The Problem of Degrees of Knowledge in John Locke

The Problem of Degrees of Knowledge in John Locke

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

In the light of knowledge definitions, Locke ranks our knowledge in terms of the degree of self-evidence. This grading results from the different ways we perceive agreement and disagreement between ideas. In this respect, Locke identifies three levels of knowledge: intuitive, demonstrative, and sensory knowledge.

Knowledge is divided into three according to the way of perception of agreement or disagreement between ideas; Intuitive, Descriptive and Sensory.

Intuitive knowledge: If our mind can perceive the agreement or disagreement relationship between two ideas directly without any other idea getting involved, this kind of knowledge is called intuitive knowledge. Here, the mind perceives the truth at a glance without any act of examination or demonstration. This is how we immediately grasp that a square is not a triangle, and that black is not white. In the definition of knowledge, the form of agreement or disagreement in the form of identity or otherness fully meets this type of knowledge. The accuracy of such information is so certain as to leave no room for doubt.

Demonstrative knowledge: With this level of knowledge, the mind can perceive the agreement or disagreement between ideas, but this is not as direct as in the first one. The reason for not being able to directly perceive the agreement or disagreement between two ideas here is that the mind cannot bring together the ideas under study in such a way as to show them together. In this case, the mind has to resort to the mediation of one or more ideas in order to find the agreement or disagreement it seeks. So he has to make some kind of reasoning. As a result of this reasoning, the mind discovers the correspondence between the three angles of a triangle and the total magnitudes of two right angles with the help of other angular calculations. “These intermediate ideas, which serve to show the agreement between any two other ideas, are called arguments; The clear and distinct perception of agreement or disagreement in this way is also called demonstration. Because this is shown to the mind and the mind is made to see it” (Locke, 1996: 305). As it can be seen, it is not easy to obtain precise information in this way, and it comes after the initial doubt has been cleared, and intuitive self-evidence must be ensured at every step. As a result, this information has absolute truth value like intuitive knowledge.

Sensory knowledge: According to Locke, everything that cannot be based on intuition and proof must remain at the level of either belief or opinion, no matter how confidently it is accepted. Nothing can be more certain than that the idea we receive from an external object is in our mind, and this is intuitive knowledge. However, it has always been a problem for some whether this simple idea in our minds has a real counterpart outside of our minds. Because it is a known fact that sometimes ideas can occur in the mind without being affected by any external object. In addition, the ideas in our minds are clear and clear in dreams, but they do not have an objective counterpart outside of our minds. So the fact that we have the idea of ​​a thing does not prove that it exists. We can only know that they exist when they act on us. It cannot be said that we have any knowledge of these beings at other times. Experience makes us aware of qualities by the simple. But we are by no means assured by experience of the relations between these qualities. We perceive objects as we see them with our senses, but we can never perceive substance with our senses. According to Locke, intuitive knowledge gives us the certainty that we exist; demonstrative knowledge asserts that God exists, and sensory knowledge assures the existence of other selves and objects, but only as we experience them. It becomes difficult to say anything for other times. As it is seen, Locke showed sense experience as the source of all our knowledge, but he had to confirm that absolute knowledge cannot be found except logically structured knowledge and mathematical 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