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© Michael Lacewing Empiricism on the origin of ideas Michael Lacewing

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1 © Michael Lacewing Empiricism on the origin of ideas Michael Lacewing

2 Lockes attack John Locke: there are no innate ideas –At birth, the mind is a tabula rasa –all ideas are gained through sense experience No idea can be part of the mind without the mind being conscious of it. Idea: Locke means both propositions and concepts

3 Locke on acquiring ideas The Senses at first let in particular Ideas, and furnish the yet empty Cabinet: And the Mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they are lodged in the Memory, and Names got to them. Afterwards the Mind proceeding farther, abstracts them, and by Degrees learns the use of general Names. In this manner the Mind comes to be furnishd with Ideas and Language, the Materials about which to exercise its discursive Faculty. (Essay I.II.15)

4 Humes correction The sensation of yellow isnt the same thing as the concept YELLOW Hume: we have an impression of yellow, and form the idea YELLOW from this –We copy it – cp imagining yellow v. seeing it We also have impressions of our mental activities as well, so we acquire concepts of memory, perception etc.

5 Acquiring concepts Simple ideas: we have simple impressions, e.g. single colours, shapes, smells, etc. Simple ideas are derived from these. Complex ideas: We can unite and abstract from simple ideas to make complex ideas –We unite certain impressions (look, smell, sound, feel) to form the idea of ROVER (a dog) –We abstract from impressions to form the idea of DOG, which does not refer to any particular impression (or set of impressions) of a dog

6 Objection Do all concepts derive from experience? E.g. PHYSICAL OBJECT –This refers to something existing independently of experience, in objective space and time Hume: I cant have an experience of something existing independently of experience –Two experiences of the same thing, e.g. a desk, are very similar; but I cant infer that they are two experiences of the same thing, which existed between the two experiences

7 Objection Hume: If I cant derive PHYSICAL OBJECT from experience, then it is illegitimate, based on a confusion between similarity and identity A similar argument can be made for other ideas, e.g. SELF, CAUSATION This means that our common sense understanding of the world is false! Is experience the origin of our ideas?

8 Objection II Are complex ideas are built up from simple ideas? Attempts to analyse philosophical concepts like knowledge, truth, beauty into their simple constituents have all failed to produce agreement. Prototype theory: a family of properties, many of them not necessary Not an objection to empiricism per se

9 Circularity You cant acquire the concept YELLOW from an impression of yellow; you have to learn the range and variety of colours to which YELLOW refers. How do we distinguish yellow from non-yellow things? We need to notice and pick out the similarity in colour. But this means we must already be able to classify our experiences as same or different in terms of being yellow or not. But to have this ability is already to have the concept YELLOW!

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