When describing rationalism as computational, I mean making a substantial use of the data-program distinction in order to elucidate crucial ideas of classical rationalism, to wit that of the truth of reason (veritas rationis), and that of the light of natural reason (lumen naturalis rationis).
At first glance, the answer seems to be negative. If there had arisen computational rationalism as a philosophical view, people would invent a name to call it. But, in fact, such a name almost does not appear in the literature. With Google I found one postmodernist context, in which this phrase is used but not defined.
Another one is scientifically serious and thought-provoking, but not one to be directly concerned with the issues in this post. This term appears in the blog run by a computer scientist of MIT in dealing with the question: Can computer programs be understood through reason alone, or there is an empirical approach necessary for understanding? There might be an interesting relation between this question and philosophical rationalism, but only when our discussion reaches a more advanced stage, that of inquiry into pragmatic aspects of computational rationalism in philosophy. In the meantime, let this short mention suffice.
However, there happen to be views or methods of thinking which function and get influential even before a name for them gets established. This is the case of computational rationalism.
Among the authors who paved the way to this new attitude there is the renowned linguist and philosoper of language Noam Chomsky with this teory of universal grammar. Its concise explanation is given in Wikipedia: “Universal grammar [the entry’s title] is a theory in linguistics that suggests that there are properties that all possible natural human languages have. Usually credited to Noam Chomsky, the theory suggests that some rules of grammar are hard-wired into the brain, and manifest without being taught”, hence they are inborn to human minds, and do not require any support from sense experiences.
Let it be stressed, grammatical rules more resemble programs than data. However, there no clear line of demarcation between rules to form knowing how, and data, as distinct from programs, and forming knowledge in the sense of knowing that. Anyone who possesses hard-wired rules of grammar, does also possess, at least potentially, an idea that there exists a grammar, hence enjoys a piece of knowing that.
This line of argument does not lead to Plato’s extreme nativistic view that human beings come to this world with ready knowledge of a language and some other domains of reality. Rather, it results in the moderate Aristotelian brand of rationalism in which the light of natural reason amounts to inborn intellectual skills to attain knowledge through following certain rule-like principles. Thus, people prove equipped with sets of rules (knowing how) like software of a kind, which control mind’s activities in acquiring data like knowledge (knowing that). In this way they enable getting knowledge that there are such entities as syntactic rules, forms of material things, sets, numbers, goals of actions, social relations, moral values, and so on.
To be continued.