DESCARTES AND LOCKE
One of the most important branches in philosophy, is Epistemology, which means, theory of knowledge. So far, philosophers have made many attempts to discover the source of knowledge, the standards or criteria by which we can judge the reliability of knowledge. We tend to be satisfied with think what we know about almost everything, even though sometimes we are shocked to discover that something that we thought it was sure and certain, is instead proved dubious and not sure. For example, suppose that one person that you know and trust tells you that the moon landing in 1969 is only a lie, and the pictures and film were made in a laboratory. We might distrust our friend maybe or think that in fact there were no prove of this, or even distrust yourself. Off course you will start to search information regarding that specific fact, and start looking for an evidence that will lead you to the truth. Thats why I think that the most fertile source of knowledge is the history of human opinions. Knowledge, in fact, is the relationship between a person and the world. While most philosopher agree with this basic definition, most all of them disagree about the fundamental nature of that relationship. There are many cases that prove that people have attempted to impose their believes on others, being in the end punished because thought to be crazy. One of those is Galileo Galilei, he was sure in fact that the sun was not revolving around earth, but instead the earth revolves around the sun. Also the early Greek philosopher Anaxagoras was exiled from Athens because he was saying the moon was a rock. There have been many martyrs that have been punished only because they challenged the infallible wisdom of the rulers in their society. Philosopher are concerned in determine the basis of all knowledge, and agree upon standards in judging these claims. Two famous philosophers argued about this theory, John Locke and Rene` Descartes. Locke is considered to be the founder of British empiricism, while Descartes is considered to be the father of modern philosophy. They both have two distinct epistemic system that all address the idea of knowledge and what it is.
Descartes attempts to doubt everything in order to establish a firm foundation for knowledge. Descartes theory state that a mans knowledge, comes from his sense experience. I am born with the idea of God, who implanted that idea in me at my creation, then my understanding of what God is should conform to that idea. He finds it plausible that we are all living in a dream and we have never experienced reality. He can no longer give any credence to his senses and finds himself in a place of complete uncertainty. Descartes comes to the conclusion that nothing can be perceived more easily and more evidently than his own mind. He has discovered that even bodies are not accurately perceived by the senses or the faculty of imagination, and are only accurately being perceived by the intellect. He also realizes that they are not distinguished through being touched, smelled, or tasted, but by being understood alone. (An apple is an apple because our mind tells us that it is an apple.) It is the faculty of reason that gives the knowledge and lets the mind know the truths and essences of objects. Descartes assumes that all of us can be decided by our senses, someone can see something far away, and then discover that is not what we thought it was. Or even a oar when is immerse half in water attempt to be bent, but instead is straight. Descartes think that we cannot always be sure of what we sense, and gives the example of himself seated by the fire.
Locke instead is an empiricist, and therefore he directly critiques Descartes epistemic system and tries to establish his own foundation of knowledge. Locke believes that our knowledge of the world comes from what our senses tell us. Lockes theory state that we are all born with a blank slate, tabula rasa, before we perceive anything. With this in his mind Locke reject the concept of innate ideas and claims that all we know of the world is what we experience through our senses. Locke defines his terms: idea and quality, and makes it clear that ideas are in the mind and qualities are in bodies. He defines idea as what the mind perceives in itself, or the immediate object of perception, thought, or understanding. He defines quality as the power to produce any idea in our mind.
He uses the example of a snowball to further clarify his definition of quality and idea. He says that the snowball has the power to produce in us the ideas of white, cold, and round and says that the powers to produce those ideas in us, as they are in the snowball are qualities. He further defines ideas as sensations or perceptions in our understanding. The qualities are in the snowball, not in the idea of the snowball. All we have contact with is our ideas. So all we have in our mind is mental interpretations of the snowball.
Locke then continues on to define primary and secondary qualities and distinguish them from each other. He first makes it clear that qualities considered in bodies are inseparable from the body. He explains this by showing how you can never take away either solidity, extension, figure, or mobility from an body. He demonstrates this idea by considering a grain of wheat. If you divide a grain of wheat into two parts, each part still has solidity, extension, figure, and mobility. Even if you divide it again, those same qualities of the wheat stay the same. He goes on to call these primary qualities of body, which produce simple ideas in us of solidity, extension, motion, or rest, and number. He defines secondary qualities as such qualities which are nothing in the objects themselves, but powers to produce various sensations in us by their primary qualities. Examples of secondary qualities are colors, sounds, and tastes.
Locke classified the various simple ideas according to the following scheme.
1.Those that come to the mind by one sense only, such as color or odor.
2.Those that come in to the mind by more than one sense. These include extension, figure, rest and motion. (Note that these will later, for another reason, be called “primary” qualities.)
3.These that come to the mind by reflection only. Perception (in the broad sense of sensibly perceiving, thinking, imagining, remembering) and willing are the two simple ideas of this type.
4.Those which accompany all our other ideas: pleasure and pain, unity, existence, power, succession. Pleasure and pain will assume importance later because of their role in the motivation of human action. Power is a most fundamental idea, as will be seen. In II,VII,8, Locke notes that we get this idea both from our thinking and from the effects of bodies on one another.
I almost totally agree with Locke, I think that we are born with a blank slate, and that our knowledge comes in most part in sense experience, with no innate ideas. In fact I think that we do create ideas not based on experience, but we always tend to prove to ourselves the truth about those ideas. For example, we all know that an alloy when placed in a furnace change color, dimension, and from that specific lighted red color we know that it is impossible for us to touch it. Well, one day I went to see this furnace in Italy, and there the person in charge told me to touch a piece of alloy, that seemed incandescent. Off course I refused to touch it, based on my experience I knew that I would have burned my hand seriously. The engineer insisted with me, and in the end I decided to try, with my big surprise, the ally was incandescent but cold at the same time. It was in fact a new kind of alloy used to build the brakes of very fast sports cars. Off course my idea was not based on experience, because I have never touched a piece of cold-burning alloy, but at the same time it was based on a kind of unrealistic experience. What I mean is that, based on my experience I would have never touched that piece of alloy, but because of my innate idea, putted in to my head by the engineer, but also based on a previous experience I wanted to test if it was true or not what my mind was telling me, that that piece of alloy was cold for real.I still think that we get our knowledge of the world through ideas and qualities. We are born empty, like a photographic film, and with time and experience we will know what they are and what is their meaning. When we are baby we start to intake all those small information that in the future will be used.