innate ideas

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Realists believe that perception reflects reality, without explaining how this is known. Descartes and Leibniz dealt with the problem by arguing that the mind contains innate ideas through which it recognizes clear, distinct truths about the real external world. In other words, there is nothing problematic about knowing: external reality exists and we directly know it because we are born with minds having the capacity, innate ideas, for knowing reality.


Locke took a more skeptical position and argued that the mind had no innate ideas of reality but was initially a blank tablet waiting for experience to write upon it in the form of sensory impressions that represent external, material objects. The question then became how we could know that mental representations correspond to reality.

In Kant's thinking, innate ideas impose order on experience, the phenomenal, so that knowledge and truth are not simply relative. In this way he agreed with the radical skeptics in holding that we could not know reality directly but also agreed with the scientific realists in holding that there were innate ideas that imposed order on experience so that knowledge and truth were not simply relative.

Source: Stacey, 2003, pp 19-21