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7 Examples of Rationalism

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Rationalism is the view that reason is a valid source of knowledge even where this can't be confirmed with observation. This can be contrasted with empiricism that requires all knowledge to be based on observation such as measurement. The following are illustrative examples of rationalism.

Innate Knowledge

The view that humans naturally have access to knowledge. For example, an innate sense of morals or aesthetics that can't be improved with measurement.

Innate Concepts

The view that humans naturally comprehend a set of concepts that are true knowledge. Plato referred to these as the forms -- a set of immutable, timeless and changeless concepts that can be used to understand things. For example, a mathematician who innately understands the concept of zero.


Intuition is the apparent ability for people to know things that are determined by processes unknown to their conscious mind. The Ancient Greeks, including the likes of Plato and Socrates, viewed this as a connection to a mystical and timeless force. Modern science tends to attribute intuition to the unconscious mind. Either way, rationalists view intuition as a valid source of knowledge. For example, Einstein attributed his theories to intuition saying "There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition ..."

First Principles

Rationalism views innate knowledge and concepts to be first principles from which much can be deduced. For example, Einstein's Theory of Relativity can be used to calculate the effect of the speed of a satellite on time in order to sync a highly accurate clock with Earth time. This can all be done with theories and equations that Einstein produced with rational thought.


Rationalism has superior ability to work in abstraction as compared to observation and measurement. For example, the concept of freedom is completely abstract and difficult to observe or measure but is innately understood by humans.

Human Experience

Elements of the human experience such as emotion or spirituality are difficult to observe or measure but can be innately understood. For example, a concept such as love is understood by people such that they can think about it despite not being able to observe it as a tangible physical thing.


Rationalists tend to view rational thought as the highest order of thinking. They aren't necessarily against observation and measurement such as the scientific method but may view this as a less powerful method than pure rational thought. For example, mathematics is largely based on rational thought and is the basis for all sciences.


Rationalism is the belief that thinking is a source of knowledge independent of the need to observe and measure.
Overview: Rationalism
The view that reason is a valid source of knowledge even where this can't be confirmed with observation.
Related Concepts
Next: Rational Thought
More about thinking:
Common Sense
Concrete Things
Defense Mechanisms
Design Thinking
Four Causes
Objective Reason
Optimistic Drift
Real World
Working Backwards
More ...
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Albert Einstein, Principles of Research, Address at the Physical Society, Berlin, for Max Planck's 60th birthday, 1918.


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