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© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Rationalism: Selected full-text books and articles

The Rationalists By John Cottingham Oxford University Press, 1988
New Essays on the Rationalists By Rocco J. Gennaro; Charles Huenemann Oxford University Press, 1999
Secularization, Rationalism, and Sectarianism: Essays in Honour of Bryan R. Wilson By Eileen Barker; James A. Beckford; Karel Dobbelaere Clarendon Press, 1993
FREE! A History of Freedom of Thought By 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 By Richard Swinburne Clarendon Press, 1983
Schools of Asceticism: Ideology and Organization in Medieval Religious Communities By Lutz Kaelber Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Medieval, Religion, and the Roots of Rationalism: Weber's Lacuna"
Political Concepts and Political Theories By Gerald F. Gaus Westview Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: "Rationalism/Antirationalism" begins on p. 52
An Historical Introduction to Modern Philosophy By 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 By 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 By Crane Brinton Prentice-Hall, 1963 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. Nine "Making the Modern World III: Rationalism"
The Retreat to Commitment By 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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