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Compare and contrast rationalist and empiricist approaches to human nature.

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Compare and contrast rationalist and empiricist approaches to human nature. In order to compare and contrast the different approaches to human behaviour that the rationalist and empiricist have, it will be necessary to look at several psychologist and their theories. It is most important to first look at the main differences in the approaches that rationalist and empiricist take and secondly to look at the theories of Rene Descartes (1596-1650): Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): John Locke's (1632-1704) and lastly an overview of the thoughts of: Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), Christian Wolff (1679-1754), David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Rationalism is Latin for 'reason' and in science it means 'do not trust your senses as they can be misleading'. Rationalists do not trust senses and put their faith in mathematical proof. In psychology rationalist believe in the 'mind' and innate qualities. Rationalism tends to thrive in France and Italy. Empiricism is Greek for 'experience' and in science means 'trust your senses'. Empiricists use observation, facts and experience to guide them on what can be known. ...read more.


According to Descartes the metaphysical mind lives in the physical brain, which leaves the question of how can something metaphysical control something? Therefore we are left with the 'ghost in the machine' problem. British empiricist, Thomas Hobbes claimed that Descartes theory was not scientific. Hobbes attempted to solve Descartes 'ghost in the machine problem', although Hobbes agreed with everything that Descartes stated about the body he rejected claims that did not make sense, specifically the mind, in doing this he was rejecting Cartesian dualism (Hobbes was a monist). Hobbes claim that the mind did not exist, this meant that humans were no different to animals and that humans did not have the ability to reason. Hobbes believed that all living things are motivated to pursue pleasure and to avoid unpleasure, this being known as hedonism. John Locke tried to establish a compromise between Descartes and Hobbes. Although a British empiricist, Locke agreed with the ideas put forward by Descartes. Locke agreed with dualism and the minds ability to reason, however he rejected Descartes claim that humans have innate knowledge (beauty, truth and justice); Locke claimed that at birth the mind was a tabula rasa (blank slate) ...read more.


David Hume tried to establish how learning is learnt, he believed that this was achieved through 'associationism'. Hume claimed that associationism happened in three ways, similarity, cause and effects, and contiguity. Hume claimed that human action was a result of experience and experience acts as a cue as to what to do next. After reading the work of Hume, Immanual Kant, an orthodox German rationalist, tried to prove him wrong......WHY? ON WHAT?... Kant put forward the idea that supposing there was two worlds, the 'noumena' - the world as God sees it, and the 'phenomena' - the way that humans experience the world. Kant claimed that 'humans only see the world through human eye and not as it really is therefore our minds mould our experiences'. Kant also contradicts Hobbes claim that we are no different from animals by stating that each animal species sees the world their way To conclude, Rene Descartes theory of human nature laid the foundation for other theorist to build upon. However it is the work of John Locke that takes the more realistic approach and that is to compromise both the rationalists and empiricists' ideas as they both have some very important ideas. ...read more.

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This essay includes a lot of points about the key thinkers. Unfortunately these points lack explanation and clarity and are often a little dubious. The claims of the essay are at their weakest when the writer makes broad generalisations without support. The biggest problem with this essay is that the numerous points it makes are made in complete isolation from each other. We are offered simply a list of the views of each theorist, with virtually no explanation of what these claims mean or why they are significant. One example: we are told whether most of the thinkers think that humans are "the same" as animals or "different", but without explanation of what this means or why it is relevant. Without this kind of further comment, the information is definitely irrelevant to the essay. More generally there is no sense of a theme or point developing in the essay. What would be far better would be a series of simple points, clearly explained, about the stances of the thinkers and then some comment about the general differences and strengths and weaknesses of the rationalists and empiricists. An essay which asks to compare and contrast requires more than simply listing what the various thinkers have thought over the years. The bibliography reveals that only three sources have been consulted: two academic and both psychology texts. Whatever the discipline, it is a good idea, if one is writing about the rationalists and empiricists, to consult a philosophical source. There are a number of first-rate encyclopedias of philosophy available online or introductory philosophy books that would might have provided a much better understanding of the basic ideas involved in this topic.

Marked by teacher David Moss 01/03/2012

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