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Does All Knowledge Come From Experience?

1207 words - 5 pages

Does all knowledge come from experience ?From the classical empiricist point of view, -traditionally associated with John Locke, and primarily his 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding'- almost certainly so. Locke's epistemological contention was that knowledge is derived from experiential concepts acquired in the form of sense-data. These sense-data were supposed, according to Locke, to be of primary and secondary qualities, which when combined with and abstracted from each other gave rise to tertiary qualities. Examples of primary qualities in an object would be the size and shape of, say; an apple. These qualities are independent of an observer and remain constant with or without our knowledge or appreciation of them. The red colour and fresh smell of the apple, would be examples of its secondary qualities; these qualities, Locke argued, are not intrinsic to the object in question, but rather are only manifest in the sensory perception of the observer. The apple is red when we perceive it as such, however the degree of its redness is something that varies according to the individual, I might perceive it as a deep crimson, while another might think it as scarlet in hue. These secondary qualities of the apple, then, come into existence only upon receipt of the sense-data of which they are determined. Tertiary or complex concepts of objects are arrived at by the process of conjoinment, abstraction or combination of its primary and secondary qualities, to pursue the earlier example; one's concept of the apple's freshness, perhaps, would be determined by the combination of one's concepts of its shape, colour, smell, skin texture and taste.Here the empiricist argument runs into the realm of inconsistency, especially in light of the attempt to extrapolate how these concepts come to be combined. The theory of direct combination suggests that simple concepts are merely 'stuck together', much like lego bricks, to form more complex concepts of things. This theory is implausible and has very limiting epistemological implications as it precludes all notions of negation and generality. For, in the example of negation, if one has a concept of the colour red, how can one arrive at the more complex concept of non-red through direct combination alone. In terms of generality, it is impossible to derive the complex concept of philanthropy, solely by reckoning upon the concept of love for one fellow human being and the use direct combination. The more coherent theory of logical combination, relies upon deductive reasoning and abstraction for construction of complex concepts, and thus inherently undermines the very argument upon which radical empiricist theories are based. Other theories, such as psychological combination rely upon similarly abstruse and non-experiential functions, and as such are similarly inconsistent to the radical empiricist view, -they may even be seen to positively argue against it.Intrinsic to Locke's argument is the denial of that mainstay...

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