The term rationalism has been used in many different ways; care must be exercised to avoid misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Lucretius* ascribed to Greeks leadership in investigating the essence of things on basis of reason. Rationalism in philos. is usually traced to the Eleatic* School, Pythagoreans (see Pythagoreanism), and Plato.* Systems called rationalistic include those which are deductive; which hold that reason, apart from sense, is the highest criterion; which apply mathematical methods; which make coherence a criterion of truth. Contrasted with empiricism, rationalism has been described as being abstract, supernatural, absolute, certain, peaceful, authoritative, eternal, religious.
Religious use of the term rationalism does not correspond completely to philos. use. The term rationalistic applied to scholasticism implied application of dialectics to theol.; scholastic rationalism and Aristotelianism (see Aristotle) have been identified. Applied to the theol. of H. Zwingli* or J. Calvin,* the term rationalistic often means to say that they interpreted revelation in such a way as to render it harmonious with deductive reasoning, logic, and/or phenomena.
Attempts were made in the 17th c. to show that Christianity is reasonable (see Cambridge Piatonists; Locke, John). Revelation was not rejected but was regarded as in harmony with reason (rational supernaturalism).
When reason gained the upper hand in the 17th c., the transition to deism* followed. The rationalism of deism rejected revelation but was tempered by assumption of 5 principles common to all religions.
The next stage, which also began in the 17th c., was rejection of all dogmatic assertions, thus leading to the rationalism of skepticism; leaders included P. Bayle,* D. Diderot,* T. Hobbes,* D. Hume,* Voltaire.*
Four types of attitudes toward rationalism in the religious realm: (1) Revelation is above reason; (2) Revelation and reason are in harmony; (3) Revelation and reason conflict but may be held in compartments; (4) Revelation is to be discarded in favor of reason.
Antiauthoritarian rationalists must be distinguished from those who are antisupernaturalists. EL
A. Tholuck, Geschichte des Rationalismus (Berlin, 1865); J. F. Hurst, History of Rationalism (New York, 1866); W. E. H. Lecky, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, rev. ed., 2 vols. (New York, 1914); J. B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought (New York, 1913); H. R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology: Schleiermacher to Barth (London, 1937); T. E. W. Engelder, Reason or Revelation? (St. Louis, 1941); H. Martin, The Inquiring Mind (New York, 1947); E. Bizer, Frühorthodoxie und Rationalismus (Zurich, 1963); K. Aner, Die Theologie der Lessingzeit (Hildesheim, 1964).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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