Title

Psychological Studies on “Molyneux’s Question” Do Not See All the Points

Presenter Information

Maxwell Davis

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Location

SURC 202

Start Date

16-5-2013

End Date

16-5-2013

Abstract

In the 1700s, William Molyneux asked John Locke to consider if a man who was blind at birth, without any experience of vision, would, if given vision, be able to differentiate a sphere from a cube using his newly-acquired vision alone. “Molyneux’s Question” asks if one sense-modality, or single distinct sense, can be translated to another sense-modality without experience of both senses. Empiricists like Molyneux and Locke believe that knowledge is based in experience. Therefore, an empiricist answer to “Molyneux’s Question” is that such a man could not differentiate a sphere from a cube using vision alone, as the man has no prior visual experience, and sense-modalities cannot be innately translated. Psychological case studies fail to answer “Molyneux’s Question” due to limited sample sizes, lack of experimental control, and other practical and ethical considerations. This paper explores the shortcomings of the best available psychological case study on sense-modality translation in the newly sighted, and makes an attempt to improve the success of a case study’s findings by creating the “perfect study” by using a philosophical thought experiment. Even a perfect psychological study cannot prove empiricists’ answer to “Molyneux’s Question,” though psychological studies claim to do so. If the perfect study were conducted, the study could only provide limited support to empiricism, as explained in the paper, though it could reliably reject empiricism.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Gary Bartlett

Additional Mentoring Department

Philosophy and Religious Studies

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Psychological Studies on “Molyneux’s Question” Do Not See All the Points

SURC 202

In the 1700s, William Molyneux asked John Locke to consider if a man who was blind at birth, without any experience of vision, would, if given vision, be able to differentiate a sphere from a cube using his newly-acquired vision alone. “Molyneux’s Question” asks if one sense-modality, or single distinct sense, can be translated to another sense-modality without experience of both senses. Empiricists like Molyneux and Locke believe that knowledge is based in experience. Therefore, an empiricist answer to “Molyneux’s Question” is that such a man could not differentiate a sphere from a cube using vision alone, as the man has no prior visual experience, and sense-modalities cannot be innately translated. Psychological case studies fail to answer “Molyneux’s Question” due to limited sample sizes, lack of experimental control, and other practical and ethical considerations. This paper explores the shortcomings of the best available psychological case study on sense-modality translation in the newly sighted, and makes an attempt to improve the success of a case study’s findings by creating the “perfect study” by using a philosophical thought experiment. Even a perfect psychological study cannot prove empiricists’ answer to “Molyneux’s Question,” though psychological studies claim to do so. If the perfect study were conducted, the study could only provide limited support to empiricism, as explained in the paper, though it could reliably reject empiricism.