Philosophy Essay

1784 words - 8 pages

PHI130 Mind, Meaning, and Metaphysics DALILE, Boushra

Rationalism vs. Empiricism: A Deficient Distinction
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. It explores how knowledge can be acquired and considers its limits and validity. Rationalism and empiricism are distinct epistemological schools of thought. Among others, they differ significantly regarding the source of concepts and ideas. Prominent rationalists, including Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, argue that one must rely on reason as a purely deductive process to attain justified truths about reality (Cottingham 1988). In contrast, empiricists, including Locke, Berkeley and Hume, argue ...view middle of the document...

Arithmetic, geometry and logic notably fall into rational deduction. The knowledge attained in such disciplines is beyond the slightest doubt – it is unchanging, eternal and certain. Empiricists, on the other hand, claim that our knowledge concerning a certain subject matter is a posteriori, that is, dependent on experience (Cottingham 1988). They recognise sense data as necessary to trigger thinking and understanding of the world. Empiricists argue that, to undermine false claims to knowledge, any expectation or belief cannot be classed as knowledge unless tested by experience (Murphy 2012). It follows from this statement

PHI130 Mind, Meaning, and Metaphysics DALILE, Boushra

that empiricism significantly influences the scientific method, in which systematic pursuit of knowledge involves observation, hypothesis formulation, and empirical testing (Hewitt 2008). Physics, chemistry, and biology are notably established on empirical basis. Although empiricists may declare that sense experience cannot give us knowledge for some areas of enquiry, the central claim remains that experience is the only source from which knowledge can be gained, if at all (Markie 2013). As shown, rationalism and empiricism are clearly distinct branches of epistemology. Rationalism indeed contributes to our understanding of the world. René Descartes, a prominent modern philosopher, demonstrated rationalism in his work. In his Second Meditations, Descartes arrived at two influential conclusions through pure intellectual perception. The first, which is widely thought of as the first item of knowledge and famously phrased as "I think therefore I am", implies his conviction of his existence (Descartes 1641/1962). He reached this initial truth by abandoning all of his beliefs that hold the slightest possibility of being false. Descartes then contended that he is a "thinking thing" (Descartes 1641/1962, p. 33); he reasoned that so long as he is consciously thinking – doubting, understanding, willing, and imagining – he cannot doubt his existence (Descartes 1641/1962). This claim refutes his strongest sceptical argument of the evil demon. Descartes concludes that he has to be something if he is conscious about it, and that even if a demon is deceiving him, it follows that he cannot be nothing (Descartes 1641/1962). His knowledge of his existence is certain. His second conclusion further illuminates our innate "light of reason", and how "leading the mind away from the senses" helps us attain truths rather than opinions (Cottingham 1988, p.4). In his wax argument, he explains how a piece is fresh, sweet and odorous with a certain figure and colour, and how, as it melts, its size increases, its smell evaporates and its colour changes. The wax's physical attributes have changed, and the senses alone could have deceived us into assuming that it is a different object we are dealing with. However, our conviction that the final piece of wax is the same as the initial one is a...

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