As has already been alluded to, rationalism takes what is essentially a polar opposite view of reality as constructivist do, believing that knowledge comes from an appeal to reason. Rationalism can best be defined by looking towards Edmund Burke, who defined rationalism as the method or theory in which the criterion of truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive.
Like constructivism, rationalism too finds its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, starting with Plato, the constructivist Aristotle's mentor. According to Plato, the key to finding knowledge was through leading a rational and reasonable life. Chronicling the teachings of Socrates, Plato argues that in order to understand the world, one most first understand themselves. In other words, the truth lies within oneself and not, as constructivists argue, within society. According to Socrates, the only way to accomplish this was through the use of rational thought.
Rational thought, according to Socrates, is a process of gaining knowledge through discourse. It begins with the asking of a seemingly rhetorical question in which the other person will give an answer. Once the answer is given, Socrates would continue to ask questions until all conflicts were resolved or until the only answer left was that there was no known answer. The result was a mythological breaking down of the constructed knowledge in hopes of finding the truth: which all too often was that the truth is unknown.
Because rationalism focuses on discovering the actual truth, many rationalist use a mathematical and scientific approach in order to deductively derive the rest of all possible knowledge. According to such rationalist as Baruch Spinoza and Gottfired Leibniz, in principle, all knowledge can be gained through the use of reason alone. However, both also conceded that this would not be feasible in practice in any areas of knowledge except such specific areas as math.
In other words, even the most devout rationalist concede to the constructivist argument that it is impossible to discover actual truth because it is also impossible to avoid the truths that humans have constructed and, more fundamentally, that all truths are constructed by humans as there is no possible way (except in math) to know for sure whether an answer is true or whether it is true only because we think it is true.
Thus, rationalism cannot do anything but continually run into the wall that it is impossible to get around the fact that we are human and thus incapable of understanding the truth. To get around this roadblock, rationalism turn towards reason, arguing that through reason one can deduce truth and knowledge.
When placed into the field of international relations and international organizations, constructivist argue that the entire field is a constructed reality as the differences between nations and international organizations are based on human existence's collective experiences instead of any reality. On the other hand, a rationalist would argue that the role of international relations is to break down the false truths constructed by humans and thus discover the common denominator necessary to create actual change.
For this reason, the constructivist approach to international relations is relatively static in that it does little to move international relations forward. Instead, constructivist tend to focus on the norm, or the way things are, as being the reality of international relations in today's world. However, at the same time, their very philosophical belief states that today's reality is based not on reason or actuality, but simply on experiences, often false experiences. Thus, a more pragmatic approach to international relations is use a rationalist approach that breaks down the false truths built up over time in order to discover the reality of the situation.
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