?‘Without a pre-determined conceptual scheme our sense impressions would be unintelligible. ’ Assess the implications this has for empiricism. Rationalist philosophers believe that our knowledge derives from reason and the opposing philosophers; empiricists believe that all our knowledge comes from sense experience. Saying that our sense impressions would be unintelligible without the conceptual scheme is problematic for empiricists because if this were true, all their ideas would be incorrect. Philosopher Immanuel Kant who is in between the two theories has a different take on as to where our knowledge comes from.
Kant believed we were born with categories in our mind such as unity, substance and causality, these make up the conceptual scheme. Kant says the conceptual scheme is used to turn sense data into experience, he argues that without the conceptual scheme the world would be a ‘blooming, buzzing confusion. ’ Empiricists believe that our minds can be compared to a tabula rasa, in other words we were born with a mind with a blank slate. From this perspective we are born knowing nothing and we have no innate knowledge or ideas. This theory is disregarded when we realise that with the conceptual scheme there are innate ideas.
Kant doesn’t say that we are born with innate knowledge but we that we are born with innate concepts that require experience to become knowledge. Kant talks about two worlds; ‘the noumenal world’ and ‘the phenomenal world’. The noumenal world is the world outside of us, the real world; we can never perceive this world. Instead we perceive an altered version; the phenomenal world which is a world we perceive for ourselves it is more a mental image of the world rather than physical. This leads to Kant’s Copernican Revolution, this theory revolves around polish astronomer Copernicus.
Copernicus argued that the earth revolves round the sun rejecting the earth-centred view of the universe. This changed our view of the universe, it also changed the view that instead of the world giving us experience we give our experience to the world. This is a massive implication for rationalists because they obviously believe that we acquire our sense experience from the world but one again their theory is disregarded as Kant’s Copernican Revolution proves otherwise. John Stuart Mill; a strict empiricist claimed that we obtain all our knowledge (including mathematics) via experience therefore having no a priori knowledge.
Empiricists claim that we can observe that 2 apples and 3 apples makes up 5 apples or that 3 lizards and 2 snakes make up 5 reptiles, etc. It is from observations like this that we can generalise that 2+3=5. Empiricists argue that mathematical laws are discovered just the same as any other laws. Just alike we see the sun rise every morning so we generalise that it will rise every morning. Kant however believes we can have synthetic a priori knowledge. He wanted to shows that we could establish truths about the world using reason, that were not simply true by definition.
For example Hume claimed that we cannot know a priori that every event has a cause, we can only work that out by seeing events which regularly follows other events, to this Kant argues that we could know a priori that every event has a cause. This is an example of something that is not true by definition; the word ‘event’ does not mean ‘something that must be caused’. For Kant this is an example of a synthetic judgement that can be known a priori. We can know a priori that every event has a cause because we know that we must experience the world causally.
Empiricist David Hume point out that we do not derive our concept of causation from any particular sense experience. He claims our idea of cause comes from us repeatedly seeing one event causing another, suggesting that our idea of cause comes from habit of the mind through experience. Causality, according to Kant is a category in his conceptual scheme by which the raw data from the world is turned into intelligible experience. Kant says causation is one of the a priori concepts needed for any experience to occur, because of this we cannot help but view the world as a series of causes and events.
We experience the world as causal because the data from the world has been categorised using the concept of cause. The concept of cause is a necessary part of our conceptual scheme and without it our experience of the world would be unintelligible. Kant attempts to prove that the categories in the conceptual scheme must exist in order for experience to exist. He argues that for our experiences to count as knowledge there must be self-consciousness which would require thought, which would require the categories. For example Kant argues that the category of substance is needed for intelligible experience.
His argument more or less says: I am aware of myself existing in time. A precondition of this is that I have changing impressions; however simply having changing impressions alone would not allow me to distinguish myself in time as I would not be able to distinguish myself from my thoughts. So an idea is required of an enduring substance that can remain the same without change, thus allowing us to distinguish ourselves when moving into relation to an unchanging substance. So the concept of an enduring substance is a precondition of being aware of the self in time.
To conclude having a pre-determined conceptual scheme is problematic to empiricists because Kant proves that without it our sense impressions would be unintelligible. Kant says we are born with a conceptual scheme which completely contradicts the empiricist’s theory, as with a conceptual scheme in our mind we cannot possibly have a tabula rasa as the conceptual scheme holds some innate concepts. Although the concepts in the conceptual scheme require experience to become knowledge, the concepts are still innately stored in our minds therefore we cannot have a mind as a blank slate.