Rationalism vs. Romanticism

Rationalism is a particular view about the way the world is; what we can know about it; and a bit about what people are like.

The basic idea is that you can’t trust your senses, only your intellect. There are a number of reasons for believing this, the simplest and most commonly-cited of which are the ones listed by Descartes, often thought of as the first rationalist, in his “Meditations”. One is that sometimes your senses deceive you; for example, a straight stick in a glass of water looks bent. As Descartes put it, it is unwise to ever really trust those who have deceived you once; if your senses deceive you sometimes, how do you know they aren’t deceiving you all the time?

Descartes examined everything he believed, and if he thought it was even possible that he might be wrong, he cast that belief out; in the end, the only thing he was sure he knew was that he was thinking, and it takes something to be there to be thinking, so he could infer that he existed (this move has been criticized by later philosophers). Rationalists see the existence of external objects as open to doubt.

On top of this, Descartes added a set of things he could be sure about because they were true by definition, like “all triangles have three corners” or “all bachelors are unmarried men”. These are things he could know without knowing anything else about the world (called a priori in philosophy) and that everyone is born knowing (because they are true by definition, you cannot not know them; that’s contentious, but it’s what he said. These are called innate beliefs). For this reason, ‘rationalism’ is also used to describe any view that attributes a lot of significance to mental properties or innate intellectual abilities; in trying to explain how children learn to speak, Naom Chomsky famously said that children are born with an innate aptitude for language, almost like knowing a language all of their own, before they are born; this is a rationalist approach to language-learning.

Romanticism is a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual.
It Elicits emotion and glamorizes the events. Not romantic as in candles, soft music, and good food, but romanticism as in patriotism, nationalism, or devotion to a cause

Romanticism was a reaction to rationalism as much as it was a result of the social changes. As rationalism became more popular, more people started questioning the assumption that human nature was rooted in rationalism. The “romantics” are the philosophers and literary writers who addressed irrational motivations in human nature, particularly emotions.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was considered the first romanticist, and romanticism grew with the increasing popularity of his books. In The Social Contract, Rousseau questions the whole idea that people need government and argues that education

should focus on individuality, not society.


“Man is born free and yet we see him everywhere in chains.”




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3 responses to “Rationalism vs. Romanticism

  1. Hi, Ive been a lurker around your blog for a few months. I love this article and your entire site! Looking forward to reading more!

  2. This is somewhat different from what I have learned … Interesting point of view there!

  3. Pingback: WHOLE DUDE – WHOLE EQUALITY | Bhavanajagat

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