The Main Empiricists
Locke, considered the father of modern
Empiricism, claimed that there are 3 types of knowledge:
A form of knowledge that appears to be the most certain and obvious to us and the
most difficult to doubt. For example, “I have a body”, “Black is not white”, and even, “God exists”. Locke
argued that these are so obvious that we accept them intuitively (a priori knowledge or truth by
Demonstrating something by putting simple ideas together to form complex ones. For
example, to compare the heat of the Sun with the heat of a fire, the demonstration shows that they are both made of
similar substances (a posteriori knowledge because it may change).
Knowledge that relies on the senses. For example, in counting the number of
chickens in a coup one is relying on sensitive knowledge. It is possible, as Descartes has shown, there could be an
error. (a posteriori knowledge).
Locke’s philosophy of perception has been
classified as Indirect Realism (‘representative realism’) as
opposed to Direct Realism (‘naïve
The 'nature versus nurture' debate concerns the
relative importance of an individual's innate qualities ("nature," i.e. nativism, or innatism) versus personal
experiences ("nurture," i.e. empiricism or behaviorism) in determining or causing individual differences in
physical and behavioral traits.
Locke termed the
phrase tabula rasa "blank
slate” - the view that humans acquire all or almost all
their behavioral traits from "nurture". He proposed that humans develop from only environmental
influences. This question was once considered to be an appropriate division of developmental influences, but
since both types of factors are known to play such interacting roles in development, most modern psychologists
and anthropologists consider the question naive—representing an outdated state of knowledge.
In regards to political theory, John Locke
taught that men naturally possess certain rights – life, liberty & property – and that a contract should exist
between a government and its subjects: people give up a part of their rights in return for a just rule, and the
ruler hold his power only so long as he uses it justly. The American Declaration of Independence is largely influenced by
Bishop George Berkeley
Bishop George Berkeley (Bishop of Cloyne), was an Anglo-Irish
philosopher who advanced a theory he called "immaterialism" (later known as "subjective idealism") which
denied the existence of material substances. His idealism took the view that the only things that exist
are minds and their contents. For example, a familiar object like a table is only an idea in the mind
of the perceiver and cannot really exist without being perceived.
Immaterialism is a genuinely empiricist philosophy, since it
begins with what we actually experience and claims to account for everything without making extravagant
suppositions about unknowable entities.
Berkeley's Immaterialsim begs the philosophical
question: “Can something exist without being perceived?” Like the question –
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it,
does it make a
sound?” George Berkeley developed subjective idealism, a metaphysical theory to answer this
type of question, which he famously said, “esse is percipi” (to be is to be
Berkeley claimed we can never actually experience the object
itself. The main problem for idealists is that very often our perceptions correspond with one another.
If the world is full different perceptions then there is no foundation. Idealism does away with this
foundation when it rejects the possibility of experiencing the properties of physical
Berkeley questioned even more than the other empiricists. He
suggested that even external reality itself may have no substance. Berkeley felt that all of our feelings and
ideas can stem from our souls—just like when we are dreaming. But he also thought that all of external
reality could come from another spirit. Berkeley believed that we exist only in God's
David Hume (1711-1776)
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher and
modern sceptic who influenced the twentieth century movement of Logical
Positivism (among others).
Hume provided a theory that explained the
creation and behavior of ideas (moral philosophy versus the natural philosophy of Newton’s new discoveries in the
physical sciences). Hume divided knowledge into what he termed “relations of ideas” and “matters of fact”.
Relations of ideas are analytic truths or a priori knowledge, for example, “All bachelors are unmarried” or “2 + 2
= 4”. These are certain in as much as we cannot conceive of them being otherwise. Matters of fact, however, can be
falsified. To say, “The sun will rise tomorrow” is an extremely likely event, but is not impossible that it could
Hume disagreed with philosophers who held the
idea that the mind contained innate ideas – Locke’s tabula rasa ("blank slate”) position. Hume was an idealist but
avoided metaphysics. He was critical of the idea that we could be certain about anything outside of our experience
or the true nature of the world.
Hume opposed the idea of an eternal soul. Hume
was an agnostic—he felt the question of God's existence was beyond human reason. Hume believed that what we cannot
know for sure that what we call laws of nature are unbreakable. Just because every time we have seen a stone
dropped it has fallen to the ground does not mean that it has to do so. We simply expect it to fall. We impose our
idea of cause and effect on the world. We perceive a billiard ball hitting another and decide that the first causes
the movement of the second. In reality, all we have seen is that the second moves after the first and we ascribe
causality to what we have seen occur again and again. Hume also pointed out that we act in accord with our
feelings, not our reason. He warned against concluding that what is, is what ought to be.