Building knowledge is an essential part of the human experience, which is why understanding the process of its development and accumulation is vital to exploring human nature. John Locke and Rene Descartes’ perspectives on the issue of approaches to knowledge represent the direct opposites of each other, with Locke insisting on the importance of experience and Descartes seeking to prove the existence of inborn knowledge. Due to the difference in the specified perspectives, the source of knowledge is also defined. Differently, Locke places a greater emphasis on the external environment, and Descartes views the internal one, particularly continuous introspection, as the core source of knowledge.
Consequently, the process of testing the reliability of specific knowledge claims is rooted in the assessment of the external observations in Locke’s perspective and the internal introspections according to Descartes’ stance on the subject matter. In other words, Descartes believed that knowledge is innate and intuitive, whereas Loke believed that the development of knowledge implied determining the primary characteristics of an object, namely, its “colour, sound, taste, and odour” (Paterson 47). Therefore, the two perspectives represent completely opposite interpretations of knowledge and its nature.
The theories in question reflect the philosophical foundations of the time. Specifically, Descartes’ ideas emerged in the context of absolutist monarchy and the enhanced power of the Church, whereas Locke’s philosophy was shaped under the influence of the developing Socialist movement (Leahey 159). Therefore, the latter was understandably rooted in personal experience as a significantly more free-spirited perspective, while Descartes’ philosophy was significantly constrained by the presence of social and political rigidity. Nevertheless, both philosophers contributed extensively to the development of philosophical thought and the understanding of knowledge.
Leahey, Thomas Hardy. A History of Psychology: From Antiquity to Modernity. Routledge, 2015.
Paterson, Mark. Seeing with the Hands: Blindness, Vision and Touch After Descartes. Edinburgh University Press, 2017.