In this paper, I will explore the topic of knowledge innatism and define what it is and what it isn’t, Locke’s objections to it, and responses to these objections. After raising an objection, I will argue either that 1) this objection is weak or 2) this objection works.
The sort of knowledge that nativists think are innate in the mind are truths that do not have to be learned through experience, such as knowledge of the laws of nature & mathematical truths. Examples of these are: 1) “What goes up must come down” (the law of gravity) & 2) “one plus one is two”. This school of thought is used to explain certain truths that might seem to have universal applicability. Nativists think that certain sorts of knowledge are innate because of 1) its universal applicability or 2) truths that go beyond sensory experience, such as: 1a) moral/ ethical truths such as the concepts of “right” & “wrong” & 2b) the idea of people having a “soul”.
For Locke, his biggest problem with the nativist school of thought is that their ultimate assertion is unclear; he is unsure if nativists are saying A) that everyone is born with knowledge of certain truths and is conscious of them all along, OR if they are saying that B) everyone is born with the innate capacity to come to know certain truths. As Locke understands it; if A), then it is empirically false, because infants and retards have no concept of these truths. For example, if you were to ask an infant, “What is the square root of 4761?” they would not know. For Locke, this negates any notion that there are universal truths accepted by all human beings. He argues that, “No proposition can be said to be in the mind, which it never yet knew which it was never yet conscious of” ( p.23). What he is saying is that it is not plausible to conclude that certain innate truths exist if someone is not consciously aware of them. Now that Locke has successfully refuted A), he continues by negating