Tabula Rasa? I Think Not!
John Locke, in “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” written in 1894, attempts to refute the possibility of innate ideas. The portion in our book, Introducing Philosophy, by Robert C. Solomon, is a series of five points which Locke feels prove, irrefutably, that innate ideas are a falsehood. I have arguments with each of the first four points; however, as a parent of gifted children, my strongest argument is with his fifth point. In it he states: “Not on the Mind naturally imprinted, because not known to Children, Idiots, &c.” and goes on to present his viewpoint that, “…it [seems] to me near a contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the soul which it perceives or understands not;” (Locke, p. 208).
In my own philosophy, I would state that, not only is a knowledge of God innate, so also is there a hunger for closer communion with Him. One may see in the eyes of children a delight in God’s creation, though they are too young to be aware of God; and a wonder at how everything works together for what they assume is their very own delight. Let us take for an example of this those children born with Down’s syndrome. Locke would refer to them as Idiots. Though, initially, their parents may feel like this is a burden, I am not aware of any, who have raised them at home, who find their Down’s child to be sullen, irritable, or confrontational. On the contrary, these children, when given encouragement and opportunities, keep their cheerful dispositions throughout their teenage and adult years. Depending on their individual capabilities, they may hold jobs in sheltered workshops, or even in the main-stream job market. They may not ever reach the (mental) “age of accountability,” but I believe that they will be there to greet the rest of us when we get to heaven. Another proof, at least in my mind, comes from raising my gifted children.
Both my son and my daughter are exceptional, and that is not conceit. My daughter’s artistic talents did not manifest as early as my son’s spatial perception and powers of concentration and memory. My daughter, although she read before Kindergarten, was discouraged from it by her first and second teachers, so that she didn’t start to shine until the second grade. My son also read before Kindergarten, but his abilities became apparent at the age of two. For his second birthday, I bought him a 100 piece puzzle. The first time he sat down with it, he actually sat for three solid hours in order to put it together. I showed him how to recognize the edge pieces, then left him on his own. I was amazed at his powers of concentration, but the second time he sat with it, he was finished in 35 minutes. I had both of them tested when Jon was 3 ½, and Helen was 6, and both tested in the high-gifted range.
If my children had been born tabula rasa, as John Locke claimed, where did their talents come from, and how could they possibly have manifested, or been learned, at such and immature and tender age?
Not only was their intellectual development precocious, but so was their spiritual curiosity. Helen started asking me questions about God and the Bible at the age of five, and was able to satisfy the requirements for baptism by the time she was 6 ½. Jon started asking questions when he saw his sister baptized. We waited until he was 6 before allowing him to follow in his sister’s footsteps, but only because he was, physically, so small.
As I stated in the title, “Tabula rasa? I think not!” With the evidence of my own two children in front of me, and the testimony of the parents of Down’s syndrome children, I find it impossible to even entertain the idea that children are born as blank slates upon which life may write its own message at will.
Locke, John, Introducing Philosophy, Edited by Robert C. Solomon. New York, Oxford University Press, 2005.