The Origins and Meaning of Knowledge and Tabula Rasa

How knowledge is obtained is a question that has been studied for years. Knowledge is something one gains throughout life. From the time of birth, knowledge begins. A group of philosophers stated the mind was a Tabula Rusa. This means the mind begins like a blank sheet of paper. So, if the mind begins as they suggested how does one gain knowledge. As humans, it is assumed that all people have knowledge. But what exactly is knowledge defined as and where does it come from.


The word ‘know* has three distinct meanings. First, ‘know* is a special form of competence. (Landesman) For example, to know how to play the piano or to know how to recite poems are forms of competition. When someone says that they know how to do something, they are using know* as competition. Second, know’ means to be acquainted with someone or something. (Landesman) For example, to say “I know Jarrett” means one is acquainted with him.

One knows Jarrett because they have met him. Third, ‘know* is to be able to recognize something as being true. (Landesman) For example, “I know that H20 is water” is scientific. This can be proven. One can say that ‘know* in this sense is to have information of a subject.

Sometimes the word ‘know is mistaken for ‘believe’. These two words are thought to be interchangeable, but they are different. Belief frequently applies to something that one is either unsure about or which there is insufficient proof. (Lehrer) For example.

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“I believe the New Orleans Saints will beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday” is a belief. This can be proven false since the game has not occurred. Knowledge, on the other hand, applies to things that are true. For insistence, to say “the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons” can be proven. This is knowledge. Knowledge is the awareness of facts, truths, or principles. Knowledge is also a true belief for which one has good evidence. (Lehrer)

There are many theories of how one gains knowledge. One important and influential theory is empiricism. Empiricists believe knowledge comes from experiences. Another theory is rationalism. Rationalists believe knowledge comes from thought alone without the aid of the senses. (Landesman) Empiricists reject the rationalist theory. Empiricists argue knowledge is based on sense experience and not innate ideas. Although empiricists deny innate ideas, for experiences, they do not reject the notion of innateness. Empiricist believe one is born with bodily functions, emotions, and thinking.

They deny one is born with a detailed concept of God. causality, and mathematics. (Landesman) There are three principle philosophers of empiricism: John Locke. George Berkeley, and David Hume.

John Locke was the first person to give a logical explanation of Empiricism. Locke says that if one has innate ideas then they would be conscious of having them. Locke strongly believes that one acquires knowledge during the course of a lifetime. He further states that experience leaches one the things in which they know. Locke explains that experience is external and internal. (Lehrer)

Ones external experiences are called sensations. Ones external experiences give them the ideas of color, sound, and motion. Ones internal experiences are called reflection. Reflection makes one understand knowing, doubting, and believing. (Landesman) Locke says that sensations and reflections are simple and complex. (Lehrer) Locke distinguishes three classes of complex ideas.

They are ideas of substance, mode, and relationship. For example, the idea of an apple is complex because of its color, roundness, and taste.

Locke analyzed complex ideas, but he also added what one knows through these ideas. Locke says there are three main types of knowledge. First, knowledge is intuitive. This form of knowledge is the most certain because it seems the most obvious and difficult to doubt. For example it is hard not to believe one has a body or that black is not white. These are things that are obvious to the human eye, so one accepts them intuitively. Second, is knowledge is demonstrative. Demonstrative is when one puts simple ideas together to form complex ones. An example is when one compares the heat of the Sun with the heat of fire. In this experiment they would show how the two are similar, demonstrating something. Third, knowledge is sensitive. This form relies on the senses. For example, if one looks into a room to see how many people are present they are relying on the senses. So, according to Locke knowledge is based on things one experiences. (Lehrer)

George Berkeley took John Locke’s idea a step further. Berkeley attempted to show that rather than experience coming from the senses, experience is in the perceiver. (Landesman) In other words, an object does not produce powers that affect our senses because the objects existence is in
the perception of the perceiver. Berkeley s view became known as Idealism. For example, when one says that an object is red, the redness is part of ones perception of it. Berkeley’s main argument is that it is impossible for something to exist without it being perceived. This means that if we cannot imagine what the perception of something is like, then we cannot say that it exists. Berkeley showed that there was no difference between real and apparent qualities. He said that perceptions are relative in both primary and secondary qualities. (Lehrer)

First, through sensation he showed that what one feels is what one gets. For example, when one places their hand in cold water, the temperature of the water varies depending on the temperature of the hand. Second, through taste he showed that one cannot separate sweetness form pleasure. Both qualities must exist in the perceiver and not in the object. Third, through color he showed how through perception one may see one color while another sees a different color. Two colors cannot exist in the same object, so color is in the perceiver not the object. Lastly, through speed he showed that people on a train cannot be moving and at rest at the same time. The answer Berkeley found was that the quality of something is in the perceiver. As with knowledge, one gains knowledge through what they perceive through their experiences. (Lehrer)

Lastly. David Hume brought the notion of knowledge a step further from Berkeley. Hume also believed that knowledge is gained through experiences. Hume said all ideas concerning matters of fact are found on issues of cause and effect. He argued that all our knowledge of cause and effect came through habit. He believed that the more one experiences things the more certain it will be. Hume sets an example of something that will cause another. He uses the example of playing pool. In pool one hits the white ball, which in turn hits the others. So. Hume says that the cause of the white ball being hit by someone affected the other balls to move. In short, all reasoning concerning cause and effect are founded on experience. (Landesman) So, knowledge is based on cause and effect.

The empiricist gave a logical reason of how one gains knowledge. They believe all knowledge is formed from ones experiences. The empirical view is believable. One would believe their knowledge comes from things they can see and touch. Generally, when one can experience something they believe it exists. For example, when someone reads that in Afnca there are thousands of starving people, they would find that hard to believe. If that same person was brought to Africa and could see it. they would believe those starving people exist.

I know knowledge exist in ones experiences. When I experience something I know it exist.

For things I cannot experience. I have to do intense research on the subject So. I know I am an empiricist.

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The Origins and Meaning of Knowledge and Tabula Rasa. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from

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