The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is not about continental rationalism.

Rationalism, also known as the rationalist movement, is a philosophical doctrine that asserts that the truth should be determined by reason and factual analysis, rather than faith, dogma or religious teaching. Rationalism has some similarities in ideology and intent to secular humanism and atheism, in that it aims to provide a framework for social and philosophical discourse outside of religious or supernatural beliefs; however, rationalism differs from both of these, in that:

  • As its name suggests, humanism is centered around human society and achievements. Rationalism makes no claims that humans are more important than animals or any other part of nature. There are some rationalists who strongly oppose the anthropocentric philosophy of humanism.
  • Atheism is the condition of being without theistic beliefs and alternatively the disbelief in or denial of deities; rationalism makes no statement either way regarding the actual existence of deities although it rejects any belief based on faith alone. Although there is a strong atheistic influence in modern rationalism, with prominent rational scientists such as Richard Dawkins holding atheistic views, not all rationalists are atheists, and there is a greater compatibility with agnosticism (which asserts that the existence of deities is irrelevant or indeterminable) than strong atheism.

Outside of religious discussion, the discipline of rationalism may be applied more generally, for example to political or social issues. In these cases it is the rejection of emotion, tradition or fashionable belief which is the defining feature of the rationalist perspective.

During the middle of the twentieth century there was a strong tradition of organised rationalism, which was particularly influenced by free thinkers and intellectuals.

Modern rationalism has little in common with the historical philosophy of continental rationalism expounded by René Descartes. Indeed, a reliance on empirical science is often considered a hallmark of modern rationalism, whereas Continental Rationalism rejected empiricism entirely.

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04