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We have some ideas of things we do not have experience of, such as 'pink elephants', we are unable to confront these via the senses. In fact, these don't even exist! These should pose a problem for Empiricists, HOWEVER:

  • If we call these ideas 'COMPLEX' then the problem goes away. Complex ideas are made up of 'simple ideas', which are built up from 'simple impressions.' In the case of pink elephants, we have the simple conceptions of pink and of elephants- when conglomerated they then form the idea of a pink elephant!
  • We may not have had experience of real pink elephants but we can form a conception of them through fiction or the sensory experience from ideas.
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Missing shade of blue

Hume believes we develop simple ideas from experience, but we can gain an idea of a missing shade of blue WITHOUT experience.

We could then consider the shade to be COMPLEX because we work it out from the shade on either of its sides, if do this then the problem appears to go away.


This poses a problem as it calls into question if anything could ever count as a simple idea. It then undermines the whole idea of our ideas coming from experience, creates a massive problem for Empiricism.

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Contingent truths are truths that may have turned out not to be true.

Closely related to 'synthetic' and 'a prosteriori' truths. 

They support the Empiricist idea as they depend entirely upon facts as to making them true or false, they look at evidence gained from experience and work out the 'facts' from that. They are 'evidence dependent' and NEVER worked out from pure logic.


The belief that all blood is based on iron. True for humans, but is contingent rather than 'necessary'. Some animals blood is copper based, so logically so could we have but from experience with testing we now know that this claim is in fact wrong.

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Chomsky provides evidence that supports Kants ideas that we share a 'universal' conceptual scheme.

He argues that human children develop language so quickly (faster a rate than learning how to tie shoelaces) that there must be something in-built or innate to explain it.

Not saying we don't learn it from experience, but that we have 'shelves' for language that are there waiting to be stimulated by experience.

He then goes onto claim we have 'deep grammar' which is shared by all human languages and this can only be explain with some form of innateness in our minds.

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Empiricism is almost logical explanation as to where our ideas come from, and is plausable because it is based on 'common sense'.

It is the idea that from birth our minds are a TABULA RASA, or even a blank slate- suggesting that we have no 'innate' or inborn knowledge. From this the mind is considered to be a passive absorber of information all gained through the senses.

Empiricism just claims however that all 'substansive' knowledge is gained from sense experience.

If we don't have direct experience of COLOURS then we wouldn't have concepts of them. Babies and people grown up in isolation (cases like Genie's) seem to have little knowledge of anything because they have had limited experience!

Philosophers such as John Locke and David Hume are Empiricists.

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SYNTHETIC=  'syn' (in sync, or bringing together), 'theses' (multiple theses)

 These are closely related to contingent truths.

They are about finding things out about our reality rather than looking at what must be logically true.   

A synthetic truth is something that may actually have been false!

"Penguins only live at the South Pole"

There is nothing illogical or contradictory about the idea that we may have found penguins at the North Pole, its just a matter of fact we didn't! 

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