What Are the Two Approaches to Epistemology?


Jane Flores

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge. It tries to answer questions like “What is knowledge? “, “How do we acquire knowledge?

“, and “What are the limits of knowledge?”. There are two main approaches to epistemology – rationalism and empiricism. Let’s take a closer look at each of these approaches.


Rationalism is the view that knowledge can be acquired through reason and intuition alone, without relying on our senses. According to rationalists, some truths are self-evident and don’t need to be proven.

For example, the statement “All bachelors are unmarried” is true by definition. Similarly, mathematical truths like 2+2=4 are also considered self-evident.

Rationalists believe that our minds have innate ideas that we can access through reason and intuition. These ideas are not learned from experience but are already present in our minds from birth. For example, the idea of God or the concept of justice may be innate.

Examples of Rationalists:

– René Descartes: Descartes is famous for his methodical doubt, where he doubted everything he knew until he arrived at a truth that was certain beyond doubt – “I think, therefore I am”. He believed that this truth was self-evident and didn’t need to be proven.

– Immanuel Kant: Kant believed that some of our knowledge comes from experience, but there are also synthetic a priori truths that we can know independently of experience. These truths are necessary for us to make sense of the world around us.


Empiricism is the view that all knowledge comes from experience. According to empiricists, there is no innate knowledge – everything we know comes from our senses or from reasoning about sensory experience.

Empiricists believe that all human beings start with a blank slate and acquire knowledge gradually through experience. They reject the idea of innate ideas or concepts that are not derived from experience.

Examples of Empiricists:

– John Locke: Locke believed that our minds are blank slates at birth and that all knowledge comes from experience. He distinguished between two types of experience – sensation (which comes from our senses) and reflection (which comes from our ability to think about our own thoughts).

– David Hume: Hume believed that all knowledge comes from sensory experience, and that we can’t know anything beyond what we have experienced. He famously argued that there is no rational justification for believing in cause and effect – we only assume that one event causes another because we have observed them together many times.


In conclusion, both rationalism and empiricism offer different approaches to acquiring knowledge. Rationalism emphasizes the role of reason and intuition, while empiricism emphasizes the importance of sensory experience.

While these two approaches may seem incompatible, many philosophers have tried to reconcile them in various ways. Ultimately, the choice between these two approaches may depend on one’s personal beliefs about the nature of reality and the limitations of human knowledge.