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Continental Rationalism is a philosophical creed that human reason is the
source of knowledge. It originated with Rene Descartes and spread during the
17th and 18th centuries, primarily in continental Europe. In contrast, its
contemporary rival, the British Empiricists held that all knowledge comes to
us through experience or through our senses. At issue is the fundamental
source of human knowledge, and what the proper techniques are for verifying
what we think we know. (See Epistemology.)
Rationalists argued that starting with intuitively-understood basic
principles, like axioms of geometry, one could deductively derive what was
true. Descartes, with his mathematical background, was naturally drawn
toward this method, and famously claimed to derive his own existence from
pure reason (cogito, ergo sum). On the heels of his work came continental
philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibniz who sought to enlarge and refine
the fundamental theory of rationalism.
Immanuel Kant started as a rationalist, but after being exposed to David
Hume's works which "awoke [him] from [his] dogmatic slumbers", Kant arguably
synthesized the rationalist and empiricist traditions.
Rationalism may also be used to refer to a philosophy that human behaviour
and values should be based primarily on rationality, as opposed to emotion