Rationalism and empiricism

Rationalism and empiricism are schools of thought that seek to explain the way in which human beings acquire knowledge, but have fundamentally opposite philosophies.

While rationalism claims that the source of knowledge is reason , empiricism claims that it is sensory experience .

What is itIt is a theory based on the claim that reason is the source of human knowledge.It is a theory based on the claim that experience is the source of knowledge.
IntuitionThey believe in intuition.They do not believe.
Innate ideasIndividuals have innate knowledge.Individuals do not have innate knowledge.
Where does knowledge come fromKnowledge is based on the use of reason and logic.Knowledge is based on experience and experimentation.
Key principlesDeduction, innate knowledge and reason.Induction and sensory experiences.
TheoristsPlato, René Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz and Noam Chomsky.John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume y Niezsche.

The dispute between rationalism and empiricism occurs in epistemology, the branch of philosophy dedicated to the study of nature, sources and limits of knowledge.

Rationalists claim that our knowledge is acquired by reason and innate knowledge. On the other hand, empiricists claim that sensory experience is the source of all our ideas and knowledge.

What is rationalism?

Rationalism believes that there is innate knowledge , and that we can arrive at the truth only by exercising our reason, even before sensory experience.

An example of this would be mathematics, where we do not need to rely on our senses to establish that 2 + 2 = 4. Innate knowledge would be a superior form of knowledge, which gives us access to a more substantial truth, which transcends the everyday world.

Rationalism believes in three ways by which humans can reach knowledge:


Deduction is the application of concrete principles to draw a conclusion. Mathematical principles are an example of deduction, as, for example, finding the square footage of a room is always done in the same way, multiplying the width and length.

Innate ideas

It is the concept that we are born with fundamental truths or experiences that we bring from other lives. This thought may explain why some people are far more talented at some things than others, even though they have received exactly the same teaching on the subject.


The reason uses logic to determine a conclusion, being able to use several methods for this, since the objective is to find the truth, and not the method used.

What is empiricism?

Empiricism is a school of philosophy that affirms that reality and knowledge derive from sensory experience . The only type of knowledge that matters to the empiricist is that which can be formally measured or verified.

Empiricism works on certain key principles to explain where human knowledge comes from:

Sensory experience

Empiricists believe that our ideas come solely from sensory experience. These ideas can be simple or complex, and they make use of our five senses: touch, palate, smell, hearing and vision.

Simple ideas are those that only use one of the five senses to establish perception, such as knowing that sugar is sweet.

Complex ideas use more than one of the five senses to obtain a more detailed perception, such as, for example, knowing that sugar, in addition to being sweet, is white and grainy.


Induction is the most crucial principle for empiricism, similar to reason for rationalists. Induction is the belief that few things can be conclusive, especially without experience.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, will its fall make a sound? This is an example of the empiricist perspective of induction. Since there is no one in the forest to hear the sound of the tree falling, then it cannot be determined whether it is true that the fall made any noise.

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