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Unformatted text preview: (Cottingham, pp. 26-32) (from: John Locke, An Essay concerning Human understanding , extracts (with omissions) from Book I, ch. 2, §~ 1—5 and 12—16; Book Il, ch. 1, §~ 1—5. spelling and punctuation revised. There are many available editions of the Essay, of which the most definitive is the critical edition of P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975); cf. pp. 48— 58) The Senses as the Basis for Knowledge John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding Introduction (p. 26) One of the striking features of Descartes’s approach to knowledge was its ‘internal’ starting point. ‘I resolved one day to pursue my studies within myself’, he wrote in the Discourse ; and in the above extract from the Meditations we see him carrying out the strategy of leading the mind away from the outside world, away from the external senses, and focusing on the meditator’s inner awareness of his own existence. This very private beginning may not seem a promising start for the construction of an objective system of knowledge. But what Descartes does in the subsequent Meditations is to rely on the innate ideas with which he claims the mind is furnished. (p. 27) Chief of these is the idea of infinite perfection, which Descartes uses as the basis for a (controversial) proof that an infinite and perfect being, God, must really exist . And having established the existence of God, he then uses the other innate ideas, especially those of mathematics, as the foundations for his new scientific system. As he put in the Discourse, ‘I noticed certain laws which God has so ordained in nature, and of which he has implanted such notions in our minds, that after adequate reflection we cannot doubt that they are exactly observed in everything that exists or occurs in the world’. Descartes’ appeal to innate ideas had a long ancestry (for its origins in Plato, see extract 1, above). But towards the end of the seventeenth century, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), John Locke launched a massive broadside against the doctrine of innateness, arguing instead that the senses are the primary source of all knowledge. He compares the mind to a tabula rasa , a blank sheet or white paper devoid of all characters’ , and then asks whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge?’. To his own question he then supplies the famous reply, ‘in one word, from experience’. On this empiricist conception (as it has come to be known, from the Greek word empeiria , ‘experience’), observation via the senses, plus the mind’s subsequent reflection on the data so acquired, constitutes the basis of all the knowledge we have, or can have . Locke argues that the reasoning traditionally employed to support the doctrine of innate ideas is wholly inadequate. Innatists typically appeal to ‘universal assent’ — that there are certain fundamental truths accepted by everyone; but Locke objects, first, that even if universal assent were established it would not prove innateness; and second that, in any Cottingham, Locke, Essay , Page 1 case, these supposedly innate principles are ‘so far from having a universal assent that...
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This note was uploaded on 11/22/2011 for the course PHILOSOPHY 101 taught by Professor Simonoswitch during the Spring '10 term at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
- Spring '10