Assess The Difference Between Empiricists And Rationalists

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Where do our ideas come from? Where do our facts and information come from? What is knowledge? How do we learn? These are just a few of the questions epistemology attempts to answer and is the highlight of one of the major clashes in the history of philosophy - the difference of opinions between rationalists and empiricists. Empiricism is the theory that the inception of all knowledge is through experience sensed via the five senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Rationalism is the theory in philosophy which claims that reason is the ultimate source of human knowledge. Rationalists and empiricists take contrary ideas on how knowledge is attained. The argument between rationalist and empiricist philosophers looks at the nature of knowledge,…show more content…
He uses this analogy of wax to explain how mind and body must be separate things. He begins by using a piece of wax and identifies the properties of the wax through his senses. Is it hard or soft? Does is smell? What does it look like? What does it taste like? He knows the properties of the wax through his senses. But when the wax is placed next to a fire, or any heat source, these properties change and the wax is now unrecognizable from its original observed state. When the wax melts, it looks different and feels different. According to Descartes, we cannot know the wax through our senses since the properties shift when placed next to heat, but we still recognize it to be the same piece of wax. Descartes says that we therefore know the wax through our intellect (mind) implying that one’s senses can be misleading because the sensible properties of a physical object can be altered. Our senses record information, but it is the mind which interprets this information so we know that the object is that object. The mind precedes knowledge and physical things. The fact that we see confirms our presence, but without the mind we could not know objects. When Descartes sees the wax, it proves his existence even if it does not prove the existence of the wax. Therefore, we know our minds better than we know physical objects.…show more content…
He begins his argument with observations of the wax in different states which he can only do by using his senses – empirical data. This shows how easily our senses help to establish our assessment of corporeal things. Without the senses he would never have been able to have made those observations and so if his conclusion is true he has weakened his own argument. This “mind-body dualism” presented by Descartes – the concept that mind and body are distinct –does not explain the interaction between mind and body. If mind are body are separate entities, and for his theory to hold, Descartes must provide a causal interaction between the mind and body – between the physical and metaphysical.
I feel that Descartes underestimated the role of the senses as it pertains to knowledge. The senses by themselves are insufficient to define knowledge since they are often deceived as Descartes expressed in the “Wax Argument”. However, our senses do help us understand the true nature of things.
It seems reasonable that perception is a mixture of both the intellect and the senses. Also, Descartes does not bother to differentiate between certain qualities and qualities in general. When the wax melts, the color may change and the size may decrease to some extent, but the wax still maintains

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