Descartes nativism vs locke empiricism philosophy essay

Introduction The dispute between rationalism and empiricism takes place within epistemology, the branch of philosophy devoted to studying the nature, sources and limits of knowledge. The defining questions of epistemology include the following. What is the nature of propositional knowledge, knowledge that a particular proposition about the world is true? To know a proposition, we must believe it and it must be true, but something more is required, something that distinguishes knowledge from a lucky guess.

Descartes nativism vs locke empiricism philosophy essay

This issue is an aspect, limited to the question of cognition, of the long-running nature versus nurture controversy.

The conviction that human beings are born with certain basic, universal concepts implies that there is a common human nature, but also that there is a pre-established structure to the mind and its functioning, which has implications for the question of the ultimate origin of existence. Based on common sense, most would agree that people have some predisposition to know things in a certain way a basic mental structureas well as a need for sensory experience to provide information.

It is also generally acknowledged that, without being exposed to life experiences, it is impossible for the human mind to develop its cognitive capacity appropriately.

Science supports these findings. Hence, it is nature and nurture when it comes to human cognition. The real question is the relationship between the two and the possible primacy of one over the other.

It is also a question of which elements, if any, are inborn. Aristotle In his dialogues Meno and Phaedo, Plato offers the first classic theory of innate ideas.

Using the example of mathematical truths, Plato indicates that such rules of the mind are not something one learns. They are buried in the depth of the soul and coming to understand them e.

The remembrance, for Plato, is that of timeless ideas that are engraved in an equally timeless soul. When the soul is incarnated into a body, it forgets these truths, hence the need for education as a process of anamnesis. In the platonic dialogues, Socrates presents himself as a midwife, helping his discussion partners bring into consciousness knowledge they already have.

While Plato believed in the pre-existence of the soul in the world of ideas, for Aristotle, these ideas merely pre-existed potentially and needed to be actualized through experience. Aristotle thus emphasized the mind-body interaction over the primacy of the soul and the inborn nature of knowledge.

This Aristotelian position was revived by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. Locke In modern times, the debate over innate ideas became central to the conflict between rationalist and empiricist epistemologies.

While rationalists believe that certain ideas exist independently of experience, empiricism claims that all knowledge is derived from experience. Descartes and other representatives of continental rationalism stressed the primacy of innate ideas placed in the human mind by God at birth.

Besides mathematical principles and simple ideas, the main innate idea for Descartes was the idea of God, an idea that could not be derived from experience. Descartes theorized that knowledge of God is innate in everybody as a product of the faculty of faith. Although there is obvious variation among individual human beings due to cultural, linguistic, and era-specific influences, innate ideas are thus said to belong to a more fundamental level of human cognition.

Other philosophers, most notably the British Empiricists, were critical of the theory and denied the existence of any innate ideas, arguing that all human knowledge was founded on experience, rather than a priori reasoning.

Lockewho proposed the notion of tabula rasa saw no evidence of pre-existing ideas in the mind. Locke further objected that accepting the notion of innate ideas would open the door to dogmatic assertions, as it implied that the mind was born somewhat predetermined to think based on these ideas.

Accepting the existence of innate ideas could thus lead to abuse in the search for truth as well as in human affairs. Still, Locke believed that the human mind has a pre-existing ability to process information received from the senses.

From this perspective, the pre-existence of a mental design is compatible with the essential need for experience.


Leibniz suggested that people are born with certain innate ideas, the most identifiable of these being mathematical truisms. Leibniz argues that empiricism can only show that concepts are true in the present; if one sees one stick and then another, he knows that in that instance, and in that instance only, one and another equals two.

If, however, people wish to suggest that one and another will always equal two, they require an innate idea, as they are talking about things others have not yet witnessed. Leibniz called such concepts as mathematical truisms, "necessary truths.

Descartes nativism vs locke empiricism philosophy essay

Often there are ideas that are acknowledged as necessarily true, but are not universally assented to. Leibniz would suggest that this is simply because the person in question has not become aware of the innate idea, not because he or she does not possess it.

Leibniz argues that empirical evidence can serve to bring to the surface certain principles that are already innately embedded in the mind.

Innate idea - New World Encyclopedia

This is rather like needing to hear only the first few notes of a song in order to recall the rest of the melody. Locke, on the other hand, suggests that the concept of universal assent in fact proves nothing, except perhaps that everyone is in agreement; in short, universal assent proves that there is universal assent and nothing else.Rene Descartes, a French philosopher and the father of rationalism, developed his philosophy to express the relationships between ideas and other objects of consciousness.

Empiricism on the other hand, included two important philosophers by the names of John Locke and David Hume.4/4(1). The Historical Controversies Surrounding Innateness. First published Thu Jun 19, It played an important role in Descartes' theory of knowledge, Locke mounted a sustained assault against it at the very beginning of his Essay, and Leibniz produced a detailed rebuttal against Locke.

Empiricism and the Attack on Nativism: Locke and Hume. Nature Vs Nurture Essay Maggie Kent 3/27/14 Child Development p.3 NatureNurture Nature vs.

Descartes nativism vs locke empiricism philosophy essay

Nurture There is a constant battle between researchers from different fields saying almost all traits come from genetic makeup and that traits are based off of the environment a person is living in.

When it comes down to the argument of nature versus nurture, there is no clear answer. Causation in Descartes's Philosophy,' Journal of the History of Philosophy 38 () , at ; Nancy Kendrick, 'Why Cartesian Ideas of Sense are Innate,' The Southern Journal of Philosophy 37 () , at Philosophy Essay (Descartes vs.

Locke) Socrates once said, “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.” Several philosophers contradicted Socrates’ outlook and believed that true knowledge was in fact attainable.

In philosophy and psychology, the question of innate ideas (people are born with certain inborn ideas) vs. tabula rasa (at birth, the mind is like a blank slate) has been the object of an abundant debate throughout the centuries.

This issue is an aspect, limited to the question of cognition, of the long-running nature versus nurture controversy. The conviction that human beings are born with.

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