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Although I realize that this definition of 'rationalism' is quite widespread aound here, I must admit I'm a little confused about the philosophical foundation behind it. It's obviously not wp:rationalism in the traditional Cartesian sense. Are we actually talking about wp:panrationalism or about wp:logical positivism, or something entirely different? --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 09:10, 19 November 2007 (EST)

More something like wp:Rationalist_movement--Bobbing up 12:41, 19 November 2007 (EST)
Ideally are article would discuss all of these including their relationship to science, religion, history, philosophy, ect. tmtoulouse frustrate 11:41, 19 November 2007 (EST)
Should this be merged with Rationality?--Toffeeman 18:18, 17 December 2008 (EST)

Edit clashing... sorry if I was making it harder for someone to improve this while I was moving refs out of headers and decapping them, etc. I'll check back in in a bit. ħumanUser talk:Human 18:21, 17 December 2008 (EST)

Sorry about crossing paths with you. We'll talk later. eek Carptrash 19:13, 17 December 2008 (EST)
No big deal. I had already done that edit but it got lost, and when I redid it after a series of small fixer-upper edits, I didn't leave an edit summary, so the diff just looked like I was nuking the quote. ħumanUser talk:Human 20:06, 17 December 2008 (EST)
Actually, it was the first time I've used the Undo button ever - well barring out-and-out vandalism, and when I saw your name I was a bit confused but I knew that it was not vandalism. Anyway, I didn't mean to shout at you. Carptrash 21:42, 17 December 2008 (EST)
Like I said, no problem. No harm in testing people's buttons once in a while to see what happens when you press them ;) ħumanUser talk:Human 22:10, 17 December 2008 (EST)

What's with all the empty sections, allegedly badly summarised from something? ŴêâŝêîôîďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 13:02, 27 January 2009 (EST)

Empty sections[edit]

I see there was a comment about these from back in January, does anyone know what's supposed to go there? Oh, and can I get a glossary for the postmodernism section? I haven't the slightest idea what an "anomie" is, for instance. --Kels (talk) 22:42, 19 July 2009 (UTC)

"Anomie," I understand, means "a feeling like you are a ship without a rudder." But for the philosophical stuff here we should get TallMan, or Sir Sockpuppet, or whatever he calls himself these days, to do the filling-in, since he can speak the lingo. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 22:48, 19 July 2009 (UTC)
I never did get Po-Mo babble. It always seemed like jargon for the sake of jargon. --Kels (talk) 22:52, 19 July 2009 (UTC)
Worse; not even postmodernists know what their own blather means, if the Sokal affair is anything to go by. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 22:58, 19 July 2009 (UTC)
I expect all that is one of the pitfalls of living entirely within a world of theory, it gets increasingly disconnected from anything useful or, indeed, understandable. --Kels (talk) 23:04, 19 July 2009 (UTC)
Most philosophy is like that - as soon as it gets connected to anything useful or understandable, it becomes a branch of science. ħumanUser talk:Human 23:06, 19 July 2009 (UTC)
(EC) Now if people would just realize that this also holds true for political philosophies... Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 23:12, 19 July 2009 (UTC)
I have cut the empty sections. They were: "Aristotelian rationalism", "The deliverances of reason", and "Duty".--BobNot Jim 07:54, 27 September 2009 (UTC)

Post-Modernism removed

A discussion of post-modernist theory doesn't really belong in a wiki dealing with objective truth. — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs

Removed again. If you're going to keep adding it back, at least provide a reason why we should bother with such nonsense. — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs
What do you mean, we, BoN? But, at any rate, the post-modernist section has been included in aid of refuting it with a little reductio ad absurdum. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 06:48, 21 November 2009 (UTC)

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)