What is empiricism? Who were the empiricist thinkers we discussed in class and what were their theories?
Empiricism is a philosophical thought that presents the notion that all thoughts and concepts originate from the experiences of a person. Similarly, empirical knowledge is gained through the innate experience of humans when they interact with the world. In simple words, anything that can be experienced can be conceptualized as well. This essay will explore the theories of some empiricist theorists in detail.
John Locke was an empiricist theorist and he believed that every human was born as a blank slate. He did not believe the view presented by Rene Descartes that humans are born with innate ideas and information about good or bad. He stated that human beings are born without any prior knowledge about the world. They acquire knowledge by utilizing their five senses and building a mental library of information. Locke only agreed with one idea of Descartes which was a human cannot completely rely on his senses as it may not always be true. However; Locke, to figure out if the senses were accurately reflecting the object, presented a way to distinguish the accuracy of the senses through primary qualities and secondary qualities of an object. The physical attributes of an object like its weight, density, solidity, etc. were its primary qualities. The secondary qualities were the object’s color, taste, sound, etc. and these were in an individual’s mind. The difference in the primary and secondary qualities explained the difference in opinions that humans had about their perception of the object. Thus people could have a difference in opinion regarding the secondary qualities but not in the case of primary qualities.
Locke’s theory resonated with the Irish philosopher, George Berkeley and took empiricism to its logical conclusion. He presented the concept of perception and stated that one cannot perceive the primary qualities of an object without simultaneously perceiving its secondary qualities. For instance; take an apple; its primary quality is its shape and its secondary quality is its red color. You cannot observe the shape of the apple without noticing its color as well. He stated that both qualities were part of the object and helped in gaining complete knowledge about that object. His grand conclusion was nothing existed physically but existed only through our perception (Woolhouse).