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Critically discuss the view that all knowledge comes from, and is justified by, sense experience

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Introduction

?Critically discuss the view that all knowledge comes from, and is justified by, sense experience? The view that all knowledge comes from, and is justified by, sense experience is the view taken in empiricism about knowledge. However, this view isn?t always necessarily correct as we do actually have some knowledge that is known a priori. For example all mathematical truths, for example, 2+2=4, is known without having to experience it. Just by having the concept of these numbers, and knowing what they represent, we are able to work it out, because it is a necessary truth. Another example is ?all bachelors are unmarried?. This is an example of an analytic, a priori knowledge because just by knowing the definition of a bachelor, you know that all of those referred to as a bachelor, are unmarried men. You don?t actually have to physically go out and do a survey to check if all bachelors are unmarried, therefore you don?t need any form of sense experience to know that every unmarried man is a bachelor. An empiricist?s reply to this would be that such knowledge is trivial because it does nothing but tell us about the meaning of words. ...read more.

Middle

He believes that the only way to gain real knowledge of the world is through reason. Descartes argues this in his three waves of doubt. Each wave is stronger than the last. The first wave is that, his senses have deceived him in the past, so it is sensible to never trust entirely something that has deceived you already. So he can?t trust his senses. However, since our senses have ensured human survival for thousands of years, it?s fairly trustworthy. The second wave of doubt states that he has often dreamed he was sitting by the fire in his dressing gown. For all he knows, he could be dreaming, so he can?t trust his senses, even when they tell him things about his immediate surroundings. Descartes counters this himself and says even if he is dreaming now; his dreams would have to be constructed from experiences in real life outside of the dream. The third wave of doubt is that an evil demon could be deceiving us, and that all our sense experiences are actually false. ...read more.

Conclusion

Therefore, having knowledge of an all perfect being can?t have come from sense experience. However there are problems with the trademark argument, for example the butterfly effect: if a butterfly flaps its wings, it could cause a hurricane in the other side of the world. A lesser cause, having a greater effect. Therefore with this major problem, the trademark argument poses little threat the empiricists view. Furthermore, another objection is that there are in fact some synthetic a priori truths, for example the truths of mathematics e.g. 2+2=4. This is clearly a priori, but it doesn?t seem to be analytic because we know it is true, however it is not simply true just by definition. Also the basic truths of morality, for example, knowing that needless suffering is bad. This also seems to be a priori, but once again, not analytic because we don?t need to experience someone telling us that is bad, for us to already think that. In addition there are philosophical truths, for example the ontological argument doesn?t work. This again seems to be a priori, however not analytic, as it?s not true just by definition. Therefore this leads to the idea that empiricism itself may be self defeating, since it seems like it is neither analytic nor based on sense-experience. ...read more.

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