In book one of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke argues against innate ideas using three arguments. The intention of this paper will be to discuss John Locke’s views on ideas while introducing and explaining his three arguments against innate ideas in detail touching on his idea of tabula rasa. Furthermore, it will briefly discuss alternative views on innate ideas as both conflicting and similar.
John Locke’s writings came at a time when there was a philosophical debate going on between the empiricists and the rationalists. The rationalists believed that true knowledge came through certainty and rationalist philosophers such as Descartes believed in the existence of ideas and knowledge at birth. Meanwhile, the empiricists believed that the senses were pivotal to one’s ability to become cognizant of knowledge of the world. They believed that everything originates with and in experience. Being that he was an empiricists, this was the belief of John Locke.
Locke’s Argument against Innate Ideas
In his essay, Locke gives three propositions for rejecting innate objects. John Locke argued that there are no ideas that are innate ideas in the minds of human beings. He rested his reasoning on three ideas or propositions.They are as follows:
1. There is no universal assent;
2. If innate ideas are through reason, then they are deduced; and
3. If self-evidence is equal to innateness, the consequence of innate ideas end with something absurd (Ariew).
With the first of proposition, that there is no universal assent, Locke believed that in order for there to be an existence of innate ideas, there would have to be those ideas that everyone in the world would have to agree on or assent to. These ideas would be in the mind of everyone throughout the world but this is not the case. He claims that “there is no idea that all men have, and no principle that everyone accepts” (Engel, 230). Locke would continue by saying that children and idiots are the exception to this because they do not have any of these concepts formed and therefore cannot be born with them. The rationalists would retort by stating that they [children and idiots] are in fact born with ideas but that they just have not become aware of it because they are not yet at the age in which they are able to reason which is where Locke’s second proposition comes in (Engel, 230).
The second of Locke’s propositions for rejecting innate ideas is that if innate ideas are through reason, then they are deduced. This is the belief that it is not possible for there to be ideas in the mind that one is not aware of. Rationalists argued that once children grew up and developed mentally, they would be able to understand the innate ideas. For Locke, the idea that they have to be able to reason to understand and ideas that are supposed to be innate shows and strengthens his argument. This would, however, have to be based on the notion that innate ideas were conscious ideas. On the other...