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Rationalism Defined, The Roots Of Rationalism, René Descartes, Benedict Spinoza, Nicolás Malebranche, Gottfried Wilhelm Von Leibniz

In the final section of the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant distinguishes empiricism and rationalism:

In respect of the origin of the modes of "knowledge through pure reason," the question is as to whether they are derived from experience, or whether in independence of experience they have their origin in reason. Aristotle may be regarded as the chief of the empiricists, and Plato as the chief of the noologists [rationalists]. Locke, who in modern times followed Aristotle, and Leibniz, who followed Plato … have not been able to bring this conflict to any definitive conclusion. [Kemp Smith, trans.]

The School of Athens (1510–1511) by Raphael. In Raphael's fresco, Plato is pointing towards the heavens, indicating what he saw as the unchanging truths of knowledge, while Aristotle points downwards, symbolizing his belief that learning came from human experience. SCALA / ART RESOURCE, NY

Kant's vision of a conflict between empiricism and rationalism remains to this day the organizing principle for discussions of early modern metaphysics and epistemology. Kant may have overstated the extent to which there was a conflict between empiricists and rationalists: it has recently been suggested that both may be seen as pursuing the common project of defining the scope and limits of human knowledge. It has also been charged that the very distinction between empiricism and rationalism should be rejected. I believe that the distinction usefully captures certain defining features of early modern philosophy and that the terms rationalism and empiricism should be retained.

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