What Are the Sources of Our Ideas?June 27, 2021
Locke begins the second book of the Essays with the phrase “ideas are objects of thought”.
“Since everyone is conscious of what he thinks and that what his mind is dealing with when he thinks is the idea, there is no doubt that there are ideas in people’s minds such as ‘clearness’, ‘thinking’, ‘motion,’ ‘elephant,’ ‘army,’ ‘darkness’. thing is how people acquire them” (Locke, 1996: 85).
Locke considers the human mind primarily to be white paper (tabula rasa) on which nothing is written. This paper begins to be filled through experience. The path of experience is through sensations and reflection, which is called inner perception. All ideas come from sensation or reflection. Our senses first turn to particular sensible objects, and as a result of the influence of these objects, their distinct perceptions are transmitted to the mind. Thus, with the ideas of yellow, hot, hard, bitter and sweet, the ideas of the other qualities we call sensible qualities are acquired. Since most of our ideas are acquired through the senses, Locke calls this source sensation. The other source of our ideas is the operations of our mind: our mind works on the ideas we have gained through the senses and perceives them. Thus we provide another category of ideas that we cannot derive from objects: these are mental acts of perceiving, thinking, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing. We obtain distinct ideas from them by reaching their consciousness.
These are also called reflections. For the mind acquires the ideas provided by this source only by contemplating its inner processes. Therefore, the external material things, which are the objects of sensation, and the inner processes of our mind, which are the objects of reflection, are the only sources of our ideas that move spontaneously. When Locke says the inner processes of the mind, he says that it is necessary to understand the emotions such as joy or boredom that come from any thought. All the content of our mind comes either from sensation or from reflection, and reflection is always after sensation. First, the ideas obtained from the objects in the external world are perceived through the senses, and then the mind thinks over them. That is, there is nothing in the mind that has not passed through the senses before.
The mind is initially a blank slate (tabula rasa). This blank slate begins to fill through sensory experience, and all knowledge emerges from these experiences. There is no content in the mind that has not previously passed through the senses.
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