Descartes vs Locke

1255 words 6 pages
The study of knowledge, or epistemology, contains theoretical methods in which information is learned. Of these methods, there are two that are most widely accepted. Rationalism and empiricism are also the most widely debated methods of knowledge. Rationalism claims that a priori processes and intuition gain knowledge. Rationalism claims that knowledge is innate; but that it varies among humans. At the other end of the spectrum, empiricism claims that knowledge is gained largely by experience, observation, and sensory perception. René Descartes and John Locke, both seventeenth century philosophers, are often seen as two of the first early modern philosophers. Both Descartes and Locke attempt to find answers to the same questions in …show more content…
Finally, Locke adopts his ideas about universals and classification of genus and species from Descartes (Descartes, 179). Genera are used to group things according to similarity, while species are used to identify differences or differentia (Locke, 183). For both, genera and species are abstractions used for understanding. Thus far the ways in which Descartes and Locke are similar, have been addressed. Although I believe I have pointed to a number of undeniable similarities, similarities are largely insignificant when compared with their differences. These differences, I believe are what characterize their overall theories of knowledge. For Descartes, knowledge depends on absolute certainty. Since perception is unreliable, indubitable knowledge cannot come from the outside world via the senses (Descartes, 76). Descartes believes that there are two ways of discovering knowledge: through experience and through deduction. If knowledge cannot come from experience of the outside world, then it must come from within. In contrast to perception, Descartes believes that deduction ``can never be performed wrongly by an intellect which is in the least degree rational'', so deductive knowledge is (the only) certain knowledge (Descartes, 2). Such a system requires a basis of intuitively understood principles from which knowledge can be deduced. Descartes believes that there are some principles which are immediately known, such as the idea of the


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