The Ways of Knowing: Or, the Methods of Philosophy

By Wm. Pepperell Montague | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE METHODS OF RATIONALISM AND EMPIRICISM

The Psychological Genesis of Universals and the Logical Validation of Universal and Necessary Propositions.

THE two theories of method which we are now to consider are so closely related to one another that it will be profitable to discuss them together rather than in succession. Rationalism is the method of proving propositions by appealing to abstract and universal principles; empiricism is the opposite method of proving propositions by appealing to concrete and particular occurrences. The ordinary person makes use of both these methods as a matter of course. If we wanted to prove the proposition that the sum of the angles of a particular triangle were equal to two right angles, we could either measure the angles, and so prove it empirically, or on the other hand we could prove it deductively by appealing to the familiar theorem of geometry in which the truth of the proposition is made to follow from the general properties of triangles. But although we undoubtedly use both methods of proof, and although our experience undoubtedly reveals to us both facts and principles, both particulars and universals, yet the problem arises as to which is the more fundamental. The empiricist, with his preference for proving his beliefs by appeal to specific cases, naturally holds that particulars are fundamental and that universal and abstract concepts and universal and necessary judgments are derived from them; while the rationalist maintains the contrary. The problem before us is of course primarily methodological, i.e. a matter of evaluating these rival criteria of truth. But the nature of the contending schools and the historical development of

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