Do innate ideas exist in materialism?

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Do innate ideas exist in materialism?
Dazzle
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Posted Nov 12, 2012 - 9:15 PM:
Subject: Do innate ideas exist in materialism?
Hello!
I understand that empiricism is an epistemological concept and materialism is a metaphysical/scientific one, but I want to know do materialists believe that there are no innate ideas? If yes, doesn't this mean that materialism uses empiricism as its method of application?
I'm really confused and I'll be grateful if anyone can help.
FrankLeeSeaux
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Posted Nov 12, 2012 - 11:03 PM:

Dazzle wrote:
Hello!
I understand that empiricism is an epistemological concept and materialism is a metaphysical/scientific one, but I want to know do materialists believe that there are no innate ideas? If yes, doesn't this mean that materialism uses empiricism as its method of application?
I'm really confused and I'll be grateful if anyone can help.


Materialism may be a position some still hold, but I seriously doubt those who do are necessarily rejecting physicalism in favor of it. Physicalism is a more inclusive term/metaphysical position.

I will admit though, this is not the only example of your terminology which leaves me a bit apprehensive with respect to addressing your post/query.

Empiricism, as I understand it, is the metaphysical position that all data about the world is derived through anyone of the five senses.

Evidentialism, is the metaphysical epistemological position that only those beliefs which are supported by evidence are justified.

Physicalism, is basically Materialism plus energy and the belief that everything is either physical or related to physical causes.

Materialism, is the metaphysical position that all things which are real consist of matter, or something to that effect.

Rationalism, is the notion that all information is already contained within the human brain from birth, and has simply to be unlocked and considered.

Many of these notions have been revamped and revised, through the course of serious consideration and as a result of debate, since many of the books on them were written.

It is still somewhat of a sore spot to many a philosopher that after all their learning in philosophy courses, they still have so much left to learn since the information tends to update almost as often as scientific discovery. As such, by the time many work through the musings of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, others have already refuted or dismissed the works of people like Kant and Heidegger. By these examples I'm only attempting to point to roughly similar times frames, and not necessarily modes of thought. Though, I will emphasize that scientific discoveries have had, and continue to have a profound effect upon the philosophical world, as well they should. After all, the two keep each other occupied, or pre-occupied, as the case may be.

With the basic understandings I have laid out above, we would still need define more precisely what you mean by "innate ideas." If, by innate ideas, you mean pre-existing information in the human brain(as with Rationalism), then empiricism would not likely agree. Nor would materialists.

But, I can, almost unequivocably say that empiricism is the method by which we gather knowledge about the world around us, even for those who believe we are merely brains in a vat, or free floating minds without actual bodies(Idealism/Solipsism). If not for our senses we would have no idea of a world with which to interact, and would likely exist in a vegitative state, incapable of communication or conception.

If this has not sufficiently answered your question, perhaps you could elaborate, and clarify your terminology.

PS, Welcome to PF(philosophy forums)
Ginger17
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Posted Nov 13, 2012 - 8:36 AM:

My material laptop contains innate software information. Is this what you mean?
Hanover
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Posted Nov 13, 2012 - 9:01 AM:

Dazzle wrote:
Hello!
I understand that empiricism is an epistemological concept and materialism is a metaphysical/scientific one, but I want to know do materialists believe that there are no innate ideas? If yes, doesn't this mean that materialism uses empiricism as its method of application?
I'm really confused and I'll be grateful if anyone can help.


Give an example of an "innate idea." Are you referencing a priori knowledge that can be known prior to experience, like geometric truths? I think a materialist could accept that such truths were a priori, but he would be committed to believing that their existence was physical.

Materialists do use empiricism to discover truth, but that doesn't mean they can't rely upon rationalism either.
Daedalus Dalgshootur
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Posted Nov 13, 2012 - 10:19 AM:

Ginger17 wrote:
My material laptop contains innate software information. Is this what you mean?

Good example. A robot without operating systems or schemes for processing and understanding received data isn't going to be learning about, representing, and dealing with its environment any better than a rock. Quite hilarious, these lingering beliefs of "passive non-mediation" in which perception and understanding are simply the result of information converging in an empty or functionally structureless container.
R.D.Coste
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Posted Nov 13, 2012 - 12:14 PM:

If you are referring to a priori knowledge, like Plato's ideal forms, then no.... materialists (or better put - physicalists) do not. Aristotle broke away from Plato on this very subject and philosophy has been divided on it ever since.

prothero
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Posted Nov 13, 2012 - 12:24 PM:

The test of reason is empiricism but empiricism in not the source of reason. Advances in all fields (even science) are often made on the basis of reason, intuition, imagination and creativy and in science often confirmed or refuted empirically only many years or even decades after the theory is put forward. The world is the playground of the mind.
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Posted Nov 13, 2012 - 4:03 PM:

prothero wrote:
The test of reason is empiricism but empiricism in not the source of reason. Advances in all fields (even science) are often made on the basis of reason, intuition, imagination and creativy and in science often confirmed or refuted empirically only many years or even decades after the theory is put forward. The world is the playground of the mind.


Let us not forget that those empirical senses inform that "source" of reason. Were it not so, the mind would have a much smaller, darker playground, and no means by which to fill it. So, reason without empiricism, to supply it, would have little or nothing to reason.

The best one, comnpletely devoid of sensory input could ascertain about the world is well. now that I think about it, NOTHING. There would be nothing to compare the world to, by which a description could be forwarded. No sounds by which to ascertain silence. No light to ascertain dark, or colors of any kind. Not taste, to ascertain the blandness. Not tactile sensations to ascertain the free floating sensation. And, no smells by which to ascertain aroma.

There would be no sense of others to determine that one is alone in the world. Thus, there would be no sense of emotional state. A world devoid of empirical sensory input would not qualify as a world on any level, nor would it allow for such things as logic or reason.

A person completely devoid of sensory input would either die very quickly, or require life support, since there would be nothing they could do for themselves.
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Posted Nov 13, 2012 - 4:30 PM:

Dazzle wrote:
Hello!
I understand that empiricism is an epistemological concept and materialism is a metaphysical/scientific one, but I want to know do materialists believe that there are no innate ideas? If yes, doesn't this mean that materialism uses empiricism as its method of application?


As you say, empiricism is an epistemological position (epistemology being the theory of knowledge, for more see here-http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/), whereas materialism is a metaphysical or ontological position(metaphysics/ontology being the theory of being, or what exists- what sort of stuff is the world made up of? what sorts of things exist or are real?). What this means is that materialism doesn't speak to the issue of whether there are "innate ideas", because this falls under epistemology.

Now, there is certainly a close affinity between empiricism and materialism (alot of materialists would identify themselves as empiricists, and visa versa), and both of them are sort of foundations of the ideology behind modern science but they are distinct positions. In any case, empiricism, by definition, more or less excludes the possibility of innate ideas- this is the crux of the empiricist v. rationalist debate, whether all of our knowledge originates in sense experience, or whether there aren't any "truths of reason", or "innate ideas" (just a historical note- the sticking point for empiricists has always been explaining the necessary truths of mathematics and logic, which do not seem rooted in sense experience). But since empiricism and materialism so often go hand-in-hand, most materialists will reject innate knowledge or ideas, although this rejection would be insofar as they accept empiricist suppositions, not because they are materialists.


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