Rationalism vs Empiricism Using Descartes 2nd Meditation & Hume

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Q3:What are the main differences between rationalism and empiricism as approaches to knowledge? Explain the advantages and disadvantages of each, using Descartes (Second Meditation) as the example of a rationalist, and Hume or Locke as the example of an empiricist. In your view which approach better explains the common-sense knowledge of the world that we take for granted?

Common-sense knowledge is information we know and understand unproblematically. It could be that a spider has six legs, your two times tables or that in answering a multiple choice test, it is a good idea to bring a rubber and fill in your answers in pencil. It is information gained from ordinary life.

Epistemology is a philosophical term in reference to the nature and limitations of knowledge. It addresses firstly what is knowledge, secondly how is knowledge acquired and thirdly the limitations of knowledge. Rationalism and empiricism are two approaches which seek to provide answers to these questions (Cottingham, 1988). Empiricism perceives that the development of concepts and ideas are dependent on the senses (Markie, 2008). Alternatively rationalism ascertains that reasoning, intuition and deduction are the ultimate vehicles to acquiring knowledge, not sensory experience. These theories do not necessarily exist in opposition of each other, but can co-exist to describe how one views the acquisition of knowledge in different fields (Markie, 2008). Throughout this essay, I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each view using Descartes’ ‘Second Meditation’ in contrast to Hume’s ‘Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding’. I will then elaborate how the Empiricist perspective provides a better explanation to common sense knowledge of the world we live in.

Rationalism is a method in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. The rationalistic perspective survives on the assumption that firstly, there is a rational structure to the world and secondly, that people have the capacity to comprehend it. It utilises the deductive methods of logic to provide a model for all human knowledge and relies on intuition (Markie, 2008). This is not always the case, so this philosophy cannot be relied in all circumstances.

Rationalism is founded on the thesis of Intuition/Deduction, thesis of Innate Knowledge or Innate Concept thesis separately or in some combination (Markie, 2008).
The Intuition/Deduction thesis proposes that in a particular subject area, some information is known by intuition alone or that knowledge is gained by deduction from intuited propositions. Experiences are incapable of developing one’s knowledge but can catalyse thinking causing knowledge to progress from unconsciousness to consciousness (Cottingham, 1988). The Innate Knowledge thesis asserts that some knowledge is inherent within humanity like DNA, as part of our rational nature. The Innate Concept theory is based on the assertion that some of our concepts are not gained from experience (Markie, 2008). The rational nature organically possesses an individual’s concepts. Sense experiences might catalyse a process by which concepts are better understood but experience does not provide the concepts or determine the information they contain, rationality does (Markie, 2008). Other minor theories which are used less significantly to endorse Rationalism are the Indispensability of Reason Thesis and the Superiority of Reason Thesis. The Indispensability of Reason theorem states that we gain knowledge in a certain area when we utilise deduction and employ intuition. The Innate concepts and instances could not have been gained through the sense experience. The second strain stems that knowledge gained “a priori” through reasoning is superior to that gained through experience (Markie, 2008).

In reference to Descartes’ Second Meditation, he explains how rationality can be used to pick up information that is not completely...
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