Rationalism v. Empiricism: Views of Descartes and Hume
The origins of rationalism and empiricism can be traced back to the 17th century, when important advancements were made in scientific fields such as astronomy and mechanics. These advancements were most likely the basis for a sudden philosophical argument: What do we truly know? People wondered whether science was really giving us knowledge of reality. The quest for the answer to this question led to the development of these two schools of philosophy. Two of the most famous philosophers of epistemology are Rene Descartes and David Hume, the former being a rationalist, and the latter an empiricist.
Empiricists share the view that there is no such thing as innate knowledge, and that instead knowledge is derived from experience (either sensed via the five senses or reasoned via the brain or mind). Hume is an empiricist. Rationalists share the view that there is innate knowledge; they differ in that they choose different objects of innate knowledge. For example, Plato is a rationalist because he thinks that we have innate knowledge of the Forms: mathematical objects and concepts (triangles, equality, largeness), moral concepts (goodness, beauty, virtue, piety), and possibly color. Descartes thinks that the idea of God, or perfection and infinity, and knowledge of own’s existence is innate.
In accepting our existence as our founding maxim, Descartes argued that we are able to then syllogistically build more advanced truths by deducing from already established truths–that all possible knowledge of the world is inherently available, regardless of our relationship with the world itself. This is essentially what rationalists believe. Rationalists believe that knowledge is inborn and is simply waiting for us to seek it out. Descartes begins his theory of knowledge by assuming that nothing exists. He trusts nothing, not what he has seen or heard, not anything that he has thought. After careful deliberation,...