John Locke’s Claim
John Locke claims that we are able to acquire knowledge via sense perceptions even though this kind of knowledge is not like that of demonstration. He does this by defining knowledge as “the connexion and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our ideas” (Locke, 2014). From this definition, Locke explains the essence of a species of an idea as “that abstract idea on which the name is annexed to make everything contained in that idea important to that species” (Locke, 2014).
The claim made by Locke that we can acquire knowledge via sense perceptions even though this kind of knowledge is not like that of demonstration is based on the theory of human understanding. Locke’s main argument is that the certainty, origin, and extent of human knowledge are diverse. This way, Locke sees a possibility of people to understand the various types of knowledge without struggling to achieve certainty.
Locke argues that this kind of knowledge is only possible when the content of the mind is studied independently of any other certainty surrounding it. Moreover, Locke says that “his purpose is to investigate into the certainty, the extent and origin of human knowledge: together with the assents, opinion and degrees of belief” Locke goes ahead to argue that “the essay is an endeavor to create what it is and isn’t possible for human beings to know and understand” (Locke, 2014). From this statement, Locke has the belief that human beings are born with diverse faculties that enable them to receive and conceptualize information that is later manipulated. This capability of human beings is due to the ability of people to utilize language, memory and senses to internalize information. However, human beings lack innate ideas and knowledge.
The reading reveals that Locke is totally against the idea that something can exist and at the same time not exist. To justify this argument, Locke gives an example of children and idiot who cannot articulate certain things or even be aware of the existence of certain things since they are not innate. This argument also puts it clear that knowledge and ideas cannot be innate. Locke goes ahead to explain that “it seems to him as a contradiction to argue that there are truths engraved on the soul, which it understands or perceives: imprinting it implies anything, being nothing else but the imagination of certain truths to be perceived” (Locke, 2014). This statement by Locke explains how it is possible for humans to acquire knowledge without any certainty that it ought to be there but through the sense perceptions even though this kind of knowledge is not like that of demonstration.
Locke proceeds to assert that propositions that are innate can only be perceived under certain circumstances. The gist of Locke’s argument is that once the human beings begin thinking in a certain way, then innate idea seizes to have any meaning. This is because the human beings are not aware of any innate idea nor are they capable of perceiving any innate knowledge and, thus, they cannot be described as innate. If in any case this view can be accepted, then the distinction between new ideas discovered and innate idea will prove difficult.
Locke brings in the concept of faith and judgement in understanding knowledge and urges human beings to understand their own judgement and consider any proposition. According to Locke, when an idea is repeated, it gains more weight as opposed to artificial forms of reasoning such as syllogism. Thus, Locke explains that when human being argue from judgement, it is possible to bring true advances and instructions towards knowledge. Locke describes this form of acquiring knowledge via sense perception as “the use of proofs derived from any of the grounds of probability or knowledge” (Locke, 2014). The validity of Locke’s argument lies on the fact that reason should form the basis of accepting or rejecting an idea.
Locke’s reasoning to support the claim that human being can acquire knowledge via sense perceptions even though this kind of knowledge is not like that of demonstration is that it is inconceivable to believe that at one point, nothing existed. He goes ahead to argue that “the eternal source then of all being must also be the source and origin of all power and so this eternal being must be also the most powerful and a knowing intelligent being” (Locke, 2014).
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Locke also notes that there is an exertion linked to probabilistic reasoning especially when something is contrary to an obvious experience. In such cases, it is important to view the event from the perspective of certainty and avoid some real issues on the basis of individual experience. In addition, Locke notes that under certain circumstances, human beings should treat things as obvious even if they have not experienced them in a real life situation. This is based on the assertion by Locke that “persistent observations has revealed always to be after the equivalent manner” (Locke, 2014). This forms the first degree of probability and comes close to certainty making it difficult to differentiate them from certain knowledge. Similarly, Locke brings in the second degree of probability that human beings tend to have confidence in certain things and will be willing to take action if they turn out to be facts. Locke argues that “his own agreement, and experience of all others that state it, an object to be for the greatest part, so: and the specific instance of it is confirmed by many witnesses that are undoubted” (Locke, 2014).
To affirm the argument of acquiring knowledge, Locke brings in the idea of fair testimony from witnesses that with all the certainty that such an incident occurred, human beings acquire the knowledge and, thus, are deemed to believe that indeed it occurred. These degrees of probability and the possibility of an idea of bearing truth creates a strong bond between human knowledge and certainty.