Weekly Discussion #15: Molyneux’s problem
William Molyneux was an Irish natural philosopher and writer on politics. He was a contemporary of John Locke’s and after Locke had writtenThe Essay Concerning Human UnderstandingMolyneux was very impressed and started a correspondence with Locke. In one of his letters Molyneux presented Locke with the following thought experiment.
Suppose a man born blind and now adult and taught by his touch to distinguish between a cube and a sphere of the same metal and nighly of the same bigness so as to tell when he felt one and the other which is the cube which is the sphere. Suppose then the cube and the sphere placed on a table and the blind man made to see: query Whether by his sight before he touched them he could now distinguish and tell which is the globe which the cube? To which the acute and judicious proposer answers: ‘Not. For though he has obtained the experience of how a globe and how a cube affects his touch; yet he has not yet attained the experience that what affects his touch so or so must affect his sight so or so’
To summarize Molyneux is asking us to imagine a person who was blind from birth and was taught to distinguish shapes by touch. We then imagine that the shapes are placed before him and his sight is magically restored. Would he be able to distinguish the shapes he had learned by touch using just his sense of sight?
How do you think Locke would answer Molyneux’s question? Explain why Locke would give that answer. What do you personally think the correct answer is and why? (write at least THREE paragraphs). Due Thursday April 27.