Descartes' Case for Rationalism - Deepstash

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Descartes' Case for Rationalism

René Descartes thought we know objects through reason.

Simple problems may be solved using our senses, but more complicated issues need reason to figure it out. We can easily distinguish between a triangle and a square. But when we consider two polygons, one with a thousand sides and the other with a thousand and one sides, we use reason to tell them apart.

Rationalist vs empiricist debate

Rationalism characterizes a wide range of philosophical topics.

  • How do we know who and what we are? Rationalists claim the self is known through rational intuition, while the empiricist thinks that the unity of the self is illusory.
  • What is the nature of cause and effect? Rationalists claim casual links are known through reason. The empiricist replies that it is because of habit that we know, for example, that a fire is hot.
  • How do we know which actions are ethically correct? Kant argued that ethical worth could only be understood from a rational perspective. Moral evaluation takes place when rational agents consider their actions under hypothetical conditions.



Rationalism is the philosophical idea where reason is the ultimate source of human knowledge.

It stands in contrast to empiricism, where the senses are enough to justify knowledge.

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