Philosophy Lesson Twelve: Problems With Empiricism

Let’s criticize Empiricists! (it’s not very hard to do)


- The issue of simple and complex ideas
- The issue of skepticism
- The issue of ideas coming from personal experience

Simple and Complex Ideas

Simple ideas are ideas that supposedly can’t be broken down any further… such as crunchy. Crunchy is a description which has no further way to break it down. This theory was developed by a philosopher I’ve mentioned before, named Locke. Hume, another philosopher I’ve mentioned before argues that in order for there to be any conceptual thought, we must first have the sense impression for all of the aspects of our idea.

For example...


In order to understand/think up this photo we need to have a variety of sense impressions. Such as…

1. Color - blue, white, brown, grey, pink, black, red etc.

2. Human beings - We need to know what human beings are.

3. Elderly and youth - We need the sense impression of both elderly humans, and young ones, in order to place things in perspective.

4. Expression - In order to understand the facial expressions being made, we need to understand key concepts such as happiness, sadness etc. and how they relate to our faces.

5. Dimension - In order to understand distance, and relation, we need an understanding of dimension.

6. Texture - In order to be able to understand the feeling of things, we need to understand texture, the texture of the woman’s skirt, the babes skin, the necklace, the glass behind them.


Philosophy Lesson Eleven: Twentieth Century Empiricism

The 1930’s, in Vienna, was a cultural, artistic and Philosophical golden age. During this time, the world was full of positive and negative possibility, and in certain ways, humanity flourished. In this little city, a group which called themselves ‘The Vienna Circle’, created one of our more modern Philosophical theories, known today as ‘logical positivism’.

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The Vienna Circle was composed of many members, including Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, and Alfred Ayer. This group would meet and ponder regularly, and came out with many theories and ideas. The logical positivists agreed with Hume that any real fact can be experienced by the senses. If something is can be seen, it is possible. They believe that knowledge comes from observing the world.

They also agree that analytic truths are tautologous, yet do not regret them as worthless, and thus choose to view them as deductions made about the world.

The Verification Principle is the tests The Vienna Circle created, in order to decide if a statement is true or not. Anything true is deemed as meaningful. In order for something to be true, it must be verified by sense experience. Anything you, yourself don’t experience is meaningless…

Meaning god, emotions, and stories are irrelevant to existence.The effects of emotions can be seen tho, but other than that, they are invisible to the world.


Philosophy Lesson Ten: Humes Mitigated Skeptism

Flashback: Skepticism is a philosophical theory which states knowledge of the world is impossible.


Hume had a different idea, and this is called ‘Hume’s Mitigated Skepticism’. This theory he created stated that knowledge was attainable, but only through the senses. He also admitted to understanding that your senses can make mistakes… Such as mirages, hallucinations, illusions etc. but he intended to highlight the fact that we can count on our senses to provide us with a lot of accountable information.

#Mitigated Sceptic - A moderate Sceptic. He doesn’t take the same stand as global skeptics, but believes that knowledge is attainable from what we, ourselves experience.

Hume also argued that a priori knowledge is a ‘tautology’ because it’s based on analytic proposition and relations of ideas. Something I tend to agree with.

Tautology - A phrase to refer to needless repetition of the same idea, teaching us nothing new about the world.

Hume argued that rules of logic and mathematical equation are a tautology because real knowledge, can only be experienced. This is why Hume refers only to a posteriori ideas. Basically, he’ll believe it when he see’s it. This is why his argument focuses on fact.

Hume give’s three ways in which our senses can betray us. These three arguments are why Hume is an empiricist, and his arguments are defended by the idea that knowledge can only come from our senses.

These arguments are…

- The problem of abstract concept
- The problem of casualty
- The problem of induction

The Problem of Abstract Concept
If everything we know is based off of experience, then how can we create otherworldly beings in our minds? Hume says we create ‘God’ in our minds, drawing from other human beings, he also states that all abstract thoughts are ‘useless’. Hume goes on to say we create god from…

A. Cause and effect…

Who/What --> Us

B. We give ‘the creator’ a mask as ‘God’, and humanize them by giving them a consciousness.

C. Ideas of self/morality create a world where we create an ideal from what we believe about good or bad. This creates not only a self image, but a moral compass. We have an idea of ‘God’ the divine light, and what some choose to call, ‘the Devil’ the darkness of the world.

The Problem of Causality
The problem of causality is the idea that every event has a cause.

For example...

A. You pull the trigger --> the gun shoots --> the bullet hits the pin --> you win the stuffed bear

The chain of events can be anywhere from a simple cause and effect… to a long chain of cause and effect… The chain above can be added onto…

You win the stuffed bear --> You impress the girl --> You get a kiss --> You start a romance --> You end up married

Although this is a grand leap from simply aiming a gun, you ended up married. Chain reactions are going on around you everywhere, even your own existence is simply the result of a chain reaction, dating back to the beginning of time.

Empiricists problem with cause and effect is, not all causes and effects can be witnessed with the eye, this is why it’s part of Hume’s three magic exceptions.

The Problem of Induction
An argument that is true, if all the premises of the statement is true.

For example…

All men are mortal
Socrates was a man
Therefore Socrates is mortal

Most knowledge claims are created from inductive arguments.

Inductive reasoning agrees that the past can be used as a guide for the future, but as long as you can conceive something, there’s no certainty it won’t come true.


Philosophy Lesson Nine: Propositions

Analytical Propositions
Analytical propositions are ideas that are simply true, and cannot be misconstrued. Analytical ideas are the foundation of a priori ideas.

For example…

1. All red kettles are red.
2. All squares have four sides

Synthetic Propositions
A statement that isn’t necessarily always true, and is the basis of a posteriori ideas. Synthetic propositions are only contingently true.

#Empiricists choose to only accept matters of fact to be true, and thus reject all relations of ideas.

To simplify this…

- Think of a priori ideas, and Analytical propositions as the same thing.
- Think of a posteriori ideas, and Synthetic propositions as the same thing.


Philosophy Lesson Eight: Humes Fork

Hume argues that there are two forms of idea...

This is called Hume’s fork, because it’s the point in idea, where they fork out into two distinct categories…

Matters of Fact Relations of ideas

Matters of Fact
Matters of fact are things you, yourself have directly experienced, and therefore are true. Matters of fact are built from original truth, which becomes a concept that can be mentally conjured at any moment.

Like many aspects of philosophy, matters of fact can be broken down into sub categories…

Contingent: If a fact is contingent, it a general fact, which can be proven wrong under ‘unusual’ circumstance…

Such as…
a. Humans have ten fingers
--> not all humans have ten fingers

#Philosophers refer to contingent ideas, a posteriori.

A Posteriori - Latin
--> Meaning ‘after experience’.

Hume argues that all our claims on existence, come from our posteriori ideas, which he calls ‘matters of fact’.

Relations of Ideas
There are certain ideas that you cannot see in the literal reality, but still are known. These ideas aren’t a posteriori ideas.

Such as… Love, justice, and arrogance for instance.

Another example of this, is common ‘truths’ which cannot be expressed in reality…

Such as… two parallel lines will never meet. We all know this must be true, but we do not have two cosmic infinite parallel lines available to us, to test this theory.

These are called a priori ideas…

A Priori - Latin
An idea that cannot be seen to exist in reality, but is always true due to reason.


Philosophy Lesson Seven: Concept Formation

A concept is the idea of something. It can range from anything as simple as a mental picture of something, to a completely abstract idea, such as beauty, hatred, or loneliness. Complex ideas, and ideas of refection, are called concepts.

For example… In the 16th century, explorers from Europe were voyaging around the world, and seeing animals in places like Africa for the first time. They’d come back to their home lands, with stories, and concept drawings, in order to show people what beasts they’d seen on their voyages. The people who had never seen these beasts would be left with a conceptual idea of what these animals were like.

A child who had never seen a Giraffe’s, when described a Giraffe, would have an idea of what a Giraffe looks like, but until it’s made an impression.

An impression is an experience of anything in the physical world, which you gain from any of your senses.

For example, if you look at a daisy, you are given the impression of a daisy, it’s only until you think about the fact that it’s a daisy, that it becomes a concept.

Hume believed that every idea is always a copy of an original sensation of any one of the senses.
Meaning, our mind stores ideas and applies them together as it wants.

Because of this, we can think about our past, and imagine our future, we can create scenarios out of nothing and imagine aliens, and mythical beasts, and people with impossible talents etc.



Philosophy Lesson Six: Simple and Complex Ideas

Here’s a picture of the great philosopher John Locke: 1632-1704

Simple Ideas- Ideas that are devised from the senses, and based on your first impression of something. They are simple ideas fed to the brain, usually subconsciously. Colors, shapes, textures, sounds, and tastes. Locke is famous for arguing that you can’t break down a simple idea into any smaller of a category. Red is red, and round is round.

Simple ideas…
- Hot
- Salty
- Bright
- Pink
- Soft
- Round

Complex Ideas- Combinations of simple ideas that create a more complex vision. The more complex the idea, the more simple ideas there will

Complex ideas…
- A river
- A rug
- A car
- A harp
- A mermaid
- A kitten
- Sunglasses

Simple ideas are based off of one’s immediate impression of something, in contrast, complex ideas are built from simple ideas, to create the whole picture.

Small activity: Choose three complex items in the room you’re in, and break them down into simple ideas. See how much you can break them down.


Philosophy Lesson Five: Sensory Impressions

We cannot have any ideas without first having impressions.
-David Hume (1748)

Let’s start by looking at this apple.


When we look at this apple, a variety of ideas come to our mind, even if we don’t notice them at all. Our subconscious links this computer image to numerous ideas in moments. Such as…

- The apple is red
- The apple is shiny
- The apple is smooth
- The apple is crunchy
- The apple is sweet
- The apple is round
- The apple has a leaf
- The leaf is green

With the ability of being able to simply visualize this apple, we have almost created an apple in our internal minds. The apple is everything, except physical.

If someone had never seen an apple, or the color red, it would be quite literally impossible for them to imagine such a thing. Because, how does one describe a color? a taste? an odor? I have never eaten meat, I know the smell of meat though, and from that I can try to understand what the texture might be like, and the blend of the spices covering it, but I still, don’t know what meat tastes like.

This can be related to anything in existence, if you haven’t seen it, or have sense impressions that you can draw from and create ideas from, you can’t imagine it. How can we imagine ANYTHING we’ve never seen then? We can all picture a unicorn, we can all picture aliens, and different kinds of fictitious creatures, we can create worlds, and machines. Although, these ideas aren’t alive in our reality, they are all directly linked to different things in our world... just rearranged. Locke and Hume argue that all ideas spawn from reality. Nothing we could ever conceive or imagine could ever actually be original.


How can we explain our emotions and our feelings away?


Loving cheese -----------------------> Knowing what cheese taste’s

The idea’s our mind creates, evolves into a world of opinions, likes, dislikes, fears, and passions. Hume states that, ‘We have ‘inner senses’, such as plain pleasure, feelings of love and hate. Our inner and outer senses create our reality, our ideas and impressions. If we’re insane, are we insane to ourselves?


Philosophy Lesson Four: Tabula Rasa and Plato

Let’s start by mentioning the term Tabula Rasa…

Tabula Rasa: An old latin term which translates to ‘blank slate’. This is used in philosophy to refer to the idea that each soul comes into the world as a blank canvas. It’s the idea that people are wholly shaped by the experiences have in their lives from birth until death. We gather information from everything we see, or connect through thought, to become what we are in the present.

The Legend of the Cave
The Republic- 360 BC. by Plato


The Legend of the Cave is an idea formulae, which is said to have been devised by Plato. It takes the form of a story of a human being who is chained at the end of a cave their whole life. The person is unable to move, and is locked in complete darkness except for the light of a torch placed behind them. The light from the torch, and the flickering, distorts the darkness, and the cave distorts the sound of the torch. This is all the cave dweller has ever known. It makes sense that the cave dwellers reality would be one that only the cave dweller himself could ever make true sense of. Light could seem alive to you, or have great significance. The only colors you could imagine would be the dark flickering tones of the firelight and the earthen tones of the cave wall.

After years of living in the cave, another being comes to release the dweller. The dweller is given the first new stimulation of their life; they have never experienced something so intense before. The dweller is dragged from their prison, up the cave entrance, towards the light, and is first given a new perspective of his surroundings. He is dragged out into the light of the world, and is in what we would call ‘reality’ for the first time of their life. The myth of the Cave had been taken literally but also as a metaphor through which philosophers have been debating ‘what is the nature of reality’ for centuries.

Exercise: Write what Plato’s metaphorical message was in this conceptual legend. Ask yourself, is there more?


The Myth of the Cave suggests that our image of the world, is limited to the our sensory experience, and our ability to create things with our mind, by piecing together other things we’ve seen before.

Although we’ve never seen a flying pig, we can take our own mental image of a pig, and add the wings of a bird to it. At the same time, we cannot imagine a color we’ve never experienced ourselves. We know enough to understand that animals such as birds, tropical fish, and the mantis shrimp, are able to see different colors, but there’s no way for us to imagine them.

Now, let’s paint a picture with our minds. In this short exercise, I want you to imagine what the life would be of..

- a blind person
- a deaf person

i) A blind person wouldn’t be able to see or think in color, their sensory stimulation would come from the texture of things, temperature, humidity, sound, and especially music would have great appeal. A blind person might love to examine things with their hands.


Philosophy Lesson Three: Empiricisim and Rationalism

To begin, let’s talk about reason…


Derives from thought/idea and not senses.
For example… 2 + 2 = 4
This equation will always be considered ‘true’ but the fact is, in the physical reality we live in, there can never exactly be 2 of the same thing.
Reason is limited to the mind.

Sensory Knowledge
Knowledge you receive from your senses… for example… the sky is blue, her voice is sharp

This creates two different forms of knowledge…

- Ideas we gain from our senses
- Ideas we gain from reason

Empiricism and Rationalism

A. Empiricism
Knowledge based on experience.

B. Rationalism
Knowledge based on reason

These are two major opponents in the philosophical battle over knowledge.


History brief: Empiricism is a philosophical movement developed by british philosophers. Empiricists base their beliefs on scientific ideas and the creation of societies. The Royal Society was focused on discovering new ways to explain away the reality around us.

Scientifically ~ Socially ~ Politically

Empiricists worth noting…


#Empiricism is the claim that all knowledge comes from ones senses.

History Brief: A movement started by a french philosopher named Rene Descartes and became very popular in the 17th century. Although rationalism had been mentioned long before, as far back as Plato.


Rationalism is a claim that all knowledge comes from reason, rather than our senses. Rationalists use skepticism to their advantage, because it has been proven that we cannot always trust our senses(See lesson two…). True reason on the other hand, cannot be doubted.

#All true knowledge comes from rationalizing.


Philosophy Lesson Two: What is Skepticism?


a. To have doubts or reserved judgements about a thing.
b. a political movement in Philosophy.

We will be learning about definition b in this short mini lesson of notes.


Let’s start by introducing to you…

The Infinite Regress Argument: an argumentative point in Philosophy that states true knowledge of the world is impossible. Why? Because every time you create a new ‘truth’ in your mind, you are justifying it.

For example: I saw a dalmatian at the park the other day.

But can we know this to be certain? Was the dog painted with spots? Was it a robot dog? Was it really an alien pretending to be a dog? The larger the imagination, the more possibilities we can conger up with our minds about what I really saw at the park the other day. The thing that stops people from speculating over this, every time they create a new ‘truth’ in their head, is called ‘common sense’, which although can be spoken for, can also be very, very, wrong.

In order for you to be a ‘true’ skeptic, you must realize that in order for anything to technically be considered true, you must justify it, then justify your justification, and justify that justification, and thus, carry on to infinity. Which is where ‘The Infinite Regress Argument’ comes from.


This leads us on to question the legitimacy of our senses...

Can We Trust Our Senses?:
We already know that there are ways in this universe to manipulate sight…

a. Perception
b. Optical Illusions
c. Color blindness
d. Hot water on normal vs. freezing hands
e. Mirages
f. Hallucinations (drug induced or otherwise)

Waking Dreamers:
While you are dreaming, everything seems entirely real. Henceforth, what’s stopping all of this from being a dream right now?
- See Inception

It’s All An Illusion!: Because of the reasons I listed above, we cannot fully trust our senses, what’s stopping all of this from being merely an illusion brought on by anything, from Aliens keeping us sedated in a coma like state so they can feed off the magnetic fields in our brains, to being a fairy princess in a magical land, simply asleep by the fairy dust stream.
- See The Matrix I, II (but not three, that was crap).

This is another reason we can never be certain of anything.


Pyrro of Ellis arrived at this and thus rejected all forms of knowledge because he truly believed that NOTHING is for certain. Pyrro thus became a bit of a philosophical calamity because he was so extreme with his theories, that his friends and followers had to follow him around stopping him from walking into traffic and falling into holes. This is a case where a philosopher has rejected all common sense about the world for his claims.


Philosophy Lesson One: Knowledge

There are three kinds of knowledge that philosophers acknowledge;

Practical knowledge: Skill based knowledge

Knowledge by acquaintance: Knowledge that doesn’t come from fact, but familiarity. Things you know because you’ve experienced them.

Factual Knowledge: Knowledge based on solid FACT! Something that can be backed up by a citable source…

For example…

Marie Antoinette was the last queen of France because…

A. I believe it…
B. It is true…
C. I can prove it with fact.

To note:

What is a fact? - a thing that is known and proved to be true.

Throughout your journey through philosophy with me, I ask you to look deep into yours and others claims for loop holes that could potentially disprove said fact.