For this paper, consider Descartes’ famous “wax example” (Palmer 64-66), which he uses in order to argue for the existence of innate ideas. (If you have never had this experience, but feel like you need to in order to write about it, try it yourself—but be very careful!!)
First, very briefly give a description of this experiment. What happens in terms of the wax’s sensory qualities as it melts? Tell me how Descartes uses this simple example to argue for the existence of innate ideas (i.e. the self, identity, substance), and tell me why is God a necessary part of his argument.
Second, tell me whether you think Locke’s empiricist distinction between primary and secondary qualities can explain this example more simply (i.e. without God). If so, how? If not, why not? (Hint: Think about how to explain the wax example in terms of sense data, the accumulation of experience, and simple/complex ideas.)
Third, consider Berkeley’s and/or Hume’s criticism of Locke’s primary/secondary distinction. Locke claims to be an empiricist, but both of these thinkers would claim that Locke still relying upon innate ideas to some degree. So, how can we explain our experience of the wax without recourse to the ideas of self, identity, or substance? Further, can we explain it without God? Finally, return to thinking about Descartes’ original wax example and tell me whether you think that it actually proves what Descartes thinks it proves. Why or why not? If so, how do you respond to his critics? If not, can you think of a simple, real life counter-thought experiment to give weight to your negative assessment?
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