Under the assumption of philosophical materialism, many suppose that infants are epistemological “blank-slates,” receiving sensory impressions from the material world every time they open their eyes and cry or soil themselves or shiver when their naked bottoms are exposed during a diaper change. This derivative empiricist epistemology is largely taken for granted, even by Christians, sadly, without them knowing where it comes from. Considering how far the tentacles of materialism stretch in our society, however, it is easy to see why so many take the materialist view of infants for granted. However, the following three considerations demonstrate that the that the mind cannot ever be blank, even if we grant the assumption that the only physical/material things truly exist.
Firstly: If humans are purely physical beings for whom sensory experience is the foundation of all knowledge, and the entirety of human life consists in receiving and processing sensory input (i.e. having sensory experiences), then there is never a point at which any human is an epistemological blank slate. An infant’s inability to articulate his internal life (or thought-life), therefore, is no proof of his mind being a blank slate, even on the materialist’s view. If the infant is a sensing-being, then he is being pre-equipped with the necessary raw data from which concepts are deduced, constructed, analyzed, and so on.
Secondly: It must be noted that the internal mental states of an infant are not observable. Thus, it is simply not possible for the empiricist to have any knowledge of the internal mental states of an infant. The infant’s mind cannot be accessed, in other words; it cannot be identified, therefore, as a blank slate. Given the assumption of materialism, the infant’s mind is is being pre-equipped with the necessary raw data from which concepts are deduced, constructed, analyzed, and so on.
Thirdly: If observation is the only available means of data acquisition for humans, then the belief that the mind is supervenient upon brain states must also be rejected, for supervenience would constitute an unobservable phenomena. Mental states are not material states, by definition; ergo, the claim that mental states are observable is inherently self-contradictory. Furthermore, the claim that mental states are demonstrably supervenient upon brain states is an example of a category confusion, for mental states are, by definition, unobservable and are not, therefore, provable by the same means as are observable phenomena like brain states.
The following argument concisely summarizes the above three consideration.
- The foundation of all knowledge is sensory experience.
- Sensory experience is always present in humans.
- Therefore, the foundation of all knowledge is always present in humans.
- Sensory experience always produces raw (i.e. unorganized) conceptual data.
- Raw (i.e. unorganized) conceptual data are mind-dependent entities.
- Therefore, sensory experiences always produce mind-dependent entities.
- Thus, If the mind is always populated with raw conceptual data, then it is never blank.
- Granting 1-6, we must conclude that the mind is always populated with raw conceptual data.
- Therefore, the mind is never blank.