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edwin curley

Subject Philosophy » Epistemology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631192589.1993.x


‘rationalism’ is a multiply ambiguous term whose meaning varies greatly according to the context. The common thread running through its various uses seems to be that the philosopher classified as a rationalist gives undue weight to reason at the expense of something else: in religion, that may be revelation or faith; in politics, tradition; in morals, feeling or sentiment; in epistemology, experience, etc. This apparent commonality is deceptive, however, since ‘reason’ tends to bear different meanings in the different contexts, referring to a faculty of a priori knowledge in epistemology, but being construed much more broadly in religion, morals or politics. The term does generally seem to carry a negative connotation; it is one philosophers typically apply to those with whom they disagree, not to themselves. The most significant use of the concept of epistemological rationalism is to organize the textual data of the period from Descartes to Kant so that they tell a coherent story with an edifying moral. Modern philosophy, it is often said, begins with a rationalist reaction against scholastic Aristotelianism, a reaction that privileges mathematics as a model of human knowledge. Ideally our knowledge of ourselves, of God and of the world ought to be organized into a deductive system, in which all truths are derived from a relatively small number of axioms and definitions, whose ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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