What is Molyneux problem in philosophy

The Molyneux Question in British Empiricism

Widlak, Thomas Georg (2010) The Molyneux Question in British Empiricism.
Diploma thesis, University of Vienna. Faculty of Philosophy and Education
Supervisor: Heinrich, Richard
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Abstract in German

Molyneux's question concerns a blind person who is suddenly helped to see. We assume that he can easily distinguish a cube and a sphere with his sense of touch. We now ask whether he will distinguish these objects merely by the use of his eyes. Since Locke published this problem in 1694, it has garnered the attention of philosophers and was discussed intensely during the Enlightenment. The aim of this work was to examine the contributions of Locke and Berkeley, as well as to discuss the reception of their views in the ensuing debate. Although both thinkers answered Molyneux's question negatively, their positions are not equivalent. Locke said that the healed blind man had no idea of ​​the shape at first, and he seemed to understand the experiment under additional conditions. Berkeley, on the other hand, builds the question into a more comprehensive theory of vision in which the direct visual perception of external space is denied. The most important result of our investigation is that Locke's negative response to the different processing and comprehension of the amodal idea of ​​gestalt, while Berkeley traces the question back to the heterogeneity of tactile and visual sense objects. Reid's contribution is of particular interest in terms of conceptual history. We showed how he developed Hume's distinction between impressions and ideas and came to the conclusion that blind people can also grasp the visual figure of objects even if they have no visual sensations. This allowed him - contrary to the empiricists - to give a positive answer to Molyneux's question. Finally, we looked at more recent variations of Molyneux ’question in developmental psychology, demonstrating an intermodal transfer of shape and texture information in newborns. We identified a neurologically informed proposal to maintain the sense-specificity of concepts contrary to these findings as an attempt to renew Berkeley's theory of the heterogeneity of the senses. The tension between this philosophical thesis and the psychological testimonies could possibly be eased by findings from brain research. - Locke's answer to Molyneux's question does not conflict with the psychological experiments because the visual perception of gestalt does not take place immediately.

Keywords in German

Locke, John / Berkeley, George / Molyneux, William / Experiment / Vision / Blindness

Abstract in English

Molyneux ’question concerns a man born blind from his birth who is made to see. We support him readily to distinguish a globe from a cube by his feeling. The question is whether he could distinguish these objects by his sight alone. Since this problem was published by Locke in 1694, it received the attention of philosophers and was widely discussed during the Age of Enlightenment. The aim of this thesis was to examine the contributions of Locke and Berkeley and to discuss the reception of their ideas in the subsequent debate. Although both thinkers returned a negative answer to Molyneux's question, their positions are not equivalent. Locke thought that the man born blind and made to see will not get the idea of ​​figure at the very first instant and he seems to have assumed additional conditions in the experiment. Berkeley, on the other hand, embedded the issue in the larger framework of his theory of vision, denying the immediate visual perception of outer space. The most significant result of our investigation can be stated thus: Locke grounds his negative answer in possibly different ways of accessing and processing the amodal idea of ​​figure, while Berkeley reduces the question to the heterogeneity of tactile and visual sensory objects. The contribution of Reid is of particular interest for the history of concepts: We showed how he developed Hume’s distinction between impressions and ideas and came to the view that even the blind can obtain the idea of ​​visible figure, although they lack visual sensations. This allowed him - contrary to the empiricists - to advocate a positive answer to Molyneux's question. At last, we considered recent modifications of Molyneux ’Question in developmental psychology, evincing intermodal transfer of shape and texture information in newborn children. We identified a neurologically informed proposal in the literature as to maintain modal specifity of concepts against these findings as an attempt to renew Berkeley’s theory of the heterogeneity of senses. The tension between this philosophical thesis and psychological evidence could eventually by relieved by new insights into the brain. - Lockes answer to Molyneux's question, on the other hand, does not stand in conflict with the psychological research, since visual perception of figure is not immediate in these experiments.

Keywords in English

Locke, John / Berkeley, George / Molyneux, William / vision / blindness

Document Type: University thesis (diploma thesis)
Author:Widlak, Thomas Georg
Title:The Molyneux Question in British Empiricism
Circumference information:203 pp.
Institution:University of Vienna
Faculty:Faculty of Philosophy and Education
Publication year:2010
Language:ger ... German
Supervisor:Heinrich, Richard
Assessor:Heinrich, Richard
Classification:08 Philosophy> 08.24 New Western Philosophy
08 Philosophy> 08.32 Epistemology
AC number:AC08137393
Document ID:9697
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