philosophical view that reason should be the chief source of knowledge

In philosophy, rationalism is the epistemological view that "regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge" or "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification". More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive".


  • In our modern world we have seen inaugurated the reign of a dull bourgeois rationalism, which finds some inadequate reason for all things in heaven and earth and makes a god of its own infallibility.
    • John Buchan, A Lodge in the Wilderness (1906), Chapter III, p. 69.
  • A prerequisite for a fruitful study of the rationalist, then, is a readiness to be open-minded, and a willingness to discard some of the caricatures from which 'rationalism' has sufferde in our own time. Many of the distortions arise from a tendecy to see rationalism as a kind of seemless web, so that any philosopher whose thought contains rationalist elements is seen as being committed to the wildest excesses of speculative metaphysics. What should by now be starting to emerge is that 'rationalism' stands not for a monolithic philosophical doctrine, but rather for a cluster of overlapping views and ideas.
  • Rationalism... is a secularized form of the belief in the power of the word of God.
  • It is no accident that Cartesian rationalism was completely blind to the forces of historical evolution. And what it applied to the past it proclaimed as programme for the future: that man in the full knowledge of what he was doing should deliberately create such a civilization and social order as the process of his reason enabled him to design. Rationalism in this sense is the doctrine which assumes that all institutions which benefit humanity have in the past and ought in the future to be invented in clear awareness of the desirable effects that they produce; that they are to be approved and respected only to the extent that we can show that the particular effects they will produce in any given situation are preferable to the effects another arrangement would produce; that we have it in our power so to shape our institutions that of all possible sets of results that which we prefer to all others will be realized; and that our reason should never resort to automatic or mechanical devices when conscious consideration of all factors would make preferable an outcome different from that of the spontaneous process. It is from this kind of social rationalism or constructivism that all modern socialism, planning and totalitarianism derives.
    • Friedrich Hayek, "Kinds of Rationalism", The Economic Studies Quarterly (1965)
  • Reason quite properly rejects contradiction, but rationalism abhors mystery, which every heresy attempts in its own way to resolve.
  • The revolutionary bourgeoisie which established its power against feudalism could only develop a philosophy of history and of society in which, on the one hand, it spoke for the progress of all society, and on the other, for itself as the leaders of society. This philosophy can be summed up in one word: rationalism.
  • Rationalism is the philosophy of bourgeois political economy. It is materialist and not idealist in so far as it combats superstition, seeks to expand the productive forces and increase the sum total of goods. But there is no such thing as a classless materialism. Rationalism conceives this expansion as a division of labor between the passive masses and the active elite. Thereby it reinstates idealism. Because it does not and cannot doubt that harmonious progress is inevitable by this path, the essence of rationalism is uncritical or vulgar materialism, and uncritical or vulgar idealism. In the springtime of capitalism this rationalistic division of labor was the basis of a common attempt of individual men associated in a natural environment to achieve control over nature. Today this division of labor is the control in social production of the administrative elite over the masses. Rationalism has reached its end in the complete divorce and absolute disharmony between manual and intellectual labor, between the socialized proletariat and the monster of centralized capital. The specific political ideology developed by rationalism was democracy – equality of opportunity for all men to rise to the top, and hence equality in all spheres outside of production, before the law, at the polls and in the market.
  • Today, from end to end of the world, men know that democracy is bankrupt. What is to take its place they do not know. The alternative seems to be planned economy and one-party state. This is the philosophical question. But the philosophy of planned economy and one-party state is distinguishable from that of the bourgeoisie only by its more complete rationalism. The labor bureaucracy in power or out of it sees the solution to the crisis of production in scientific progress, greater output. It consciously seeks to plan and organize the division of labor as the means to further accumulation of capital. In ideology it is ready to expropriate those representatives of private property who stand in the way of this complete rationalization. But didn’t this bureaucracy develop out of the working class? It did and it could only have developed out of the working class. It is a product of the modern mass movement, created by the centralization of capital, and holds its position only because of this movement. At the same time it cannot conceive the necessity for abolishing the division of labor in production, the only solution to the crisis in production. By a remorseless logic, therefore, representation of the proletariat turns into its opposite, administration over the proletariat. The end of bourgeois rationalism is this crisis of the revolution and counter-revolution in production.
  • The only satisfied rationalists today are blinkered scientists and Marxists.
    • Iris Murdoch, Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953), Ch. 7. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1989, p. 113.
  • Rationalism in politics, as I have interpreted it, involves an identifiable error, a misconception with regard to the nature of human knowledge, which amounts to a corruption of the mind. And consequently it is without the power to correct its own short-comings; it has no homeopathic quality; you cannot escape its errors by becoming more sincerely or more profoundly rationalistic.
  • "Rationalism" is a historical concept that contains within itself a world of contradictions.
    • Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905; 1920), Ch. 2 : The "Spirit" of Capitalism
  • Christianity, the foolishness of the Cross, the irrational faith that Christ rose from the dead in order to raise us from the dead, was saved by the rationalistic Hellenic culture, and this in its turn was saved by Christianity. Without Christianity the Renaissance would have been impossible. Without the Gospel, without St. Paul, the peoples who had traversed the Middle Ages would have understood neither Plato nor Aristotle. A purely rationalist tradition is as impossible as a tradition purely religious.
    • Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense Of Life 1921 Chapter VI In The Depths of the Abyss
  • Every purely personal relationship of man to man, of whatever sort and even including complete enslavement, may be subjected to ethical requirements and ethically regulated. This is true because the structures of these relationships depend upon the individual wills of the participants, leaving room in such relations for manifestations of the virtue of charity. But this is not the situation in the realm of economically rationalised relationships, where personal control is exercised in inverse ratio to the degree of rational differentiation of the economic structure.

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