Chapter 5 :Epistemology


Reliance on experience as the source of ideas and knowledge. More specifically, empiricism is the epistemological theory that genuine information about the world must be acquired by a posteriori means, so that nothing can be thought without first being sensed. Prominent modern empiricists include Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Mill. In the twentieth century, empiricism principles were extended and applied by the pragmatists and the logical positivists.

READ all sources on empiricism:

  1. Encyclopedia 

  2. Skeptics Dictionary  

John Locke : For Locke the mind is a blank slate at birth tabla rasa and all knowledge results from experiences that enter the mind from the experiences of the body. Knowledge of ideas is possible because ideas are representations of things experienced.  But if representations are copies of our experiences, just how accurate are they?

 Locke distinguished the primary and secondary qualities of an object of an experience and opened a door to a major problem in determining just how accurate sense knowledge could ever be.  Locke distinguished the properties that where in or with the object and those that existed within the mind of the subject of the experience.  The object has a texture but the idea of “smoothness” is in the subject.  The object had a degree of heat but “hot” and “cold” are ideas in the knower. 

Read the overview of Locke in a lecture by Dr. Tom Kerns

VIDEO Locke argument against innate ideas

View: Dr. Richard Brown on Locke and Berkeley and Empiricism

 Suggested Reading:  Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding Bk 1 ch 1

George Berkeley: (subjective idealism) Berkeley would treat both the primary and the secondary qualities as being the result of the subject, the knower.  There would be no proof of the existence of any thing outside of the mind.  All evidence and experiences are within the mind.  God would be the MIND that thought of all other minds and thought of them in such a way that they think of themselves as being in a world with others at the same time.       

Read the overview of Berkeley in a lecture by Dr. Tom Kerns

David Hume: Hume was a skeptic. He  agreed with Locke that we are born with a blank slate, tabla rasa  and that all our knowledge comes through the senses (empiricism)  but he did not think that we could know all that much for certain.( skepticism).  He held that are perceptions are or make impressions which are our thought, that we have no ideas without sense impressions, that reasoning (a priori) does not lead to knowledge, that sense impressions are not proof of an external independent reality.

Read the overview of Hume in a lecture by Dr. Tom Kerns 

VIEW:  Dr. Richard Brown on

Hume 1: Empiricism and the A Priori 

Hume 2: Induction  

See also

Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Encyclopedia Brittanica,

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

The  Ism Book ,

Catholic Encyclopedia.

PROBLEMS:  The empiricists could not overcome problems with accounting for forms of knowledge that did not relate to the senses, e.g., in Mathematics and in Logic.  And they could not account for how it could be that humans can have knowledge for which there is no direct experience, for example of the universe as a whole or of sub atomic events or quanta of energy, entities for which there can be no direct experience.

Proceed to the next section.

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Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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