The Human mind as a "tabula rasa"
It was statesman-philosopher Francis Bacon who, early in the
seventeenth century, first strongly established the claims of
Empiricism - the reliance on the experience of the senses - over
those speculation or deduction in the pursuit of knowledge.
John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding
restated the importance of the experience of the senses over
speculation and sets out the case that the human mind at birth is
a complete, but receptive, blank slate ( scraped tablet or tabula rasa ) upon which experience imprints
Locke argued that people acquire knowledge
from the information about the objects in the world that our senses bring. People begin with
simple ideas and then combine them into more complex ones.
Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper void of all characters, without
any ideas. How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless
fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge?
To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE.
Locke definitely did not believe in powers of
intuition or that the human mind is invested with innate
Essay Concerning Human Understanding : Hernnstein & Murray, 1994, p.311
In his Some Thoughts Concerning Education
(1697), Locke recommended practical learning to prepare people to manage their social, economic,
and political affairs efficiently. He believed that a sound education began in early childhood and
insisted that the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic be gradual and cumulative.
In our own times the social and psychological sciences tend to take the view that Human Beings
are 'formed' socially and psychologically by nature as well as by nurture and that there are inherited traits
that society can build on and to some extent modify.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) was, in his time, the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. He remains widely influential
to this day through his essays, lectures, poems, and philosophical writings.
In the later eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson read, and was very significantly influenced by, a work by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin.
A key section of Cousin's work reads as follows:
"What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human nature.
There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity,
and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. …
… Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the
nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations."
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1829)
Even before he had first read Cousin, (in 1829), Emerson had expressed views in his private Journals which suggest that he accepted that Human Nature, and Human Beings, tend to display three identifiable aspects and orientations:
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness.
(Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)
In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization.
(Journal entry of December, 1824)
Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found all day long at their books …
(This dates from January - February, 1828)
The quotes from Emerson are reminiscent of a line from another "leading voice of intellectual culture" - William Shakespeare.
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Pt 1), Act I, Scene II
Is Human Being more truly Metaphysical than Physical?
Where this could, possibly, lead ...
N. B. The page mentioned in the graphic ~ roots.asp ~
has been replaced by this page
This 'knot of roots' insight features in: