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CHAPTER ONE LOCKE’S OBJECT OF KNOWLEDGE
1.0 Introduction: THE CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF LOCKE AND BERKELEY CONCEPT OF KNOWLEDGE.
John Locke gave an account of the object of knowledge. Locke held that even though all we ever have of knowledge is the ideas in the mind, he maintained that at least some of these ideas actually do represent real things in the external world, thereby creating an empirical conception of knowledge and rejection of innate idea. Locke is taking it that experience of the likes of shapes provide us with knowledge of what the categorical shape property is. In this chapter, I will attempt a characterization and articulation the limit, scope and extent of object of knowledge. Locke’s theory will be examined with arguments that emanate from his conception of perception, understanding perceptual knowledge of objects, Lockean arguments for direct realism and Locke’s theory of ideas argument.
1.1 Locke’s Rejection of Innate Ideas
Locke has two main arguments against the innateness of ideas, both speculative and practical. First, he argues, people in fact do not universally hold to these ideas, contrary to what defenders of innate ideas typically claim. This is particularly obvious with the laws of thought, which children and mentally challenged people have no conception of whatsoever. If, therefore, children and idiots have souls, have minds, with those impressions upon them, they must unavoidably perceive them, and necessarily know and assent to these truths. Which since they do not, it is evident that there are no such impressions. For if they are not notions naturally imprinted, how can they be innate? and if they are notions imprinted, how can they be unknown? To say a notion is imprinted on the mind, and yet at the same time to say, that the mind is ignorant of it, and never yet took notice of it, is to make this impression nothing.1 Locke’s second argument is that it makes no sense to hold that such ideas lie dormant within us and then blossom when we reach a certain age, contrary to what defenders of innate ideas commonly claim. Again, particularly with the laws of thought, children reason perfectly well regarding identity and non-contradiction, yet at the same time are completely incapable of articulating those specific ideas. If these ideas really were innate, then children should be able to verbally express them. As Locke states it, “How many instances of the use of reason may we observe in children, a long time before they have any knowledge of this maxim, ‘That it is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be? 2 Also, it is obvious that may adults have reached the so-called age of reason, such as the illiterate and those from primitive societies, and yet lack these ideas. These people “pass many years, even of their rational age, without ever thinking on this and the like general propositions.”3. In this vein, Locke offers his causal theory of perception. This causal theory of perception reveals that the world interacts with out perceiving organs and causes our ideas in our minds; Locke’s use of the word idea is very broadly- nearly any mental item can count as an idea, a concept, a memory or even a simple sensation. As such, we may accept that the world causes our ideas about (perceptions of) it. What we then call perception is synonymous with ideas in Lockean conception.
It should, however, be noted that our ideas about reality are different from reality itself; ideas are mental but reality is extra mental. It is, therefore, crucial to examine the connection between the two: perceptions and extra-mental reality in detail. What is the relationship between our ideas and the world?
` 1.2 What is Perceptual Object?
The object of perception may appear multi-faceted because it is a term that goes beyond visuals or oratory, it could be understood in the psychological state, moral state and even in social settings. However, the conception that is useful in this project is that which relates to philosophical understanding across the different types of perception.
In the words of Corsini:
A common finding across many different kinds of perception is that the perceived qualities of an object can be affected by the qualities of context. If one object is extreme on some dimension, then neighboring objects are perceived as further away from that extreme. “Simultaneous contrast effect” is the term used when stimuli are presented at the same time, whereas "successive contrast" applies when stimuli are presented one after another.4
This distinct is in furtherance of the belief that there are differences that goes beyond the context but into interpretation of what is perceived. As an Empiricist, Locke was committed to the idea that there were no such things as innate ideas and that the best, indeed the only way, to come to know objective truth was via sensory experience.5
As such, the only way to come to know the world is through sensory experience. Locke would agree with the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas that, nothing is in the mind without first having been in the senses. This is to corroborate the idea of that human mind was a blank plate 6; that human sense attracts perception through the five senses.
1.3 Locke’s Account of Sensitive Knowledge
Locke’s monumental Essay Concerning Human Understanding7 explored the materials and limits of human thinking, setting an agenda those epistemologists like Hume would follow in similarly titled Enquiry. Locke’s Essay is infused with an empiricist spirit, arguing that all our ‘ideas’ that is, the constituents of our thoughts derive from experience, as does every objective knowledge. Having started with a vigorous attack on the theory of ‘innate ideas’, targeting both scholastic and Cartesian attempts to deduce truths by pure reason based on such supposed ideas (as, for example, in Descartes’ argument that the perfection of our innate idea of God implies a perfect cause 8. Locke then goes on to give a thoroughly empiricist account of the origin of our ideas, taking an atomistic approach in which complex ideas are composed of simples, and the simple ideas themselves are directly derived from experience.
Locke defines sensation as a kind of perception, a “perception, which actually accompanies, and is annexed to any impression on the Body, made by an external Object, being distinct from all other Modification of thinking, furnishes the mind with a distinct Idea, which we call sensation” 9 .This experience can be of the external world or of our own minds: thus the senses yield ‘ideas of sensation’ such as the redness of a rose, while introspection yields ‘ideas of reflection’ such as the pain when we touch the rose’s thorn.
Since all such experience is of particular sensations or feelings, the ideas we derive from these are particular also. General ideas (such as the idea of redness in general) then get generated from ideas of particular instances. For example, the colour of different red flowers by ‘abstraction’, in which the differing details for example, the varying brightness are ignored, and notice taken only of what is common to all, leaving an ‘abstract idea’ which is able to represent any instance whatever.
Locke finds that experiences in the world are the vehicles of content. But once we have reached this point, it is natural to wonder whether experience is really playing any essential role in the account of content 10. Surely, anything could serve as a reliable sign of its regular cause. According to Locke, where veridical sensation results in sensitive knowledge, our ideas represent the external world “they represent to us in things,” having a “real conformity” with “things without us” 11.
On a popular reading, the notion of representation at play in veridical sensation involves conformity of resemblance.12 We may then deduce that our ideas are caused by the physical substance; all ideas are mediated by your senses; what causes the ideas is the physical substance that never directly has contact with. While our mental experience is rich with both primary and secondary qualities, the objective world can only be said to possess the primary properties while secondary properties would name subjective experiences only, and not the stuff of serious scientific inquiry or discourse pertaining to objective truth.
However, what Locke intends to relay is somewhat a notion of what we perceive through our five senses. This is the origin of perceptual errors that seem inevitable. Indeed, some of our judgments in physical world are based on our sensory perceptual, they cannot be with certainty as perceptual errors recur perpetually especially in the perception with primary substance. The primary and secondary qualities are differentiated in the ideas that they produce in our mind. These qualities are the power the power that objects have to produce ideas in our mind. The primary qualities of objects will then be the producer of those ideas that resembles the corresponding qualities in the objects that caused us to have those ideas. On the other hand, the secondary qualities of objects produce ideas that do not resemble the corresponding qualities in the object that produced those ideas in our mind.
1.4 Understanding Knowledge of Objects in Locke
The way you decide whether or not a belief is a good belief, that is to say, the way you decide whether a belief is likely to be a genuine case of knowledge is to see whether it is der