The rationalism in Western philosophy is the philosophy that believes that the reason is the source principal and test all knowledge . Holding that reality itself has an inherently logical structure , the rationalist asserts that there is a class of truths that the intellect can grasp directly. There are, according to the rationalists, certain rational principles , especially in logic and mathematics , and even in ethics and metaphysics, which are so fundamental that to deny them is to fall into a pure contradiction. The confidence that rationalists have in reason and proof therefore tends to detract from other forms of knowledge.

What is rationalism?

It is a movement that places reason as its pillar and support and that affirms that reasoning is the fundamental tool for the general power of knowledge , leaving the perception and experience of people relegated to the background.

  • What is rationalism?
  • features
  • Source
  • History
  • Types of rationalism
  • Main ideas
  • Representatives of rationalism
  • Plays
  • How it differs from empiricism
  • Importance of rationalism
  • Examples

What is rationalism?

When we refer to the theory of knowledge , rationalism is known as the tendency that recognizes reason as the only source of genuine knowledge , as opposed to empiricism. It is a type of orientation that says that the only source of knowledge that can be considered authentic is reason . In other words, it tells us that universality and necessity do not infer from experience but are extracted from one’s own understanding , from concepts that are considered innate or from concepts that are created in the form of skills.


The main characteristics of rationalism are:

  • He argued that the basis of society had to be reason .
  • For them, society could progress through understanding and seeking it.
  • For the rationalists the world was a place full of logic , orderly and rational .
  • The origin of knowledge was not based on experience , since it was based on the senses , and these, in turn, were considered deceptive.
  • He sought to explain the different human experiences on a logical and rational basis .
  • For them reason did not know the limit and was capable of reaching any place.
  • They were against everything that could not be measured by reason and could not demonstrate the divinity of God .
  • The faith could never be ahead of the reason .
  • The mathematics and geometry were science which could already be based in these sciences that everything could be demonstrated.


The origin of rationalism can be found in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe . This current of philosophical thought emerged as an antithesis to the thinking that prevailed during the Middle Ages , which was based on the search for answers to problems and situations through the faith that people had in God.


Rationalism is a school of the philosophy of Europe that was divided into two very antagonistic parties, the rationalism and empiricism . It occurred throughout the seventeenth century , at which time great progress was made with the Renaissance . Rationalism appeared in different ways since Western philosophy began but mainly developed with Descartes.

Types of rationalism

There were several types of rationalism despite the fact that it was a very closed philosophical current, these were:

  • Transcendent rationalism : it was supported by Plato who affirmed that the world of experience was always in constant change and movement and that for this reason, it should not be trusted at any time. The thinkers of transcendent rationalism were based on the ideas of Plato to carry out this variant within the philosophical current of rationalism.
  • Theological rationalism : thanks were given to the contribution of Saint Augustine , a person who considered that God was the spirit that was in charge of guiding all of humanity .
  • Immanent rationalism : in this type of rationalism the thought of Descartes was located with his innate ideas.
  • Logical rationalism : this type of rationalism held that thought was the only possible source of obtaining knowledge .

Main ideas

Rationalism establishes the separation between reason and experience and sensations, converting concepts into absolute. They based their ideas on the explanation that could be measured and quantified of every event by means of exact sciences, mainly mathematics . They attached importance to substance , which could be thinking (mind) or extensive (body), which had a type of nature that could be interpreted in mechanical terms and be subject to laws . They did not believe Knowledge could be perceived by the senses and that is why they believed that everything that was perceived was not to be trusted.

They also believed that the mind could not be subject to the different laws of nature because it was independent of it, they considered that the individual was trapped in a body that had a mind and that this was the only one that had the ability to give an answer to things. They did not believe in perceptions either because for them, the senses deceived reality, for this reason they had the idea that everything could be doubted, but the existence of the human being could not be doubted .

Representatives of rationalism

The main representatives of rationalism were:

  • Descartes :  main representative of rationalism who founded the omnipotence of reason , because he considered it true in itself. He understood that the philosopher could conceive the truth by the force of intelligence and he thought that sensitive data deceives us; reason why only by means of the reason could the existent be conceived.
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz : He was an important thinker and mathematician of German origin who created the infinitesimal calculus . For Leibniz, the infinite substances of the metaphysical structure of beings refer to unity , which makes us represent it as the ultimate and indivisible element.
  • Spinoza : he thought that the notion of substance was what exists by itself and is known by itself. For him, between the order of knowledge and reality there is a perfect correspondence . The reality was a whole and each part has a totality with justification and foundation .
  • Blaise Pascal : believed that the progress of man could be stimulated through the accumulation of scientific discoveries . He defended the acceptance of a Christian way of life applied to the calculation of probabilities arguing the value of eternal happiness.


Among the main works that we can mention of rationalism we have:

  • Renati Descartes Principia Philosophiae
  • Rational , natural , metaphysical and moral philosophy
  • Analysis of rational thought / by Julián Sanz del Río
  • Rationality and Interest : A Treatise on Contemporary Economic Man / Jon Elster
  • ¿ Coherence or rationality ? / Manuel Atienza
  • Our time and the mission of Spain / by César E. Pico
  • Precompressions , rationality and methods , in court decisions / Enrique P. Haba

How it differs from empiricism

Rationalism is a theory that states that reason is the only source of knowledge , while empiricism is based on claiming that experience is the source of knowledge. Rationalism believes in intuition and empiricism does not, for rationalism, individuals have knowledge that is innate but in empiricism, individuals do not have any of this knowledge. Empiricism is based on reason and logic , on innate knowledge and deduction , while empiricism on experience , sensory experiences , induction and experimentation. 

Importance of rationalism

Rationalism is important because it made men have the need to seek an answer to all the phenomena that occurred around them, and for this reason, they had to learn to adequately develop the sciences to continue in the search for answers. This led them to make important discoveries that helped them get out of the theo- centrist thinking that existed in the Middle Ages , moving to an anthropocentric thinking where the most important thing is man, as we see him today.


Some examples of rationalism are:

  • Deception of the senses or false ideas that produce empirical aspects.
  • Innate ideas that are those that do not need experience for their knowledge.
  • Mathematical method because in this science there are no errors, and you always get to the same point, the truth.
  • Universality because rationalism formed a method to prevent all knowledge that was false from arriving at the truth with a mechanical method.

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