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Definition of rationalism[edit]

There's a bunch of confused material on this page. Historically, Rationalism is the position that (among other things), given first principles and enough time, it is possible to predict all phenomena in the universe a priori. This tradition did not value experiment or other sources involving observation. Hence the historical continuum between Rationalism and Empiricism. It isn't that Empiricists rejected theory as useless, it's that Rationalists rejected observation as unnecessary. The most Rational disciplines in this context are some ares of philosophy and pure mathematics - everything else is "tainted" by imperfect observed checks.

Also, the Scientific Method is very Empirical. Historical Rationalists up to the early 19th century would have rejected it out of hand.

In the social sciences, Rationalism is the position that social actors have a perfect understanding of their situation, of the economic conditions that surround them, and of the results of choices they make in a market.

I suppose it does (just barely) make sense that in the talk page people are rejecting including a section on post-modernity. Historically these sorts of studies are very closely linked with Empirical observations and records of what in fact happens - and this is at odds with a Rationalist position, which would reject mere observable fact against a priori assertions of objective fact derived from axiom.— Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs

The article does mention both the old rationalist/empiricist divide and the modern rationalist/irrationalist one. The distinction between rationalists and empiricists has been mostly irrelevant since Kant, so there's no reason to use it in a definition of the philosophy in its modern form. And postmodernism is neither rational nor empirical, it's a heap of utterly confused wannabe philosophies that dither between triviality and radical nonsense. Röstigraben (talk) 14:18, 18 December 2010 (UTC)
"The distinction between rationalists and empiricists has been mostly irrelevant since Kant" - that's an extraordinary claim to make. Do you disagree that some forms of knowledge are more rational and some more empirical? This stuff is not usefully regarded in terms of -ists, granted, but there is always a scale between pure theory and the concrete. Einstein, in the 1950s, says "as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." It's bizarre to claim this is "resolved" in Kant. I've studied the Critique of Pure Reason and it does no such thing. If anything - it is an end-of-life for traditional Rationalism. Since Hume, we are all Empiricists.
If we're talking about Rationalism as "a philosophy", in the sense of being something one follows or adheres to, I'm in the wrong place. — Unsigned, by: Damian / talk / contribs
The debate between rationalists and empiricists is a thing of the past. The Kantian synthesis and subsequent developments have rendered this distinction absolutely useless except for historical purposes. There's just nobody left who'd advance a classically rationalist or empiricist position any more. That's also why it's nonsense to say that one side essentially prevailed and "we're all empiricists now" - we're certainly not in the classical sense, and in the modern sense, empiricism is no longer opposed to rationalism. And you seem to be confusing "philosophy" with "ideology". Röstigraben (talk) 00:15, 19 December 2010 (UTC)
I'm not sure I'm comfortable abandoning the historicity of the terms - but I do take your point. I don't suggest this is an ongoing debate in informed circles. I do suggest that there's an underlying epistemological continuum, where many knowledge claims lean harder on theory than on testing it and can be classified by how much they do this. I've always seen that continuum being between a rational approach and an empirical one, and this relatively new use of "rational", in my eyes clearly borrowed from non-academic use, leaves me lacking a familiar terminology. I also will rail against "empirical" used as a synonym for "quantifiable" (which does appear a lot in the discourse), since these to me are quite orthogonal. Maybe you can suggest a more up-to-date way to frame these concerns?
Oh - and the confusion of "philosophy" and "ideology" is deliberate. I'm watchful of the former used as euphemism for the latter. Cf "Objectivism". --Damian (talk) 00:58, 19 December 2010 (UTC)
Well, I suggested the distinction between rationalism and irrationalism (informally used to group together doctrines that are hostile to reason) as the relevant modern one. If we're just talking about the epistemological spectrum within modern rationalism and especially science, then you're maybe looking for a simple distinction between observation and generalization/theory development. Or perhaps a spectrum of deductive (math, logic) and inductive (natural sciences) enterprises? But since these are complementary parts of the scientific method and not in any way opposing viewpoints, I don't think it's useful to bring in the old terminology that would suggest such a divide.
Regarding philosophy and ideology, I don't know much about Objectivism, but from what I've read, its attempt to derive ethical, political and aesthetical doctrines from metaphysics and epistemology is the main reason why it's not taken seriously as a philosophy. Of course its adherents claim that it is, but few in the field see it as a serious philosophical contribution, sort of analogous to the rejection of ID as a science. Modern rationalism, on the other hand, is little more than just the very general affirmation of human reason (again, defined inclusively) as the only reliable source of knowledge. It's up to you whether you consider the rejection of, say, divinely-inspired "knowledge" as an ideology, but the very nature of a process that demands evidence and logically correct arguments to arrive at statements is opposed to the closed belief systems we commonly label as ideologies. Röstigraben (talk) 08:15, 19 December 2010 (UTC)
Yes, I understand that what folks here regard as rationalism is as opposed to an irrationalism. That's been the everyday meaning for a long time. I think it best to refer to the epistemological position as "philosophical rationalism" or Rationalism. In everyday usage, "materialism" often refers to an obsessive participation in material culture, and can be distinguished from philosophical materialism, or Materialism. A few people here have suggested my complaint is in relation to an historical curiosity - but major philosophical positions do not simply "go away" with lack of "practitioners" and arbitrary changes in everyday language. As such, I am not really arguing the point on the definition in this page, but I see the reference to "historical" rationalism as somewhat awkward, as though it glances rather than catches what's important there. The history of epistemology and the philosophy of science is important. Everyone ought to understand what makes proper experimental design, why the scientific method is not arbitrary, what falsifiability really means - but more than that, everyone should understand why those things are important, and the history of thought that leads up to those is a compelling narrative of genuinely distinguished thinkers who went wrong in ways that we can understand and explain. Isn't that exactly the sort of background that is useful in a venue devoted to refuting or countering the far less laudable commentators and their bizarre counter-rational ideas as they occur in the world now?
The other modern meaning for "rational" is as a synonym for "sane" or "lucid". The only technical meaning I know for "irrational", is one pertaining to a number that has no integer factors other than itself and one.... ;) --Damian (talk) 11:50, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
All well and good but I think I'm lost as to where this affects the article in question. Is it purely that the article "Rationalism" refers to modern, or "empirical rationalism" and you take issue with causing non-empirical reasoning "historical"? Scarlet A.pngbomination 14:35, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
Not purely, but yes in part. There exists plenty of non-empirical reasoning that is not historical, including entire academic disciplines (pure mathematics and some areas of philosophy for instance). But there's a problem with framing and surrounding assumptions. The article takes the non-academic meaning or "rational", as a synonym with "reasonable", and I don't think there is anything wrong with working from the mundane meaning. However the article refers to this as "a philosophy" in several places while actively downplaying the correct philosophical usage (compare with for instance). This seems an unfortunate irony. I suppose the problem is more with the -ism, and what it means for some contributors. "Rationality" would be a far better word to use in some of the contexts covered. It is not a synonym. --Damian (talk) 11:20, 5 January 2011 (UTC)
To be honest, looking through it again it does need work elsewhere too - although that may just be flu making my head fuzzier than usual. I would just edit it to your liking as you've justified yourself enough on the talk page and I agree, a little more semantic rigour is probably needed, particularly in reference to philosophy. Scarlet A.pngbomination 17:02, 5 January 2011 (UTC)
I'll have a go when I have some time to approach it properly. --Damian (talk) 15:00, 10 January 2011 (UTC)
I usually yawn when definitions are up in the air, but in this case it's quite important. When anyone uses the term "Rationalism" today, it's always just shorthand for "empirical rationalism". Since the development of science as we'd recognize it today, no one would suggest that a rational argument could overturn empirical observation (describing classical Rationalists as declaring observations as unnecessary is quite apt). This may need to be made clearer in the article, however. Scarlet A.pngbomination 14:40, 18 December 2010 (UTC)
"no one would suggest that a rational argument could overturn empirical observation" - surely this happens *all the time*. It's precisely what is going on when someone says - "this data is at odds with my theory, therefore the data is suspect". — Unsigned, by: Damian / talk / contribs
Perhaps if you take individual failings at face value, rather than the philosophy itself being at fault that is the case; but examples of treating data as suspect when it conflicts with established theory wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. If you threw out every theory, regardless of how well it worked and how much it stood up to reason, upon some new discovery science would be a mess and wouldn't progress very far. Once every few months my NMR work throws up what appears, at first glance, to be alchemy; specifically in that I've magically converted rhodium to iridium. Surely this is a violation of a lot of theory, so the data is treated as very suspicious. And rightly so as such a single observation is not going to have the power to overturn a century of established and proven (well, not-dis-proven) chemistry and physics. This is why reason and evidence have an interplay. No person calling themselves a modern Rationalist would hold on to an idea when sufficient evidence has debunked it, but no modern Empiricist would throw out perfectly good ideas the very instant a fluke observation conflicted with them. This is modern empirical rationalism (or rational empiricism, if you prefer) and is how science works in practice. Take a further example with the discovery of CMB radiation, first observed as instrumental noise. The discovers went so far as to clear bird crap off their instrument before accepting it as a discovery - indeed, it wasn't the "discovers" who saw the initial importance of it. No papers were written announcing it as profound and Earth-shattering discovery, it was brushed off as suspicious noise until it was not only produced but a theory could be found to explain it. An empiricist who is a slave to observation without rational interpretation is doomed to false positives, while a rationalist who stands by their reason in the face of evidence is prone to dogma; and neither will ever gain a true grasp of reality. Scarlet A.pngbomination 10:43, 19 December 2010 (UTC)
Yes, we should mention the fact that the modern meaning/usage of the term may not necessarily fit with the historical. But languages are like that. The fact that a word had a particular meaning in the 19th century does not mean that the same word will have the same meaning in the 21st.
All words have a history and, if you go back far enough, their previous meanings are frequently wildly at variance to their modern meanings. But we can only really deal with the meanings of words as they are used today.--BobSpring is sprung! 20:19, 18 December 2010 (UTC)

Rationalism according to references from Ancient Greece, Hume and Wittgenstein all stated a priori over a posteriori. Also, Philosophy courses from exam boards AQA, OCR and Edexcel (All british courses, guess where I am from) all defined rationalism as either putting rational reason very highly ABOVE empiricism, or holding empiricism as moot, or DISMISSING Empiricism in favour of rational thought. I can post some citations to these books, but I feel the definitions are scarily wrong - either there is a language barrier, or there is an exam board / rationalwiki clash going on here (I am tempted to say experts v best of the public?) — Unsigned, by: Devex3 / talk / contribs


As Ealing Libraries are blocking the post-modernist page on the grounds of profanity, and this article has a section on post-modernism: could a political artist (or an artist with political tendencies) be a first-past-the-post-modernist? (talk) 15:58, 12 October 2011 (UTC)

An 'unwise contrast'[edit]

Never seen this site before, but I noticed an author has declared the contrast between rationalism and empiricism to be 'unwise'. This is an assertion which contradicts basically all philosophical thought... not very 'rational'. In the strict philosophical sense, the distinction is ubiquitous, and highly useful and important. The author has conflated this with the public perception... but laymen never really contrast 'rationalism' and 'empiricism' anyway, only those with good enough knowledge of the terms would ever distinguish them, and then they do it correctly.

There needs to be a clearer delineation between philosophy and unrelated fuzzy laymen's concepts. In defending 'fuzzy rationalism' (i.e. the subject of this Wiki), the author has mistakenly made negative statements about clear philosophy (an important part of fuzzy rationalism).— Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs

You are right. This whole page is just a bootload of incoherent twiddle. (((Zack Martin))) 05:54, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
Says the person who made up their own religion. Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 06:54, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
Revelation, is the word for which you are looking. Anyway, it is far more coherent than this load of nonsense is. (((Zack Martin))) 06:57, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
And how do we know "revelation" is rational? What's the different between revelation and insanity? Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 06:59, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
I think this page does need a drastic re-write. It should be strictly divided into two sections for the philosophical and colloquial uses of the term. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 07:01, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
@Retard, how do we know it isn't rational? The difference between revelation and insanity is that revelation is much more coherent for starters. Have you read the output of schizophrenics in the midst of formal thought disorder? It's unintelligible. 07:03, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
All right, then: what's the difference between "revelation," and lying? Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 07:06, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
I would be lying if I did not really believe the things I say. I would have thought that, by now, the evidence would be suggesting that I actually believe the things I say, rather than that they are some kind of elaborate hoax. Remember the 300+ page book? Would I go to that much trouble if I didn't really believe this, if it was just all some kind of elaborate hoax? Seems like far too much work for hoaxing. (((Zack Martin))) 07:11, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
Depends on your psychology; what's the difference between "revelation," and delusion? Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 07:14, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
A delusion is defined as a false belief which is retained despite of all the evidence against it. What is the evidence against my beliefs? I supposing a key belief of mine here, is the very definition of "evidence" is open to question, and your concept of "evidence" may not match mine - who can say whose is right? (((Zack Martin))) 07:17, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
People much smarter than us. I'll guess that every one of them would disagree with your religion. Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 07:19, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
Argument from authority, an argument from the presumed opinions of anonymous authorities at that! (((Zack Martin))) 07:22, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
An argument from authority is not a fallacy, given that its everyday usage allows society function. Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 07:28, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
If the authority is appropriately qualified, has actually spoken on the topic at hand, etc., etc., etc... none of those criteria apply to your invocation of the anonymous. (((Zack Martin))) 07:32, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
"What is the evidence against my beliefs? I supposing a key belief of mine here, is the very definition of "evidence" is open to question, and your concept of "evidence" may not match mine - who can say whose is right?" - you can't prove I'm wrong, therefore I'm right. OK, Prove you're not a bot. Rennie McGreet (talk) 10:20, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
The question "What is the evidence against my beliefs?" is simply a way of reversing the burden of proof. However, I know from previous experience that Maratrean is not keen on the use of "burden of proof" in these contexts.--BobSpring is sprung! 10:29, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
@Rennie McGreet, you can't prove I'm wrong, therefore I'm right — that was not my point. My point was that, you can't rely on reason and evidence indefinitely, you'll get to a point in the regress when it comes down to "I believe this, because this is what I choose to place my faith in". And at that point, you and I may well make different choices, we may well have different faiths — but in a sense than I have won, because faith/choice must play a role, you cannot answer everything through reason&evidence (((Zack Martin))) 23:25, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
yes, it was your point, that's what you said. stop denying the truth - that you want to argue logically that your made up goddess and that bat thing are real. you are insane. go see a psychiatrist. Rennie McGreet (talk) 23:36, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
I don't claim you can create a purely logical argument for the truth of Maratreanism. Reason and evidence have some role to play, but you need faith also. Part of the role of reason is to justify faith in general as a potentially good thing - but the decision is still yours as to which particular faith to adopt, Maratreanism is only one option open to you. I'm not insane — having nonstandard religious beliefs is not in itself a sign of mental illness; to say otherwise is a recipe of psychiatric tyranny. Of course, I suppose there are some people (maybe even some people on this website) who think that all religion is a form of mental illness; but then again, go back a bit and many people would have said the same of atheists. It was only a few decades ago that mainstream psychiatry claimed that homosexuality was a mental illness; in the Soviet Union, psychiatry was frequently used as a weapon against dissidents. Psychiatry needs to be practiced in a way which respects religious freedom. (((Zack Martin))) 05:18, 31 December 2011 (UTC)
@BobM, but how do you know your theory about the burden of proof is correct? What if there are other competing theories about how to assign the burden of proof? How do you know which theory is right? What is the burden of proof for the burden of proof? A great way to demolish ideas is to try to apply them to themselves. (((Zack Martin))) 23:25, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
Hmmm, you're right. We don't need burden of proof. Someone can just say something and we presume them to be right about everything. Screw contradictions, hypocrisy, lack of evidence, implausibility and inability to make a coherent statement, just believe them for the sake of believing them. Scarlet A.pngpathetic 00:24, 31 December 2011 (UTC)
We need some theory of the burden of proof, but which one? There are multiple theories which are reasonable, and no clear way to determine which is right. One approach then, is to accept any person who follows a reasonable theory of the burden of proof as being reasonable, even if it's not the theory you personally choose to follow. One could choose to see this as a matter of philosophical choice, a sort of exercise of faith (I choose to believe this because it seems most reasonable to me personally, even though I recognize that others see things differently, and there is no way for me to objectively prove that I am right and that they are wrong). (((Zack Martin))) 05:22, 31 December 2011 (UTC)
I'm not quite sure what point you are making. The burden of proof states that:
  • it is the obligation of somebody presenting a new or remarkable idea to provide evidence to support it
I understand that this is inconvenient for those who would like to introduce new gods or whatever but that's the situation.--BobSpring is sprung! 11:38, 31 December 2011 (UTC)
Are you proposing that as a statement of what the "burden of proof" should be? Because, your rule doesn't work the way you likely think it does. Firstly, "remarkable" is a very subjective standard, what seems remarkable to you may seem obvious to someone else, and vice versa. The existence of God is remarkable to the atheist, but not at all remarkable to the convinced believer. Personally, I find the idea of death as non-existence to be remarkable, while I'm guessing most atheists would find the idea obvious, and its negation remarkable.
Secondly, if the standard is for "new" ideas, then the idea of the existence of God(s) is older than the idea of atheism (the earliest historical records of religious belief are older than those for religious unbelief, by centuries or even millennia); the idea of an afterlife is older than the idea of death as non-existence; the idea of there being some non-physical aspect to human beings (a soul or spirit) is older than the idea of human beings being purely physical/material entities. So, if we took your proposal (or that article's proposal) literally, we could conclude that the burden of proof is on the atheist, not the believer. Probably not the outcome you were planning on. (((Zack Martin))) 01:40, 1 January 2012 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Hey, you can make a career out of that. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 00:40, 31 December 2011 (UTC)

A man with some very interesting ideas, although I do not necessarily agree with all of his. (((Zack Martin))) 05:22, 31 December 2011 (UTC)

There is something very deeply wrong with this Wiki. I've only commented in two articles. In the first it was in opposition to some rather rampant bias and anti-intellectualism in a different article... this 'Retard' member appeared and linked me to some horrid page about how new editors who make such claims are probably trolls. That rather took me aback. Now he pops up under my second comment with a totally irrelevant ad hominem aimed at some other member, and derails the whole talk page into a stupid fight about theism. Is this what counts as rational here?

Anyway, in all of that mess there appear to be two consenting members and nobody against; this article needs a rewrite. -- (talk) 12:58, 2 January 2012 (UTC)

Rationalwiki is not devoted to rationalism[edit]

I suggest deleting this line:

RationalWiki is devoted to this sort of rational analysis of empirical evidence to form conclusions

Based on this discussion it's clearly not true; or at least, not understood by that sample of editors. Klortho (talk) 05:28, 9 August 2016 (UTC)

Needs better self-criticism under "where rationalism can fail" and to break up the unbroken text at the bottom section.[edit]

1. I am seriously trying to learn about rationalism, and the lack of objective self-reflection and lack of serious criticism is making it hard for me to take it seriously. I want to see their point of view, but most rationalist arguments as to why they are not more popular seem to be "we are are so smart and right that other people are angry and jealous" or "we think about things so rightly that we don't think about the simple little things". I am not trying to be snide, but I want to see actual self-reflection so I am not lost on this. Zavvnao (talk) 00:02, 9 August 2018 (UTC)Zavvnao

2. The last, gigantic paragraph needs to be broken up into more manageable and readable ones as info IS being lost to readers like me who have bad vision. Zavvnao (talk) 21:15, 7 August 2018 (UTC)Zavvnao

On talk pages, please sign your comments using four tildes (~~~~) or by clicking on the sign button: SigButt.png on the toolbar above the edit panel. You can also indent successive talk page comments using one more colon (:) for each line. Thank you. ☭Comrade GC☭Ministry of Praise 21:21, 7 August 2018 (UTC) Zavvnao (talk) 00:02, 9 August 2018 (UTC)Zavvnao (I hope that is signed right this time. I did this last time also. Zavvnao (talk) 00:02, 9 August 2018 (UTC)Zavvnao

The 'where rationalism can fail' section looks like it was written by a 14 year old Empiricist. Why do we need it, anyway? 2601:190:580:18:D4DD:553E:46FE:32B3 (talk) 03:50, 12 March 2019 (UTC)

I'm not even sure why it exists, it's neither funny nor useful. Flameoguy (talk) 19:53, 12 March 2019 (UTC)

Fine. I'll do it you lazies. ikanreed 🐐Bleat at me 20:09, 12 March 2019 (UTC)

Defects in the Empiricism versus Rationalism section[edit]

The Empiricism versus Rationalism section is quite poor. It states: “A serious problem for the Innate Knowledge thesis remains, however. We know a proposition only if it is true, we believe it and our belief is warranted.” Really? How do we know that this definition of knowledge is the right definition? Because that’s the only definition of knowledge that makes rational sense? So, basically, this definition was derived not empirically but rationally? I see. Go on. “How can these beliefs be warranted if they do not gain their warrant from the experiences that cause us to have them or from intuition and deduction?” Rationally — that’s the whole point of rationalism. We know that knowledge is justified true belief because that’s the only rational definition. We know that truth exists because the claim “Truth does not exist,” rationally incoherent. Similarly, empiricist claims such as “The only way to know whether grass is green is to go out and look at some grass” is essentially a rationalist argument for empiricism. Is there no empirical argument for empiricism?Zosimus (talk) 18:01, 31 January 2019 (UTC)