Essay on Rationalism and Empiricism

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Rationalism and Empiricism

Wile E. Coyote, a cartoon character that invents new ways to kill the Road Runner. Suppose Wile E. Cayote creates a new “Road Runner Trap” involving a large cage, ropes, a snow-maker, and poison, and submits his invention to Acme Company and requests a patent on his new invention. I will argue that people cannot create new ideas and that Wile E. Coyote’s invention is not new, but simply an idea that combines older inventions, ideas, experiences, and impressions.

Rationalism is a theory of Philosophy which states that the foundation of knowledge is reasoning. People are rational, in the manner that they use reasoning to determine if an idea is true or false. Descartes argued that some knowledge is justified as a priori when it leads to another knowledge. Descartes will not argue that we create new ideas because every idea has a cause. For example, in Descartes’ “Cognito ergo sum,” which refers to “I think, therefore I am,” states, “… two plus three make five, and a square does not have more than four sides.” (Descartes, 103). Therefore, the result, “five”, is not new, but a combination of older other numbers.

Empiricism is a theory of Philosophy which states that the foundation of knowledge is experiences derived from senses. Empiricism, therefore, emphasizes the use of experiences from senses to acquire knowledge. David Hume states, “When we analyze our thoughts or ideas, however, compounded or sublime, we always find they resolve themselves into such simple ideas as were copied from a precedent feeling or sentiment.” (Hume, 2). From the statement, Hume would not argue we can create new ideas. For example, in Hume’s “Missing Shade of Blue” argument, he states that it is possible for a person to supply the missing shade of blue color, though he had not been acquainted with it for thirty years and it had never been conveyed to him by his senses. However, the instance is singular and cannot be used alone to dispute the general maxim that the foundation of knowledge is experience from senses.

We cannot create new ideas because there must be the causes of the ideas. If there are causes, then the result is not new, but a combination of older inventions, ideas, experiences and impressions. For example, when Apple developed an iPad, it was not a new idea, but a combination of ideas in computing. Apple needed Microsoft’s idea of operating system and applications to develop an iPad. Therefore, Wile E. Coyote’s idea of his invention is not new because it is a combination of older ideas, for example, a cage, rope, snow-maker and poison.

Also, since experiences from senses supply the idea, then the idea is not new. When something is felt and experienced, it means it existed before, therefore, not new. For example, when a person senses sound, and goes on to create another rhythm based on the sound heard, then the new rhythm is not new, but a combination of the old sound. Therefore, based on the theories of rationalism and empiricism, Wile. E Coyote’s idea of his invention was not new.


Descartes, Rene.n.d. “Meditations on First Philisophy” (I and II).

Hume, David. 2011. “Section II. The Origins of Ideas.” From EnquiryConcerning The Human Understanding. From Selby-Bigge (Ed), TheProject Gutenberg EBook, Sections 12-16. Original publication, 1777.Retrieved from


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