Subject: theory of knowledge
A. Of Ideas in General and Their Original.
Empiricism describes the theory of how the mind functions in learning. It opposes the existence of inborn or innate ideas, which stated that ideas were part of the mind at birth and not acquired later from outside sources. Outer experience was acquired through the senses of sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch, which provide information about the external world. Inner experience was acquired by thinking about the mental processes involved in analyzing and evaluating the ideas impressed on the mind.
Like a sponge or an empty tablet, the mind absorbs knowledge by gradually receiving impressions through sense experience. Thus, man acquires knowledge by observing nature and the activities of the outside world. The essence of the information gained is then verified by checking it against the world as perceived by the human senses.
With accompanying text from: ^Reason at Work^
Introductory Reading in Philosophy
By: Stephen M. Cahn
Harcourt Brace Jovvanich Publishing
Of Ideas in General and Their Original.
1. Every man being conscious to himself that he thinks; and that which his mind is applied about whilst thinking being the ideas that are there, it is past doubt that men have in their minds several ideas,--such as are those expressed by the words whiteness, hardness, sweetnessm thinking, motion, man, elephant, army, drunkenness, and others: it is in the first place then to be inquired, How he comes by them?
I know it is a received doctrine, that men have native ideas, and original characters, stamped upon their minds in their very first being. This opinion I have at large examined already; and, I suppose what I have said in the foregoing Book will be much more easily admitted, when I have shown whence the understanding may get all the ideas it has; and by what ways and degrees they may come into the mind;--for which I shall appeal to every one^Rs own observation and experience.
2. Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas:--How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE. In that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation employed either, about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring.
3. First, our Senses, conversant about particular sensible objects, do convey into the mind several distinct perceptions of things, according to those various ways wherein those objects do affect them. And thus we come by those ideas we have of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, and all those which we call sensible qualities; which when I say the senses convey into the mind, I mean, they from external objects convey into the mind what produces there those perceptions. This great source of most of the ideas we have, depending wholly upon our sense, and derived by them to the understanding, I call SENSATION.
4. Secondly, the other fountain from which experience furnisheth the understanding with ideas is,--the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got;--which operations, when the soul comes to reflect on and consider, do furnish the understanding with another set of ideas, which could not be had from things without. And such are perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing,and all the different actings of our own minds;--which we being conscious of, and observing in ourselves, do from these receive into our understandings as distinct ideas as we do from bodies affecting our senses. This source of ideas every man has wholly in himself; and though it be not sense, as having nothing to do with external objects, yet it is very like it, and might properly enough be called internal sense. But as I call the other Sensation, so I call this the REFLECTION, the ideas it afford s being such only as the mind gets by reflecting on its own operations within itself. By reflection then, in the following part of this discourse, I would be understood to mean, that notice which the mind takes of its own operations, and the manner of them, by reason whereof there come to be ideas of these operations in the understanding. These two, I say, viz, external material things, as the objects of SENSATION, and the operations of our own minds within, as the objects of REFLECTION, are to me the only originals from whence all our ideas take their beginnings. The term operations here I use in a large sense, as comprehending not barely the actions of the mind about its ideas, but some sort of passions arising sometimes from them, such as is the satisfaction or uneasiness arising from any thought.
5. The understanding seems to me not to have the least glimmering of any ideas which it doth not receive from one of these two. External objects furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us; and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations.
These, when we have taken a full survey of them, and their several modes, [combinations, and relations,] we shall find to contain all our whole stock of ideas; and that we nothing in our minds which did not come in one of these two ways. Let any one examine his own thoughts, and thoroughly search into his understanding; and then let him tell me, whether all the original ideas he has there, are any other than of the objects of his senses, or of the operations of his mind, considered as objects of his reflection. And how great a mass of knowledge soever he imagines to be lodged there, he will, upon taking a strict view, see that he has not any idea in his mind but what one of these two have imprinted;--though perhaps, with infinitive variety compounded and enlarged by the understanding, as we shall see hereafter.
6. He that attentively considers the state of a child, at his first coming into the world, will have little reason to think him stored with plenty of ideas, that are to be the matter of his future knowledge. It is by degrees he comes to be furnished with them. And though the ideas of obvious and familiar qualities imprint themselves before the memory begins to keep a register of time or order, yet it is often