9 - John Locke and British Empiricism Flashcards Preview

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When was John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding written?



In what way did Newton's idea of microparticles influence Locke?

Locke believed that thought must be composed of some elementary particle much in the same way that matter must be composed of microparticles. He called these 'atoms of the mind' ideas.


How does Locke define an idea?

As the object of thinking or perception. "Whatever it is, which the mind can be employed about in thinking."


What is wrong with Locke's defining 'idea' relationally (i.e. as the object of thinking)?

This definition fails to tell you what an idea is, only how it relates to thinking. The intrinsic properties of idea remain unknown.


What fallacy underlies Locke's relational definition of 'idea' (i.e. as the object of thinking)?

Fallacy of constitutive relations. Fallacy of trying to define what something is in terms
of the relation something stands in.


What is the fallacy of constitutive relations?

Stating that relations are intrinsic to the items or terms which stand in those relations. A relation cannot be a property of either term in a relation.


How does Locke explain how we perceive a snowball?

A snowball is a conglomeration of microparticles. These microparticles act upon our sense organs and produce sensations in our minds. These sensations are ideas. The content of the mind is ideas.


What is the content of the mind, according to Locke?



Why does a physical object produce the ideas it does?

Physical object produces the ideas it does because of primary and secondary qualities it has.


What is the immediate object of the mind, according to Locke?

The idea.


If the object of the mind is the idea, then what we know of the world is...?

Purely mental content. The Cartesian theatre of the mind.


According to Locke, can we have direct knowledge of the world?

No, we can have knowledge only of the theatre of ideas.


How does Locke divide the qualities of an object?

Into primary and secondary qualities.


What are primary qualities of an object?

Qualities that are inseparable from the body of an object. E.g. Even if you took grain of wheat and crushed it and took fragment thereof, the fragment would still have these primary qualities – all of which are quantitative.

E.g. solidity; extension; figure; motion; number


How do primary qualities act on the mind?

The primary qualities are what cause the idea to arise in our mind. The ideas resemble these qualities. We have a complex idea that resembles the shape, idea of extension, idea of motion of the snowball.


What are the secondary qualities of an object?

Sensations produced by the powers of the primary qualities. These are NOT present in the object. Primary qualities of an object produce these secondary qualities.

A snowball might have sensation of whiteness, coldness – these aren’t in the snowball – just ideas of secondary qualities. Ideas of these secondary qualities do NOT resemble the secondary qualities of snowball – because the snowball does not HAVE secondary qualities.

e.g colour; taste; temperature; odour; texture; sound.


What produces secondary qualities?

Primary qualities in their interaction with the mind.


Primary qualities are mind-____________.

Secondary qualities are mind-____________.

Primary qualities are mind-independent.

Secondary qualities are mind-dependent.


What are the two premises of Locke's epistemology?

P1: All that I immediately experience are ideas.

P2: I know that some of these ideas resemble the relevant qualities in the objects (viz. the ideas of primary qualities) and that other ideas do not (viz. the ideas of secondary qualities.


What is the fallacy undermining Locke's epistemology?

If all we can experience is ideas (P1) then we could never know that some ideas resemble qualities in the objects and that others do not (P2). Can’t compare ideas with the quality out there to see if there was a resemblance – as all we can see are the ideas, not the quality.

So we can’t say there are certain qualities inherent in the snowball and others that simply arise from the snowball. This distinction (P2) is illogical given that we experience only ideas (P1).


Why can’t we say there is something in the mind that reads the images and tells us what they are?

This the idea of a homunculus that can interpret ideas and say what they are. BUT this leads to infinite regress – homunculus needs pictures in its OWN head to interpret ideas.


How is Locke's theory of the mind similar to that of neuroscientists today?

Both Locke and contemporary neuroscientists believe there are neural representations in the brain that are the direct object of experience.


What is the problem faced both by Locke and by neuroscientists in justifying the idea of mental representation?

If all we have direct knowledge of is mental representations, how do we know these are representations OF something in the world. We could never have direct access to the world to verify if that mental representation represents something in the world.


According to a direct realist view, neurophysiology is used to ___________ the world, but you do not see the world through the ______ __________.

According to a direct realist view, neurophysiology is used to experience the world, but you do not see the world through the neural architecture.


What is the difference between knowing something directly and indirectly?

In indirect knowledge, you have to know something else first.

I.e. Person X knows Y directly when and only when X’s knowing Y does not depend upon X first knowing something else, Z;

Person X knows Y indirectly when and only when X’s knowing Y depends upon X first knowing something else, Z.


When did Newton publish his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)?

In 1687, three years before Locke's An Essay on Human Understanding.


What is the problem with defining 'verbal ability' as 'how good one is at using words or verbal concepts'?

Verbal ability is that feature of our cognitive machinery that causes our verbal performance. It is not that performance itself. Defining it in terms of performance defines it in terms of what it causes, not in terms of what it is. We have not defined anything until we have said what it is.


Why is Locke called an empiricist and Descartes a rationalist?

Descartes thought that some of our knowledge could be obtained on the basis of rational thought alone.

Locke explicitly rejected Descartes’ doctrine of innate ideas. Locke thought that all ideas derive from experience.


Why can a Lockean not speculate that there is a world beyond our ideas?

Because according to Locke all we experience are ideas. If this world existed, we could not understand it.


If there is no homunculus, then the mind is able to recognize mental pictures directly. What problem with Locke's representationism follows from this?

If mental pictures can be known directly, why can’t external objects (as common sense tells us)?