Empiricists and Rationalists’ Positions on Epistemology


There is an ongoing debate with regards to the concepts of rationalism and empiricism and that has entirely been based on epistemology. Rationalism holds that all believes should be founded on reason as well as knowledge instead of religion or emotional thoughts. On the other hand, empiricism infers that knowledge should entirely be based on sense of experience that is mostly acquired from experimental practices. The concepts of nature, knowledge provisions and its extent are all included in epistemology. Comprehension of the elements of epistemology requires one to realize about the existence of propositional knowledge. That way, propositional knowledge needs to be real and believable.

Moreover, it really needs to exist with a guarantee. The other basic of epistemology is that the way of attaining knowledge needs to be realized. That is through comprehending about the universe through thoughts and enquiry. The contradiction here is that what people know about the world ought not to be the truth. It is vital to note the extent to which people knowledge reach. That means that it is not obvious to know representations of the truth since people’s thoughts have limitations with regards to the nature of the world.  Therefore, the biggest question to be answered is about the source of conflict between the two schools of thought. This paper focuses on the competing rationalist and empirical responses on this question basing the arguments majorly on Theaetetus, Socrates and Plato’s views.

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Socrates’ Argument on Empiricism and Recollection

According to empiricism, there is entire reliance on sense of experience in order to acquire knowledge. In fact, that is based on experimental practices. Looking at Socrates’ definition of empiricism, recollection has been founded under the premises that immortal soul exists as a disembodied situation before death. Socrates argued that the soul has learned things of the world in that when one dies, it can recollect its memories of the world. Socrates argued that experience is vital for one to claim to have knowledge. Socrates demonstrated empiricism and recollection in the following way; if x reminds an individual of y, then that person ought to know Y before X. On another note, the person should recognize X at the same time think of Y. Therefore, Y ought not to be the object of similar knowledge as x. It seems that recollection can be enhanced by correlated items meaning that thoughts and experiences are epitome. The whole idea here is that people tend to recollect knowledge.

Plato’s Argument on Rationalism

According to Plato, epistemology is an account of what knowledge is and it is a form of approved real belief. He holds that there is knowledge, or to some extent it is probable. He then goes further to explore the factors that make it probable. When comprehensively formulated, these factors are on one hand the rational capabilities of humans and on another the elements of knowledge. Plato further argues that “Forms” are the basics elements of knowledge and that they are absent in the real world. For one to know a “Form”, he must be in a position to give its definition which implies that forms are related to each other. For instance, the Form of Human is linked with the Forms of Rationalism and Animalism among others.

The Meno’s Paradox

The Meno is certainly a transitional work between Socratic and the middle period dialogues. The first third of the Meno includes moral questions such as; what is virtue? And is virtue advisable? The last two sections of the Meno are concerned with the epistemological highlights obtained from the statement that that; “virtue is knowledge”. Socrates indicates that recollection is a solution to a paradox presented by Meno which reads:

“For anything F, either an individual knows F or he does not know F and if one knows F, he cannot inquire about F. on the other hand, if the individual does not know about F, he still cannot inquire about F. Thus, for all F, one cannot inquire about F”.

The paradox is resolved by Plato when he demonstrates that there are various ways in which an individual may be said to ‘know’ F and that sometimes, having a belief about F is enough to inquire about it. However, by using the Slave to find the diagonals of a square, Socrates argues that apart from belief, an individual needs an ‘account’ to complete knowledge. For example, suppose Jane has observed a map and determined the route from New York City to Chicago although he has not riven there yet: get on interstate 80 and drive west. On the other hand, Mary has actually driven several times from New York City to Chicago by getting on interstate 80 and driving west. Both Jane and Mary have a similar belief on how to get from NYC to Chicago and both can get there by acting on their belief. However, its only Mary who has the knowledge of the road but Jane has only a true belief. As such, the truth off the belief is not a problem. Rather, Mary has something extra, a kind of justification based on experience which distinguishes her from Jane. Jane has only a true belief on getting there; Mary actually knows. Therefore, in the Meno, one can probably have the first trial to offer an approved real belief account of knowledge. Knowledge is thus, a belief combined with an account.


In appealing to contents analysis, basically an analysis that takes prepositions to be the object of belief and knowledge (empiricism) as opposed to the objects themselves (rationalism), then one allows that there is a path from belief to knowledge. The same conception can be believed or known although it depends on an individual’s justifications or reasons for holding the belief. However, an object analysis is not concerned to an approved true belief account about all knowledge but rather, its left open that knowledge of Forms is somehow fundamental.In the end, whether or not an individual knows or believes that “a square has four equal sides” depends on what he is doing with the object or how he is justifying his belief.