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Epistemology / Psychology

Learning Self-Evident Concepts

This post is part of the series Self Evidence

Other posts in this series:

  1. Modernism and Concepts
  2. Learning Self-Evident Concepts (Current)
  3. Sentences and Definitions
  4. Sentences and Reasoning

No one is born knowing any concepts. So all concepts must be learned. But some concepts are self-evident. So they are not learning by any process of reasoning. These concepts are learned through the senses, by self-reflection, through action or by some combination of these.

Some self-evident concepts are learned through the senses. The concept red is learned the first time we see something red. We identify that color as being distinct and give it a name. The recognition of red as a distinct color just is learning the concept red. Learning that ” red” is the English name for this concept is a separate matter. Distinct sounds, smells, shapes, colors, tactile sensations and tastes are all learned this way. Memory is also a sense, so reflection on one’ s memory can also yield various concepts.

Other self-evident concepts are gained through action. Through our senses we see a particular action take place. By distinguishing this action from others, we learn action oriented concepts. This gives us such concepts as grab, jump, walk, go and talk. By reflecting on our memories of past actions, we may learn additional concepts as well.

The final way of learning concepts is by reflection. We can examine our own thoughts and memories and arrive at concepts that we could not think of otherwise. Our concept I (our concept that names ourselves), is one such example. We distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world and apply a name to us. Without reflection, such a name would not be possible. Neither our senses nor our actions tell us in any immediate way that we are distinct from the world. Some reflection is necessary to arrive at that conclusion.

There are numerous self-evident concepts. We might claim that our foundational concepts are all self-evident. There is no feasible way of listing all of them. Since some concepts are self-evident to one person but not another, this means that some people can immediate recognize distinctions that others require reasoned argument to notice.

There is one final point to notice. Self-evident concepts are shared with others simply in virtue of others dividing reality the same way that we do. If they chose to recognize a distinction that we did not recognize as existing, then there would be a conflict. This conflict would be so basic that no amount of reasoning could ever overcome it. No amount of reasoning can ever establish that such a thing happens or that it is reasonable to believe that it happens. In fact, all reasonable people simply don’ t believe that such a thing happens. This is for the same reason that skepticism was rejected in the case of self-evident truths.

Once we understand self-evident concepts, the next point of discourse will be self-evident operations on these concepts.

Continue reading this series:

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