The DifferenceRationalism supports the use of logic, debate, thought experiments and intuition to develop knowledge. Empiricism strictly conforms to measurement and observation such as an experiment.
CommonalitiesBoth rationalism and empiricism seek robust evidence for knowledge and are used by science and other disciplines to discover what can reasonably be viewed as fact. Rationalism seeks observation and measurement where it is possible but is willing to go beyond this to develop theories and laws that are difficult to directly confirm with the senses.
RolesIn practice, both rationalism and empiricism play a complementary role. For example, a physicist may develop a model of the relationship between space and time using a thought experiment. With peer review and validation this may eventually be viewed by rationalists as a well-accepted theory. Many decades later, this theory may be confirmed with empirical evidence. It is unlikely such a theory could be developed without a thought experiment as it is a leap forward in thinking that is not obvious from the numbers. As such, many theories that are now accepted by empiricists were first identified by rationalists. Generally speaking, rationalism is a far more powerful tool of discovery and empiricism plays a role in creating greater certainty that knowledge is indeed correct.
Hypothetical ExampleAn uncontacted society on a small island develops a theory in the year 1310 that other islands may also be populated with other societies. This is based on a rational argument such as "our island has people so it is possible that other islands have people." This becomes an accepted theory within the society but empiricists on the island aren't happy because the theory hasn't been confirmed with observation or measurement. In the year, 1780 ships are spotted in the horizon several times and empiricists begin to accept the theory. By 1880, garbage from other societies such as fishing nets first arrive on the shores of the island and empiricists on the island accept the theory as fact due to the mounting evidence they have collected and studied.
|Rationalism vs Empiricism|
The philosophy that knowledge can be discovered by thinking.
The philosophy that knowledge can only be discovered by observation and measurement.