The thought that humans are born with some sort of innate ideas has been a much debated topic for many years. It is impossible to say if it is true or not, but it is believed true by many people, including some religions. John Locke has several arguments against innate knowledge; among these, the argument that states that if we did in fact possess innate ideas, then everybody would agree on at least one idea. There are no principles that everybody aggress on. Therefore, innate ideas cannot possibly exist. Locke uses the logic of this argument for several different situations such as the argument for moral innate knowledge.
Locke starts off this argument by saying “No moral principles so clear and so generally received as the fore-mentioned speculative maxims. If those speculative maxims whereof we discoursed in the foregoing chapter, have not an actually universal assent from all mankind, as we there proved it is much more visible concerning practical principles, that they come short of a universal reception; and I think it will be hard to instance any one moral rule which can pretend to so general and ready an assent as, ‘What is, is’, or to be so manifest a truth as this, ‘That it is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be.
’” (pg 26 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding) Some people believe that every person has a set of morals bestowed in them at birth, but Locke argues this by saying that not every person in the world agrees on a set of morals so there is no possible way this could be true. He says that there is not a single moral idea that we can say that everybody in the world agrees to, which eliminates any question of innate knowledge. Descartes would disagree with Locke on the subject of innate ideas.
He felt that we did possess these types of ideas and would probably reply to Locke’s argument by saying that although all people may not agree on one moral idea, that doesn’t mean that they do not possess any innate idea, they may possess different ones. Descartes may also respond by saying that it’s God’s will for us to possess these ideas and only he knows why everybody does not agree on a single one. This argument wouldn’t hold up well against Locke’s because it seems that moral ideas are developed depending on the religion or part of the world that a person is raised in.
It seems much more plausible that, with humans at least, an infant is a blank slate and is taught everything that it will need to survive. It might be easier for Descartes to argue against animal innate knowledge since animals seem to possess it much more than humans do. Some animals are not even raised by a parent, simply born and left to fend for themselves, but since Descartes also feels animals lack intelligence, I would imagine he would not begin to argue to possibility of them possessing any sort of innate knowledge. On this particular subject, I would side more with Locke than Descartes.
Locke addresses some serious issues that arise when suggesting that innate ideas exist. He says that if we did in fact possess innate ideas, then everybody would agree on at least one idea. There are no principles that everybody aggress on. Therefore, innate ideas cannot possibly exist. This seems to be a pretty obvious statement in the world today and since the beginning of time. People have always disagreed on anything they could and will always disagree. It is completely impossible to prove or disprove the existence of innate ideas, but Locke comes much closer to disproving them than anybody else does to proving them.
It seems that in order for a person to prove the existence of these ideas, they would also need to prove the existence of a supreme being. The argument for innate knowledge in animals would be much more believable than the argument for innate knowledge in humans. When an infant is born, it is completely helpless; it does not have the power to walk or understand they things around it and it can’t even see more than 12 inches in front of its face. I find it hard to believe that anything this helpless could possible have any ideas about morals or anything else in the world.
Animals have a sense of survival that humans lack. From the moment they are born, a majority of them learn to walk within minutes or hours, and some are even left by their parents to fend for themselves. This shows the possibility of innate knowledge much more than a human child and if we are all born with any type of agreement on a set or moral principles, why do we have a law we have to enforce? If we did agree on this subject, we would not have to prosecute anybody for breaking any moral code that our society sets for us to follow.