rationalism [Lat.,=belonging to reason], in philosophy, a theory that holds that reason alone, unaided by experience, can arrive at basic truth regarding the world. Associated with rationalism is the doctrine of innate ideas and the method of logically deducing truths about the world from "self-evident" premises. Rationalism is opposed to empiricism on the question of the source of knowledge and the techniques for verification of knowledge. René Descartes, G. W. von Leibniz, and Baruch Spinoza all represent the rationalist position, and John Locke the empirical. Immanuel Kant in his critical philosophy attempted a synthesis of these two positions. More loosely, rationalism may signify confidence in the intelligible, orderly character of the world and in the mind's ability to discern such order. It is opposed by irrationalism, a view that either denies meaning and coherence in reality or discredits the ability of reason to discern such coherence. Irrational philosophies accordingly stress the will at the expense of reason, as exemplified in the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre or Karl Jaspers. In religion, rationalism is the view that recognizes as true only that content of faith that can be made to appeal to reason. In the Middle Ages the relationship of faith to reason was a fundamental concern of scholasticism. In the 18th cent. rationalism produced a religion of its own called deism (see deists).

See E. Heimann, Reason and Faith in Modern Society (1961); T. F. Torrance, God and Rationality (1971); R. L. Arrington, Rationalism, Realism, and Relativism (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Rationalists
John Cottingham.
Oxford University Press, 1988
New Essays on the Rationalists
Rocco J. Gennaro; Charles Huenemann.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Secularization, Rationalism, and Sectarianism: Essays in Honour of Bryan R. Wilson
Eileen Barker; James A. Beckford; Karel Dobbelaere.
Clarendon Press, 1993
Reason and Faith in Modern Society: Liberalism, Marxism, and Democracy
Eduard Heimann.
Wesleyan University Press, 1961
FREE! The New Rationalism: The Development of a Constructive Realism upon the Basis of Modern Logic and Science, and through the Criticism of Opposed Philosophical Systems
Edward Gleason Spaulding.
H. Holt and Company, 1918
FREE! A History of Freedom of Thought
J. B. Bury.
Henry Holt, 1913
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VI "The Growth of Rationalism (Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries") and Chap. VII "The Progress of Rationalism"
Faith and Reason
Richard Swinburne.
Clarendon Press, 1983
Against the Faith: Essays on Deists, Skeptics, and Atheists
Jim Herrick.
Prometheus Books, 1985
Schools of Asceticism: Ideology and Organization in Medieval Religious Communities
Lutz Kaelber.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Medieval, Religion, and the Roots of Rationalism: Weber's Lacuna"
Rhetoric and Philosophy
Richard A. Cherwitz.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Critical Rationalism: Rhetoric and the Voice of Reason"
Political Concepts and Political Theories
Gerald F. Gaus.
Westview Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Rationalism/Antirationalism" begins on p. 52
An Historical Introduction to Modern Philosophy
Hugh Miller.
Macmillan, 1947
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "The Rationalistic Philosophy of Modern Science" and Chap. 14 The Rationalistic Philosophy of Modern Science (Continued)"
The Uses of Reason
Arthur E. Murphy.
The Macmillan Company, 1943
Librarian’s tip: "The Rational Use of Ideas in the Pursuit of Truth" begins on p. 25 and "The Current Ill-Repute of Rational Ideals" begins on p. 200
Ideas and Men: The Story of Western Thought
Crane Brinton.
Prentice-Hall, 1963 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Nine "Making the Modern World III: Rationalism"
The Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century Rationalism
G. H.R. Parkinson.
Routledge, 1993
The Retreat to Commitment
William Warren Bartley.
Knopf, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "The Dilemma of Ultimate Commitment and the Rationalist Search for Integrity" and Chap. V "Comprehensively Critical Rationalism"
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