Essay on 300 - Rationalism vs Empiricism - Summary and History

2196 Words Feb 18th, 2013 9 Pages
Rationalism vs. Empiricism – History and Summary

What is reality really like? A current running through much of the philosophical thinking around the time of Socrates and Plato was that there is a difference between how the world appears and how it is. Our senses reveal one layer of reality but it is our minds that penetrate deeper. The world of appearances is a world in flux but underneath there must be a stable reality. For there is much that is unchanging. We recognise kinds of things – badgers, daffodils, mountains – and whilst members of these kinds are born, change and die, and differ from one another in ever so many ways, the kind-defining essence doesn't change. We see here the key rationalist idea that knowledge is a priori
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There are no truths everyone agrees on. Many people fail to grasp the supposed metaphysical truths. Instead, our senses deliver ideas to us. We store them, abstract from them to form general ideas, and compound and mix them to generate new ideas. Like Lego bricks, we build the meagre sensory data into ever more complex structures. Even Leibniz thought Locke was onto something here. He claimed that our minds were like blocks of marble that had to be carefully chiselled at to reveal the hidden structure (the innate truths). It is hard work and not everyone will end up well-chiselled.

Hume took empiricism to its limit. Where Locke talked indifferently of ideas, Hume distinguished impressions and ideas. Impressions are the direct deliverances of the senses and are forceful and vivid in comparison to ideas, which are the copies our minds makes. (He also agreed with the Empiricist Berkeley that Locke's theory of general ideas was wrong. We do not abstract from particular ideas to a general idea but use a particular idea in a general way via a general name.)

What about the precious necessary truths philosophy is supposed to study? Locke argued that once we have ideas in our mind, our mind will perceive the necessary connections between them – e.g. that a triangle has internal angles that add to 180o? But where does the idea of necessity come from? Hume provided an answer. He distinguished statements into two categories: those expressing relations of ideas

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