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The Profound Limitations of Knowledge

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Fred Leavitt

The Profound Limitations of Knowledge explores the limitations of knowledge and argues that neither reasoning nor direct or indirect observations can be trusted. We cannot even assign probabilities to claims of what we can know. Furthermore, for any set of data, there are an infinite number of possible interpretations. Evidence suggests that we live in a participatory universe—that is, our observations shape reality.
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6. Pillar 1: A Priori Knowledge

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CHAPTER SIX

Pillar 1: A Priori Knowledge

 

John Locke had maintained that the minds of newborns are like blank slates. In his view, all our ideas and everything we know comes from our interactions with the world. Gottfried Leibniz disagreed. He said that people are born with certain innate ideas. Empirical evidence is not needed to know that 1 + 1 = 2 or to recognize that various statements from logic, metaphysics, and morals are true. Immanuel Kant, born 20 years after Locke’s death in 1704, also disagreed. Kant claimed that certain beliefs, such as “God exists” and “Every event has a cause,” precede experience. Recent sophisticated experiments have shown that even six-month old babies act as though they understand connections between causes and effects.

The Case for Innate Knowledge

In Don Marquis’s Tales of Archy and Mehitabel, Archy the cockroach pities humans because they are born ignorant and must struggle to learn the ways of the world. Archy says that insects are born knowing all they need to know. Archy would have approved of Kant. Jack London’s short story To Build a Fire is another fictionalized account that emphasizes the value of innate knowledge. The protagonist, accompanied by his dog, sets out in freezing weather to visit his friends. Trusting in his ability to protect himself from the cold with fire, he tries three times to build one. ← 41 | 42 → But all are soon extinguished and...

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