John Locke: ?Knowledge through experience? Locke the Empiricist The main claim of empiricism: all knowledge (ultimately) originates in the senses. Locke was the first to systematically attack Cartesian rationalism Locke?s concern will be to answer the following questions: (1) What counts as knowledge? What counts as opinion? (2) What is the origin of our ideas? Are we born with them or do we acquire them later? (3) How do humans obtain knowledge? (4) What is the role of faith or opinion (things we believe without proper evidence). Book I, Chapter I Innate idea: Ideas or principles that we are born with; these are a priori (prior to, or independent of experience) Why does Locke doubt the existence of innate ideas? Consider the Universal Consent Argument in favor of innate ideas, and how Locke responds to it. Universal Consent Argument There are some ideas (both speculative and practical) that all human beings assent to. (Book I, ch. I,2; p.82) Since everyone agrees to these principles, the reason for this universal agreement must be that these ideas are innate, or in-born, within us. How does Locke respond to this? Locke?s First response Even if there were universal principles that everyone assents to, it would not follow from this that these universally agreed upon principles were innate. There could very well be other ways of accounting for that universal agreement that need not presuppose the concept of innate ideas. (Bk.I, ch.1, 4) Locke?s Second response There are reasons to doubt whether there really are universal principles to which all human beings assent. Consider claims such as: Whatsoever is, is. It is impossible for the same thing to be and not be. These claims have the best claim to be universal ? but are they really universal? Second response (2) ?It is evident that all children and idiots have not the least apprehension of them? (82) But if these were truly universal principles, then everyone would have to admit to them. If it turns out that there are those who do not admit to these principles, then they cannot be universal (and, hence, they are not innate). Structure of Locke?s argument Premise1: If certain logical propositions (principles of speculative knowledge) were innate, children and the mentally challenged could perceive them. Premise 2: But children and mentally challenged do not perceive them. Conclusion: These principles of speculative knowledge cannot be innate ideas. "To say that a notion is imprinted on the mind, and yet at the same time to say that the mind is ignorant of it, and never took notice of it, is to make this impression nothing" (p. 82). "If therefore these two propositions, ?Whoever is, is? and ?It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be,? are by nature imprinted, children cannot be ignorant of them: infants, and all that have souls, must necessarily have them in their understandings, know the truth of them, and assent to it" (p. 83). Possible objection Locke?s argument shows that there are no universal speculative principles. These are those principles which pertain to reason. But what about practical principles, or principles of morality? Couldn?t there be some such principles that are universal. What are some candidates for such principles? By a similar argument (in Book I, ch.III), Locke shows that there are no practical principles to which everyone consents. Excursion: Book I, ch.III Locke argues that children in early stages of development do not seem to have innate ideas. Children are born as blank slates, as tabula rasas. But what about the idea of God? Surely this would be innate ? recall Descartes? idea of God. Again, the answer is no. Locke considers the idea of God as innate, but since there are many cultures who do not assent to the existence of a god, the idea of God cannot be innate either. Locke?s argument against rationalism ?He therefore that talks of innate notions in the understanding, cannot ? mean such truths as it never perceived, and is yet wholly ignorant of? (82) Locke?s argument against rationalism (2) Rationalism is committed to the existence of innate ideas. Locke argues against them as follows: Premise 1: If there were innate principles (either in the speculative or practical sense), everyone would assent to them. Premise 2: There are no principles that everyone assents to. Conclusion: There are no innate principles. Locke?s argument against rationalism (3) Locke charges the rationalist position of being incoherent: it is not possible to have ideas in the mind and not be aware of them. To be in the mind, just means to be conscious of it. This position of Locke's is often called the "Transparency of the Mental." The acquisition of ideas (Bk.II, ch.I) ?It is past doubt that men have in their minds several ideas ? such as are those expressed by the words whiteness, hardness, sweetness, thinking, motion, man, elephant, army, drunkedness, and others.? ?It is in the first place then to be inquired: How he comes by them?? (83) The acquisition of ideas (2) Ideas are shown not to be innate. ?Suppose the mind to be, as we say, a white paper, void of all character. How comes it to be furnished?? ?To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE. In that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself? (83) Ideas, simple vs. complex Simple Ideas: Ideas that cannot be broken down into more basic components. Complex Ideas: Ideas derived by bringing together several simple ideas. The mind begins empty, as a blank piece of paper. How do we imprint upon our minds all the concepts it possess? These all come from experience. Our senses convey to our mind several distinct impressions of individual objects. There are only two possible sources for simple ideas, sensation or reflection. First source of ides: Sensation The senses convey to the mind perceptions of things. This provides us with ideas such as yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet ? in short, all the ideas of sensible qualities. In sensation, he mind turns outward and receives ideas through the senses. The senses is the medium by where external objects are given to the mind. Second source of ideas: Reflection The mind perceives its own operations. This gives us ideas such as perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, and willing. In reflection, the mind turns inward and considers itself as an object. Book II, ch.VIII ?Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perception, thought, or understanding, that I call idea? (83) The power to produce any idea in our mind, I call the quality of the subject wherein that power is? (84) Ideas and qualities Consider a snowball. The snowball (the object) has qualities such as white, cold, and round. These qualities produce in us the ideas of whiteness, coldness, and roundness. Different Qualities There are some qualities that ?are utterly inseparable from the body, in what state soever it be.? (84) Take a grain of wheat: it has certain solidity, certain size, and certain figure (or shape). Now divide the grain into two: each part still has these qualities (even if in different amount). Keep on splitting the grain-halves: each new part still retains these qualities (although in lesser and lesser amounts). Primary qualities The primary qualities of an object produce in us the ideas of: Solidity Extension (size) Figure (shape) Mobility (motion or rest) Number Secondary qualities These are not in the objects in themselves (why not?) Rather, by virtue of their primary qualities, objects have the power to produce various sensations in us. These include: Color Sound Smell Taste Temperature Why think there are secondary qualities? ?If things contain the ?power to produce sensations in us? , how is it that different people perceive the same thing in different ways? Because wouldn't the thing be showing off the same thing to everyone? Locke?s answer: NO. Relativity of perception Recall the snowball: why can?t we say that it produces in us ideas of whiteness and the coldness because those qualities reside in the snowball? Example: take a bucket of water, and test the temperature. It produces in you the idea of pleasant warmth. Now, if you had just been handling the snowball, the same water would feel unpleasantly hot. Relativity of perception (2) In Locke?s words, the primary qualities of the water produce in you the sensation of pleasant warmth, whereas they produce in another person the sensation of intolerable heat. Recall the principle: ?It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be? Thus, it is impossible for the same water to have opposite qualities. So how can it produce different sensations in two different people? Relativity of perception (3) Because the primary qualities of the water act on the primary qualities of you, they produce in you the sensation of pleasant warmth. But in another person, with different primary qualities, they produce in another person the sensation of intolerable heat. Secondary qualities and Optical illusions According to the Ishihara test, colorblind individuals cannot see numbers in the following images. Consider: A colorblind individual cannot see the number in the image. A person with normal color-vision can see the number. Yet there is no change in the image itself. From simple to complex ideas All simple ideas must come from experience. ?If a child were kept in a place where he never saw any other but black and white till he were a man, he would have no more ideas of scarlet or green, than he that from his childhood never tasted an oyster, or a pineapple, has of those particular relishes??(84) From simple to complex ideas (2) Children, by having the same sensations repeated, learn to use signs (words) for these sensations. We experience only particular things, but we do not have just particular ideas. Instead, we have general ideas: If we experience something that is white, we get the idea of whiteness. Repeated experiences (say, 20 times) do not produce in us 20 different ideas of white. But how is this accomplished? Abstraction ?The mind makes the particular ideas received from particular objects to become general, which is done by considering them ? separate from all other existences, and the circumstances of real existence.? (86) This is called ABSTRACTION: ?ideas taken from particular beings become general representatives of all of the same kind, and their names general names.? (86) Of our knowledge of existence of other things So far, we have seen how Locke thinks we get our ideas, i.e. objects have certain qualities by virtue of which they imprint in our mind a corresponding idea. But suppose a skeptic raises the question: how can you know that the ideas really correspond to these qualities, or even are produced by them? Locke vs. the skeptic We know our own existence by intuition We come to know the existence of God by reason. What about all other things? How can we know that any other thing exists? Recall abstraction: we get general ideas (e.g. a cat) by having experiences of particular objects (i.e. a specific cat) Locke?s argument against innate ideas shows skepticism to be incoherent. A concern regarding ideas ?The having the idea of anything in our mind, no more proves the existence of that thing, than the picture of a man evidences his being in the world, or the visions of a dream make thereby a true history.? (86) Thus, merely having ideas is insufficient for showing that they come from external objects. But when we actually receive the ideas from external things, we notice that the external things exist. Shifting the burden of proof While I am writing, the paper produces in me the idea of white. This shows that there is an external object that produces this idea in me. The best guarantee I have of this comes from the testimony of my eyes. Unless I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of my senses, I can rely on what they tell me about the external world. In essence, Locke acknowledges that sometimes his senses deceive him (recall Descartes). But unlike Descartes, Locke does not think that all experiences are suspect just because some are. There is a level of uncertainty inherent in this kind of knowledge, but Locke claims that is the best we can do. This assurance from the senses yet deserves to be called knowledge. Kinds of knowledge Intuitive knowledge: of my own existence (fully certain) Demonstrative knowledge: of abstract ideas, from deductions (again, fully certain) Knowledge based on experience: not entirely certain, yet we cannot call it to doubt without reasons. From experience to knowledge Locke gives two further arguments showing that our ideas of external things come from external things. The first argument draws from the passive nature of the sense organs. The second argument draws from the differences between memories and experiences. The passive nature of sense organs If our ideas came from some other source than our senses, then a lack of sense organs would not preclude us from having ideas. But if we lack a specific sense organ, then we cannot have an idea produced by that sense. (e.g. if we were blind, we would lack visual experiences) Therefore, the perceptions (ideas) we have of external things must come from external things affecting our senses. The passive nature of sense organs (2) If the sense organs themselves produced ideas (without external things), then I could have the idea of e.g. what VegemiteŽ tastes like without ever tasting it. But it is impossible for me to have this idea without ever tasting Vegemite. Therefore, my sense organs cannot produce ideas without there being external things. Senses vs. memory I can recall my memories at will. However, I cannot control my senses in the same way. Although I can avert my gaze from the sun, I cannot control receiving the idea of the sun when I look at it at noon. So while both memories and experiences are ideas, the former do not need an external cause while the latter do. Furthermore, the former are less vivid than the latter. This vividness can be used to separate memories from experiences. Of Probability (Book IV, Ch.XV) A demonstration: using proofs to show the agreement (or disagreement) of two ideas. If we manage to give such a proof, then the connection between the two ideas is ?constant, immutable, and visible? (87) In contrast, probability is the mere appearance of such an agreement (disagreement). If the connection is not constant, but only appears to be so in most cases, then we lack full certainty. Of Probability (2) None of Locke?s arguments amount to a demonstration (or conclusive proof) that there is an external world. Nevertheless, taken together, they provide strong reasons for thinking so. We will never be able to have 100% certainty about most things, but we should not, thereby, assume that we have no knowledge. There are some things that are so close to being certain that we assent to them and act just as we did have certainty of them. Degrees of certainty and Faith Faith is essentially the acceptance of truth via revelations rather than through evidence or reason. What, if any, is the role of reason in faith? Reason is necessary to distinguish between real revelations from God and that which is really a product of human ideas. Faith without reason, therefore, is lost. According to Locke, we should never assent to the truth of something without sufficient evidence. As far as faith is concerned, remember that, according to Locke, faith needs reason as well in order to decipher what is truly from God and what is not.
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