Reason and Experience

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Ideas from Sense Experience

Locke "Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper (tabula rasa), void of all characters without any idea; how it comes to be furnashed?... whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer in one word, from experience."

Hume argues that ideas are copies of original sense impressions... Ideas of white and cold are faded copies of sensing snow, it was set in me like a stamp.

Hume "If it happen, from defect of the organ, that a man is not susceptible to any species of sensation, we always find he is as little susceptible of the corrisponding ideas"

All ideas depend upon sense impression and will only have an idea if I have experienced the corresponding sense impressions. BUT... we all have ideas about things we have never experienced - I can imagine agolden mountain, however I have never experienced one.

Hume responds that I have experienced gold and experienced a mountain, i combine these ideas to form a'complex' idea.

A posteriori: Knowledge known through experience

Criticisms of Empiricism

  •  The External World - You could not have ideas of an external world if you have no sense impressions outside of our world. Is there an external world beyond sense impressions at all? How do our ideas reflect that external reality?
  • Communication - I cannot have your sense impressions and you cannot have mine. Words stand for ideas, ideas stand for sense impressions. What I have experienced to be or mean that word could be different to what you have experienced. The workds I see stand for my sense impressions which you cannot have and vice versa, so we never mean the same thing, therefore we can never share ideas. Everyone percieves the world differently - 2 painters could paint the same object but both pictures would be different. (SOLIPSISM)

Solipsism - I can never share ideas with others, nor can they share ideas with me. I appear to be completely self contained. The world I exprerience anfthe ideas I have are iseperable from me, the only world i know is my own. 

Sense Impressions are not necessary for ideas

Suppose everybody has a box with something in it: we all call it a 'beetle'. No one can look into anyone elses box, and everyone says he knows what a 'beetle' is just by looking in his box. Suppose the word 'beetle' had a use in these peoples language? The thing in the box has no place in the language game at all, the box might even be empty.

Exclusive sense impressions can play no part in the exchange of ideas. It is possible to understand the meaning of something without having mental pictures.

Experiencing something; seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling; could perhaps be triggers that switch on certain ideas in the mind. So this could mean that instead of ideas being copies of sense


Rebecca Cane


Any revision that has colour has my approval! :D Thanks for this :)

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