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Drew Larkin Modern Philosophy December 3, 2012
First. later shown to be ideas only derived from experience. Despite their two entirely theories of knowledge.A classic point of contention between empiricist and rationalist philosophers is the doctrine of innate ideas. there is not one precise definition of the much nuanced term. therefore denying the existence of any form of innate ideas. Leibniz “adopts” Locke’s terminology to directly respond to Locke’s criticisms in his commentary New Essays on Human Understanding especially in his first chapter. He shows Locke to be oversimplifying the position of the “innatists” and gives a convincing argument on the reasonability of innate ideas thought of as inherent structures to the experience received. For the rationalists. a concept which proposes that man comes into being with ideas that preexist any of his sensation or experience. he must show that it is unreasonable and counter to experience to believe that man has innate ideas to clear the ground for his own theory of knowledge. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. but if a rival to Locke had to be picked for the rationalists. John Locke clearly represents the side of the empiricists in his assertion that all of human knowledge is based in experience. by dispelling the common opinion of innate knowledge. Locke naturally wants to begin by discussing the source of human knowledge. it would most certainly be Gottfried Leibniz. In an effort to explain the limits and powers of the human mind. The concept of innate ideas opposed by Locke is one that asserts ideas as “primary notions” imprinted onto the mind from the first moment of the 1 . John Locke must first begin his crowning work. innate ideas. Though innate ideas are only the beginning to Locke’s entire theory of knowledge laid out in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Book I will be the focus since it specifically mounts his arguments against innate ideas.
319. 321.7 This is really another way of saying that man is born with a certain capability for ideas... Locke’s counterexamples being children and idiots. 6 Ibid. “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 5 Ibid. Ind.” in Modern Philosophy: an Anthology of Primary Sources. 2nd ed. ed.1 Man recognizes an affirmation from others holding to the same truths as well as his own experience of a positive assurance and an ease in knowing certain things. 2009). Using the same logic.subject’s being.: Hackett Publishing Company.. 319. Locke points out that this is really an affirmation of his own position since universal assent is not absolutely universal. 319. 318... 3 Ibid. 1 2 . To say that innate ideas require such a disposition or external factor in order to become activated is to take away any meaning from innate ideas. Locke would not John Locke. especially to the principle of non-contradiction. 320. but children and idiots give no evidence that they are thinking of the principle of noncontradiction. Those who suggest innate ideas may respond by attributing such an anomaly to the subject’s disposition.5 These exceptions have minds that are not exempt from the imprint of these innate ideas.4 Not everyone in every stage of life has thought about the principle of non-contradiction.6 Locke attacks this general response in several ways. 2 Ibid. 7 Ibid. Locke shows that such evidence is not sufficient proof to allow for innate ideas nor are innate ideas the only conceivable explanation for these experiences.. Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins (Indianapolis. The subject needs to “come to the use of reason” to activate innate ideas or needs to discover the ideas. 2 These experiences can be convincing indication of innate knowledge. 4 Ibid. there is no reason why all ideas should not be innate in this way since they appear to be activated by man’s experience.3 The universal assent to certain principles by man. 319.. is often used as confirmation of innate ideas.
how can an idea be in the mind and not be the object of thought? When someone says that an idea is in the mind. an example being mathematical equations (1+1=2). He writes.10 Further. Locke also shows that “coming to the use of reason” is not an adequate answer to the exceptions of universal assent. Underlying all of these arguments is Locke’s attack aimed at the heart of innate ideas. this would mean that the underlying ideas would likewise be innate.. this “coming to the use of reason” does not appear to correspond to a specific time in human development. 11 Ibid. To imply that man has to discover these innate ideas by reason is another way of saying that he must acquire these ideas. 3 . Locke ends Book I by answering the evidence of innate ideas by immediate assent. how can they be innate? And if they are notions imprinted. an idea that is repugnant to common sense.. 10 Ibid. for certain principles to be innate. is this any different than saying that someone is thinking of the idea? This is the strongest argument proposed by 8 9 Ibid. that man experiences certain self-evidence and immediately grasps some principles..8 It seems contradictory to require the use of deductive reasoning for ideas that are already to be in the mind.9 Finally. 321. “For if they are not notions naturally imprinted.disagree with this notion but proponents of innate ideas are trying to assert something much stronger—the imprint of certain ideas on the human mind once it comes into being.. 321-322. 319. Locke replies that there would have to be many such ideas since many of the things to which man assents fit into this category. 320. There are many that are past the age of reason who have never thought about the principle of non-contradiction and there are also very early indications of the use of reason in children. Ibid. how can they be unknown? ”11 Basically. This would make most of those things that man seems to learn through experience the subject of innate ideas. Further.
13 Ibid. which determines our soul and G. an aptitude. the necessary truths by understanding and only the matters of fact by the senses. Leibniz responds precisely to this essential question proposed by Locke’s Essay on innate ideas. 15 Ibid. he makes an idea stored in his memory the object of thought though it was not the object of thought previously. Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. and ed. Leibniz feels that Locke is attacking a straw man and attributes this to a failure to make a distinction between “necessary truths” and matters of fact since each have separate sources of knowledge. Since there are ideas in the mind of which man is unaware. New Essays on Human Understanding. “It is not a bare faculty.. W. 1981).15 Leibniz’s understanding of innate ideas begins to resemble the basic capacity of the mind to all potential knowledge that Locke refers to in his own work but Leibniz is quick to make a critical distinction. 77.. New Essays On Human Understanding.12 Leibniz answers Locke’s fundamental question.Locke’s criticism of innate ideas because it seems to eliminate any rationality for some kind of dormant ideas residing in the mind which would be the only way to redeem universal assent. Leibniz. 75. 12 4 .13 One remembers something he has learned in the past. 78-79. 14 Ibid. trans. 77. consisting in a mere possibility of understanding those truths: it is rather a disposition. it is conceivable that there are ideas in the mind which he has never thought about. How can ideas be in the mind but not be the object of thought? by describing his concept of innate ideas rather than the subject of Locke’s criticism.. a preformation.14 These are necessary truths in the mind and act in a way similar to a suppressed premise in a syllogism. In his commentary on Locke’s master work. It is obvious that one is not always aware of every truth he has in his mind. a fact confirmed by the operation of the memory and the act of recollection.
.... Leibniz’s concept of innate ideas as dispositions falls in between the two types and is unscathed by Lockean critique. 16 17 Ibid. or that receptiveness to God is innate in man rather than God himself. an active participant in finding these truths within itself rather than simply receiving passively as with knowledge directly from the senses. 82. Leibniz begins his response to Locke by agreeing that universal assent is inadequate as a proof which takes away many of Locke’s arguments. 5 . 76. Ibid. but he definitely seems to be arguing against his own antithesis rather than any exact doctrine of innate ideas. 18 Ibid.19 Leibniz has an apparent advantage in the dialogue presented here since he is the responder. but he is also responding to a very general argument primarily because Locke makes innate ideas refer to objects of thought rather than trying to make any distinctions. 83-84.brings it about that those truths are derivable from it. 20 Ibid.18 One finds examples of innate.20 The real achievement by Leibniz is providing a definition of innate ideas that ignores Locke’s categorization of them as either objects of thought or as simple capabilities of the mind for knowledge.”16 The mind is still the source of necessary truths. 79-80.. This is why Leibniz can say that the principle of non-contradiction is present in children though they have not thought about it.17 The mind still needs the senses for these necessary truths because knowledge from the senses actualizes the innate truths in the mind. It is unclear as to whether Locke is attacking a specific innatist. assuming this to be the dominant proof proposed by innatists. 19 Ibid. necessary truths in nature rather than finding the truths themselves. 80. This makes it quite easy for Leibniz to discredit most of Locke’s arguments such as Locke’s argumentation against universal assent.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Philadelphia: James Kay. there are preexisting principles which allow the mind to function and learn as it does. This general principle may seem innate or universal but only because it has a degree of separation from experience since it was abstracted. such as the principle of noncontradiction.21 Man learns what appear to be innate ideas from experience. Again. For Leibniz. Leibniz asserts this because of the disposition man has toward certain ideas. he witnesses certain events and then builds a universal principle based on these events. this is not just a potential for knowledge or a simple capability. these necessary truths. Man naturally has these principles. 82.d. man uses this principle without really knowing or thinking about it. But how can this really be learned through experience? To take an experience and learn anything from it. the principle is learned through experience. Jun.). But to avoid some kind of causality dilemma. these ways of operation. Locke says the source of knowledge is only from experience and Leibniz says that innate ideas are also a source of knowledge. this principle is an innate disposition. Leibniz’s understanding of innate ideas is better described as human nature. 6 . the principle of non-contradiction can be analyzed in both theories. must not the principle of non-contradiction be in effect? There is more to the mind than a tabula rasa.This does not leave Locke’s position completely nullified. which can only stem from something innate in his mind. n. For Locke. The motivation behind the argument is still finding man’s source of knowledge. as a part of being human. If ideas only refer to 21 John Locke. and Brother. Locke would likely account for this experience by referring to abstraction. The principle of non-contradiction must be in the mind already to for one to know that anything from experience actually is. These allow him to learn things through experience but he can also eventually learn about these principles which reside in his mind.
7 . then innate ideas do not exist. But man still has an innate source of knowledge which is inconsistent with Locke’s sole source of knowledge in experience.objects of thought.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Leibniz. 2nd ed. 2009. and Brother. n. Philadelphia: James Kay. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. G. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. W. Locke. 1981. Indianapolis. “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins. 8 .d. John.: Hackett Publishing Company. Locke. Translated and edited by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett. John. Jun.” In Modern Philosophy: an Anthology of Primary Sources. Ind. New Essays On Human Understanding.
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