Do humans have innate knowledge?

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Do humans have innate knowledge?

For millennia a key philosophical debate is to whether human beings have innate knowledge and ideas or not. An innate idea is said to be something that we is universally acknowledged and that we are born with. However the idea of innate knowledge actually seems quite bizarre, since the very definition of knowledge is skills or ideas that are acquired through experience of education, therefore it can be argued strongly that knowledge is acquired after birth not before. One of the earliest backers of the idea of innate knowledge was Plato, he believed that a person’s soul is ever-present both after and before birth. His theory was that of an ideal realm. In the ideal realm, we are said to have encountered the perfect archetype of every form of knowledge, then through the trauma of childbirth we forget all the knowledge but it is recovered through education. This theory has been widely dismissed by later philosophers and replaced or improved. People who are in unison with innate knowledge are called rationalists and those who disagree, empiricists. I hold a slight rationalist point of view.

One of the most famous rationalist philosopher whom argued for innate ideas, was Descartes. Unlike others Descartes defines knowledge in terms of doubt. He argued that to be comfortable with a posteriori knowledge alone we have to have complete faith in our senses, which unfortunately we cannot have. This can be understand using the analogy of a building. Think of a building and the foundations of which it is built on, if the foundations are damaged or structurally weak then the safety of the building is at risk. This can be compared to a person’s knowledge. The building itself represents a person’s knowledge which is based on the senses as foundations. The only way that the building can be safe is if the foundations are impossible to doubt which Descartes argues they are not. He laid out his argument in three waves of doubt which cover illusions, dreams and an evil demon controlling your brain. When something is far away to the human eye it looks small, this is an illusion proving that our senses can deceive us, likewise when we are dreaming we take it as real life. He further argued this point using his wax argument. If a person was presented was presented with solid wax and watched it melt into liquid form, unless they watched the transformation the person would not be able to make the connection between the solid and the liquid wax form, they may even identify them as two different substances, showing that we cannot trust our senses. However of course we do have to trust our senses to an extent as so we could acknowledge the transformation. Among the ideas Descartes took to be innate were the existence of the self, “cogito ergo sum” meaning I think, therefore I am, the existence of God, and some logical propositions like, from nothing comes nothing. Descartes argued that the only thing that we can be completely sure of is our selves. If we were not real, we couldn’t think and by thinking we prove our existence.

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John Locke was a key opponent of Descartes and rationalism. He argued that if certain ideas were innate they would be universally held and used, which is not the case. As throughout history attitudes and what is generally excepted have changed continuously. Even in today’s society our ideas will be very different to those of people who live in very remote places. Therefore it must be our experiences that make us who we are and not innate knowledge. A child bought up in a mountain tribe will quickly adapt to their surroundings and become experienced at survival, whilst a ...

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