Epistemology is one of the very important branches of philosophy. It is also known as the knowledge theory. The knowledge theory consists of three questions; “What is the origin of knowledge? What is the reliability of knowledge? & What is the criteria of knowledge? ” Rene Descartes and John Locke really looked into epistemology and both had different theories to approach it. John Locke looked at empiricism and Rene Descartes looked at rationalism. John Locke was an English philosopher and formed his opinion around empiricism. Empiricism is an approach to doing philosophy stressing experience as the in road to all knowledge.
The human being is a blank slate to him. Locke was a moderate skeptic, who doubted until valid proof was given to substantiate truth claims of a demonstrative and sensitive nature. The foundations of knowledge functioned in the following manner according to Locke. The human being takes in the external world through sensation (the five senses) and gives form to the experiential data through the processes of reflection. To Locke, intuitive knowledge is the most trustworthy because we automatically recognize the agreement or disagreement of ideas without the intervention of a “proof”.
His criterion of knowledge depended on the force and intensity with which someone perceives either agreement or disagreement between ideas. So for example, we know that 2+3=5. We also know that 2+3 does not equal 7. Locke, unlike Descartes, argues against innate ideas. However, Locke believes that we are all born with the ability to acquire knowledge through the organization of sensate data by the cognitive capacities and capabilities we possess at birth, which are innate to the human. Descartes had a different view of epistemology. He argued for rationalism.
Rationalism is an approach to philosophy that employs “pure reason” to acquire instances of fundamental truth. In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes comes up with three fundamental truths by way of pure reason. The first fundamental truth is “I think, therefore I exist. ” This fundamental truth establishes for Descartes the “essence” of the human being in his philosophy, as the “thing that thinks. ” He is reflecting on himself as the “object of deception” and reasons that despite being deceived, as long as he can think about it, he exists.
Having a clear perception of the fundamental truths can guarantee they can be trusted with absolute certainty and cannot ever be false. The three fundamental truths (self, god, & mathematics) are examples of innate knowledge, or truths that all humans are born with given to by God. Descartes says we can discover these truths through the Meditations, by way of doing philosophy, but we do not pursue these in the same manner we pursue other forms of knowledge such as science. The dream argument is aimed at the external world.
It says that “I often have perceptions very much like the ones I have while I’m dreaming. There are no definite signs to distinguish dream experience from wake experience, so it is possible that I am dreaming right now and all my perceptions are false. ” In my opinion, I think that John Locke’s position on empiricism is more philosophically sound to me. Just to re-cap, empiricism is an approach to doing philosophy stressing experience as the in road to all knowledge. The human being as a blank slate really makes sense to me.
We automatically know that we can agree or disagree without having to have proof to go along with it. I think that sense experience is always the starting point to knowledge. I think in order to learn something in life you have to experience it first. You can’t just go out and expect the knowledge to be in your brain for no reason. For example, how would you know what the color blue looks like if you were born blind? You would need to use your senses to try and understand what the color is. God couldn’t just put it in your mind because it’s something that you just need to see.
Also, you can learn from the experiences you go through. If you do something and it ends up being wrong, then you learn from that experience and how you can go about it differently next time. In my opinion, rationalism has some defects that would make it harder to understand philosophically. A rationalist comes to believe that knowledge is a lot like math. So pretty much, it is knowledge that comes before experience. Something that you already know, but have never experienced before. I think that is a bit problematic because how can you know something that you never experienced?
Epistemology plays a big role in philosophy as does John Locke and Rene Descartes. They both have great views on epistemology looking at rationalism and empiricism. When thinking about rationalism, we know that knowledge can be acquired through reason alone and that we don’t need experience. But when thinking about empiricism, we know that we learn through our experiences as a person. Justifying truth as a philosopher, I would agree more with Locke’s view on empiricism. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that you need experience to learn, and to grow as a person.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 November 2016
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