Skeptical Empiricism Essay

1080 words - 4 pages

Hume's and Locke's Skeptical Empiricism PAGE 1
Running Head: Hume's and Locke's Skeptical EmpiricismHume's and Locke's Skeptical Empiricism[The Writer's Name][The Name of the Institution]Hume's and Locke's Skeptical EmpiricismThe doctrine of innate ideas is most significant in the development of empiricism since it points in the direction of the analysis of human understanding, the enterprise which engaged Locke and Hume. That Locke opens his Essay Concerning Human Understanding with a polemic against innate ideas is adequate testimony to this point. Locke considers ideas only from the point of view of their fixed character and regards capacities or faculties of the mind as merely expressing the fact that the mind can have ideas. The nature of such a faculty, its extent and limitations, considered in itself before a given idea or principle is present to the mind would be relevant to a discussion of the causes of the idea or principle. The faculty must at least be part of the causal process, but Locke does not allow even this modest point because he is committed to the position that the only cause of ideas of sense is external. The mind is supposed to be as passive as a white piece of paper. Locke's peculiar doctrine that external objects in the natural world have powers which produce the various ideas of sense in our minds is a consequence of his refusal to allow that the mind may have an active part in the causation of ideas of sense. Since all innate ideas are disallowed and there is no point in discussing capacities or faculties of the mind as such, he is then free to attribute the entire cause to external bodies.The reason Locke cannot allow any kind of a priori structure or disposition to the mind, as has been said already, is that he either assumes or is convinced that in order for ideas of sense to be real, their original source must be external and natural. Further, it appears that the meaning of "real" for Locke is something like "that which exists externally and independently of human beings and their minds." And admission of a priori character to the mind, any innate ideas or principles derived independently of experience, would contaminate the reality of ideas of sense. Locke is perfectly willing to admit the existence of faculties of the mind and ideas of reflection as long as it is clear that these do not develop or occur before experience of ideas of sense. He has the idea that what comes first to the mind must be, somehow, the most crucial or important factor in knowledge, what determines its reality. (Yolton, 1956) Evidently he thinks that if he admitted some a priori mental factor it would be impossible to regard the ideas of sense as fundamental. Any compromise on this issue would undercut the dictum of empiricism that the sole and original source of knowledge is sense experience.Locke feels that what is independent of mind is real, that is, external material things, and that the source of ideas of sense must be in the real...

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