Rationalism and Empiricism

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Rationalism and Empiricism

By | May 2011
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In the antiquity, two parties argue a lot on the questions like: What is the ultimate source of knowledge? Or: How do we gain knowledge? They are rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism states that we depend on our reason capacities to gain real knowledge, which is inborn, independent and could not be determined by human beings. The most famous rationalist, Plato, contributes to metaphysics and epistemology. He explains his theory by using the example prisoners in a cave. The conclusion is that cognition comes from the appearance of the world not the reality. According to Plato, there exist two worlds: the real world and a supernatural realm which contains the eternal and perfect Forms. Everything we get from the real world is a reflection of the supernatural hence the essence is invisible. Reason is the only way in which we get the essence of appearance. Based on Plato’s metaphysics, Parmenides and Heraclites assert diverse opinions. Parmenides assumes that being is real and change is the characteristic of being while Heraclites considers change is real while being is not. Plato also holds the view that human beings are born with knowledge, and the immortal soul belongs to the supernatural. That we use our reasoning capacities to recover from the knowledge known before is called learning-by-recollection. On the other hand, there exists empiricism, represented by Aristotle who states that the source of knowledge is not reason but sensory experience. He disagrees with Plato’s two-worlds theory. For him, there is only one world--the natural world and no higher or transcendent world exist. Hence, we are able to have access to it through the use of senses. All these knowledge derives from sensory information so we are in-formed by them. He also insists that essence is part of the real world. Therefore, it is accessible by empirical researches, not merely by using reason. What’s more, Aristotle challenges Plato’s prenatal ideas. He claims that people are born with no...

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