Explain the significance of innate knowledge

Innate ideas were defined by Locke as those which we are born with, an updated version put forward by rationalists (those who hold that synthetic a priori – knowledge that is learnt prior to experience and tells us something new about the world - can exist) is ‘ideas which the content of which is not derived from experience’. Both definitions of innate idea, are however a priori (known prior to experience).

Innate ideas were significant because for Plato, they proved that we could have true knowledge. He claimed that his ‘Forms’ were innate and this is how we come to know true knowledge. All universals (that is, particular things that have characteristics in common) have a perfect ideal and this is what he called ‘Forms’. Plato proves in Phaedo that forms exist by saying that we see a particular (examples of particulars would be red, chair, justice) and we label it a universal, yet all the particulars are different; there are different shades of red and there are different designs of chair. Plato answered the question “Why do we do this, even when they are different to a large extent” by saying that we relate the particular to its perfect ideal (the ‘form’) and understand that it must be the universal. For instance, when I look at any bed, I relate it back to the perfect ideal of bed and see that it is a bed. Innate Forms are the only true knowledge for Plato because things that we experience are constantly changing however the Forms never change (thus by definition they are perfect) and it’s how we can come to have true knowledge.

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Innate knowledge is significant because for Plato it is how we come to know about the idea of ‘equality’. Plato notes that the idea ‘equality’ could not have come from experience because nothing in experience is perfectly equal (in anything; matter, weight, length). So we must have an innate form of equality which we can relate back to see that things are unequal. The innate forms also had huge significance for Plato because they reinforced his idea that the soul was immortal. If we had not known the idea of ‘equality’ from experience then we must relate it to ...

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