Talk:Rationalism (disambiguation)

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The Hellenistic view of life flourished during the Renaissance, developing two types of modern thought known as rationalism and empiricism. These methodologies sought to understand the value of human beings and nature through reason and experience, logic, and experimentation. Rather than affirming the spiritual and mystical importance of knowing God, these methodologies valued humanistic ideology leading people to find meaning in external pursuits divorced from God. Ed Poor

I just added a few paragraphs. GrahamN 18 July '02

Seeing the rationalist critique of religion in the religion article led me to incorporate a similar critique in this one. Hope the venue is appropriate, and that it's couched in sufficiently NPOV terms. ;-) Wesley

Seems fair enough!  :-) I just did a little more tweaking. GrahamN

Wesley, you inserted "rationalists believe" into the sentence "[the Scientific Method] has yielded more verifiable truths about the universe, many with practical applications, than any other system of thought or enquiry yet devised by the human race". I can't understand why you did this, and I have removed the phrase again. If you know of an alternative system of enquiry that has yielded more demonstrable truths about the universe than science, then please tell me what it is and I will gladly reinstate the equivocation. Until then, however, I think there is every justification for leaving it as a bald statement of fact. GrahamN

The statement is circular. "Verifiable" as used in the sentence implies only truths that can be demonstrated empirically, and excludes those acquired through divine revelation. Thus, strict rationalists and rational religious believers count differently.
In addition, to actually verify the statement rationally, wouldn't you need to establish the number of verifiable truths yielded by each of several thought systems in order to determine which thought system had the greatest number associated with it? Without such numbers, I don't see how it can be a "fact". Is there at least a reference to a published work making this claim that the article can cite? How else would one arrive at such a fact? Intuition? ;-)
Not intuition, but observation. Consider what you know for sure to be facts, and how that knowledge was acquired. Consider what you know about the solar system, and the cosmos beyond. Consider what you know about the natural world, about genetics, plants and the behaviour of animals. Look at all the man-made objects that surround you now (I assume you are not sitting naked in the middle of woodland!). How many of those objects exist as a result of knowledge gained through divine revelation, and how many are products of technology derived from science? Consider this medium we are using now to communicate with each other instantaneously half-way around the world. Was the knowledge required to develop it handed down directly from God, or was it developed using the scientific method and reason? Next time you step onto an airliner, ask yourself how the human race acquired the knowledge to build it. (Or do you travel everywhere by magic carpet?  ;-) )
There is no need to count truths. If you could tell me ONE SINGLE verifiable truth that has been acquired by methods other than observation and reason, I would be astounded.
God exists. What, you say that's not verifiable? Well, perhaps not according to empiricism, but now you're talking in circles again. I.e., "according to the criteria of verifiability established by empiricism, rationalism has uncovered more verifiable truths than any other belief system. Or unbelief system." I have no problem acknowledging the many achievements that have been made possible through the scientific method. I simply don't think you're being as objective as you think you are when you declare it to be quantitatively superior to other belief systems; that observation comes from within the empiricism. I also don't think that rationalism and religious belief are mutually exclusive, although article as it stands tries to make them appear to be. Keeping score like this is silly, but just for grins, I'd be tempted to count up all the scientific truths and attribute them to indirect divine revelation as well, since I happen to think humanity's capacity for reason is God-given. (and no, I'm not a literal creationist either). Wesley
Another example comes to mind, this one from Buddhism: life is suffering. Buddhism also has uncovered a wide variety of ways for people to cope with life, including a variety of practical meditation techniques. These are also verifiable truths, in that they have been confirmed by the experiences of millions if not billions of people over the course of many centuries. Empiricism doesn't have the means to measure something like human suffering, and in fact cannot touch an entire range of human experience, save to speculate about odd chemical reactions in the brain.
Thus it seems clear that the number of verifiable truths uncovered by other belief systems is greater than zero, and that therefore any assertions about the number of truths uncovered by one belief system or another must either be backed up by a count, or at least an estimated count, or qualified as an assertion made by adherents of one of the belief systems. All this is to remain within Wikipedia's NPOV policy. The latter clearly seems to be most practical, so that's what I'll do.


I have changed the order of the paragraphs so that the business about atheism follows on naturally from the part about opposition to dogmatic beliefs. I have also added an alternative interpretation of the nature of divine revelation, and re-worded Wesleys's statement. (I hope you don't mind, Wesley. My intention wasn't to dilute your statement but to make it easier to read. If you do mind, please change it back).  :-) GrahamN

As it reads now, I believe you worded my statement better than I did. Thanks! Regarding Occam's Razor, that principle calls for simpler explanations in favor of more complex ones, no? It seems arguable whether brain chemistry is a "simpler" explanation than actual divine revelation, and again there's the circular call for empirically verifiable evidence. ;-) Wesley

Wesley writes that religion has produced verifiable scientific facts about the universe that we live such as "God exists. What, you say that's not verifiable? Well, perhaps not according to empiricism, but now you're talking in circles again."

I have to disagree totally with this claim. Even the most religious rabbis and priests I have heard speak about on this subject agree that religion has never produced verifiable, indisputable facts about the universe. Even many religious leaders now admit that religion has not proved that God exists, and that in order for someone to believe in God one will still need faith. All the so-called proofs of God's existence have been shown to have flaws. Worse still, even if these proofs were real, none of them demonstrate the existence of the God of the Hebrew Bible, nor do they demonstrate the existence of the Trinity. Rather, every one of the proposed proofs of God's existence only points to the existence of the god concept of Aristotle and the philosophers. Faith coems in only when knowledge ends. RK

I will agree that religion has not "proven" the existence of God with empiricist evidence or within the guidelines of Western philosophy. That was never my point. I would say that many Christians have encountered God in prayer and witnessed miracles performed by him. Many Buddhists have experienced the truths of their belief system as well. Same for other religions. Whether you accept such evidence is a matter of faith and also of epistemology. Whether you accept the evidence of the five senses according to empiricism and no other evidence is also a matter of epistemology and faith.
The problem here is that the article is trying to compare and contrast rationalism/empiricism with traditional religions, and is evaluating them from within an empiricist framework, concluding that empiricism is superior, and then stating that as fact. I could just as well evaluate all major belief systems based on Christian presuppositions and criteria and conclude that Christianity was superior. I could evaluate all belief systems based on Buddhist criteria (if I were more familiar with Buddhism), and conclude that Buddhism was the superior thought system. Clearly, for such an article to be remotely NPOV, it would have to state that this conclusion is reached according to Buddhist rules of evidence, or according to Christian rules of evidence. In the same manner, the present article should state that its conclusion is reached according to rationalist/empiricst rules of evidence. That way, the reader can decide the appropriate amount of weight to give such evidence, based on the reader's own beliefs, and Wikipedia remains neutral.


Wesley asks "To actually verify the statement rationally, wouldn't you need to establish the number of verifiable truths yielded by each of several thought systems in order to determine which thought system had the greatest number associated with it?"

No, facts about how the universe works can never be determined by a vote. Democracy has no place in science; we can't determine facts about the universe by seeing how many religious or philosophical systems come up with the same answer. Science is a method for finding observable facts about the universe we live in. The same finding will be found by every person, of any faith, belief system or political persuasion. If people of different faiths come up with different answers, that would only be proof that someone's religion has clouded their judgement, forcing them to come to pre-determined answers in order to fit their pre-conceptions. In contrast, science shows us that certain things exist whether we find them compatible with our beliefs or not. For instance, science has demonstrated that the orbits of the planets in our solar system are chaotic and unstable. This directly contradicts the beliefs that medieval Christianity taught about the solar system. This finding probably contradicted the beliefs of other religions as well. But when Christians (and Jews, Hindus, etc.) actually read about these findings and tried to see for themselves, they came to the same answer. Their personal differences in philosophy and beliefs made no difference when it came to the laws of logic and the laws of nature. And I say all this as a Jewish monotheist! RK

RK, I agree that taking a vote or "counting truths" is silly and meaningless. If facts cannot be determined by a vote, then what is the point of making a statement that one belief system as produced "more" truths than another? The real belief of that statement's author seems to be that rationalism has produced lots of truths while others have produced none.



If there is a circular argument here, it is your own. By rejecting the validity of empirical reality you are setting yourself adrift in a sea of unreason. You might as well say "I am right, because I am right." If you refuse to accept any argument that is based on observable facts, then you are taking up an idealist stance that has no place in an encyclopaedia (which is supposed to be a repository of facts), and indeed no place in the real world at all, outside your own head. GrahamN

I am *not* refusing to accept any argument that is based on observable facts. That is a straw man argument. It is you who are refusing to accept any truths not based on empirical evidence (as I'm sure you'll agree), and therefore deducing that only empirical evidence has produced any truths whatsoever. How can the circle be any more plain?
As for the proper stance for an encyclopedia: I am simply asking that idealist views be documented as idealist views, and empiricist views be documented as empiricist views. As slrubenstein pointed out, there should be a clearer distinction made between rationalism and empiricism. The two are certainly related, but they are not complete synonyms. Wesley
But you ARE! The contentious statement is ... the scientific method ... has yielded more verifiable truths about the universe ... than any other system of thought or enquiry yet devised by the human race. This is empirically true, as I think you have admitted. So if you are saying it is empirically true but, somehow, not really true, you are refusing to accept an argument that is based on observable facts. That is what "empirically true" means, isn't it? I don't think we are going to get very far if every statement of fact in this encyclopaedia has to be qualified that it is only empirically true: "Paris, according to a rationalist/empiricist view of reality, is the capital of France. But an alternative and equally valid viewpoint is that the capital of France is actually Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This latter argument is based on a funny feeling Wesley had in his stomach once, which we cannot disprove to be divine revelation."  ;-) GrahamN
I think it is clear by now that at this point we are arguing about the validity of "empiricism", rather than "rationalism". I maintain that it is possible to have knowledge in addition to what we learn through our senses. I happen to think I'm in good company, and that my belief is rational. We don't have to qualify every statement in the encyclopedia with where it came from, but when the subject at hand is how we get knowledge, then such qualifications are indeed appropriate and necessary. If you want to demonstrate the superiority of a particular belief system, you can't do that by relying on the assumptions of that same belief system.
The section in question should probably be either deleted or moved to the article on empiricism. Wesley
I think I will delete the whole article, and leave just a stub, if you have no objections. I'm no philosopher, so I never should have started it. What was I thinking of?  :( GrahamN

It is an undeniable fact that science and reason have given the human species more verifiable and useful insights into the nature of the universe than any other mode of thought. You may believe that rationalism is a gift from God, but that doesn't in any way dilute this fact. If it were not a fact then the pragmatic folk that run industry would staff their research and development laboratories with armies of highly trained monks rather than scientists and technologists, and the first man on the moon would have travelled there there using the power of prayer rather than the power of rocket science. You say it is arguable that the chemistry of the human brain is a more complicated explanation for the human experience of revelation than the existence of God. OK then, do your worst and ague away! The human brain is almost certainly the most complex and wonderful thing in the known universe, but it definitely exists, and its powers are undeniable. Given that our brains clearly exist, and have all sorts of marvellous properties including consciousness and emotion, I fail to see how anybody could seriously argue that it is simpler to explain a single aspect of human experience by hypothesing some omipresent, omnipotent force in the universe for which there is no other evidence, rather than some subtle effect of this known, concrete object, whose other properties are hardly less extraordinary. GrahamN

As to your point that faith clearly helps people cope with their lives, I agree that this is true. But the truth of that statement is not a truth about the existence of supernature, but a truth about the psychological effects of faith.

strangely, this argument is very similar to Hume's argument about causality -- there is no empirical evidence for it, but people need to believe in it in order to function, therefore we just have to live with it; Kant later argued that causality was part of the structure of the mind (i.e. essential to "reason"). GrahamN's arguement here could be taken in a similar vein to mean that faith is rational (although not supported by any empirical evidence) Slrubenstein
Regarding faith helping people cope with their lives: I'll grant for the sake of argument that these are only "psychological effects" of faith. The facts that certain beliefs or religious observances produce particular psychological effects alone is a set of discoveries made by religion, rather than by science. Over the scope of human history, they have also been very important to the survival and thriving of the human race. Incidentally, your creationism comment below is clearly yet another straw man. Wesley
The discovery wasn't a discovery made by religion, but a discovery about religion. A discovery made by observing religious believers, in fact! The creationist point wasn't a dig at you - you have said that you are not a literal creationist. The point was that just because people find comfort in a belief doesn't mean the belief is true. Some people find comfort from talking to plants. This doesn't mean the plants can hear them. GrahamN

Creationists find comfort in their beliefs, but this isn't evidence that the universe was created in seven days! You have still come up with no examples of verifiable truths acquired by non-rational methods, so the score still stands at GrahamN: lots and lots, Wesley: nil ! At the risk of appearing childish, I'm going to remove your equivocation from the statement about verifiable truths until you come up with something considerably better than that!  :-) GrahamN

The above debate seems to rely on one element of "rationalism," the rejection of traditional authority (note: I am not saying that traditional authority is the only reason for believing in God). I make this observation only to introduce a far more serious problem in the article. The problem is found in the opening sentence:

rationalism is the principle that all ideas should be discounted unless they are clearly built from observable evidence

which I believe is more properly a definition of empiricism. Indeed, the next sentence suggests that rationalism and empiricism are two different things, which indeed they are -- except the article not only fails to explore this, it is generally misleading.

Many philosophers have rejected traditional authority -- but aven among these philosophers, there have been profound debates over whether the senses can be trusted, or reason alone. Some, like Hume and Kant, struggled to develop a framework that accomodated both reason and the senses. The fact remains, however, that "rationalism" does not mean building ideas upon observable evidence, indeed, rationalism is the opposite. I am tempted to move the entire article into this section until it can be rewritten accurately. Slrubenstein

For example, wasn't it Aristotle who deduced from pure reason that heavy objects fall faster than light objects, but failed to actually test his theory? Wesley
I have never formally studied philosophy (preferring to develop my own ideas from first-hand observations rather than taking account of others' second-hand dogmatic notions!), so you may well be right that the definition of "rationalism" given here is not the commonly accepted philosophical definition. I once explained my view of the world to somebody who had studied a little philosophy, and I was told that I was a "rationalism fundamentalist", which sounded fair enough to me. When I looked up "rationalism" in Wikipedia there was nothing on the page at all, but Ed Poor had written a single paragraph about the Renaissance in Talk. I copied that paragraph over and then I tried to explain what I understood "rationalism" to mean, as best I could. If you can think of a better term then please move the article to that heading. But I don't think it is quite the same as "empiricism", because Whateveritisproperlycalledism allows truths that are developed through reason as well as those that are the result of direct observation. GrahamN
How would one go about "verifying" truths that are developed solely through reason? What exactly do you mean by verification? It may be that I've been misunderstanding your position, and I apologize in advance if that's the case. Also, how does logical positivism relate to your position? Wesley

Well, I am no philosopher either; I just think that encyclopedia articles should be accurate accounts of established uses of terms, not just my own personal definition. I have re-written the first paragraph; I believe it is an improvement but am sure that it can be better -- I would leave it now to philosophers or historians of Western thought to work on it. Slrubenstein

RK: Your additions to the article are very interesting, but I think they are in danger of making rationalism look as if it is only concerned with refuting religious belief. As I understand it (although Slrubenstein may be correct that I have gotten hold the wrong end of the stick) rationalism is characterised by opposition to all beliefs, whether religious, political, or whatever. The points you make are valid and enlightening, but I think they would fit better in the Arguments against the existence of God article. GrahamN

I simply take Descartes to be one of model (if not founding) rationalists -- he is famous for the line cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am -- rationalist to the core. His sole concern, he claimed, was to discover "the truth," whatever the truth might be, through reason alone. He concluded believing he had proven, rationally, God's existence. Of course there is more to the history of rationalism (and like I said, I am no expert, having read no Hume and only a little Kant, and no Leibniz or Spinoza or whomever else might be included in this history), and many people claim a belief in God is irrational. I do not think this is the issue. The issue, what is the proper grounds for beliefs: sensation, reason, or authority? Slrubenstein

As a philosopher who has not only read the above philosophers but taught them to undergrads on occasion, I can tell you this article still needs an adequate explanation of what philosophers mean by the term. A synonym for the historical movement is 'Continental rationalism'. Philosophers often use 'rationalism' by itself to refer to the main features of that movement, which stressed innate or a priori knowledge, deduction from which was regarded as the only source of certain knowledge (which they concerned themselves with to a great extent). People who talk about religion and atheism often use 'rationalism' to mean rationally-based atheism, and proponents of science vs. pseudoscience and "the occult" often use 'rationalism' to mean 'reliance on reason'. Perhaps those latter topics be filed under 'atheistic rationalism' and 'scientific rationalism' or some other such jargon. I'd like to help out further but my time is limited... --Larry Sanger

You do not need to tell us that this article still needs adequate explanation; I think everyone who has contributed to the talk page has already said as much. Another thing contributers to the talk page have admitted (certainly myself, but I think others as well) is that they are not philosophers and would defer to a philosopher. Perhaps that is one reason the talk page is longer than the article itself! Since you have lectured on this matter, I wish you could find some time -- soon -- to change the article itself! Slrubenstein
It's difficult to find the time these days (this is the first thing I've written in a few months). I would suggest that you simply remove the stuff from the article that you're not sure about, and actually go out and do the necessary research. There are many explanations of what rationalism is available online, due to the fact that it is explained often by people who have philosophy course pages. --Larry Sanger
Don't know what to tell you, Larry -- the only additions I have made to the article (which are few) are one's I feel certain about. I may disagree with what others have written, although I assume that they write in good faith. But this is all in the nature of a collaborative enterprise, Slrubenstein
If you weren't responsible for the problems I'm complaining about, I'm not obviously addressing my comments to you, and therefore, I wasn't expecting you to tell me anything.  :-) --Larry Sanger
Sorry, my fault. I thought I knew what it meant, but now I find that I don't. Maybe we should delete the whole thing, for now, and leave just a stub. GrahamN
That's not a bad idea for now; but see below --LMS

Here's how I see the whole issue of people writing lengthy articles about subjects they are insufficiently informed about. This is one of my pet peeves, and I have an opportunity to wax most offensive and nasty!  :-) (The issue has come up before with regard to bagpipes as well as Kant and a number other topics.) Basically, articles in Wikipedia should be such that an expert on the topic would feel comfortable editing the article so that it could be made more complete/accurate/etc. But when somebody writes up an article that will have to be completely scrapped and rewritten from scratch...that can be very frustrating to see. Doesn't it reflect extremely poorly on the project if anyone sufficiently knowledgeable comes along and sees it? Now wait before you reply, because my point isn't finished!

Our interest in having minimally-revisable articles is only one of our values on Wikipedia. Another crucial value, of greater importance in fact, is the sense of openness and freedom that we have here. Eventually, we will have a collection of professional-level articles here, I think. But the main way we're going to get there is not by criticizing individuals so that they don't want to write about anything, but by feeling free to write according to our own standards. The effectiveness of the latter policy easily trumps any interest we have in making darn sure we only write about what we know.

So the point is that while I am indeed critical of this article, I hope this isn't interpreted as meaning that the article should never have been written. Quite the contrary. We should all feel free to write up to our own personal standards; and others should feel free to make improvements of all sorts.  :-)

OK, over and out!  :-) --Larry Sanger

Faulty sentenceEdit

"Rationalism, a philosophical position, theory, or view that reason is the source of knowledge in contrast to emotions or beliefs." Replaced using senses with "emotions or beliefs".

Reason: The sentence was faulty. There is no opposition between being rational and using your senses, in fact, you need to both use your senses to gain information and think, (process the information) in a rational manner. Earlier versions of this page had emotions there instead of using your senses, and that was correct.

By the way, so many revisions of this article without a single word on the discussion page, why? Maybe because the earlier editors did not really believe in reason and rationality, which means solving problems through discussions. People driven by strong convictions, emotions or beliefs see no reason for discussion, they feel like they already know everything they need to know, and it is also a defence mechanism. Discussions could threaten their strong beliefs, state of mind or emotions. Roger491127 (talk) 07:54, 13 January 2008 (UTC)

@Roger491127: Nope, it was because the talk page history was not aligned with the article history. I've fixed that, and restored the old discussion. Graham87 10:45, 14 October 2016 (UTC)