The basic idea of Empiricism is that all knowledge can only be derived from sense experience, and that man is born tabula rasa. In his reasoning, it is said, John Locke corners himself into, what is termed, the Egocentric Predicament. Locke finally concedes to this problem of direct knowledge of the external world and insists that we "just know." In turn, George Berkeley asserted that "to be is to be perceived;" leading to the idealist tradition of Empiricism, and ultimately to Hume's Skepticism.
What rendered Locke's fight for objective knowledge at the mercy of Idealist rejection of objective knowledge? Is it a proper idea of consciousness itself that is being overlooked, or did John Locke get lost somewhere down the road? (By getting "lost", I mean in the same way as St. Anselm's Ontological Argument, which is logically valid in that the conclusions sensibly follow the premises, but there is clearly something wrong with the picture.)
asked Jan 13 '11 at 19:08
Regarding human consciousness, there are some basic questions that philosophy has to answer:
It has been a popular position that the validity of our knowledge hinges crucially upon question (1). In this view, if our consciousness is a purely passive mirror and has no nature of its own, then all is well; but, if consciousness does have a nature (which must include "limitations"), if it is not passive, then our awareness is of a mere "representation" of reality and not of the real thing.
The skeptics take the position that consciousness clearly has a nature, and that therefore the certainty of our knowledge is either weakened or invalidated by this fact. They vary in where they draw the line regarding trustworthy versus untrustworthy knowledge. Empiricists trust direct sense-perception and low-level concepts, but not higher abstractions.
The mystics take the position that knowledge is clearly possible, and therefore the mind must be passive and possess no nature of its own. To them, our minds gain a priori knowledge that we obtain by no worldly means, but rather through mental contact with a purely conceptual realm. The better among them, the rationalists, point to mathematics and formal logic as examples of knowledge supposedly gained with perfect certainty and no input from sense-perception.
Both the mystics and skeptics accept the premise that either the mind has a specific nature, or knowledge is possible.
Objectivism rejects this dichotomy as false. It answers question (1) in the affirmative: awareness of reality takes places by a particular means in accordance with our natures, from the organs of sense-perception and the automatic neurological processing in our brains (for percepts), to the volitional process of abstraction (for concepts). But we are aware of reality, and that awareness takes a specific form dictated by the nature of our consciousness. Thus, in Objectivism there is no conflict between the two. There cannot be, because everything in the universe has an identity, and it is therefore absurd to demand the lack of identity as a precondition for our minds to be able to know.
Objectivism accepts reality as it is, and then moves forward from there. Consciousness has identity, and the proper question that follows is not, "Can we know?" but rather, "How do we know?"
answered Jan 14 '11 at 22:43
Andrew Dalton ♦