Sunday, March 28, 2010

Modern Philosophy 9

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about Locke's first four chapters of book 4 of his Essays. The following is my submission:

Locke’s fourth book is primarily concerned with explaining and defending categories of knowledge. Knowledge, which Locke defines as “the perception of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas,” may allegedly be of several forms, some capable of being subsumed under others: identity, relation, co-existence, or real existence. The form “identity” is equivalent to one’s realization of the law of identity and non-contradiction, “relation” bespeaks of the minds correlation of idea, “co-existence” refers to that which is necessarily implied by a known proposition, and “real existence” means one’s ideas are more than figments of one’s mindKnowledge, then, is said to be restricted by these forms of ideas. Locke argues one’s knowledge is either “actual” or “habitual.” Actual knowledge refers to perceptions, true or false, one’s mind contemplates when relating ideas at any given instant, whereas habitual knowledge consists of continuous, repeated assent to the clearness of the truth of [a] given proposition(s), so long as ample time is given for reflection; that is, while one may “habitually” recall that a proposition is true, it may be the case that, having forgotten the particular proof, the clearness of habitual knowledge may be questionable.

Locke also concentrates on explaining degrees of knowledge. Intuitive knowledge, the first degree mentioned, refers to those propositions which the mind perceives as true without need of external justification. Demonstrative knowledge, the second degree of knowledge, refers to propositions the mind perceives as true on the basis of prior premises. Finally, sensitive knowledge is referred to by Locke as that which we perceive and know exists, more or less certainly, by means of sensation.

Locke derives from some relevant points from his discrimination, such as:

- demonstrative knowledge is, to avoid an infinite regression, necessarily dependent upon intuitive knowledge;

- propositions which one knows demonstratively are, antecedent to demonstration, doubtable and unclear;

- any known quality which has no “certain standard” against which one can judge whether or not his perception of that quality is such (e.g. color) must be intuitive;

- while ideas are always clear, knowledge is clear only insofar as the relations of ideas are unconfused.

While Locke goes to great lengths to list as many categories of knowledge as feasible, there are several seeming flaws, all of which stem from his empiricistic epistemology. For example, Locke provides no means by which one can know that what he perceives is not subject to change; that is, he does not demonstrate the validity of habitual knowledge. The tentativeness of [tabula rasa] empiricism would imply that knowledge of immutably truth is impossible: Locke presupposes the law of non-contradiction throughout all of his arguments, and yet experience can yield only a finite number of correlative observations. Sensation cannot produce abstractions, and even if such were true, Locke provides no reasoning by which he bridged either this gap or that from sensation to perception. It may be that Locke would appeal to intuitive knowledge at this juncture, but, like Descartes, Locke would have to concede that clarity of the truthfulness of a proposition is subjective. In one example, Locke disagreed with a hypothetical skeptic who rejected the idea one’s memory of the sensation of a burning fire is clearly distinguishable from actually being burned for no other reason than he thought the difference (if indeed there is a difference) was sufficiently clear. If one can take as basic any proposition one chooses, the arbitrariness of the process undermines the meaningfulness of Locke’s definition of knowledge as an appropriate demarcation criterion by which one can differentiate between opinion and fact.

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