There has always been great tension between the Rationalists and Empiricists in the quest into knowledge upon the existence of innate ideas and experiential knowledge. Most representatively, Locke, an empiricist, proposes that the doctrine of innate ideas is neither necessary nor conceivable whereas Leibniz objects that it is both reasonable and necessary for accounting for knowledge. In close scrutiny, however, Leibniz does not seem to be engaging directly with Locke’s proposal due to the slight discrepancy in focuses – scope of experience; and content and the psychological understanding of versus the ontological framework or structure needed for the understanding of truths – thereby making Leibniz’s objections futile.
In the openings of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke radically propounds against the rationalists that there is no such thing as innate speculative principles and, that all the knowledge we are capable of attaining are derived from “experience” (I.2; II.1.2). Locke tentatively takes “innate principles” to be the very primitive notions or characters that are engraved into the mind from the very beginning of the existence of the soul and therefore refers to that which can be considered inherent to the soul (II.2.1).
In arguing against nativism, Locke describes why five major principles of nativism is fallacious, starting with universal assent. He rejects universal assent because some principles, scientific or mathematic, seems to be necessarily true like that of the law of identity or law of contradiction, but yet be unknown by children and idiots who are incapable of consenting (I.2.3). Moreover, Locke finds it absurd that some claim that the mind, for example of the children, idiots or anyone else, could be simply “unaware” of a notion since this allows all supposedly unaware notions to be innate (I.2.5).
The second principle is that innate ideas could be discovered by reason alone. Locke dismisses this by saying that first, it...