We explain what rationalism is, its origin and its main characteristics. In addition, their representatives, conclusions and more.

What is rationalism?

Rationalism is a philosophical current that emerged at the end of the 17th century in France . It was characterized by recognizing reason as the only source of knowledge and as a pillar of society that allowed development through the search for logical understanding. Its main representatives were René Descartes , Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz.

Rationalism opposed the empiricist thinking that prevailed in England in the early 17th century, which relied on perceived experience with the senses to understand the world. He held that the senses can sometimes fail or mislead as to what is perceived.

For the rationalist current, reality had a structure that was based on logic and that could be grasped by reason or intellect. That is why he considered reason as the main source and proof of knowledge.

Characteristics of rationalism

Among the main characteristics of rationalism are:

  • It was a philosophical current that considered reason as the only way to acquire knowledge.
  • He defended the idea that the world was logical and orderly , that is why reason and thought were capable of understanding it.
  • He considered that the knowledge of the truth or the authenticity of things was a matter of the intellect and not of the senses .
  • He considered that all knowledge was acquired through the ability to reason that could be unlimited .
  • The philosopher and mathematician René Descartes is considered the founder of the movement . He held that only through reason could certain universal truths be known.
  • He argued that the human spirit had innate ideas or mental structures , that is, prior to its birth on Earth and that they were given by God .
  • It was of great influence for secular and anti-religious thought.

Origin of rationalism

The word rationalism comes from the Latin “ ratio ” which means reason or calculation and refers to the human ability to establish relationships between various concepts in order to understand the world. Philosophical rationalism arose in a historical moment of paradigm shifts called the Scientific Revolution , which proposed a new model of thought and understanding of nature , starting in the 16th century.

The Scientific Revolution was characterized by Copernicus' heliocentric theory in which the Earth and the other planets revolved around the Sun , Mendel's laws of genetic inheritance, and Darwin 's theory of biological evolution through natural selection.

In this context, rationalism was defined as a philosophical current that sought to explain human experience and the events that occurred around it based on logic and intellect.

Rationalism opposed empiricist, esoteric doctrines and various ways of thinking that emphasized the emotional or unconscious over the logic of reason. He even opposed supernatural faith and many religious doctrines that held that the divine was revealed through inspired people.

Representatives of rationalism

Representatives of rationalism

Among the main representatives of rationalism stand out:

  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650) . He was a French philosopher, mathematician and physicist and the first modern rationalist. He laid the foundations of rationalism with his work Discourse on the method and his contributions were of great influence for philosophy , mathematics and physics. One of his most famous phrases is: “I think, therefore I am”.
  • Baruch Spinoza (1652-1677) . He was a Dutch philosopher who stood out for raising the relationship between reason and the passions, which he considered as a type of affection, therefore, they were an idea of reason. His concept of passion was related to the Greek philosophy of Stoicism in which emotions or feelings could be controlled by the willpower of the individual.
  • Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). He was a French mathematician, physicist and philosopher who stood out for his contributions, such as the arithmetic machine, his new theories about the vacuum and the Treatise on the balance of liquids . From philosophy, he maintained that the need to believe or religions were nothing more than a form of manifestation of the infinite anxiety of the human being .
  • Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). He was a German polymath, philosopher and politician who stood out for his large number of contributions, such as mathematical differential calculus, the binary language that was the basis of the programming language in the future, or dynamics as part of the physics that studies movement. He affirmed that no event occurred without a sufficient reason for it to do so.

Conclusion of rationalism

Rationalism considered it necessary to doubt everything that happened and was not based on perceptions to know the truth because the senses could distort reality. However, he did not doubt the existence of the human being, hence the premise "I think, therefore I am". To know the universal truth, the capacity of the intellect or reason was necessary.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


MA student of the TransAtlantic Masters program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Political Science with a focus on European Studies. Expressed ideas are open to revision. He not only covers Technical articles but also has skills in the fields of SEO, graphics, web development and coding. .

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