Different Viewpoints Of Empiricist Philosphers: John Locke, David Hume, George Berkley

2617 words - 11 pages

Empiricists are philosophers who argue that knowledge comes from sensory experience. This means that whatever we experience through our senses are the only ideas that can be epistemically justified. John Locke, David Hume, and George Berkley are three of the most influential empiricists in modern philosophical history. Though sharing the same premise about knowledge stemming from sensory experience and having some common ground in certain areas, each philosopher had different views on what we can and cannot know through empirical evidence about the universe. This paper will look at each philosopher’s argument, point out what philosopher does the best at arguing for the empirical state of the world and God, and finally use the best arguments to show everything we can truly know through empirical justification.
John Locke's account of knowledge can be summed up in that we can know ideas of modes and not ideas of substances. This will become much clearer as we delve into why and how John Locke comes to this conclusion. To begin with, John Locke throws away the longstanding notion that we can have innate ideas, thus disallowing those ideas to play a part in justified knowledge. Locke's argument is that if innate ideas exist, then they must be in every single human without them being taught. Locke points out that there is no justification of this. If innate ideas existed, then wouldn't infants and those with a lack of intelligent know them as well? Locke states that innate ideas are not in these individuals. Innate idea enthusiasts would state then that they would have to be shown the way to recover these innate ideas. Locke again argues against this by stating that if one has to use reason to know innate ideas, then one couldn’t tell the difference between ideas of reason and innate ideas. Overall, innate ideas simply do not have sufficient evidence to point to their validity.
We must now look at Locke's view on interpreting the universe and our minds to get closer to his ideas on knowledge. Locke believes that everything can be broken down into simple ideas. The only way to get these simple ideas is through sensation and reflection. Once one combines these simple ideas, a complex idea is formed. Through these complex ideas, the universe is broken down into two subcategories: ideas of substance and ideas of modes. Ideas of substance are ones that are independent of us. Trees, books, and the ocean are all examples of ideas of substance. Ideas of mode, on the other hand, are ones that are dependent on ourselves. These would include culture, math, and morals. Through these different ideas, one can gain knowledge.
Locke, though technically considered a foundationalist due to all knowledge stemming from simple ideas, takes a rather coherentist view on how we attain knowledge. In Locke's view, we know ideas as the agreement and disagreement of all of our other ideas. For example, I know that I own a cat because I own cat food, my girlfriend tells me we...

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