Compare and Contrast John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Dewey’s Theories of Learning

Table of Content

The point of rejecting universal assent is that everyone with a soul, including children and those with intellectual disabilities, can easily perceive innate ideas. Unfortunately, the rationalists failed to provide any explanation for this situation.

The rejection of Locke’s use of reason can best be explained through his inference to dispositional accounts. According to him, dispositional accounts do not provide enough proof or any fundamental criteria to distinguish an innate proposition from other propositions. His argument against dispositional account as an innate proposition is contained in the following sentences: if any proposition may be in the mind but is unknowable, then by the same reasoning, all propositions that are true and that the mind is capable of assenting to may be said to be in the mind and imprinted. If any one can be said to be in the mind which it never yet knew, it must only because it is capable of knowing it; and so, the mind contains all truths that it ever shall know.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

He also added that even if man can come up with an adequate proof and fundamental criterion for innate ideas, it will not prove anything innate because we will come to the use of reason.” He interpreted this phrase as using reason to discover innate ideas. While exploring the realm of innate ideas, we use our reason, but we are still so ignorant of it that we do not come to the aid of reason. Locke disagreed with both interpretations because the first interpretation deduces the very nature of reason and the second interpretation is a contradiction to posit that man can know and not know at the same time.

To further strengthen his claim, Locke rejected speculative and practical moral principles because ideas represent principles that are not innate. For instance, if a principle were innate, then the golden rule would be universally obeyed and held as truth. However, since individuals have different perspectives on practical moral principles, the golden rule cannot be considered innate. Similarly, in the case of speculative principle, some men may not understand the golden rule as others do. It should be noted that speculative principle is self-evident when it comes to the proposition of what is, is.

So, if ideas are not imprinted in the mind, can we still acquire or obtain knowledge?

Locke argued that knowledge can be acquired through our senses and reflection. He believed that our mind is like an empty slate[5], which develops through experiences of the external world (sensation) and understanding the totality of the external world with internal operations of the mind (reflection). Locke claimed that we possess various faculties and abilities to receive and manipulate simple ideas.

With our faculties and abilities, we are able to combine simple ideas to create complex ones. A simple idea is defined as anything that humans can understand, whether it is physical or abstract. It is the most basic form of an idea. On the other hand, a complex idea is a combination of two or more simple ideas. It can be classified into ideas of substance and ideas of modes. The former has an independent existence like God, angels, and man while the latter has a dependent existence such as moral ideas, mathematical ideas, conventional ideas, and everything that we have assented.

Our mind performs three activities in developing our ideas. First, it combines simple ideas to form a complex idea. Second, it enables us to show the relationship between things by uniting or differentiating two different ideas through understanding their primary and secondary qualities. Lastly, our mind produces general concepts through abstraction from particulars.

In conclusion,

the distinction between primary and secondary qualities

is essential in developing our understanding of complex concepts.

Another foundation of Locke’s theory of learning is his discussion of primary and secondary qualities of an object. According to Locke, primary qualities are characteristics of an object that are definitely independent of us, such as the space it occupies, its state whether it is in motion or at rest, or the texture it possesses. On the other hand, secondary qualities are characteristics that affect our perception of the object, such as its color, smell, taste.

On the Fundamentals of Kant’s Theory of Learning

The affirmation of the existence of knowledge is of great importance during the modern period. This period brought an intellectual debate between two equally intelligible schools of thought: rationalism and empiricism. As stated earlier, the former argues that ideas are imprinted in our minds, and we only have to discover their innateness to obtain knowledge. The latter, on the other hand, argues that we must experience the source (object) of knowledge through our senses and reflection.

The battle between these schools of thought paved the way for the rise of Immanuel Kant. He synthesized rationalism and empiricism through his postulation of synthetic a priori knowledge. Additionally, he examined the validity, soundness, fallacy, and loopholes of each thought.

The discussion in this part of the paper will focus on one of the most important structures of Kant’s philosophy: a priori knowledge, which is independent of experience. Specifically, we will examine his ideas on transcendental aesthetics, which serve as the foundation for Kant’s theory of learning.

Transcendental aesthetic is a fragment of Kant’s transcendental doctrine of elements in his notable work entitled Critique of Pure Reason. It is considered the science of all sensibility a priori, focusing on the important role of sensibility, the object of sensibility, and mathematics including geometry. Most importantly, it focuses on pre-scientific arguments about time and space.

Kant argued that space and time are pure intuitions that have a sensible form of experience and are not part of absolute reality.

Kant believed that our knowledge is related to objects in whatever means since it is immediately related to them by intuition[6]. However, the possibility of having an intuition will only take place if a certain object is given to us and on the condition that this certain object affects our mind in a certain manner. At this point, Kant argued that the first step to acquiring knowledge is through sensibility[7] since this is where the object will be given to us, which will eventually endow intuition. Having sensibility and intuition, the faculty concerned with the production of concepts[8] will take off since it studies the structure of our cognition, enabling us to create a system.

Another important step to consider is sensation[9]. This is the basis of our knowledge, gained through particular experiences. From these sensations, we can derive an empirical intuition of the object. However, since the object in empirical intuition is undetermined, we refer to this as a phenomenon[10]. Kant believed that all phenomena corresponding to sensation are matter[11], while those corresponding to certain relations of effects are form[12]. Therefore, matter is an a posteriori property and form is an a priori property of knowledge.

According to Kant, in order to achieve the necessary purity of space and time, one must disregard all ideas belonging to sensation (such as color and hardness) and all thoughts belonging to understanding (such as substance, force, and divisibility). This will allow for the shape and extension of empirical intuition to remain. Kant considers these properties pure intuition because they exist a priori in the mind as a mere form of sensibility without an empirical object of sensation.

Kant claimed that space is not an empirical concept since it is not derived from external experience of a phenomenon. Rather, it is the external phenomenon that depends on the representation of space. It necessarily follows that space is a necessary representation a priori since it is the state of possibility for phenomena and the medium for all external phenomena. Because a priori representation is necessary, we can say that mathematical definitions are not merely perceptions that depend on a posteriori ideas.

Space itself is not discursive but rather a pure intuition because it is unitary and cannot be perceived or measured. It only becomes divisible due to limitations we assign to it. Lastly, Kant conjectured that space should be represented as an infinite quantity, but we must note that its quantity cannot be confined or measured since it exists as an a priori intuition.

In short, we cannot say that there is space in a certain room if there is no phenomenon inside the room. For example, if we place a bed inside the room, the existence of the bed depends on how space is represented. This occurs because space is not derived from any experience.

Kant believed that time is not an empirical concept derived from experience. If it were, we could not imagine things happening simultaneously or successively because the representation is not given a priori. Time is a necessary representation since all intuitions depend on its existence. Time has one dimension since all apodictic principles of time depend on its being a necessary representation a priori. Most importantly, time is not discursive like space because the former is a sensuous intuition and subjective because we put reference on its existence. However, it must be noted that time will exist infinitely without any reference.

Simply put, we can only comprehend time through our perception of a phenomenon in a specific space. By establishing a reference point in time, we are able to observe the changes that occur within the phenomenon, thus indicating the passage of time.

On Dewey’s Foundation of Education

Since time immemorial, the acquisition of knowledge has been the quest of every person. Even during our primitive days, our goal was to develop our intellectual capacity. Learning is innate among humans. However, it was during ancient times when education or learning became formalized. As time passed, ways of learning multiplied and improved in ways that no one had ever thought possible.

Education is a necessity of life. According to John Dewey, individuals are destined to renew themselves throughout their existence. In order to do so, one must satisfy their physiological needs such as nourishment and reproduction, as well as social needs including obtaining an education or learning from a formal school. The significance of education lies in the fact that it can improve the quality of life for both society and oneself.

As society becomes more complex, education must also adapt to this complexity and apply it to its teachings. This means that as society develops, education must develop in line with it. In the real world, those without education are often doomed to suffer while those who have received an education can taste the sweetness of life.

In order for a society to provide an educational environment for its people, especially its youth, several factors must be pursued. First and foremost, the factors of education that need development should be simplified and organized. Secondly, the customs of society should be purified and idealized. Lastly, a conducive and balanced environment should be created which will directly affect young individuals.

The youth are inherently unaware of their society’s customs, so it is essential that they receive guidance and direction. This guidance can only be provided through education, as it can shed light on the internal differences in the youth’s identity and interests. Through education, young people can come to understand the power of their own social awareness.

Having an education gives individuals unstoppable growth. Education is limitless as it always transcends itself. When a person realizes this, they can actualize all their potentialities. Education is a process that continually moves from simple knowledge to complex knowledge, and then to even more complex knowledge.

To further his position on the importance of education, Dewey provided three historical foundations of philosophies of education. Firstly, there is the Platonic education which is designed to produce a harmonious class rather than an intellectual individual. It was founded on the concept of an ideal society that works according to its own nature. Secondly, there is the birth of individualism during the Enlightenment period which was founded to ensure that every individual can actualize their own potentiality. Lastly, there is the institutionalization of education in the nineteenth century.

In summary of Dewey’s Democracy and Education,” he not only upholds every person’s right to acquire quality education and outlines the details of a perfect education, but also focuses on the moral concerns of education in regards to the knowledge it instills and the conduct it requires. For Dewey, education must not only save youth from ignorance but also mold them into well-rounded individuals who can lead their society towards advancement.

The convergence and divergence.

Locke’s theory of learning is based solely on sense data. According to Locke, the only way we can acquire knowledge of this world is through sensory experience, nothing more and nothing less. The implication of Locke’s theory of knowledge is clear: experience is the epistemological foundation for understanding the reality of the world, and only through experience can we truly know the world itself. However, it must be noted that we can only know the world based on our idea of reality and not reality itself. This is because our ideas are mental constructs while reality exists as a transcendental or extramental entity. Therefore, we can only expose properties about the world since we do not have a direct connection with its substance[13].

Rejecting the totality of the reality of objects of experience is absurd because we can never deny the fact that we live in a world of existence. Every day, we move within this world and at every given moment, we experience the object. Therefore, no philosophical system can reject the significance of empirical evidence in disclosing reality. Even if rationalists claim that ideas are innate, reason needs stimulus to explicate its existence which thrives in the reality of objects and their experiences.

Where can we ground all our doubts about reality or apply all logical principles if we reject the totality of empirical evidence? We may posit reason to satisfy this question but appealing to reason alone is solipsistic and limits us from arriving at knowledge about reality. Reason cannot stand alone in ascertaining truthfulness because counting on it alone is nothing but a mere presupposition which denies that the world exists.

The epistemological enterprise of man should not falter due to the attitude of empirical solipsism, which limits itself to a dogma of objectivity. Instead, man should utilize both reason and senses, as we perceive and conceive knowledge of the world by interpreting ideas about its existence.

In public education, Locke’s theory of learning is prevalent, particularly in schools that focus on scientific explorations. Scientific schools, especially those with a positivist tradition, have adopted Locke’s philosophy by closely examining the empirical component of their experiments. In a scientific community or school, empirical data is crucial because it serves as hard evidence to support claims. In highly scientific public education settings, theories cannot become laws without the empirical results of experiments.

On the other hand, Kant’s theory of learning implies transcendental idealism. This states that all unknowable things will always remain unknowable because the realm of the unknowable is not accessible to our reason. From this idealism, Kant differentiated between what is a property of a phenomenon and what is noumena. The former refers to things that appear to us, while the latter refers to things in themselves. Our reason can give us basic articulations of a certain phenomenon but it cannot go beyond this basic articulation. This means that one cannot know things in themselves.

The implication of this postulate is the impossibility of any science of metaphysics because all concepts beyond phenomenal reality will never be unfolded.

Kant argued that noumenal realities can provide us with knowledge of a specific thing, based only on its appearance or phenomenal status, but the nature of such a thing is unknowable. The problem with this argument is that he has limited the capacity of the knower by disregarding the subjective-objective relationship between the knower and the object. All knowledge about a certain object is only an appearance that can be interpreted or processed by the knower. This means that knowledge of things is based on what the knower deduces from the object. The problem with this kind of acquisition of knowledge is that it leads to inter-subjectivity, where each individual’s understanding and interpretation become their own source of knowledge.

It can be difficult to determine if one’s knowledge truly embodies knowledge itself, especially if their understanding is based solely on the limited perspective of phenomenal reality. Basic articulations of a thing may provide factual information, but this does not necessarily equate to true knowledge. While usefulness may be a factor in determining the value of something, it is not the sole determinant of its meaning. By expanding our perspectives and opening our minds to new possibilities, we can gain a deeper understanding and potentially uncover the noumenal status of a specific thing.

If we use Kant’s philosophy to describe an apple, we can only know its sensory attributes such as sweetness, smoothness, redness, and fruitiness. However, the true nature of the apple is beyond our comprehension. We can only understand its noumenal status if we allow the apple to reveal itself to us without our subjective interpretation. By focusing solely on the object itself and disregarding our own subjectivity, we can grasp its essence which includes everything that it has shown us. Even if we alter or divide the apple, it remains an apple because of what it has revealed to us. The nature of any object is something that cannot be denied once perceived or conceived regardless of whether it exists or not.

In the philosophy of Husserl and Heidegger, we can gain knowledge of the object beyond basic articulations through phenomenology and phenomenological hermeneutics. To do this, we must first return to the thing-in-itself and interpret how it presents itself. The problem with Kant’s position on noumenal realities is that he excluded the possibility that an object can provide not only facts about itself but also true knowledge of itself. His emphasis on inter-subjectivity is to blame for denying the existence of noumenal realities because it undermines an object’s ability to be understood. Inter-subjectivity places a valid limitation on reason, preventing individuals from fully comprehending the nature of things.

In public education, the attitude of disregarding anything that cannot be explained has been especially adopted with the arrival of the positivist tradition. However, the worst thing that public education has adopted is Kant’s attitude of sticking to one’s beliefs. The problem with this attitude is that it annihilates any possibility of adopting novel ideas that are not in line with their sponsored truth. This prevalent attitude can be observed in various educational philosophies around the world, such as American philosophy being founded on analyticity, Europeans basing their philosophy on existentialism, and Asians dedicating themselves to Taoism or Buddhism.

This is where Dewey’s conceptual framework of education comes into play, as it provides an answer to the educational adoption of public academia. For instance, Dewey believed in the progression of education, whether in its system or curriculum, by embracing all kinds of knowledge. It may be argued that Dewey wanted youth to stay within the customs of their society; however, he did not sponsor any limits on the horizon of knowledge that youth must acquire. An American student must stick with their custom and preserve it because it defines their existence. However, this does not necessarily mean they cannot adopt European education because as Dewey puts it: all kinds of knowledge will bring advancement to one’s society.

Dewey emphasized the importance of experiential education. In academia, students often focus too much on the theoretical framework of philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, etc., which can render their theories futile. While acquiring knowledge is essential to exercising rationality, simply retaining theoretical knowledge does not advance humanity. Dewey proposed that public education should strictly reinforce the application of theories. By applying what we learn, we can expand our knowledge and modify existing theories to provide answers to previously unfathomable questions.

In totality, Dewey asserted that every public education must be philosophical in nature[14]. The universe is vast and infinite, implying that there are still innumerable things, events, and phenomena that have not yet been disclosed or made available to human perception. Education is the best weapon to annihilate man’s ignorance because it is a means of achieving complete metamorphosis. Education transforms an individual from an inutile state to a prolific level. It transforms our primitive knowledge into something grandiose through the constant application of theories. With this innate nature of education, philosophy plays a significant role as education’s life-support system. Philosophy perpetually asks questions and creates queries beyond human understanding. The union of philosophy and education is undeniably the panacea for our ignorance and the medium for our infinite transcendence. Philosophy provides questions while education serves as its laboratory.


Dewey, J. (1929). My Pedagogic Creed.” Progressive Education Association.

Dewey, J. (1997). Democracy and Education: Free Press.

Kant, I. (1984). Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Open Court Publishing Company.

Kant, Immanuel. (1999). Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge University Press.

Locke, J. (1994). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Prometheus Books.

(J. Dewey, 1929; J. Dewey, 1997; Kant, 1984, 1999; Locke, 1994)

[1] Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Page 27.
[2] Ibid., Page 30.
[3] Ibid., Page 29.
[4] Ibid., Page 34.
[5] In Locke’s terminology it is called tabula rasa.
[6] The process by which knowledge reaches the object directly given.
[7] The capacity for receiving representations (receptivity) through the mode in which we are affected by objects.
[8] The Active species of representation, by means of which our understanding enables us to think.
[9] The Effect of an object upon the faculty of representation, so far as we are not affected by the said object.
[10] The object of knowledge, viewed empirically, in its fully knowable state.
[11] The passive or objective aspect of something-that is, the aspect which is based on the experience a subject has, or on the objects given such an experience.
[12] The active or subjective aspect of something-that I, the aspect which is based on the rational activity of the subject.
[13] “Something that I know not what,” “that of which one predicates
[14] This is his basis of Philosophy of Education.

Cite this page

Compare and Contrast John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Dewey’s Theories of Learning. (2016, Sep 09). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront