Thursday, January 22, 2009

John Locke: The Tabula Rasa, An Exercise Of Power...

Of Practice And Habits:

"We are born with faculties and powers capable almost of anything, such at least as would carry us farther than can easily be imagined: but it is only the exercise of those powers which gives us ability and skill in anything, and leads us towards perfection.

The legs of a dancing- master and the fingers of a musician fall as it were naturally, without thought or pains, into regular and admirable motions. Bid them change their parts, and they will in vain endeavor to produce like motions in the members not used to them, and it will require length of time and long practice to attain but some degrees of a like ability. What incredible and astonishing actions do we find rope- dancers and tumblers bring their bodies to ! Not but that sundry in almost all manual arts are as wonderful; but I name those which the world takes notice of for such, because on that very account they give money to see them. All these admired motions, beyond the reach and almost conception of unpracticed spectators, are nothing but the mere effects of use and industry in men whose bodies have nothing peculiar in them from those of the amazed lookers-on.

As it is in the body, so it is in the mind: practice makes it what it is; and most even of those excellencies which are looked on as natural endowments, will be found, when examined into more narrowly, to be the product of exercise, and to be raised to that pitch only by repeated actions."

-John Locke (1632–1704: An English philosopher. Locke is considered the first of the British Empiricists, but is equally important to social contract theory. His ideas had enormous influence on the development of epistemology and political philosophy, and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, classical republicans, and contributors to liberal theory. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. This influence is reflected in the American Declaration of Independence Locke's theory of mind is often cited as the origin for modern conceptions of identity and "the self", figuring prominently in the later works of philosophers such as David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Locke was the first philosopher to define the self through a continuity of "consciousness". He also postulated that the mind was a "blank slate" or "tabula rasa"; that is, contrary to Cartesian or Christian philosophy, Locke maintained that people are born without innate ideas."

Excerpt: Of Practice And Habits from
The Educational Writings of John Locke, "Of The Conduct Of The Understanding" published posthumously, 1706. Bio: -Carl Lotus Becker, "The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas,"1922. Forrest E. Baird & Walter Kaufmann, "Plato to Derrida," 2008. Image: Philippe Petite's foot on wire between Twin Towers 1 & 2, New York, NY, 8.7. 1974).


Sheilanagig said...

Perhaps the idea that people can do anything they put their minds to is good advice and true to some extent.

And certainly, people become a reflection of the environment in which they are born. But Locke, tho revolutionary for his time, might be called a simplistic thinker now.

First there is the matter of genetics, which we have just begun to understand. Altho, I cannot prove it, I strongly suspect there is a 'compassion' gene which the power mongers and Big Dogs of business either do not have, or it has become defunct through the educational oppression of the ME ME ME consumer world which we have created with capitalism.

Second, there is the issue of societal relationships on which all survival depends. Can one eliminate the maternal extinct of a new mother? Certainly a compassionate person's (or society's) heart may be turned to stone through abuse. But it is not necessarily so.

I prefer the concepts of Marx, tho he never explicitly spoke of 'human nature'. Embodied in his writings about 'alienation' can be found essentials for the potentiality of human beings and social order.

It is not so much that tabula rasa is untrue: it is that it purports to be a simplistic truth about a very complex entity - the human being.

Perhaps taken as a piece of the puzzle, Locke gives us hope.

Thanks for reminding me of Locke. I have not thought of him in years.

Always an interesting blog from you.


Anonymous said...

That was a very interesting blog, the qoute was great and very medidative, thank you