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Thread: Rationalism v. empiricism

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    Contributor Speakpigeon's Avatar
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    Rationalism v. empiricism

    The difference between rationalism and empiricism is in the method of proof.

    Empiricism requires, by the conventional definition and usual understanding of the term, that the proof of your claim be an observation of the material world.

    Rationalism requires instead that the proof of your claim be an observation of your own mind.

    The widespread contention that this distinction is fundamental is spurious, however. Empirical sciences wouldn't exist as we know them had they to be justified only by observations of the material world. Empirical sciences require from scientists that they first observe their own mind since the percepts they have relative to the material world are all entirely mental events.

    And of course you only need to read Descartes's first pages leading to the Cogito to be convinced that understanding the idea of it requires understanding his confrontation of his observation of his own mind, through introspection, and his observation of the material world, through his senses (irrespective of whether any of these things exist as such).

    The difference is real but more a matter a degree than of a black-and-white distinction. Science relies on a large extent of what scientists themselves call "thought experiment".

    One of the first scientific discovery, and one which is well-known the world over, is Archimedes' principle. The principle states that water exerts an upward force upon any body partially or fully immersed in it and that this force is equal to the weight of the water displaced by the body. Archimedes didn't discover this principle as it is formulated now, but he realised how he could prove whether a crown is of impure gold by immersing it into water. His idea was to measure the volume of the water displaced by the crown as a measure of the volume of the crown. Archimedes is supposed to have shouted "Eureka" while having a bath and presumably observing the level of the water inside the bathtub go up as a result of immersing himself. However, anyone having a bath can experience the Archimedes force as exerted on their own body by water. Swimming certainly seems a lot easier for it. We feel the force. It is an empirical fact. Yet, understanding what is the cause of the force requires an operation of the mind, something entirely rationalistic in essence.

    Still, the ultimate proof in the empirical sciences can only be an observation of the material world. If physics, the epitome of empirical sciences, evolved to the point where such a proof could no longer be obtained, it would be perceived more as a rationalist discipline, as seems indeed to be the current status of String Theory.

    It is also possible to consider our observation of our own mind (introspection) to be fundamentally an empirical activity.

    There is indeed no fundamental difference between observing the material world and observing the pain that you experience whenever you experience pain. The difference is entirely in the fact that two observers will be able to agree that they see a tree or a bird, while only one observer will be able to observe the pain experienced. Yet, we all will experience pain at some point in our lives, as well as such mental phenomena as remembering the past, feeling nauseous, having a logical intuition, having a Eureka moment, etc. And indeed having any idea about the empirical world.

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    Empiricism and rationalism as philosophies bot describe what we all do. An experiment leds to observable evidence. Analysis of the evidence leading to a new insight and new science is reasoning. It is always a combination of the two. Each half is a check and counterbalance to the other.

    Does my conclusion based on evidence make sense? Or does my rational conclusion have any evidence?

    In the extreme one can reason a ridiculous conclusion based on observation. and one can draw a ridiculous conclusion from an experiment. Science does not operate according to philosophical definitions. It is more like philosophy tries to desrobe what science does.

    The debate is philosophical not practical, as evidenced by the history of the dispute.

    In practice empirical solutions simply mean experimental solution without resorting to theoretical basis. Trial and error so to speak. Political polls that estimate who will vote for a candidate without regard to the reasons for voting is empirical. Analyzing the psychology of voters and emotions to estimate how people will vote is reasoning and rational analysis..Theory is based on the electron, but we have never seen one. As Carver Meade put it. I do not know if the electron exists, but I know I can do useful things with it. That is my view of science. The proutility is only in what one can demonstrate.

    And as Pooper put it, to be science it must be testable. When String Theory first came out some scientists considered it philosophy, there was no way to test it.

    In philosophy, empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience.[1] It is one of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism and skepticism. Empiricism emphasises the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas, rather than innate ideas or traditions.[2] However, empiricists may argue that traditions (or customs) arise due to relations of previous sense experiences.[3]

    Empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasises evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation.

    Empiricism, often used by natural scientists, says that "knowledge is based on experience" and that "knowledge is tentative and probabilistic, subject to continued revision and falsification".[4] Empirical research, including experiments and validated measurement tools, guides the scientific method.

    Philosophical usage
    Rationalism is often contrasted with empiricism. Taken very broadly, these views are not mutually exclusive, since a philosopher can be both rationalist and empiricist.[2] Taken to extremes, the empiricist view holds that all ideas come to us a posteriori, that is to say, through experience; either through the external senses or through such inner sensations as pain and gratification. The empiricist essentially believes that knowledge is based on or derived directly from experience. The rationalist believes we come to knowledge a priori – through the use of logic – and is thus independent of sensory experience. In other words, as Galen Strawson once wrote, "you can see that it is true just lying on your couch. You don't have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don't have to do any science."[34] Between both philosophies, the issue at hand is the fundamental source of human knowledge and the proper techniques for verifying what we think we know. Whereas both philosophies are under the umbrella of epistemology, their argument lies in the understanding of the warrant, which is under the wider epistemic umbrella of the theory of justification.

    Theory of justification

    In philosophy, rationalism is the epistemological view that "regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge"[1] or "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification".[2] More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive".[3]

    In an old controversy, rationalism was opposed to empiricism, where the rationalists believed that reality has an intrinsically logical structure. Because of this, the rationalists argued that certain truths exist and that the intellect can directly grasp these truths. That is to say, rationalists asserted that certain rational principles exist in logic, mathematics, ethics, and metaphysics that are so fundamentally true that denying them causes one to fall into contradiction. The rationalists had such a high confidence in reason that empirical proof and physical evidence were regarded as unnecessary to ascertain certain truths – in other words, "there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience".[4]

    Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position "that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge" to the more extreme position that reason is "the unique path to knowledge".[5] Given a pre-modern understanding of reason, rationalism is identical to philosophy, the Socratic life of inquiry, or the zetetic (skeptical) clear interpretation of authority (open to the underlying or essential cause of things as they appear to our sense of certainty). In recent decades, Leo Strauss sought to revive "Classical Political Rationalism" as a discipline that understands the task of reasoning, not as foundational, but as maieutic.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    The basic difference between empiricism and rationalism is that empiricism requires two or more individuals experiencing the same information. The follow on to that is that there need be a method for those individuals to experience the same information that can be controlled, an experiment.

    On the other hand it is sufficient for one mind to experience something to be called rational.

    The difference between the two are large and objective.

    Even an honest man is likely to be mistaken. Whereas several persons separated from the experiment by barriers and protocols are less likely to be contributing personal mental observations. The problem here is whether observation, isolation, referencing to other variables more soundly determined, may be generating an instrumental error.

    If one believes things are not random continuously changing values and types then one will probably light upon empiricism.

    The short history of science provides strong support for the world being regular enough for experiments to provide information that leads to useful results.

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