Do you agree with Locke that men and women are not born with innate principles? Why or why not?
The principles provided by the theory of innate principles are very interesting. Philosopher Socrates is the inventor of the innate principles. It was provided by the philosopher that men and women come into the world equipped with knowledge they had gained in their previous life. He argues that the body possessed by individuals may be new but their sole which does not change, possesses knowledge from the previous life. Knowledge is simply required to be reminded to the sole as it may have forgotten it. However John Locke has clearly rejected such views. He had a totally different view on innate knowledge and provided that no such thing is present. The contradictory theory which has been provided by Locke is known as “Tabula Rasa”. The paper examines to what extent the theory provided by Locke is true.
In his book an Essay Concerning Human Understanding it has been provided by Locke that as he intends to investigate into certainty, originality and extent of human knowledge, along with degree and grounds of belief assent and opinion he is going to initiate his enquiry with ideas as it is the material which is used to construct knowledge. He states in his book that his initial task is to investigate into the originality of such ides and the methods through which the knowledge comes to be consistent with them. The book attempts to make it clear that understanding is not flourished with ideas and principles by the way of being innate. Innateness is treated as an empirical hypothesis by Locke and in addition he provides an argument that there is no concrete evidence of supporting such principles.
Innate ideas have been described by Locke as “some primary notions…Characters as it were stamped upon the Mind of Man, which the Soul receives in its very first Being; and brings into the world with it”. In the pursuit of such investigation it has been provided by Locke that there are no speculative innate principles, or that human possess innate idea provided by God or practical innate moral principles or impossibility or identity.
The dispositional accounts in relation to innate principles have been attacked by Locke while rejecting arguments in favor of universal assent. Thus in argument against the evidence related to universal Locke holds that idiots and children should be aware of truths like “What is, is” or “It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be” but in reality they are not. However a question which arises in relation to Locke’s argument is that why idiots and children have to be aware of such truths. The answer to this question as strongly provided by Locke is that it would be contradictory to state that souls are imprinted with truths which it does not understand or perceive.
The only thing which such imprinting signifies is making a few truths to be perceived. Thus, where such proportions would have been innate they should have been perceived immediately where practically they are not. However the dispositional accounts provide that under certain circumstance innate principles have the capability of being perceived. Until and unless such situations arise the propositions also are unperceived in the mind. When such situations came into existence the perception the proposition takes place.
Locke's Rejection of Innate Knowledge
However according to Locke where a specific proposition is in mind but is not known, than through the same reasoning the propositions which are true and those which the mind is always capable to assent must be present in the mind and be imprinted. Like any one can be in the mind but still is unknown it must only exists because there is capability of knowing it, the mind would consist of all the trusts it will known in the future. According to (Anderson, John and Bower 2014) the essence of the argument provided by Locke against dispositional accounts of innate propositions is that an adequate basis for differentiating between innate proposition and other propositions which the mind may find is not provided by such dispositional accounts.
Some additional consideration other than that of the arguments against innate speculative principles continue to be applicable when Locke turns to the question related to the existence of innate practical moral principles from speculative principles. The golden rule which is a practical principle are not as self evident as speculative principles such as “What is, is”. Lehto (2015) provides a sensible and clear argument that why should the golden rule be obeyed and be considered as true.
According to (Tully 2013) substantial differences exist among people with respect to what practical principles consist. Therefore such people would more likely not be the candidates of innate propositions or towards meeting the notions of universal assent. Therefore it can be argued that where ideas which are treated as the constructive of knowledge are not innate than in the same way knowledge itself cannot be considered as innate. The ideas of impossibility and identity and god making such points had been examined by Locke (Locke 2014).
However the theory provided by Locke provides little arguments and notions which have been suggested by those who are the believers of the theory of innate principles. Therefore he has been criticized on various occasions for attacking straw men. It has been provided by (Clanton 2017) persuasively that view in relation to the existence of innate principles and ideas are required for religions, natural law and morality to be stable was widely accepted in England during the 17th century and by attacking both dispositional and naïve account of innate principles and innate ideas, positions which were widely continued and held had been attacked by Locke. Therefore the criticism which states that Locke was attacking Straw men is not correct and just.
It has been provided by Locke that once the doctrine of innate principles had been accepted the lazy had been eased from the pain of searching. In addition the theory is utilized by people who “affected to be Masters and Teachers” towards gaining control illegitimately of their students mind as a inquiry stopper. Therefore it can be stated that innate principles are connected with anti-authoritarianism principles. Locke through is theory expresses the importance of autonomous and free investigation for the search of truth. This can therefore be held as the best road towards happiness and knowledge. In the same way as Descartes, Locke is also bringing down the “foundations of old Aristotelian scholastic house of knowledge”.
Criticism of Locke's Views
The view which has been provided by Locke has also been supported by Francis Bacon. However in support of the view provided by Socrates, a study conducted by National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS) have revealed that animals do not gain any knowledge from new experiences as there is no change in their neuron positioning. Therefore the study can be a significant argument against the theory provide by Locke against innatism. It may be considered as a significant discovery in the field of understanding memory, development and learning. However this study is more appropriate for arguing against why similar perception is shared by all in relation to physical reality while individual experience is reflected by our memories and not the fact that men and women are born with innate principle.
According to (Simmons 2016) Locke contends against the idea of embodiments, an idea that had been generally acknowledged since in any event Plato's chance. Plato contended that we can just perceive people as individuals from an animal variety since we know about the pith of that species- for instance, we perceive a specific tree as a tree since we comprehend what a tree is in its embodiment. Locke contends that substances don't really exist as perfect elements, yet are rather simply the dynamic, general thoughts that we shape about the things we watch, things that really exist on the planet. People choose which contrasts and likenesses they will use to isolated and group specific things into classifications (Tully, 2013). However the contradiction has nothing to do with the theory against innate principles in reality as the theory primarily focuses on how knowledge is achieved.
From the above discussion it is clear that the theory provide by Locke stating men and women are born with innate principles has been subjected to continuous debate and criticism. However there is no theory which exists on this planet which has not been challenged by other. From the facts discussed above it is clear that the arguments which have been provided by Locke are much stronger, clear and understandable as compared to the arguments which have been provided by his critics. Thus based on the evidence researched by me in relation to both the theory for and against innate principles I would cast my opinion in favor of Locke’s theory and thereby state that Men and Women are actually not born with innate principle whereas they have a blank mind when they are born and gain knowledge through the various situations they encounter during the lifetime.
Anderson, John R., and Gordon H. Bower. Human associative memory.Psychology press, 2014.
Clanton, J. Caleb. "John Calvin and John Locke on the SensusDivinitatis and Innatism." Religions 8, no. 2 (2017): 27.
Dewhurst, Kenneth, and John Locke. John Locke, 1632-1704, Physician and Philosopher: A Medical Biography with an Edition of the Medical Notes in His Journals. Vol. 2.Wellcome historical medical library, 2014.
Lehto, Otto. "THE THREE PRINCIPLES OF CLASSICAL LIBERALISM (FROM JOHN LOCKE TO JOHN TOMASI): A Consequentialist Defence of the Limited Welfare State." PhD diss., 2015.
Locke, John. "KNOWLEDGE DERIVES FROM EXPERIENCE." Journey Into Philosophy: An Introduction with Classic and Contemporary Readings (2016): 25.
Locke, John. "Physician and Philosopher." A Medical Biography by Kenneth Dewburst, London, The Wellcome Historical Library(2014).
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Locke, John. Locke: Two treatises of government student edition. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Simmons, A. John. Moral principles and political obligations.Princeton University Press, 2016.
Tully, James. A discourse on property: John Locke and his adversaries. Cambridge University Press, 2013
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