Background

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were debates, as there are today, about how much of what we know is something we learned through experience and how much of what we know is something we could have reasoned out using our human intelligence without the benefit of particular experience. Descartes had claimed that some of our ideas are "innate." (See Rene Descartes, Meditation III.) John Locke, on the other hand, had argued that the ideas we have derive from experience. Locke spoke of the mind as a "tabula rasa" (or blank tablet) which is written on by experience. (See John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book I.) David Hume in "Of the Origin of Ideas," which is the second section of his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, comes down firmly on the side of Locke and the dependence of all our ideas on experience.