The significance of rationalism

Rationalism is often argued to be a creature of the enlightenment and an enemy of spiritualism, mysticism and faith. ‘The Age of Reason’ has all but destroyed the uniqueness of mankind and has riddled the world with bureaucratic managers: technical elites who manipulate ideas, and belief in ideas, in order to achieve their own self serving ends. Given that this might be the case it must be remembered that rationalism is a tool. If the rise of a technical elite has resulted that is because it has been misused.

Rationalism concerns two main things. The first is the genesis of ideas, the second is the critiquing of those ideas. Because it claims knowledge is only discoverable through inner reason and has no room for external claims to knowledge, such as that provided by a divinity, rationalism has many enemies. Yet one of its earliest proponents, Socrates, stated; ‘all I know is that I know nothing,’ entering another variable into the debate. If a reality can not be known then where to begin? Rationalists begin with ideas, often being confused with empiricists, who, having claimed the existence of discoverable facts, then employ science to discover them.

Rational ideas are important. They are the basis of all technology and invention, from life saving medicine to the myriad forms of entertainment we enjoy. Blaming rationalism for the ills of the world is not only mistaken it is an antithesis of the human condition, of which thought and consideration is central. Without rationalism we return to burning people alive. It wasn’t because someone thought it wrong that the burning stopped but because rationalism defeated ignorance.


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