The esteemed seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke famously declares that we are tabula rasa (blank slates). When it comes to human understanding we rely upon the force of experience (sensation and reflection) and not some mental faculties apparatus, or innate ideas. However, the difficulty with this empirical, antinativist thesis is how it conveniently overlooks Locke's nuance in critiquing a priori categories as providing the epistemic foundations for all truth and knowledge, but fails to see how there is still the problem of putting this "violent abstraction" before all experience. Do we really come into the world as naked as Locke claims?

Should we take Locke at his word that he is an empiricist despite defining us as beings who are "empty cabinets" or blank canvases? Beings who do not or cannot have a history that has any efficacy whether considered biologically or sociologically equipping and attuning us to experience?

  • Well, no, humans are born with certain reflexes and instincts, such as hunger, love, anger, desire for status, some other social instincts, perhaps some innate grammar, fear of snakes. We aren't blank in that sense. But a newborn is at least blank of cultural ideas, which we do almost entirely build up from experience.
    – causative
    Aug 5 at 19:58
  • Locke does not claim that we come into the world completely "naked", see SEP:"While the mind may be a blank slate in regard to content, it is plain that Locke thinks we are born with a variety of faculties to receive and abilities to manipulate or process the content once we acquire it." But pre-existing faculties for processing content are not usually considered non-empiricist as long as they are incapable of producing content on their own, as in Kant. Locke simply does not address the question of their possible biological attuning.
    – Conifold
    Aug 5 at 22:08
  • Because Locke is so focused on countering the pervasive rationalism of the continent, he assumed and described our "variety of faculties" in a vague and abstract manner. They are empty rooms ready to furnished with the phenomena of experience and reflection. It is difficult to take seriously an empiricist who does not address biological attuning. Wouldn't you agree? Radical empiricism does not suffer from this deficiency. Aug 30 at 23:11


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