Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

A Reflection on Innatism: Revisiting Locke and Leibniz

Category Metaphysics
Words 834 (3 pages)

Locke was clear about his philosophy- that there is no rational intuition that subjects an individual to a multitude of ideas which he he/she hasn’t encountered through experience yet. Our mind is a tabula rasa in contrast to what Descartes might have presumed to be preconditioned by some divinity or what was called as having innate ideas.

Locke strongly feels that external source such as sensation from experience molds our thoughts. Although this essay may not be able to prove scientifically the validity of Locke’s contention, at least by revisiting his philosophical explanation, one is led to rethink any prior belief which either favors or opposes him; or begin a journey of reflection which would satisfy at the very least, our thirst for reason.

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Innatism disagrees with early theorists such as Locke by arguing that humans have innate knowledge or have access to ideas, which are inborn like those that we conceive as true because they are self-evident without the need of some external source to rely on. Innatism proponents refer to ideas we have known beyond experience such as those acquired through transcendental possibilities, notions of good and evil or morals, ethical truths, and nature of causality.

This is similar to Plato’s theory of knowledge of the forms; that we already have gained knowledge of things before we are born and we only tend to remember them as we experience life (Anamnesis). He showed this in Meno, when Socrates led a boy to explain something he has not been taught or has not learned yet but nonetheless was able to arrive at. Is it possible for humans to have known anything without having learned it?

Do we truly have knowledge in our subconscious that will soon be revealed when reminded or called for? Locke thinks there is a process in the formation of ideas among mankind. He further explained his case in his “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” More or less, the conflict is whether or not ideas are derived from experience and its sensation or pure reason.

First, should there be ideas derived from pure reason, then it should result to a universality of ideas or the so-called universal assent. For while the proponents of innate ideas reason that the nature of ideas held true by everyone is innate, Locke questions the existence of ideas which however are universally accepted are not necessarily innate unless there was no other way for it to be established. In the first place, Locke is not comfortable with the idea of universality.

Morality and ethics are dependent on cultures and norms. Besides, the acceptance of innate ideas might challenge a person’s capacity to retain them since there are so many ideas to remember yet the brain could only afford to store enough. There will certainly be issues of which universal ideas and how many of them do we innately possess?

As objection to Locke’s arguments, supporters of innatism purport the need for Reason to discover the innate ideas. However to Locke, this is a manifestation of self-contradiction since the primary argument of the opponent is- that innate ideas do not need external source for confirmation. Better yet, are the experiences that provoke remembrance of the innate ideas necessarily the same as well?

On a personal note, Locke’s contenders must be delineating between innate ideas, which are the harbinger of Pure Reason therefore making them innate as well and ideas which, out of our experiences as we grow, are either modified and are potentially creating new forms of reason nevertheless corrupted. For instance, even if we think of killing other people as innately immoral, the formation of new cultures and new belief systems may transform this otherwise like when it becomes acceptable in political terms, (i.e. war against terrorism) or anthropological terms (i.e. cannibalism).

This is probably why they adhere to Pure Reason- that which is uncorrupted by society’s development and change. Locke could challenge this by saying that there will emerge to be better societies like those which are deviant from modernity or that children must be more expert than adults in conceiving innate ideas. Thus, in discussions of origin of ideas, adherents of innate ideas are on the losing end.

How then are ideas or knowledge created? This is somehow presented in Locke’s counterargument on universal assent- such that if ideas are innate, they have to be assented to universally. This calls for differences in ideas that are innate in one person against another. But the need for them to be assented to suggests that there are no innate ideas. People are prone to disagreements and could this be explained by the innateness of the ideas or of their inherent differences?

It seems like Locke would rather explain this through varying capacities of people to understand and react to experiences which we encounter or have encountered in the past hence making us susceptible to perceiving distinct opinions. Knowledge is a result of this interaction among people and whichever prevails is the one, which is rendered more reasonable than the other as a result of more coherent experiences.

A Reflection on Innatism: Revisiting Locke and Leibniz essay

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