John Locke’s Critique of Innate Ideas

John Locke’s Critique of Innate Ideas

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

In the first book of the Essay, the theory of “innate ideas”, which has an important place in the epistemology of Descartes and Leibniz, is criticized.

Locke, who argues that knowledge begins with sense experience, opposed the idea that the mind is equipped with innate ideas. According to Locke, at the beginning of these ideas are the basic logical principles such as “a is a” and “cannot be both a and -a”. Locke says that not all people know these principles in the same way, that children and fools, for example, are unaware of them. This means that they cannot be found in everyone from birth.

If it is said that there is a disposition of the soul to know these principles, it can be said that such a disposition applies to all knowledge: before a small child learns the principle of non-contradiction, he learns to distinguish bitter from sweet, yellow from blue. There can be no such practical principles, just as there are no theoretical principles in the soul. As for the moral principles that are claimed to be approved by all people… The principles of general law and compliance with contracts are generally accepted principles, but it is difficult to believe that those who habitually violate these principles have acquired them as innate principles.

To the question of “why should a promise be kept”, a Christian will say “God said so”, and Hobbesians will say “that is how society wants it” (Gökberk, 1998: 296). If these were found in the same innate form in the human soul, would they be justified in such a different way? For Locke, the general affirmation of virtue is not its innateness, but its usefulness. The practical principles of both individuals and societies are different, and there is no indication that they are innate. After all, all moral principles need to be grounded. If ideas are not innate, the principles they create cannot be innate either.

Humans are born with only hunger, heat and some painful sensations, and these sensations are not ideas, but basic stimuli that determine the direction of our actions throughout life. The idea of ​​God is also not innate. The belief that the idea of ​​God exists in all communities is unfounded because there is no evidence to that effect. The idea of ​​God is different in different people, and in some people it is not even found at all. Therefore, it is necessary to show from which source all these ideas and principles come from.

According to Locke, there is no indication or evidence that basic rules of logic, moral judgments, and ideas such as God are innate in the mind.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook