The Core Concept of Innatism

  • Innatism is the philosophical doctrine stating that certain types of knowledge, ideas, or principles are innate or inherent in the mind and do not require experience to be acquired.

  • It suggests that every person is born with some form of basic knowledge or principles that guide their understanding of the world.

  • Innatist theories contradict empiricism, which suggests knowledge is acquired from sensory experience. Instead, innatists believe in the existence of a priori knowledge.

  • Key figures in the development of innatism include philosophers such as Plato, Descartes, and Leibniz.

Key Features of Innatist Theories

  • An important aspect of Innatism is the concept of universal grammar, postulated by Noam Chomsky. According to this view, all humans share a common grammatical framework which is innate and not learnt through experience.

  • Plato’s Theory of Forms can be considered innatist as it posits that understanding and knowledge of the Forms are inherent in the soul before birth.

  • Descartes also supported innatist theories. He suggested that the concept of God was an innate idea, as were the fundamentals of his natural philosophy.

Criticisms of Innatism

  • Philosophers such as John Locke vehemently rejected the innatist theories, arguing that the mind is a ‘Tabula Rasa’ or ‘blank slate’ at birth, and all knowledge comes from experience.

  • Empirical evidence for the existence of innate ideas is sparse and limited, resulting in debates around the verisimilitude of innatist theories.

  • The argument of cultural and developmental variability pokes holes in the theory. If certain ideas or principles are indeed innate, they should be universally present, irrespective of culture or upbringing.

Reflecting on Key Theories

  • As believed by innatist theorists, understanding the nature of ‘innate’ knowledge can help us comprehend how our brains process information, make decisions, and construct reality.

  • In order to grasp the full implications of innatist theories, one must closely study the work of philosophers supporting and opposing this doctrine.

  • Additionally, it’s essential to consider how these theories intersect with other philosophical postulates such as empiricism, nativism, and rationalism.

Navigating innatist theory requires an understanding of the origins, hypotheses, criticisms, and the potential implications on our understanding of knowledge. Recognising the key philosophical thinkers who debated these theories helps provide a wider perspective in your philosophical studies.