John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704):
An Empirical Response to Descartes' Rationalism

  1. Historical Background -

    1. Renaissance Revolutions and Skepticism
    2. The English Civil War 1642-1646 (Charles I vs. Parliament)
    3. Thomas Hobbers (The Leviathan) - Metaphysical Materialism

  2. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

    1. Goals of the essay:

      1. Identify where our ideas come from.

      2. Determine how knowledge is derived from ideas.

      3. Determine how much credence we should give to ideas that don't qualify as knowledge.

    2. The Weakness of Rationalism: Innate ideas

      1. The Argument from Simplicity (Ockham's Razor)

      2. The Argument Against Universality:

        P1) If annate ideas exist, then they are in the souls of all persons.
        P2) It is not the case that innate ideas exist in all souls.
        Conclusion) Therefore, innate ideas do not exist.

      3. The Alternative Origin Argument (Empiricism)

        P1) If an alternative account of how 'innate' ideas are acquired can be provided, then no ideas need not be considered innate.
        P2) We can provide an alternative account of how we acquire all our ideas.
        Conclusion) Therefore, we do not need the hypothesis of innate ideas.

    3. Developing Empiricism - If there are no innate ideas, where do our ideas come from?

      1. The Empirical Hypothesis - the mind begins as a blank slate (tabula rasa)

      2. Sensation - the mental experiences (sense data) caused in us by external objects

      3. Reflection - the mind's operations on recorded sense data (e.g., ordering, comparing, thinking, doubting, believing, etc.)

      4. Ideas - abstractions drawn from mental reflection on sense data (e.g., color, shape, time, space, goodness, etc.)

      5. Knowledge - the systematic organization of appropriately acquired ideas

    4. How Ideas are created in the mind


NOTE: If there are no innate ideas and our minds begin as a blank slate, then all sensations and ideas must be created in us by an outside source. There are two possible outside sources:

God - special revelation
Nature - natural revelation (i.e., the five sense)

      1. The Primary Qualities of Objects - those qualities that cannot be separated from the object itself

        1. extension - it occupies space
        2. shape - the limit of extension
        3. motion - alteration of location
        4. solidity - two bodies cannot co-locate
        5. number - how many there are

      2. The Secondary Qualities of Objects - the effects of the primary qualities in our minds

        1. sights
        2. sounds
        3. tastes
        4. smells
        5. feels


NOTE: The substance which contains the primary qualities is matter.

    1. The Water Bucket Argument - how to prove the distinction between primary and secondary qualities


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