- Describe the basic issues in metaphysics and epistemology between Idealists and Materialists
Metaphysically and epistemologically, the philosophical view that human beings have both mind and body is termed as dualism. However, there is much philosophical disagreement (dichotomy) about the exact association between mind (spirit) and body (matter).
Idealists hold the view that the mind is distinct from physical objects while the materialists maintain the exact opposite. For the former, the self and personality are attributable to one’s immortal soul while for the latter, they assert that the mind (soul) is in some ways a product of the body. Furthermore, generally, idealists hold the view that the act of knowing takes place in the mind and that is made known to man intuitively by means of his reason; whereas, in general, materialists asserts that matter is all that exists. Idealism, thus, is a philosophical perspective where the material objects owe their existence to the mind; on the contrary, materialists believe that the mind is reducible to material processes and things.
Idealists claim that the physical world is made up of an infinite mind (spirit) and that reality, in its entirety, is primarily incorporeal and that knowledge is not dependent on any sensory experience. Nonetheless, for idealists, reality (psychological experience) can only be understood by the mind (ideas). Under the fold of the idealists, there are objective realists who view abstractions (ideas) more fundamental to reality than sensible objects whereas the subjective idealists privilege sense perception over abstraction.
On the other hand, materialists (also called physicalists) maintain that the physical world consists of matter, which is infinite in scale and time because of the conservation of matter into energy and vice versa. Hence, they disagree with the idealists that the mind can be made up of anything known at present. Nevertheless, at the epistemological level, there are materialists who hold the view that the sphere of the ideal is contingent upon material entities for which human beings are subject. As such, materialists also presuppose the knowable entities (or interpreted and constructed forms) simply as the exact objective existence. From that fact, epistemological materialists thus emphasize the efficiency of existential transfactuality and intransitivity of the object of man’s scientific understanding. Briefly stated, the materialists’ assertion is that cognition (knowledge) should refer to physical entities for them to make sense.
Inferably, metaphysically and epistemologically, idealists believe that reality is entirely contained within man’s conscious mind. It can either be your own mind, the mind of others and/or the mind of God. It follows also that outside of the mind, there is nothing that exists. Materialists, on the other hand, maintain that the mind is insufficient to explain the known physical. Hence, materialists refer to the world of “unfeeling and unthinking matter,” which form everything (even the mind) that exists. It is worth noting, according to the materialists, that the products of the mind (imagination) are caused by physico-chemical reactions in the human brain, which is a material object.
For my part, although simplistic, I believe in the dualistic nature of the spiritual and physical world. Everything I see is tangible (or not such as air, although it has mass); while, everything that I do not see (vacuum) is intangible or beyond the reach of my sensory experience. Hence, I consider idealism and materialism, respectively, since I have thoughts and imagination (dreams and aspirations), as well as, the physical / visible world where there are also unseen manifestations.
- Describe how Empiricists differ from Rationalists on the basic issues of philosophy.
Metaphysically and epistemologically, the philosophical view that man ‘sees’ reality as it is, is based on his own reason (rationalists) or observation/experience (empiricists). A philosophical rift, however, has been in existence for centuries whether the former holds greater weight than the latter.
Rationalists maintain that reality and knowledge are derived from reason (rational thought/logic), which far exceed the limits of experience (practical sensation). They further argue the truths of reason are defensibly right on its own even without an account of the scientific (observable) world. This brings into the fore the reasoning that in every human undertaking, it is thinking that is primarily involved where the sequential association of ideas (reasons) means associative progression of events.
In addition, rationalists attach significance to mathematics (exact science) for human knowledge; thereby, attempting to establish its close association with metaphysics. As such, they emphasize a priori (derived by logic without resorting to observed facts) truths even before their sensory experience of them. Briefly stated, rationalists believe that reality and knowledge come from one’s logical reasoning apart from the observable world (that is, even without the use of experimentation, observation or experience).
Empiricists, on the other hand, claim that reality and knowledge are derived from the senses or a posteriori truths by means of physical interaction with the actual world. In general, empiricists dismiss a priori truths and thus discredit (metaphysical) concepts such as essence, god, substance and the like. For them, concepts have no experiential (observable, confirmatory) bases.
Furthermore, empiricists maintain that there’s any innate knowledge and so base their views on the natural sciences and the use of the scientific method. Hence, empiricists have the supposition that through observation (that is using the scientific method), every truth can be revealed. Like what Locke have stated: There is nothing in the human mind that was not already in his senses. Briefly stated, empiricists hold the view that experience (or the observable world) is where human reality and knowledge emanate, that is, the pursuit of them by means of experience, experimentation or actual evidence.
For my part, I believe that both rationalists and empiricists have their points well-accounted for. There are, for instance, mathematical axioms that are a priori, that is, even without having subjected them to actual testing, verification or experimentation. Likewise, I believe that empiricists need the observable world for the use of the scientific method to confirm or verify the validity of a theory. Although, a theory, whether philosophical or scientific, may be overturn by other evidences, without them, it requires more insights and inference before any confirmation can be obtained. So, both rationalists and empiricists are needed to make a necessary and sufficient view about the world as we (or not yet) see partly. It is hard to imagine (or even corporeally sense) that rationalists are correct where empiricists are mistaken at some point of their perspectives – and vice versa. Hence, both of them can be right on their own right considering that there are myriad of viewpoints, for instance, truths of mathematics and of the natural sciences.
Cottingham, John, 1984, Rationalism, London: Paladin Books.
Markie, P. (Summer 2012 Edition). Rationalism vs. Empiricism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (Ed.). Retrieved from
- How does Utilitarianism approach the basic questions of philosophy differently from other schools of thought?
- Explain how Existentialists view metaphysics and epistemology differently from others.
- Choose a category of thought and discuss its major issues, i.e. Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ethics, Social /Political thought.
- Choose a famous philosopher (other than the one chosen by your learning team) and write a brief description of his or her major contributions to thought.