Philosophy of Knowledge in the Age of EnlightenmentJune 28, 2021
The development in science has changed the West’s view of knowledge. In the 17th century, the method of science was tried to be applied to philosophy, and in the 18th century, accurate information enlightened by the mind was sought.
In this respect, philosophers went over knowledge and formed thoughts about its nature. “What does it mean to know something?”, “Man can know knowledge of what.” and “Is there a limit to knowledge?” such questions were asked. The philosophers of this period, who were united in the view that correct knowledge is possible, were separated from each other in terms of the source of knowledge. The fundamental problem with knowledge is what knowledge is and how one obtains it.
Discussions on knowledge are based on the two main currents of philosophy, rationalism and empiricism. While rationalism states that knowledge arises from a priori (independent of experience) purely by reason, empiricism asserts that it consists of a posteriori (depending on experience). Trying to reconcile these two views, the 18th century. Philosopher Kant, on the other hand, is of the opinion that knowledge is formed by reason and experience. In this respect, the views of rationalist philosopher Descartes (17th century), empiricist John Locke (17th-18th century) and Kant (18th century), who synthesized the two movements, are important.
Descartes seeks clear information that will never be doubted and that can serve as a basis for other knowledge. “I think, therefore I am.” When he reaches the proposition, he arrives at the view of reason as the source of certain information. According to him, knowledge is realized by the principles of innate mind, not by later experiences. Pointing out that the reason why the knowledge of mathematics and geometry is certain is based on reason, he asserts the source of correct knowledge as reason.
J. Locke opposes Descartes’ idea of nativism and states that knowledge is not innate, but later formed through experiences. He argues that people experience some impressions from the outside world, which are outside of their own mind, through their sense organs, and that they acquire knowledge by designing ideas formed from these impressions in their minds. According to him, the human mind is an innate blank slate (tabula rasa) and people fill this blank slate with their knowledge, thanks to their experiences.
Kant states that he does not doubt the idea that all knowledge begins with experience, and this does not lead to the conclusion that all knowledge of man arises from experience. It is based on the idea that sense data is raw and there must be a mind that processes this raw data. Kant thinks that knowledge is formed by the use of experience and reason together. According to him, human receives data from outside through his senses and creates knowledge by processing them in the forms of the mind.
Kant said, “Concepts without perception are empty, perceptions without concepts are blind.” He states that the concepts that exist in the mind without sense data are empty, and the mind that tries to understand only on the basis of these is blind. He proposes a new way by combining rationalism and empiricism about the source of knowledge, with the view that people use both sides in acquiring knowledge.
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, MEB Philosophy Textbook