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Autor: anton • September 7, 2010 • 1,583 Words (7 Pages) • 1,954 Views
Empiricism by nature is the belief that there is no knowledge without experience. How can one know what something tastes like if they have never tasted it? For example, would someone know that an apple is red if they have never actually have seen one. Someone can tell you an apple is red, but, if you never have seen one, can you really be sure?
Empiricists use three anchor points in which they derive their opinions from. The first of these points is; the only source of genuine knowledge is sense experience. An easier way to understand this is to compare the mind to a clean sponge. As the sponge touches things, it takes with it, a piece of everything it touches. Without this, the sponge would remain clean and be void of anything other than its own material. With this conclusion, empiricist believes we must be content with the knowledge we have at hand, rather than things we have not yet been privy to.
The second anchor point is; Reason is an unreliable and inadequate route to knowledge unless it is grounded in the solid bedrock of sense experience. Empiricists believe that all of our words meanings are derived from our experiences. Everything can be traced back to a single moment in our lives. Empiricists understand that reason is necessary in helping us make our experience intelligible, but reason alone cannot provide knowledge.
The third anchor point is; there is no evidence of innate Ideas within the mind that are known apart from experience. What this means is the mind does not possess ideas that are not backed by experience. In no case are there a priori truths that can both tell about the world and are known apart from experience.
When asked the three epistemological questions the three empiricists all have different answers. The first of these questions is; is knowledge possible? John Locke (1632-1704) states "Knowledge, however, is not something lying out there in the grass; it is located in our minds. So to understand knowledge we have to analyze the contents of our minds and see what they tell us about the world" (pg. 93). Locke believes that all of our known truths are made up of simple ideas. Simple ideas are what make up the rudimental elements of everything else we know to be true to us today. For example, they consist of ideas such, hot and cold, soft and hard, bitter and sweet. They also give us experience through are own mental operations such as, reasoning, willing, knowing, and doubting. These ideas are then related to each other which is how the mind would come with up with the more complex ideas that are involved in critical thinking.
Another of the classic empiricists is George Berkeley (1685-1753), who believes that knowledge is possible. He believed that "it was only through experience and not reason that we have knowledge of reality" (p.99). The best way to describe what Berkeley was trying to say would be found in what we call today idealism. Idealism by definition is a position that maintains that ultimate reality is mental or spiritual in nature. He believed that reality is made up in many individual minds rather than one cosmic mind. Hence, when Berkeley says that we have an idea of something he is not necessarily referring to a particular concept but to the experience of our memory of the combined ideas.
The third empiricist is David Hume (1711-1776) and he does not answer this question as easily as the first two have. He believes that knowledge is possible but is limited by what we cannot know about the world outside of our own experience. Since we can only know the contents of our individual minds, knowledge would and can be different for each person. Hume believes that sensory data is key for any individual in order to know something is real. For example, if two people were sitting together, one possessing the ability to see and hear and the other does not, could the one the latter really know that a car drove by and that fact that it was red? Examples like this one are why Hume believes that knowledge is possible but limited to each person's individual experiences in the world.
The second epistemological question is; does reason provide us with knowledge of the world independently of experience? John Locke says the answer to this question is no. He uses arguments discussed in the third anchor point of empiricism to support this idea. Locke does not believe that reason alone can provide knowledge because we do not possess innate knowledge that we are not aware of. To best describe this Locke proposes this model: "Suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? When man has painted on it with endless variety, how does it have all the materials of reason and knowledge to this question I answer, in one word, from experience. In that all our knowledge is founded, and from that, it ultimately drives itself" (p94). Therefore, without these experiences Locke believes that we would not possess the concept of reason and because of that reason alone cannot provide us knowledge of the world.
Berkeley's answer to the second question is no as well. He believed that it was only through experience and not reason that we have any knowledge of reality. Since our experiences differ from each individual, reality too will differ for each individual. These ideas as he calls them are the concrete contents of our minds. These ideas are provided through
experience and not reason. Therefore, we can not posses' knowledge through