John Lock'Es View on Innate Knowledge

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Innate ideas
John Locke, a renowned English philosopher in the seventeenth century, argued against the

pre-existing prevalent belief of innate knowledge, such as those led by Descartes. Many of

Locke’s arguments begin with criticisms on philosophers’ opinion on innate knowledge,

notably Descartes. Therefore, many of Locke’s arguments are direct rebuttals of Descartes

and other philosophers’ beliefs about the existence of innate knowledge. To arrive at the

conclusion that innate knowledge is impossible, Locke comes with various premises and

rebuttals that add weight to his arguments.

First, Locke emphasizes that knowledge and ideas are learned through experience, not

innately. He argues that people’s minds at birth are ‘blank slate’ that is later filled through

experience. Here, the ‘senses’ play an important role because ‘the knowledge of some truths,

as Locke confesses, is very in the mind; but in a way that shows them not to be innate’. By

this, Locke argues that some ideas are actually in the mind from an early age but these ideas

are furnished by the senses starting in the womb. For example, the color blue and the

‘blueness’ of something is not that which is learned innately but is some is learned through

exposures to a blue object or thing. So if we do have a universal understanding of ‘blueness’,

it is because we are exposed to blue objects ever since we were young. The blue sky is what

many would acquaint with blue easily and at a young age.

Second, Locke argues that people have no innate principles. Locke contended that innate

principles rely upon innate ideas within people but such innate ideas do not exist. He says

this on the basis that there is no ‘universal consent’ that everyone agrees upon. Locke quotes

that ‘There is nothing more commonly taken for granted that there are certain principles

universally agreed upon by all mankind, but there are none to which all mankind give a

universal assent’. This argues against the very foundation of the idea of innate knowledge

because principles that garner universal assent are thought to be known innately, simply because it is the best explanation available. However, it cannot even be an explanation for

such belief because no ‘universal consent’ exists. Rationalists argue that there are in fact

some principles that are universally agreed upon, such as the principle of identity. But it is

far-fetched to claim that everyone knows this principle of identity because for the least,

children and idiots, the less-intelligent ones are not acquainted with it.

There are several objections to these premises and arguments that are outlined above.

The argument by Locke that there are some ideas that are in the mind at an early age gives

credence to argument for the innate ideas. For ideas to be furnished by the senses later on

there has to be ideas that are laid as foundations. If such ideas are innate, as acknowledged by

Locke, no matter how trivial or less significant these ideas may be as one may argue, such

claim could give weight to the idea of innate knowledge. Innate knowledge or ideas, after all,

doesn’t imply that all ideas are innate because as one can see, there are things that we learn

through our experiences and encounters in life as well. So as long as there is even the basic

principle that is innate early in life, then innate knowledge can be known to exist.

The validity behind the claim that there is no ‘universal consent’ is also questionable.

Locke argues that no principle that all mankind agrees upon exists because there are those

who are not acquainted with such principle, notably children and idiots. However, the terms

children and idiots are somewhat misguided. How are children and especially the idiots

categorized? Is there a specific criteria used for those who are classified as...
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