Major empiricists (e.g., Hume 1739–40) have rejected the theories as either speculation, beyond what we can learn from experience, or nonsensical attempts to describe aspects of the world beyond the concepts experience can provide.
The debate raises the issue of metaphysics as an area of knowledge.
One might claim, for example, that we can gain knowledge in a particular area by a form of Divine revelation or insight that is a product of neither reason nor sense experience.
In short, when used carelessly, the labels ‘rationalist’ and ‘empiricist,’ as well as the slogan that is the title of this essay, ‘Rationalism vs.
They held, however, that experience alone, while useful in practical matters, provides an inadequate foundation for genuine knowledge.
The fact that “Continental rationalism” and “British empiricism” are retrospectively applied terms does not mean that the distinction that they signify is anachronistic.A full-fledged rationalist with regard to our knowledge of the external world holds that some external world truths can and must be known a priori, that some of the ideas required for that knowledge are and must be innate, and that this knowledge is superior to any that experience could ever provide.The full-fledged empiricist about our knowledge of the external world replies that, when it comes to the nature of the world beyond our own minds, experience is our sole source of information.Nevertheless, with due caution, it is possible to use the “Continental rationalism” category (and its empiricist counterpart) to highlight significant points of convergence in the philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, inter alia.These include: (1) a doctrine of innate ideas; (2) the application of mathematical method to philosophy; and (3) the use of a priori principles in the construction of substance-based metaphysical systems.Thus, Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz are the Continental Rationalists in opposition to Locke, Berkeley and Hume, the British Empiricists.We should adopt such general classification schemes with caution.Historically, the rationalist/empiricist dispute in epistemology has extended into the area of Metaphysics, where philosophers are concerned with the basic nature of reality, including the existence of God and such aspects of our nature as free will and the relation between the mind and body.Major rationalists (e.g., Descartes 1641) have presented metaphysical theories, which they have claimed to know by reason alone.Empiricism,’ can retard rather than advance our understanding.Nonetheless, an important debate properly described as ‘Rationalism vs.