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The rationalism-empiricism debate has a long history, beginning with the ancient Greeks, and focuses on the origins of knowledge and its justification. “Is that origin rational or empirical in nature?” “Is knowledge deduced or inferred from first principles or premises?” “Or, is it the result of careful observation and experience?” These are just a few of the questions fueling the debate, along with similar questions concerning epistemic justification. Rationalists, such as Socrates,Plato, Descartes, and Kant, appeal to reason as being both the origin and the justification of knowledge. As such, knowledge is intuitive in nature, and in contrast to the senses or perception, it is exclusively the product of the mind. Given the corruptibility of the senses, argue the rationalists, no one can guarantee or warrant knowledge—except through the mind’s capacity to reason. In other words, rationalism provides a firm foundation not only for the origin of knowledge but also for warranting its truth. Empiricists, such as Aristotle, Avicenna, Bacon, Locke, Hume, and Mill, avoid the fears of rationalists and exalt observation and experience with respect to the origin and justification of knowledge. According to empiricists, the mind is a blank slate (Locke’s tabula rasa ) upon which observations and experiences inscribe knowledge. Here, empiricists champion the role of experimentation in the origin and justification of knowledge.
Many philosophers believe that morality consists of following precisely defined rules of conduct, such as "don't kill," or "don't steal." Presumably, I must learn these rules, and then make sure each of my actions live up to the rules. Virtue ethics , however, places less emphasis on learning rules, and instead stresses the importance of developing good habits of character , such as benevolence (see moral character ). Once I've acquired benevolence, for example, I will then habitually act in a benevolent manner. Historically, virtue theory is one of the oldest normative traditions in Western philosophy, having its roots in ancient Greek civilization. Plato emphasized four virtues in particular, which were later called cardinal virtues : wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. Other important virtues are fortitude, generosity, self-respect, good temper, and sincerity. In addition to advocating good habits of character, virtue theorists hold that we should avoid acquiring bad character traits, or vices , such as cowardice, insensibility, injustice, and vanity. Virtue theory emphasizes moral education since virtuous character traits are developed in one's youth. Adults, therefore, are responsible for instilling virtues in the young.