Foundations Of Cognitive Science


Connectionist cognitive science has very different philosophical roots than does classical cognitive science.  Rather than being inspired by rationalism, connectionism is the modern form of empiricist philosophy (Berkeley, 1710; Hume, 1748/1952; Locke, 1706/1977), Empiricists argue that knowledge is not innate, but is instead provided by sensing the world. “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience” (Locke, 1706/1977, p. 83).  The second chapter of John Locke’s An essay concerning human understanding begins as follows: "It is an established opinion among some men that there are in the understanding certain innate principles; some primary notions, characters, as it were, stamped upon the mind of man, which the soul receives in its very first being, and brings into the world with it” (p. 13).  Locke’s most famous work was a reaction against this view; of the “some men” being referred to, the most prominent was Descartes himself (Thilly, 1900).

Locke’s An essay concerning human understanding was an empiricist manifesto that criticized Cartesian philosophy, antagonizing its fundamental teachings, its core principles and their necessary implications, and its arguments for innate ideas, not to mention all scholars who maintained the existence of innate ideas (Thilly, 1900).  Locke’s goal was to replace Cartesian rationalism with the empiricist view of knowledge. He aimed to show “how men, barely by the use of their natural faculties, may attain to all of the knowledge they have without the help of any innate impressions” (p. 13).  Locke argued for experience over innateness, for nurture over nature.


  1. Berkeley, G. (1710). A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Dublin,: Printed by A. Rhames for J. Pepyat.
  2. Hume, D. (1748/1952). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. La Salle, IL: The Open Court Publishing Company.
  3. Locke, J. (1706/1977). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. London: J.M. Dent & Sons.
  4. Thilly, F. (1900). Locke's relation to Descartes. The Philosophical Review, 9(6), 597-612.

(Added November 2010)