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Rationalism vs. Empiricism

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A particular scene in the global franchise ‘The Hunger Games’ features the character ‘Peeta’ conversing with the character of ‘Katniss’ after being rescued from a facility that ‘conditioned’ him and used psychological torture to change his personality and beliefs, shaping him into an entirely different person with different values. In the scene he appears to be battling the things that he has been ‘taught’ and ‘conditioned’ to believe and the knowledge of the person he was before this.

Rationalism is the idea of being able to logically and rationally think about our actions and their consequences. We have innate knowledge that enables us to think rationally, and that this rationalism is what makes us human. As proposed by Plato and his idea of the ‘tripartite soul’.

Other philosophers who supported the idea that rationalism is what makes us human are René Descartes and Wilhelm Leibniz. Though their ideas differed in the sense that Plato looked up toward some eternal and intangible ‘forms’ while Descartes and Leibniz focused their arguments on the laws of logic. Descartes is often credited to be the father of modern philosophy as well as being a famous mathematician, so it makes sense that he would base his ideas on logic rather than faith.

Empiricism opposes the idea of rationalism, stating that we are born without any ideas in our mind; as a blank slate (Tabula Rasa). Everything we know and believe comes from our experiences of the world. However, known philosopher Immanuel Kant argued against the concept of ‘Tabula Rasa’ instead proposing that we must have some inbuilt knowledge of faculties that enable us to process the experiences.

It also completely rejected the notion that any aspect of us came from a higher being. Instead, many scientists and philosophers started to formulate their ideas using observations of the world instead of religious teachings. Plato’s idea of the tripartite soul states that there are three parts to the human soul – logical, spiritual and appetitive – and that the logical part is exclusive to humans. Plato believed that humans are the only beings that are able to think logically and analytically, thinking about our actions and their consequences instead of just acting on impulse or instinct.

The issue with this idea is that many people would argue that few animals also have the ability to analyse situations and base their actions on what they believe will happen if they do so. There is also the issue of religious influence. Not everyone believes that the soul is real. So saying that the logical part of our supposed soul is what makes us human, and differentiates us from every other species on the planet is not something most atheists would consider to be true or a reliable theory.

Although theists might agree, since some religions believe that humans are the only creatures that have a soul all together. Personally, i don’t think rationality is exclusive to humans, nor do i think it is necessarily what “makes us human” because rationality can be taught. And some people just don’t think rationally to begin with, Instead acting on impulse or what Plato would call the ‘appetitive’ part of the soul.

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The idea of Empiricism dates back to Aristotle and states that all of our knowledge is based on experience, that we learn everything through our experiences of the world as we go through life. This makes sense when you think about children not knowing certain thing are wrong or dangerous because they have never experienced them before, so of course they would have no prior knowledge of the damage they could potentially inflict.

However, the Tabula Rasa theory being correct would mean that we are born with no innate knowledge and everything we know has been discovered through experience. Immanuel Kant meets the two in the middle, not saying that rationalism is something that we are born with and have a natural sense of, but also not claiming that we are a completely blank slate. Kant believed that in order or process all of our experiences we need some kind of innate knowledge. In my opinion, this theory makes the most sense and is most reasonable.

I don’t believe that rationalism is something we are just born with having, but being born with nothing would mean we have no sense of self, so ultimately it could be said that we aren’t born as being conscious beings. This conclusion contradicts so many more branches of this theory/argument that it only creates more questions instead of answering them.

This links in with Peeta’s struggles between distinguishing what he thinks is ‘real’ and what isn’t. He is battling between believing what he was conditioned and ‘taught’ to believe and the things that were familiar to the original version of him. The way Peeta’s mind has been changed to believe completely opposite things it originally did supports the idea of Empiricism.

However, instead of being born as a blank slate, his mind has essentially been wiped clean and ‘reprogrammed’. Although, Peeta showing the struggle between his innate knowledge and the knowledge he has been taught also has links to Plato’s idea, where our natural born instincts and sense of who we are are apparent in Peeta. As he doesn’t completely dismiss the things he once knew and trusted.

Though you could argue that if Peeta was kept under psychological torture to reprogram his mind for a longer period of time, he would completely lose the original version of the person he was once. This could be argued due to his difficulty of remembering basic things that were once natural to him and he wouldn’t even have to think about. So if this ‘therapy’ was carried on for longer, would he become an entirely different person in every aspect?

To conclude, i personally think the situation and condition of the character mostly supports the idea of Empiricism but not indefinitely; as there are still aspects of the person he was before showing through, it could mean that natural instincts and innate knowledge we have cannot just be erased. As for the overall ideas of Rationalism and Empiricism, i don’t think either one is a conclusion that doesn’t have contradictions and questions raised. Humans are already so biologically complex, with our mind, thoughts, and consciousness being even more complicated that it is difficult to come to a conclusion we can be certain is correct.

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Rationalism vs. Empiricism. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“Rationalism vs. Empiricism.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
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