Last Updated 20 Aug 2020

The Epistemologies of Locke and Hume

Category Epistemology, Hume
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The term Epistemology comes from the Greek word "episteme," which means knowledge, and “logos” meaning study or science. It was brought about during the time of the enlightenment during the 17th-18th centuries by modern philosophers.

It answers the question, “How do we know?” It is concerned with the way minds relate to reality, and whether these relationships are valid or invalid. It is the explanation of how we think and are required to determine the true from the false. Thus, Epistemology is explained through empiricism and skepticism.

First of all, let’s talk about the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) rejected French natural philosopher Rene Descartes’ rationalism, and he popularized the concept of the “tabula rasa.” Tabula rasa is a Latin phrase that translates as "blank slate" in English. This concept is central to Locke's empiricism. Locke held that the mind is related to a "blank slate,” and all the information and data that are acquired from sensory experiences.

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This is known as empiricism. It is the study of psychology that refers to interpreting ideas and beliefs through cognitive abilities such as thought, behavior, and awareness. John Locke the study of empiricism to analyze the personality, behavior, and attitude of the people. He conducted experiments to determine the psychological influences in the behavior and thought of the people. Locke claims that “such qualities which are capable of producing simple ideas in us'' (Locke 282).

For instance, “There are two views, Empiricism and Rationalism. Followers of Locke, Empiricists, believe that all knowledge comes through experience. Rationalists, followers of the second view, believe that knowledge accumulates through reason.” There is reason to support Rationalism because Empiricism does not permit knowledge based on faith such as God or the soul.

Locke contends that the human personality does not have inborn, natural thoughts; rather, people are brought into the world with thinking. Locke accepts that people are not brought into the world with fundamental standards of rationale for example, a triangle has three sides because these thoughts are inborn. Locke's reaction to the possibility of intrinsic thoughts is that they are unclear.

He addresses the entire idea and accepts that it is inconceivable for something to be in the psyche without one monitoring it. He reasons that with the end goal for something to be in the brain, to be mental, it must be conscious. Locke characterizes information as the association and understanding, of the thoughts people structure. There is evidence to support Locke’s viewpoints. I accept that people are brought into the world with some kind of information, for instance, knowing who our mother is. (stop)Nevertheless, we aren't brought into the world with good judgment immediately, when we are conceived.

We increase the presence of mind as we get more seasoned and are presented to more things throughout everyday life. We quickly don't have the haziest idea that fire is hot. We utilize our faculties to make sense of that, and by others disclosing to us, that fire is hot. Straightforward information like that isn't picked up when we are simply conceived. It requires some investment for us to understand the easily overlooked details.

For example, we don’t believe in God immediately after we are born. We find out about God through our folks and companions. In the wake of finding out about God, decide to accept or do not have confidence in God. Natural thoughts don't simply ring a bell. Not all thoughts are legitimately connected to the psyche. Thus, Locke doesn't believe that knowledge of logic is innate.

The British philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) was a strong skeptic and believed the real world is unknowable. Hume said there is no soul it is an illusion created by our unfounded trust in cause and effect. He said, “If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same, through the whole course of our lives’ since self is supposed to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable"(Hume).

This brings up the question, what is it then that we think we are perceiving when we perceive the self. The self is nothing more than the perceptions which are available to our memory. We take these perceptions and recombine them into meaning and substance using our previous experience as a guide. Unfortunately, Hume says that this previous experience relies entirely on the principle of cause and effect, which itself is not proof of its truth. Without a memory of previous cause and effect relationships repeatedly happening, we would not have concluded that there is a self. Hence, there is no consistent unchanging self.

Hume recognized that the only conclusion was that the is just the collection of perceptions. There is no independent entity that has those impressions that we can refer to as the self. Hume defines self as a constant change and a bunch of different perceptions based on our senses. Hume also referred to this concept as the bundle theory. The bundle theory is the concept that all objects only consist of a collection of properties. Hume was a strong Skeptic and believed the real world is unknowable.

He believes that to have goals and dreams we must have consciousness. For example, Hume said there is no soul it is an illusion created by our unfounded trust in cause and effect. Because our consciousness is constantly changing, there is no self which remains the same. Hume also believes that western society thinks too much about tomorrow when he feels we might not be here tomorrow. We should enjoy today and not worry about the future.

However, we still need to have a sense of ourselves to have some satisfaction. Even though he believed in the self, individuals are continually changing and there is no permanent idea of our self. Hume reveals that “all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience”(Hume 292).

All useful knowledge comes from the consciousness we experience, but these do not tell us anything that is necessarily true, except the existence of the consciousness. Hume stated that consciousness makes little sense to us until our minds have learned to interpret them and that interpretations occur by custom, instinct, and habits. If we experience two events in succession enough times, then we will come to expect one event after witnessing the other. For example, Pavlov experimented with dogs and made them learn to salivate at the sound of the bell. By pairing a conditioned food with an unconditioned stimulus (the bell) together, dogs learned that the bell would always be associated with food. Then Pavlov took away the food, and his dogs had been conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell.

Hume applied his reasoning to science and argued that we only assume the future will resemble the past and that the laws of physics will not suddenly change because this is how the world has always appeared to us. E.g. gravity is the attraction between bodies with mass. It is an invisible force that pulls every object to each other. It is a law given by Newton. Hume claimed that knowledge of the self is also formed by custom and habit. He could not see any evidence that the mind is made of a non-physical substance, or that it persists through time separately from the body.

Hume described the mind as a bundle of consciousness and did not think there was any evidence of something that takes ownership of these sensations, a self. Although Hume accepted that there are thoughts, he did not accept Descartes’ claim that this means there must be a thinker. Hume's theory leads to radical skepticism because he acknowledges that using Empiricism makes certain areas of inquiry unintelligible. E.g. the problem of induction. So, on the one hand, he says that there is no consistent self, and on the other hand, he claims that self is important.

In conclusion, the study of knowledge is one of the most fundamental aspects of philosophical inquiry. Any claim to knowledge must be evaluated to determine whether it indeed constitutes knowledge. Such an evaluation requires an understanding of what knowledge is and how much knowledge is possible. Hume's theory of the mind owes a great debt to John Locke's ideas. Comparing the two theories, empiricism is better than rationalism because the knowledge gained through personal experiences and awareness helps to understand the concepts, beliefs, or ideas explicitly.

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