism - Mesa Community College