Rationalism: what it is, types and examples to apply in everyday life

Rationalism is a philosophical current that defends that reason is the primary way of acquiring knowledge. This position arose in continental Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and its founder is considered to be René Descartes.

The postulate that true knowledge derives from the ability to reason marked a substantial change in the history of thought. Well, until then the conviction prevailed that religious faith and the word of God were the only sources.

Next we will present what rationalism consists of and how it is applied in everyday life.

Origin of rationalism

The origin of rationalism Set in the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, a context that introduced the problem of knowledge (its origin and foundation) into the philosophical debates of the time. From there two great philosophical currents were born: rationalism and empiricism. Both share belief in the new science, but have differences.

While rationalism emphasizes the role of reason in acquiring knowledge, empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence as the primary sources.

The founder of rationalism was the French philosopher René Descartes, to whom he aspired transform philosophy into a scientific discipline, endowed with a method in which the role of reason would prevail. Thus, in his work Method discourseproposes a procedure (popularly known as Cartesian method) to reach true knowledge through doubt.

Said method composed of 4 rules:

  1. Trial: Only what does not cause doubt is true.
  2. Analyses: reduce the complex to simpler parts to understand it.
  3. Deduction: identify complex truths from simple ones already known.
  4. Verify: check if what was discovered from the reason was found through the rules already mentioned.

Subsequently, philosophers such as Nicolas Malebranche, Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz formulated their rationalist positions on the origin of knowledge, which is why they are also recognized as the main exponents of this movement.

René Descartes represents rationalism.
René Descartes could be recognized as the founder of modern rationalism.

Features of rationalism

Within rationalism there are several positions on knowledge. For example, Descartes’ rationalism is not the same as that of Leibniz or Spinoza.

However, they all share essential characteristics. These are the following:

  • The belief that reason is the main source of true knowledge and which is above other instances such as faith, authority, irrational or empirical experience.
  • The belief that humans come into the world with innate ideas (generally placed there by God or deity), so that the act of knowing involves identifying these ideas through reason.
  • He defends that the senses are capable of deceiving usTherefore, experience alone is not a reliable source for accessing the truth. This postulate opposes rationalism to empiricism.
  • The deductive method is a priority in the acquisition of knowledge.
  • The belief that the reason is unlimited and it is the source of all human progress.


As we have said, there are different positions within this philosophical current. Among them are the following:

  • Theological: defends that God is the one who guides humanity. Therefore, reason is the best way to access the knowledge provided by the deity.
  • Logic: believes that thought is the only source of knowledge.
  • Immanent: based on the innate ideas of Descartes.
  • Transcendent: argues that the world of experience is always in flux and cannot be trusted.

Examples of rationalism in everyday life

We usually apply reason as the main source of knowledge in the following scenarios:

  • When solving any mathematical operation. There we make exclusive use of reason.
  • Infer that the alternation between day and night is due to the rotational movement of the earth on its axis.
  • Know that the formation of hurricanes is due to the earth’s natural method of balancing its temperature, which occurs in certain areas of the planet and not in others.
  • Infer that tides are produced by gravitational force exerted by the moon on the earth.

As can be seen, in order to arrive at this knowledge it was necessary to exercise reason. Well, with only the evidence we would have remained in the phenomena without delving into or analyzing their ultimate causes.

Mathematics and rationalism.
Mathematics is closely related to rationalism.

A position that contributed to knowledge

Rationalism was a philosophical movement that not only placed the problem of knowledge among the main topics of discussion, but also raised topics such as the relationship between body and mind or the nature of passions and freedom. These continue to be the subject of interesting philosophical reflections.

Furthermore, defending the self-sufficiency of human reason to explain reality, it contributed to placing the subject in a privileged position vis-à-vis religious authority. Something that prevailed throughout the Middle Ages.

The post Rationalism: what it is, typologies and examples to apply in everyday life appeared for the first time in research-school



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