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Locke’s Representational Realism. Empiricist Epistemology Epistemology  The study of knowledge (how and what we can know)  Knowledge = true beliefs,

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Presentation on theme: "Locke’s Representational Realism. Empiricist Epistemology Epistemology  The study of knowledge (how and what we can know)  Knowledge = true beliefs,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Locke’s Representational Realism

2 Empiricist Epistemology Epistemology  The study of knowledge (how and what we can know)  Knowledge = true beliefs, thoughts, propositions  Truth = a belief or proposition is said to be true if it corresponds to reality  Ex: The proposition “this sentence has 5 words” is true if it actually has 5 words. Empiricist epistemology:  knowledge consists of ideas that are true (correspond to reality)  Ideas are objects of cognition  All ideas/objects of cognition are derived from either sensation or reflection  In order for an idea to be true, it must ultimately have as its source sensory experience with sense data and it must be verified/checked by experience  All knowledge begins with experience and is limited to experience

3 Empiricist Epistemology Positivism: a radical 20 th century empiricist position that maintains that propositions are meaningful if and only if they are:  Analytically true, i.e., logically true, true by definition  A triangle is a three sided object with internal angles that add up to 180 degrees  Empirically, factually verifiable (at least in principle)  This sentence has 5 words. The chalk is white  Any claims that are not true analytically or factually are meaningless Hume’s Fork: propositions are true if they are about  Relations of ideas: “analytic a priori” claims  Matters of fact: “synthetic a posteriori” claims

4 British Empiricism British Empiricism – a belief system that all knowledge is based on ideas developed from sense data or sensory experience John Locke (1632 – 1704) (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690)

5 John Locke John Locke (1632 – 1704) (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690)  Philosophy: empiricist epistemology  Political theory  Psychology Locke’s philosophy is “modern” in the sense that almost all post- Cartesian philosophy is modern: it takes as its first and foremost task epistemology (instead of ethics, metaphysics, political theory, psychology, etc.) Locke’s Task: finding the proper foundation of knowledge by studying the methods and content of knowledge acquisition

6 History of the idea (meaning) of ideas The problem of ideas: if knowledge consists of ideas, then what is an idea? Where do they come from? How and when are they true? History of the idea of ideas:  Plato:  Reality is dualistic: Mind – ideas vs. body -- things  Ideas exist independently from the mind and transcend physical, temporal, spatial, empirical reality while making possible the appearance of empirical reality in its meaning to us. Ideas are immaterial, objective, intelligible (accessible by the mind), non-sensible (not able to be perceived empirically)  Certain ideas are innate (truth, beauty, goodness, justice, love, equality, friendship, identity, difference)  Descartes:  Reality is dualistic: Mind – ideas vs. body -- things  But, ideas do not existence independently from the mind (or the mind of God)  Ideas exist in our minds as that through and according to which we understand reality. Ideas are the object of knowledge, and the most basic ideas are innate ideas: A=A, perfection, self, God.  Certain ideas are innate, such as the idea of God, perfection

7 Locke’s theory of ideas Locke’s overall point: Ideas are mental representations of primary and secondary qualities of reality and are derived from the world by human sensation when empirical reality imprints itself on our senses/mind. Locke’s genealogical method (a “historical plain method”): trace ideas back to their origin in experience Locke first seeks to “clear the ground” of what he believes to be the most obfuscatory epistemological debris of past philosophies—the doctrine of innate ideas.  The theory of innate ideas holds that certain ideas and principles are “hard wired” congenitally into the mind itself instead of being acquired through experience: we are born pre-programmed with certain ideas without which the world could not be intelligible  Examples: the principles of logic, the logic of parts/whole, the idea of perfection, God, oneness, equality, goodness

8 Locke’s critique of the theory of innate ideas Locke’s critique of innate ideas: If there are any ideas that are universal, the cause of the universality of ideas is not their innateness; rather, it is that human experience is largely and consistently uniform However, certain ideas are not universal, for they are demonstrably relative to biological and cultural determinations Better explanations, or accounts, can be given for how ideas that are supposedly innate are actually constructed Locke’s theory of the mind as “tabula rasa”  At birth, each individual mind is a blank slate  Any contents of the mind are put there by experience

9 Representational Realism Epistemological position that all knowledge is based on ideas developed from sense data from sensory experience of the world 1 st 2 nd 3 rd 4 th The worldBody Mind Knowledge Presents itselfSensation Cognition ExpressionImpression Idea True claim/belief Primary substance Primary & Secondary Copy True copy Objective TRUTH = Accurate re-presentation of objects in reality

10 The acquisition of ideas Two forms/functions of human experience  Sensation:  The world impresses itself upon us via our sensations  Analogy: the mind is like a camera: The senses are the lenses that passively receive sense impressions (sensations); the external world actively imprints itself upon the film of your mind The mind is analogous to film  Reflection (cognition):  mental activities/operations: thinking, deductive and inductive inferences, judgments, decisions, analysis, criticism, evaluation, remembering, knowing,

11 Simple Ideas Simple ideas  The simplest impressions/sensations are “simple ideas”: the simplest particles or atoms of thought that can’t be analyzed into anything more simple  Simple primary sensations/ideas Ex. This-here-now object (Twinkie): extension, location, duration  Simple secondary sensations/ideas Ex: color, smell, touch, taste, sounds: yellow, white, hot, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, loud, quiet, etc

12 Complex Ideas Complex ideas  Complex ideas are a constellation of ideas that are assembled out of simple ideas to form complex objects that mirror the world.  Example: the idea of a flower is a complex idea that is assembled out of the experience of simple impressions (ideas) of differing unassembled colors, textures, size, shape, and so on.  Only after much exposure to many flowers do children actual understand the complex idea of a flower as what all of these simple impressions/ideas form: bright yellow + the petals + the green stems + odor = daffodil (a complex idea).

13 Formation of complex ideas The formation of complex ideas is accomplished by three activities of the mind  Compounding: (building particular identities) this Apple = red + round + sweet etc  Relating: (establishing difference through comparison) this Apple ≠ this Orange; but both are fruit, which ≠ vegetables  Abstracting: (establishing abstract & general ideas—universals vs. particulars—by ignoring individual distinctions and drawing out commonalities): not this apple, but apples in general; not this orange, but oranges in general; not this fruit, but fruit in general; a bunch of flowers in a plot = flower garden  The idea of infinity (a reflective idea): we generalize our own cognitive ability and experience of repeating something “without end”

14 Qualities: Primary & Secondary Primary qualities: the basic objective qualities of an external object that belong properly to the object and that impress themselves upon us and can be objectively known: extension, shape, solidity, motion, rest, number etc  Our ideas about primary qualities can accurately “mirror” the world and be adequate/faithful representations of how things really are in the external world  Certain Knowledge of primary qualities is accessible through mathematical/scientific thinking Secondary qualities: subjective qualities of an external object that impress themselves upon us but that do not properly belong to the object: colors, sound, tastes, odors, warmth, etc  Our ideas about secondary qualities cannot accurately mirror reality, or be faithful to what a thing actually is  Why? Because knowledge of secondary qualities is epistemologically relative to the knowing subject

15 Representative Realism The mind is acquainted only with its own ideas, but these ideas are caused by and represent (reflect) objects external to the mind The epistemological import of this is that the mind accesses and understands reality through ideas that it has received from the world and has about the world as a result of the sensations/ideas the world impresses on the mind.  Reality = ideas about reality, which = empirical data provided by reality. Therefore, reality = empirical data: the real is empirical, and rationality is secondary to and derivative of the empiricality of reality/sensation As a result, the object of knowledge is not knowable in itself apart from representational ideas that we have about it. It is only ever known through our experience of it

16 Representational Realism Epistemological position that all knowledge is based on ideas developed from sense data from sensory experience of the world 1 st 2 nd 3 rd 4 th The worldBody Mind Knowledge Presents itselfSensation Cognition ExpressionImpression Idea True claim/belief Primary substance Primary & Secondary Copy True copy, representation Objective TRUTH = Accurate re-presentation of objects in reality

17 The Problem of Representative Realism It explains how knowledge possible; but it also explains how it is limited and even possibly erroneous  According to Locke, all knowledge is re-presentational, meaning that we can only have knowledge of how reality presents itself through the re-presentations it leaves on our senses  This is the “inner-outer” epistemological problem: If all we know are the ideas in our minds, then our knowledge is never knowledge of reality, since we cannot get behind the veil of our ideas. How can we know that our ideas about reality are true if our knowledge is limited to those ideas/sensations?

18 How Representational Realism leads to Skepticism Being The Totality of Reality Sensory Experience Ideas Knowledge

19 The Empiricist Theory of the Idea of God The idea of God is not innate. Therefore, the idea of God must originate in experience. However, there is no empirical experience of an entity or fact called “God”, so the idea “God” must be constructed from simple, complex, and relational ideas to build an idea that is abstract. How is this done?  1 st We experience existence, knowledge, power, goodness, presence/duration, and so on  2 nd We form the ideas of existence, knowledge, power, presence, goodness  3 rd via reflection we abstractly and imaginatively idealize/perfect/infinitize these ideas to construct ideas of  perfect knowledge  perfect power  perfect goodness  perfect duration/presence  4 th We unify theses into one super abstract concept: perfect being; a being which is perfect in every conceivable way: omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent & eternal  5 th We assign to this unitary conglomeration of ideas the concept and name/symbol “God”, which is an extrapolation of finite empirical experience


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