Rationalism  

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Are passions, then, the pagans of the soul?
Reason alone baptiz'd ? --Edward Young, Night-Thoughts

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In epistemology, rationalism is the view that "regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge" or "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification". (Lacey, A.R.,1996) More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive". (Bourke, Vernon J., 1962). Rationalists believe reality has an intrinsically logical structure. Because of this, rationalists argue that certain truths exist and that the intellect can directly grasp these truths. That is to say, rationalists assert that certain rational principles exist in logic, mathematics, ethics, and metaphysics that are so fundamentally true that denying them causes one to fall into contradiction. Rationalists have such a high confidence in reason that proof and physical evidence are unnecessary to ascertain truth – in other words, "there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience". (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2004) Because of this belief, empiricism is one of rationalism's greatest rivals.

Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position "that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge" to the more extreme position that reason is "the unique path to knowledge". (Audi, Robert, 1995) Given a pre-modern understanding of reason, rationalism is identical to philosophy, the Socratic life of inquiry, or the zetetic (skeptical) clear interpretation of authority (open to the underlying or essential cause of things as they appear to our sense of certainty). In recent decades, Leo Strauss sought to revive "Classical Political Rationalism" as a discipline that understands the task of reasoning, not as foundational, but as maieutic. Rationalism should not be confused with rationality, nor with rationalization.

In politics, Rationalism, since the Enlightenment, historically emphasized a "politics of reason" centered upon rational choice, utilitarianism, secularism, and irreligion  – the latter aspect's antitheism later ameliorated by utilitarian adoption of pluralistic rationalist methods practicable regardless of religious or irreligious ideology.

In this regard, the philosopher John Cottingham noted how rationalism, a methodology, became socially conflated with atheism, a worldview: In the past, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, the term 'rationalist' was often used to refer to free thinkers of an anti-clerical and anti-religious outlook, and for a time the word acquired a distinctly pejorative force (thus in 1670 Sanderson spoke disparagingly of 'a mere rationalist, that is to say in plain English an atheist of the late edition...'). The use of the label 'rationalist' to characterize a world outlook which has no place for the supernatural is becoming less popular today; terms like 'humanist' or 'materialist' seem largely to have taken its place. But the old usage still survives.

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Kant is one of the central figures of modern philosophy, and set the terms by which all subsequent thinkers have had to grapple. He argued that human perception structures natural laws, and that reason is the source of morality. His thought continues to hold a major influence in contemporary thought, especially in fields such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.

Kant named his branch of epistemology Transcendental Idealism, and he first laid out these views in his famous work The Critique of Pure Reason. In it he argued that there were fundamental problems with both rationalist and empiricist dogma. To the rationalists he argued, broadly, that pure reason is flawed when it goes beyond its limits and claims to know those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience: the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the human soul. Kant referred to these objects as "The Thing in Itself" and goes on to argue that their status as objects beyond all possible experience by definition means we cannot know them. To the empiricist he argued that while it is correct that experience is fundamentally necessary for human knowledge, reason is necessary for processing that experience into coherent thought. He therefore concludes that both reason and experience are necessary for human knowledge. In the same way, Kant also argued that it was wrong to regard thought as mere analysis. In Kant's views, a priori concepts do exist, but if they are to lead to the amplification of knowledge, they must be brought into relation with empirical data". (Excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica)

Antonyms

See also

rationalism (disambiguation)




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