Empiricism, Rationalism, and Intuition

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The Philosophical DictionaryEmpiricism

    . Reliance on experience as the source of ideas and knowledge. More specifically, empiricism is the epistemological theory that genuine information about the world must be acquired by a posteriori means, so that nothing can be thought without first being sensed. Prominent modern empiricists include Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Mill. In the twentieth century, empiricism principles were extended and applied by the pragmatists and the logical positivists.


    . Reliance on reason {Lat. ratio} as the only reliable source of human knowledge. In the most general application, rationalism offers a naturalistic alternative to appeals to religious accounts of human nature and conduct.
    More specifically, rationalism is the epistemological theory that significant knowledge of the world can best be achieved by a priori means; it therefore stands in contrast to empiricism. Prominent rationalists of the modern period include Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz.


    . Direct, non-inferential awareness of abstract objects or concrete truths. Plato held that intuition is a superior faculty, and Spinoza supposed that intuition is the highest sort of human knowledge. Russell, on the other hand, designated as intuitive any unreflective instance of knowledge by acquaintance.


    . In philosophy generally, empiricism is a theory of knowledge emphasizing the role of experience in the formation of ideas, while discounting the notion of innate ideas.
    In the philosophy of science, empiricism is a theory of knowledge which emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to experience, especially as formed through deliberate experimental arrangements. It is a fundamental requirement of scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature.


    . In epistemology and in its broadest sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" (Lacey, 286). In more technical terms it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive" (Bourke, 263). Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position "that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge" to the radical position that reason is "the unique path to knowledge" (Audi, 771).
    Rationalism is often contrasted with this view known as empiricism. Taken very broadly these views are not mutually exclusive, since a philosopher can be both rationalist and empiricist (Lacey, 286–287). Taken to extremes the empiricist view holds that all ideas come to us through experience, either through the five external senses or through such inner sensations as pain and pleasure, and thus that knowledge is essentially based on or derived from experience. At issue is the fundamental source of human knowledge, and the proper techniques for verifying what we think we know (see Epistemology).

Intuition (knowledge)

    . Intuition is an immediate form of knowledge in which the knower is directly acquainted with the object of knowledge. Intuition differs from all forms of mediated knowledge, which generally involve conceptualizing the object of knowledge by means of rational/analytical thought processes (and, hence, placing a mediating idea or concept between the knower and the known).
    Some philosophers consider human experience of raw empirical data (sometimes called "qualia") to be intuitive. For example, when a person sees a patch of yellow, that person is directly acquainted with the yellowness of the object, even if he or she has no name or concept for yellowness.
    Intuition differs from opinion since intuition is a way of experiencing objects, while opinion is based on that experience. Intuition also differs from instinct, which does not necessarily have the experiential element at all. A person who has an intuitive basis for an opinion probably cannot immediately fully explain why he or she holds that view. However, a person may later rationalize an intuition by developing a chain of logic to demonstrate more structurally why the intuition is valid.
    In popular understanding, intuition is one source of common sense and it may also help in induction to gain empirical knowledge.


    Certainly, science is based upon empiricism; all theories are built and tested in reference to observations. Yet, all of science also relies upon intuition in the processes of inductive reasoning, measurement, data analysis, and interpreting results. In the end, science is conducted by scientists who use their intuition as well as their observations to conduct their work.