Epistemological Argument on Innate Knowledge: Simple Cognition

On Epistemological Argument on Innate Knowledge: Finding a Common Ground in Simple Cognition

The theory of innate knowledge simplistically provides that one has already knowledge even before birth. Aristotle rejects this theory in toto. This theory, also, casts a stark contrast to the tabula rasa notion that empiricists had been holding onto for so long in this belief theorizing that our mind is like a blank sheet of paper.

Plato’s theory of innate knowledge is as controversial as its existence itself. In an analogical comparison, this controversy can be likened to Aristotle’s rejection of Plato’s theory of forms, in which the former asserts that forms are some things that exist in something as a necessity for that something to exist.

Thus, forms do not exist for themselves, apart from the things (Duignan, 2014). Rather, they exist with the existence of something that exists.

In my understanding, Aristotle’s point of view would simply mean that forms are essential things, inseparable entities that exist in the very existence of those things that exist. Hence, concerning Plato’s theory of innate knowledge, I would like to draw a borderline point of view that Plato’s theory of innate knowledge pertains to two distinct, different beings of knowledge that Plato, in one way, recognized; the other is what Aristotle asserted but failed to recognize the, what I called, the conceptual nuance of knowledge itself (different from his theory of perception or aisthẽsis), which Plato’s assertion can be abstracted from.

This conceptual nuance of knowledge is the simplest thinking process of the mental faculty so subtle to perceive by human perception.

This philosophical inquiry into Plato’s theory of innate knowledge and Aristotle’s acquired knowledge notion attempts to find a common ground in further understanding knowledge that is neither innate nor acquired.

Innate Knowledge Is Absurd

How Aristotle's Metaphysics fails and his epistemological argument on innate knowledge
Plato (left) and student Aristotle in The School of Athens.

Aristotle’s epistemological argument on Plato’s theory of innate knowledge claims that Plato’s assertion is absurd. That is, he challenges that there must be pre-existent knowledge so that one can acquire such knowledge, and thus, one must be conscious of it.

Aristotle furthers his contestation of absurdity with a conditional analogy. That is if one has innate knowledge and does not even take notice of it, it is strange after all. To sum it up. Aristotle stands by his assertion that knowledge is acquired not otherwise.

Tabula Rasa Notion Rejects Innate Knowledge Theory

It is believed that before John Locke used the term tabula rasa and made it famous in his 17th-century writing titled, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the notion has been used early on in Ancient Greece by famous thinkers and philosophers (Britannica, 2022) believed that the mind acquires knowledge through sense perception—empiricists—Aristotle, Avicenna, René Descartes, Thomas Aquinas.

The tabula rasa notion argues that one is born without knowledge of something; therefore, what one knew and learned about something is believed to be acquired through sense perception or experience, which is akin to Aristotle’s claim against the innate knowledge theory of Plato.

Furthermore, this notion that tabula rasa is founded on claims that the mind is empty prior to experience. Thus, knowledge in all that sense is practically acquired not innate.


If knowledge is innate, it has been with us throughout even before birth. If it is otherwise, it is learned through sense perception or experience. Moreover, if one can recover knowledge through recall, one is into recollection by any subtle means; therefore, one had already known it through experience.

However, Plato argues that if knowledge is recovered through recollection, then knowledge does pre-exist and so it is innate. But how can one recollect or even recover knowledge without experiencing it first? Or there must have been an exact word other than recollect or recover so that it strictly follows the notion of accessing innate knowledge.

Nonetheless, the syntactical argument gives no impact on the essence of thought of the underlying assertion. Hence, Plato would still be correct to understand that knowledge is innate.

Simple Cognitive Acquisition of Knowledge

Utilizing the same example of Socrates to Meno using the boy from The Dialogues of Plato, when Socrates asked the boy a question, Socrates would be correct to recognize that the boy recovered knowledge from the pre-existent knowledge. But still, it is arguable whether the boy undeniably has pre-existent knowledge as the reason why he knew the answer to the question Socrates asked him.

In this scenario, a simple cognition steps in as mistaken to the process of recovering or recollecting the asserted pre-existent knowledge notion. Meaning to say that the boy may be able to know the answer, not because of the pre-existent knowledge he has, but because of the mental faculty thinking process called cognition in its simplest definition of meaning, which is neither recollection, recovering of the pre-existent knowledge nor acquisition of knowledge through sense perception.

Thus, it is simply simple cognition (in the absence of an exact word to use, so far), in which in the process, the mental faculty generates ideas, which in no way can be distinguished as innate or acquired, that somehow in a synaptic activity form from abstract to concrete. This formation, process, or synaptic-like activity is neither suggesting that knowledge is epistemologically innate nor acquired. The common ground is simple cognition.

Likewise, if one just simply knows it by the ability of his mental faculty, one is not apparently recollecting or recovering it. Rather, one is recognizably acquiring it through thinking—simple cognition—a process performs by the mental faculty in a synaptic-like activity.

Now, acquiring it through the mental faculty of thinking is not at all sense perception. Rather, it is simply simple cognition. Therefore, knowledge is neither innate, that is, recollecting from pre-existent, dubious argument nor acquired, that is, learning from sense perception or experience. This means that the epistemological argument on knowledge whether it is innate or acquired is non-argumentative at all as it can not be successfully probed by physical abstraction. What it means for physical abstraction here is an abstraction made in the physical realm.

Therefore, the epistemological argument on knowledge is beyond human perception. Thus, it is metaphysical and its common ground is simple cognition that is beyond human perception. RQJ


Aristotle. Posterior Analytics. Book II. Translated by G. R. G. Mure. The Internet Classic Archive. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/posterior.2.ii.html
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “tabula rasa.” Encyclopedia Britannica, September 29, 2022. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/topic/tabula-rasa.
Duignan, B. “Plato and Aristotle: How Do They Differ?.” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 14, 2018. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/story/plato-and-aristotle-how-do-they-differ.

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