Difference Between Rationalism and Empiricism

Both the terms, Rationalism And Empiricism are related to philosophy. Philosophy is the study of fundamental ideas about knowledge, reasoning, reality, and existence, a specific set of ideas. Both the terms are used under philosophy and sound the same but they have different meanings. Indeed, rationalism and empiricism are terms that are used opposedly. It’s an old controversy.

Rationalism vs Empiricism

The main difference between Rationalism And Empiricism is that rationalism is the knowledge that is derived from reason and logic while on the other hand empiricism is the knowledge that is derived from experience and experimentation. Rationalism is about intuition while empiricism is about visual concepts. Mathematics is rationalism while experimental science is empiricism.

Rationalism vs Empiricism

Rationalism is the term used in philosophy to refer to the knowledge that is derived from reason and logic. It is a view which appeals to reason to be a source of any knowledge. Any justification which is given with a reason or a logic, that is intellectual is rationalism. Rationalists believe that everything has a logic behind it, reality has logic and the logical knowledge is correct.

Empiricism on the other hand is the term in which the main source of knowledge is experience and experimentation. Rather than just an innate idea, empiricists believe that there is a shred of empirical evidence behind every knowledge. It is a philosophy of science that emphasizes evidence, evidence that is discovered through experiments.

Comparison Table Between Rationalism And Empiricism

Parameters of ComparisonRationalismEmpiricism
What is it?Rationalism is the term used in philosophy to refer to the knowledge that is derived from reason and logic.Empiricism is the term used in philosophy in which the main source of knowledge is experience and exp
BeliefRationalists believe that reason can explain the working of the world.The empiricists believe that evidence through experimentation can explain reality.
PrinciplesRationalism is related to mental processes and organizing principles.Empiricism is related to sensory experience and association principles
HistoryThe history of rationalism goes far beyond to the Pythagoras’ time that is 570–495 BCE.  The history of empiricism goes to the era between 600 to 200 BCE.
ExamplesMathematics is an example of rationalism.Experimental Science is an example of empiricism.

What is Rationalism?

Rationalism is a theory on philosophy in which it is believed that reason and logic are the main sources of knowledge. It is a methodology that says that justification or reason is the view that shows the basis of knowledge. Rationalism goes back in history to 570-495 BCE.

Rationalists believe that logic and reasons can reveal the reality of the world, that some truths exist which can be grasped directly through the intellect. Rationalism can be seen in logical reasoning, mathematics, morals and ethics, and metaphysics. Rationalists highly believe that the reason is fundamentally true and they cannot be denied. They believe that knowledge is independent of sensory experience.

There are three basic claims in rationalism. Out of these three claims, rationalists have to adopt at least one. These three thesis are the intuition or deduction thesis, the innate knowledge thesis, and the innate concept thesis. In addition to these, there are two more thesis’s although a person can be a rationalist without adopting either of them. One is the claim of Indispensability of Reason and the second one is the Superiority of Reason claim.

The philosopher and historian William James criticize the theory of rationalism because it is outdated and does not being in touch the reality. He opposed that the rationalist represents the world as a closed system.

What is Empiricism?

Empiricism is the term used in philosophy, which states that experimentation and sensory experience is the major source of knowledge. Rather than ideas empiricism emphasized the pieces of evidence. Experiments and evidence show the reality of the world, according to empiricists.

Throughout history, the theory of empiricism is described as a blank slate that is filled with experience over time. The human mind is like the blank slate which is empty by birth and is filled in by experience, learning, and experiments. Knowledge is based on the experience we gain, the possibilities and probabilities of our actions, the falsification, the experimental procedure.

The word Empirical is derived from an ancient Greek word “empeiria”, which means experience. The history of the belief in empiricism goes far back to 600 to 200 BCE. An ancient Indian philosopher named Kanada had accepted that the two sources of knowledge are perception and inference. This is mentioned in his work called Vaisesika Sutra, which is an ancient Sanskrit text.

Empiricists believe that experience, and memory develops the person and his morals. They also believe that evidence, any kind of proof which is found by experiment can reveal the world’s reality, rather than some reason and logic.

Main Differences Between Rationalism And Empiricism

  1. The main source of knowledge in rationalism is reason and logic. On the other hand, the source of knowledge in empiricism is experimentation.
  2. Rationalists believe that reason can explain the working of the world, the reality. While empiricists believe that evidence through experimentation can explain reality.
  3. Mathematics is considered the paradigm of knowledge in rationalism. While in empiricism, experimental science is the paradigm or example of knowledge.
  4. Rationalism is related to mental processes and organizing principles. Empiricism is related to sensory experience and association principles.
  5. Rationalism is theory while empiricism is an experiment.


Rationalism and Empiricism are both terms used in philosophy. Both the terms are used under the term epistemology, which is a branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Although the terms sound the same, though they are too different from each other. Actually, the terms have always been used as opposed to each other. It’s an old controversy. Though both are theories.

Rationalism regards reasons and logic as the main source of knowledge. They believe in the reasoning behind things and reality. Rationalists believe logic and reason will explain the world’s reality. Rationalists believe that they are independent of sensory experience.

Empiricism regards experimentation and experience as the main source of knowledge. Empiricism emphasizes evidence. In empiricists, view knowledge comes from sensory experience.


  1. https://seop.illc.uva.nl/entries/rationalism-empiricism/
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=szCaXDdhID8C&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=what+is+rationalism&ots=qaTeMdh7Lm&sig=fIT22jVywRfgAoxt2JOqA5xlCy0
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