Eric K. Mason
Francis Bacon believed that inductive reasoning was the path that would lead us to Truth. Inductive reasoning relies on the gathering of many individual facts, which eventually allows one to make broad generalizations about the world. Bacon discounted many theories of the Middle Ages that did not rely on inductive reasoning, but simply made generalizations about the world based on one occurrence with little supporting evidence.
Indeed, Bacon believed that inductive reasoning in conjunction with empirical evidence was required in order to make claims about the world. In fact, his belief in empiricism was so great, that he did not believe scientists should be guided by hypotheses. Bacon failed to realize that hypotheses could be tentative, used as an aide to guide one to the truth, while also not accepting the hypothesis as true or false until supporting evidence was acquired.
Bacon believe that Truth could be attained by using induction and empiricism, as longs as one was able to suspend his or her belief in idols—“those preconceptions that blind men to truth.” Bacon proposed four kinds of idols: Idols of the Tribe, Cave, Marketplace, and Theater. An idol of the Tribe was mankind’s tendency to make order where do may be no order. Idols of the Cave were individual biases based on one’s personality, education, background, etc. Idols of the Marketplace what Bacon saw as the influence of language on human thought. Idols of Authority were the uncritical acceptance of authority and tradition.
Although Bacon failed to see the importance of hypotheses, his belief that empiricism was essential to finding the truth are still prominent in the scientific community today. For example, research findings are not taken seriously unless one can support it with experimental/empirical evidence. Furthermore, in our quest for the truth, Bacon’s notion of the Idols gives us much food for thought, as one can never be sure if he has freed him- or herself of the strong influence held by the idols. In short, Bacon believed that what we experience is the Truth, so long as we experience without distortion.
Although John Locke never named Descartes by name, he disagreed with Descartes claims about innate ideas. Locke argued that the mind was an “empty cabinet” at birth, after which it would become a “stocked cabinet.” Those who followed Descartes’ thinking believe that the mind contained certain ideas upon birth and was therefore already “stocked.”
Locke was an empiricist who believed that knowledge was gained through experience. Locked discounted the belief that the universal consent of some ideas was proof that they were, in fact, innate. According to Locke, there were no ideas, to which mankind universally consented. For example, many people in Locke’s time believed that the idea, “It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be,” was universally consented upon. However, Locked argued that this idea could not be universally consented upon, because there were many people who had never even considered it.
Locked believed that some ideas seemed innate, because many people could not remember a time when they did not have these ideas. Locked argued that such ideas were basically drilled into our heads from such an early age that they just seemed innate. Furthermore, Locke claimed that if certain ideas should be considered innate, then all ideas should be considered innate—though he was being sarcastic. That is, why should one idea be considered innate while others were not. To expound upon this, he stated that if so-called innate ideas were realized through reason, then everything (including complex mathematics) should be considered innate. Locke knew, as did those who believed in innate ideas, that this was not the case. For Locke this was proof that there were no innate ideas.
However, Locked appeared to believe that the human mind’s capability to reason was innate. For example, he stated that a child knows the difference between sweet and bitter, even though he or she does not know how to use words to explain the different. Likewise, a child can understand the difference between two objects and one object, even though he or she has no concept of numbers. Locked believed that this reasoning ability was an inborn train of humans.
Philosophers of the past have concerned themselves with understanding how we experience reality. To varying degrees, many philosophers have addressed the notions of primary and secondary qualities of the physical world. In the following essay, I will discuss how Locke, Berkeley, and Hume addressed the notions of primary and secondary qualities of the physical world.
Locke believed that objects that exited in external reality contained primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities were those properties from which the object could not be separated, such as substance, solidity, mass, etc. On the other hand, secondary qualities were properties that did not exist in the object per se, but were experience by us. For example, colors, smells, and tastes of objectives were not necessarily an objective part of the object, but worked on our senses so that these qualities were experienced by us. Secondary qualities were, therefore, very subjective, according to Locke.
Berkeley, on the other hand, believed that primary and secondary qualities were on in the same. That is, he did not believe in the idea of primary qualities; thus, relegating them to the status of secondary qualities. Berkeley we experience all aspects of reality subjectively, and that primary qualities could not be proven, as they were, like secondary qualities, experience through the senses. Berkeley held a phenomenological perspective of reality, stating that an individual’s perception was that individual’s reality.
Hume believed that our knowledge of the external world was gained through our impressions of it. Hume did not assign a cause to impressions. However, he did claim that laws of association guided our perception/impressions of the world. Hume’s laws of association included similarity, contiguity, and causality. While Locke and Berkeley believe that we experience the world through our minds (albeit they did not agree on exactly how this occurred), Hume relegated the mind to series of impressions linked by the laws of association. In fact, Hume’s relegation of the mind called into question the very existence of the mind.
Ebbinghaus’ view of association shares many similarities with his Associationist predecessors. For example, in his research on memory and learning, Ebbinghaus saw the frequency by which stimuli was encountered as essential to the learning process. Like Brown and Mill, Ebbinghaus saw the importance of the principle of frequency in forming associations.
Ebbinghaus ideas regarding learning and memory are very similar to Hartley’s Law of Contiguity. For example, Hartley believed that when two sensations (stimuli) are paired together frequently, they become connected so that when one is experienced the other was in more easily evoked as a result. This concept could extend the Ebbinghaus’ learning of nonsense syllables. For example, in the nonsense syllable NUS, the N and U paired together may allow one to recall the S that follows. Ebbinghaus measured the strength of associations by the rate at which they were forgotten. That is, the stronger an association was, the longer it would take to be forgotten.
Ebbinghaus was able to keep the conditions of his experiment quite consistent, which was strength of his methodology. For example, Ebbinghaus consistently paused for 15 seconds after reading through each list of nonsense syllables before trying to recall them. However, a weakness to his methodology was that he was both the researcher and the research participant. One could argue that his findings were a bias, as a result.
Mental compounding is the ideas that simple mental states form to make complex mental states. Under mental compounding, each simple mental state can exist independently of the complex mental of which it may be part. In other words, the whole is simply a sum of its parts. On the other hand, mental chemistry states that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That is, as simple mental states form to make complex mental states they are intermingle in a way that they cannot be separated. For example, as in chemistry, many chemicals mixed together make a new chemical, from which the original chemicals can no longer be separated, so is the presumption with mental chemistry.
J.S Mill did not believe that experience should be broken down into elements. As stated above, he believed that the individual experiences come together to form something greater. According to J.S. Mill, no useful information could be gleaned from attempting to tease apart experiences in order to attempt to analyze them as separate elements.
Nevertheless, mental chemistry does not account for the fact objects or experiences can be broken down into the different stimuli which make up our perception of them. For example, a tree can be broken down into different stimuli, such as hardness, color, shape, and size. Mental compounding succeeds in this, however. On the other hand, mental compounding is not able to account for the fact that when different stimuli are removed from an object, the object fails to be the same. For example, if the stimuli or idea of hardness was removed from the notion of what a tree is, then the notion would no longer be a tree. In other words, an essential aspect of a tree is the idea of hardness.