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 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 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.