Jan 8, 2019 in Comparative Essays

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The Comparison of Empiricism and Rationalism

The modern philosophy was spreading and transforming traditional rules and stereotypes. When the church was deprived of dominative influence of science, philosophers started developing new methods of cognizing. Francis Bacon started a new branch in philosophy, called empiricism. Later the rationalistic approach started to counteract to empiricism. Current paper compares empiricist and rationalistic approaches with the examples of Descartes and Plato.

Empiricism is a new approach in modern philosophy, invented by Francis Bacon. This term comes from a Greek word, which means ‘experience’. In order to understand the essence of empiricism, it is necessary to remember the key points of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Once the mankind could take a breath after psychologically difficult atmosphere of middle ages, the core issues of human thinking and existence should have been transformed. It is common knowledge that philosophy and other sciences were serving theology and obeying the clergy during the Middle Ages. However, the epoch of Renaissance brought to people the feeling of freedom, hope and worthiness. Francis Bacon was the one, who realized that past principles of cognizing and existence were false and need to be changed. He took into account the ‘faults’ of human thinking during the previous epochs and developed new principles of science. Empiricism was the new scientific method, which was dominating even in the 21st century. Empiricism is the method, which rests on the idea that the true statements should be empirically based on the evidence of the senses. Essentially, he did not deny the power of rational thinking, but he claimed that current philosophizing is senseless, because it was too speculative. Empirical evidence allows witnessing the true grounds of entity and is the only method of seeking truth. Francis Bacon believed that the previous science and philosophy were misleading, because they were built on false assumptions and judgments that must be revised. Empiricists did not deny the authority of the church, but insisted that mortal issues should be separated from the divine ones. Thus, empiricist position postulated that experience, based on the evidence of senses, should be the starting point of scientific thinking, though the power of transcendent beings was not denied.

Though the term ‘empiricism’ that formed a scientific method was invented by thinkers of modern philosophy, the ideas, similar with empiricism were formed much earlier. For example, Plato rejected the truth of empiricism and supported rationalism. It may be explained by his core philosophical ideas: he considered that people have innate knowledge. Forms, which are the objects of knowledge, are innate, because they derive from people’s rational nature. Plato thought that the world of ideas is the first place, where the human soul exists. This world is blessing, because it contains the prototypes of all things and truth. Human soul, however, cannot exist in this perfect world forever and has to live on the Earth, where the things are the empty things, which are able only to reflect the beauty and meaning of the ideas from the perfect world. Plato believed that rational nature, including knowledge and morality is innate, since it derives from the world of ideas. Empiricists believed that knowledge is not innate and can be gained only during empirical experience, based on senses. According to empiric approach, knowledge is perception that is based on the cognizing through inductive method. Empiricism denies intuition as the evidence of innate knowledge, though rationalists do not confirm that intuition should be the source of knowledge too. Moreover, empiricists thought that innate knowledge is unobservable and passive. They have proved that ideas come from experience instead of following it.

Descartes also thought that rationalism is more argumentative and true approach to cognizing. He did not reject the importance of experience and respected Francis Bacon; though, he did not agree that people get knowledge exclusively from experience. His skepticism concerning the empiricist position was provoked by the belief that people should cultivate so-called intellectual logic, which allows reaching true judgments. Descartes’ method of doubting as irreplaceable component of thinking witnesses that he amplified the role of theoretical thinking. As a mathematician, Descartes grounded his assumptions on ratio as a source of true knowledge, innate to individuals. It contradicted to the ideas of Bacon, who relied on physics and its starting point – experience. Famous Descartes’ phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” means that thinking is the source of knowledge, which can ‘work’ if only it satisfies a number of criteria. Descartes claimed that the role of experience should not be emphasized for the reason that it is resulted by the subjective perception of each individual, which may be false. He though that people comprehend the thing by their mind instead of senses. Furthermore, he said that to give excessive power to one’s eyes means to limit the power of one’s mind. Ratio should dominate over experience, as it allows making true judgments and find the essence. Descartes was skeptical about induction as well: it may be false path, because its conclusions may become unclear and fuzzy. Hence, deduction rests on correct premises that lead to correct and clear conclusions.

In conclusion, there are both advantages and disadvantages in empiricists’ and rationalists’ approaches. These paths may be helpful in distinct situations, though empiricism is approved by modern scientists. Descartes and Plato may be united by their idealistic views, as they believed in rational nature, innate to individuals. Their ideas are not perfect, though they managed to formulate powerful objection to empiricism.

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