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Rationalism and Empiricism - Essay Example

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Rationalism and Empiricism

It is about the psychological side that Pinker claims, "The past tense is the only case I know in which two great systems of Western thought (rationalism and empiricism) may be tested and compared on a single rich set of data, just like ordinary scientific hypotheses." But Searle argues among other things that the debate about the past tense is not a case in which "two great systems of Western thought (rationalism and empiricism) may be tested and compared on a single rich set of data." Searle argued that the features that make them "great systems of Western thought" are left unaffected by the discussion of the past tense. Their debate also included history, computation and information processing in relation to rationalism and empiricism where both thoughts oppose each other.
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy which Searle (in Pinker & Searle, 2002) thinks is standard, defines rationalism as the position that reason presides over other ways of acquiring knowledge, or that it is the unique path to knowledge. It is most often encountered as a view in epistemology, where it is traditionally contrasted with empiricism, the view that the senses are primary with respect to knowledge (Audi, 1999). Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that asks the question "How do we know what we know" (Epistemology n.d.). This is a nature/nurture debate then, with Rationalists going for nature and Empiricists going for nurture.
Some scientists think that people behave as they do according to genetic predispositions or even "animal instincts." This is known as the "nature" theory of human behavior. Other scientists believe that people think and behave in certain ways because they are taught to do so. This is known as the "nurture" theory of human behavior (Powell, 2006). Plato and Descartes were famous Rationalists, John Stuart Mill and David Hume were famous Empiricists.
The following can be said to be the levels by which rationalism and empiricism may be differentiated.
Etymology and emphasis. According to Carlo Sini (2004), the name Rationalism obviously derives from the word 'rational' which goes back to the Latin, 'ratio' meaning 'calculation'. This in turn goes back to another Latin word, 'ratus', which is the past participle of 'reor', meaning "think', 'deem', 'judge'. What runs through all of these is the emphasis on mind, an emphasis connected with the word 'rational' as well: rationalise, rationality, and similar terms.
'Empiricism' derives from another English word, 'empiric', meaning, 'derived from experience.' The term "empirical" was originally used to refer to certain ancient Greek practitioners of medicine who rejected adherence to the dogmatic doctrines of the day, preferring instead to rely on the observation of phenomena as perceived in experience (Sini, 2004).
The doctrine of empiricism was first made by John Locke in the 17th century. Locke argued that the mind is a tabula rasa ("clean slate" or "blank tablet"or" white paper") on which experiences leave their marks. To Locke, the mind is like ...Show more


The debate between rationalism and empiricism is still raging and has not ended. Spanning many centuries, the debate can be found almost everywhere from words and meanings, to history, to computation and information processing (Pinker & Searle, 2002), to the cognitive revolution, to the color story, to art, to artificial intelligence and logic, to Linguistics, and to Psychology (Narayan, 2005).
Author : tcrooks
Rationalism and Empiricism essay example
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