Essay Sample on Empiricism vs. Rationalism

Published: 2023-01-31
Essay Sample on Empiricism vs. Rationalism
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Knowledge Philosophy
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 884 words
8 min read

The empiricism arises from the idea that the origins of knowledge is from past experiences. Human gain knowledge through making connections with the external world that they live. Knowledge is contextual, and there are ways through which humans have a method of forming patterns of knowledge through association. The senses help an individual to create memorable experiences from the past. The five senses make people develop mental awareness. When such experiences repeated in future, they form the basis of knowledge to reference. Rationalists, on the other hand, believe that knowledge is inherent and that there are certain things that humans develop awareness without necessarily having prior experiences. Most ideas, such as moral concepts, mathematical concepts, and objects, are inherent knowledge. Such knowledge is learned and not gathered from past experiences. Each philosophical view presents strong arguments in defense of their side by providing examples of why people should believe in the theory. Rationalists offer more convincing arguments in defense of their theory compared to empiricists regarding the origin of human knowledge

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Rationalists believe that knowledge is inherent and the fact that empiricist's point that people gain knowledge through experiences confirms that there is at one point where an individual had to refer to prior knowledge. Where does the first knowledge come from? The answer provided is that humans have inherent knowledge which they refer. Learning from experience needs context against which such knowledge can be compared, and empiricists fail to acknowledge the source of that knowledge (Meyers 44). The innate knowledge is explained differently by many scholars who are proponents of this view. Some believe it is God-given, while others believe that it comes from reincarnations.

Prior knowledge arises through reason and not the ability to connect with previous experiences. Reasoning comes from innate abilities and not through experiences. Ability to connect ideas through logical thinking generates knowledge such as in the case of mathematical models. Logical-mathematical models are not derived from five senses, but the means ability to think and making meanings. The ability to connect ideas is innate knowledge acquired through different explanations by different authors.

Prior knowledge is superior to the empirical knowledge, as empirical knowledge is gathered through the five senses but is prone to biases. Take, for example, a man rests below a tree shade and observes white birds as they fly, and since he counts all of them white, he will believe that all birds are white. Suppose there are other birds with different colors the man is likely to conclude that all birds are white. It is difficult to confirm that empirical evidence is true since it may arise from subjective thinking. One would doubt even the most statements that are deemed empirically right. On the other hand, prior knowledge explained through rationalist theory is certain, eternal, and universal (Vanzo 256). It is impossible to doubt the knowledge that 2+2= 4 and not six but one can doubt that all birds are white because the empirical experiences from which such knowledge was derived is subjective.

Empiricists believe that all knowledge has its origin from experiences and dismisses the differences between prior knowledge and empirical knowledge as empiricists contend. It, however, acknowledges that humans have the ability to reason. It is through the reasoning that humans are capable of augmenting experiences. Empiricisms differentiates between ideas that make up knowledge and sense data. Sense data is what is acquired by the five senses, but the reason is used to connect the sense data to historical experiences and perceptions that generate knowledge. One makes use of the sense data to create knowledge, but the basis of such knowledge is an experience.

Empiricism also defends their theories on the basis that modern science is based on experience. Most of the contemporary science as currently constituted is based on the empiricism principles. It is essential for the advancement of theories as currently constituted since one can test the data through experiences and correct mistakes. The proponents of the theory criticize the rationalists for believing that there is absolute and eternal truth. Science-based on empiricism principles is the only way to discover the truth is through empirical studies (Plutynski 38). The third argument is the difference between analytical and synthetic statements, where the empiricism contends that what is called prior knowledge is analytical statements. 4+4=8 is an analytical statement describing eight but when one says that the temperatures outside are 75 degrees centigrade is a synthetic statement which provides additional empirical information which is testable. One can use such experience to test the temperatures and prove it right or wrong.


In conclusion, rationalist offers a more convincing explanation about the origin of knowledge by acknowledging that man minds were not created empty but with inherent knowledge. Empiricists are, however, not wrong, but what must be understood in the context within which experiences are gained cannot be from anywhere. Life must start somewhere, and this is the reason there is justification for believing that humans begin at some point to develop patterns of knowledge. However, both theories are critical philosophical foundations on sources of knowledge.

Works Cited

Meyers, Robert G. Understanding empiricism. Routledge, 2014.Plutynski, Anya. "In defense of rationalist science." Science at the Frontiers: Perspectives on the History and Philosophy of Science (2011): 35-51.

Vanzo, Alberto. "Empiricism and rationalism in nineteenth-century histories of philosophy." Journal of the History of Ideas77.2 (2016): 253-282.

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