Through rational reasoning, it is theorically possible to deduce facts and concepts we haven’t experienced. Is this realistic however?
A concept can be definied as an idea or abstract principle, such as gravity. We gained an understanding of some concepts through sense experience, for example, the concept of gravity again. We realise and understand this as we experience not floating about and being pulled towards the ground, or by seeing objects fall to the ground. We grow used to this occurance.
However, it could be argued that we have some understanding of some concepts which we may never have even experienced for ourselves in two ways: by reason, or from innate ideas. In this first article, I will explore rationalism
Rationally Knowing Concepts
We can realise concepts rationally by reasoning pieces of knowledge we already have together, in order to work an idea out we hadn’t realised empirically or instinctively. This is a form of knowing something a priori.
For example, we could imagine a green tiger by thinking of the concept of green and of a tiger, and by putting them together to form the idea of a green tiger. By putting this simple theory into practice on a much larger and more complex scales, as Albert Einstein frequently did, it could be possible to formulate intricate and complex theories. There are advantages and disadvantages to rationalism however.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Rationalism
Rational truths are eternally true, because they have been worked out using facts; they will never change. Also, they are self-justifying, which is useful when proving whether the idea is valid or not.
The disadvantages are, however, that reason gives no knowledge of contingent truths, which means that is doesn’t help us with truths which may or may not be true. It also gives no empirical knowledge, so some rational truths may be difficult for some people to comprehend, as a complex theory may be too intricate to fully understand without having experienced it first hand.
Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes Support Rationalism
Leibniz was a rationalist, and so favoured this idea. He believed that all empirical truths about the world could be worked out a priori. He believed the weakness to be man’s finite brain; we can’t fully understand God’s plan according to Leibniz.
Spinoza and Rene Descartes also supported this view. Spinoza argued that nothing is contingent with anything else, it only seems to be because we can’t understand the whole picture, a view very similar to Leibniz.
Descartes famously said ‘cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think therefore I am.’ He believed in a structure of truths, with ‘clear and distinct’ ideas at the root of knowledge, and used reason to find the certainties of knowledge. He believed sense data could deceive us, and so didn’t trust it.