Knowledge Innatism

Essay by jbryan November 2014

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Question 5) Is there such thing as innate knowledge?

Innate knowledge is the theory that there is at least some knowledge that is not derived from experience, but somehow is in the structure of our mind from birth. Plato, Descartes and Leibniz argued that there is at least some innate a priori knowledge. All three use non-natural explanations.

In Plato's 'Meno', his philosophy is that the mind existed before birth. He uses the idea of geometry to explain this. He explains that we see particular examples of shapes such as squares, however the mind sees the form of the square. This means that only a priori necessary truths of geometry can be certain and count as genuine knowledge - proving that there is innate knowledge. In addition, Descartes argued that the mind is independent from the body and uses examples such as the cogito - I am a thinking thing -, maths and logical truths to support knowledge innatism.

Descartes argues that through the mind alone, we can know clear and distinct ideas. They are self-evident and are known a priori. Therefore they are innate. Finally, Leibniz uses the example of God and the theory that God implanted knowledge into our minds to support innatism. He says that because necessary truths are innate and God necessarily exists and created the best world possible, everything is necessarily true.

While he argues to support innate knowledge, Carruthers' natural explanation is insufficient. He said that knowledge is genetically encoded through evolution and uses the developments of humans and animals as evidence. Carruthers' explanation refers to physical objects and other minds than the necessary truths that Leibniz and Locke discuss. Evolution cannot give us knowledge of necessary truths if necessary truths cannot be established through experience.

Locke argues directly against knowledge...