Plato's theory of Forms is described in the first two minutes of this video. Watch at least that much. Plato's Best (and Worst) Ideas. [CC-BY-NC-ND]
This video provides a quick look at Plato's cave allegory, which also relates to his theory of Forms. Plato's Allegory of the Cave. [CC-BY-NC-ND]
Note: We will meet Descartes and his Meditations again, in our Metaphysics module where we consider his strict mind-body dualism.Descartes' famous wax thought experiment of the Second Meditation describes (among other things) a procedure to "dig out" what is innate. The section of the Second Meditation, imbedded below, also demonstrates Descartes' doubt about impressions we gather from our senses; they are untrustworthy measures of the nature of physical bodies.
Let us now accordingly consider the objects that are commonly thought to be the most easily, and likewise the most distinctly known, viz., the bodies we touch and see; not, indeed, bodies in general, for these general notions are usually somewhat more confused, but one body in particular. Take, for example, this piece of wax; it is quite fresh, having been but recently taken from the beehive; it has not yet lost the sweetness of the honey it contained; it still retains somewhat of the odor of the flowers from which it was gathered; its color, figure, size, are apparent (to the sight); it is hard, cold, easily handled; and sounds when struck upon with the finger. In fine, all that contributes to make a body as distinctly known as possible, is found in the one before us. But, while I am speaking, let it be placed near the fire—what remained of the taste exhales, the smell evaporates, the color changes, its figure is destroyed, its size increases, it becomes liquid, it grows hot, it can hardly be handled, and, although struck upon, it emits no sound. Does the same wax still remain after this change? It must be admitted that it does remain; no one doubts it, or judges otherwise. What, then, was it I knew with so much distinctness in the piece of wax? Assuredly, it could be nothing of all that I observed by means of the senses, since all the things that fell under taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing are changed, and yet the same wax remains. It was perhaps what I now think, viz., that this wax was neither the sweetness of honey, the pleasant odor of flowers, the whiteness, the figure, nor the sound, but only a body that a little before appeared to me conspicuous under these forms, and which is now perceived under others. But, to speak precisely, what is it that I imagine when I think of it in this way? Let it be attentively considered, and, retrenching all that does not belong to the wax, let us see what remains.There certainly remains nothing, except something extended, flexible, and movable. But what is meant by flexible and movable? Is it not that I imagine that the piece of wax, being round, is capable of becoming square, or of passing from a square into a triangular figure? Assuredly such is not the case, because I conceive that it admits of an infinity of similar changes; and I am, moreover, unable to compass this infinity by imagination, and consequently this conception which I have of the wax is not the product of the faculty of imagination. But what now is this extension? Is it not also unknown? for it becomes greater when the wax is melted, greater when it is boiled, and greater still when the heat increases; and I should not conceive clearly and according to truth, the wax as it is, if I did not suppose that the piece we are considering admitted even of a wider variety of extension than I ever imagined. I must, therefore, admit that I cannot even comprehend by imagination what the piece of wax is, and that it is the mind alone which perceives it. I speak of one piece in particular; for as to wax in general, this is still more evident. But what is the piece of wax that can be perceived only by the understanding or mind? It is certainly the same which I see, touch, imagine; and, in fine, it is the same which, from the beginning, I believed it to be. But (and this it is of moment to observe) the perception of it is neither an act of sight, of touch, nor of imagination, and never was either of these, though it might formerly seem so, but is simply an intuition (inspectio) of the mind, which may be imperfect and confused, as it formerly was, or very clear and distinct, as it is at present, according as the attention is more or less directed to the elements which it contains, and of which it is composed.
Do you think that innate ideas are possible? Putting it another way, do you think that we have ideas or knowledge not based on experience? Provide your reasons/argument for your position.Note: Post your response in the appropriate Discussion topic
5. Not on Mind naturally imprinted, because not known to Children, Idiots, etc.For, first, it is evident, that all children and idiots have not the least apprehension or thought of them. And the want of that is enough to destroy that universal assent which must needs be the necessary concomitant of all innate truths: it seeming to me near a contradiction to say, that there are truths imprinted on the soul, which it perceives or understands not: imprinting, if it signify anything, being nothing else but the making certain truths to be perceived. For to imprint anything on the mind without the mind's perceiving it, seems to me hardly intelligible. If therefore children and idiots have souls, have minds, with those impressions upon them, THEY must unavoidably perceive them, and necessarily know and assent to these truths; which since they do not, it is evident that there are no such impressions. For if they are not notions naturally imprinted, how can they be innate? and if they are notions imprinted, how can they be unknown? To say a notion is imprinted on the mind, and yet at the same time to say, that the mind is ignorant of it, and never yet took notice of it, is to make this impression nothing. No proposition can be said to be in the mind which it never yet knew, which it was never yet conscious of...
Note: Leibniz's conception of the nature of consciousness is at odds with that of Locke. For Locke, consciousness and the soul are one and the same - immaterial and unobservable, unlike the experiential world. (This is a dualistic viewpoint put forward by Descartes and has been commonly held.) For Leibniz, consciousness is real in the same way the world is, but it is not "mechanical." We will return to the topic of dualism in the module on Metaphysics.Leibniz's response to Locke is addressed here in a second-source work by American philosopher John Dewey (1859 - 1952). This excerpt is from the end of Chapter IV of Dewey's book, Leibniz's New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding: A Critical Exposition, 1888:
He [Locke] founds his denial of innate ideas not only upon a static conception of their ready made existence"in" the soul, but also upon an equally mechanical conception of consciousness."Nothing can be in the mind which is not in consciousness." This statement appears axiomatic to Locke, and by it he would settle the whole discussion. Regarding it, Leibniz remarks that if Locke has such a prejudice as this, it is not surprising that he rejects innate ideas. But consciousness and mental activity are not thus identical. To go no farther, the mere empirical fact of memory is sufficient to show the falsity of such an idea. Memory reveals that we have an indefinite amount of knowledge of which we are not always conscious. Rather than that knowledge and consciousness are one, it is true that actual consciousness only lays hold of an infinitesimal fraction of knowledge. But Leibniz does not rely upon the fact of memory alone. We must constantly keep in mind that to Leibniz the soul is not a form of being wholly separate from nature, but is the culmination of the system of reality…….….Leibniz not only denies the equivalence of soul and consciousness, but asserts that the fundamental error of the psychology of the Cartesians (and here, at least, Locke is a Cartesian) is in identifying them. He asserts that"unconscious ideas" are of as great importance in psychology as molecules are in physics. They are the link between unconscious nature and the conscious soul. Nothing happens all at once; nature never makes jumps; these facts stated in the law of continuity necessitate the existence of activities, which may be called ideas, since they belong to the soul and yet are not in consciousness.
This TED Talk speaker, psychologist Stephen Pinker, argues against the idea that the mind begins as a"blank slate." Viewing it may be helpful in formulating your response to the Coursework question below. Human Nature and the Blank Slate. [CC-BY-NC-ND]
John Dewey tells us that Gottfried Leibniz, in defense of his theory of innate ideas, "asserts that 'unconscious ideas' are of as great importance in psychology as molecules are in physics." And "To become conscious of the innate idea is to lift it from the sphere of nature to the conscious life of spirit."What do you think of this psychological perspective on innate ideas? Does it seem predictive of modern thinking about the mind, (for example Stephen Pinker)? (100-200 words)
This video emphasizes how Plato's Theory of Forms is not just about acquiring knowledge (epistemology) but also about the nature of reality itself (metaphysics.) PLATO ON: The FormsDescartes
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) Descartes' Epistemology Read section 1.5. This brief section explains how Descartes' conception of innate ideas resembles Platonic Forms.
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) Continental Rationalism Read section 2.a. It is a very brief discussion of Descartes' conception of innate ideas.
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) John Locke (1623-1704) Read this article's introduction and section 2, a, b, and c for a larger account of the project of Locke's Essay.Leibniz
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Innate Ideas Read section 6.3 on innate ideas. You will notice that Leibniz theory of knowledge is closely interwoven with his theory on the nature of reality (his metaphysics).
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