All About The Molyneux Problem

Molyneux Problem

Discover the fascinating philosophical puzzle of the Molyneux Problem in this thought-provoking blog. Is what we see truly reliable? Can we trust our senses to accurately interpret the world around us? Explore the origins of the Molyneux Problem, a centuries-old dilemma that challenges our understanding of perception and cognition. Learn about the various interpretations and debates surrounding this philosophical puzzle, and how it has implications for fields such as philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience.

What is the Molyneux problem?

As a philosophical thought experiment, Molyneux’s problem considers the possibility of a sudden and complete restoration of vision. Originally proposed by William Molyneux in 1688, it is most famously mentioned in John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1689.

The thought experiment goes as follows: Suppose a person who has been blind from birth is suddenly given the ability to see. Would they be able to identify objects they had never seen before? For example, if shown a cube, would they be able to say that it is a cube?

In Short: “If a guy born blind can perceive the differences between forms like spheres and cubes, would he be able to differentiate such things by sight alone, about the tactile schemata he already acquired?

There are two main arguments in favour of the affirmative answer to Molyneux’s problem. One interpretation is that the answer is yes, and the other interpretation is that the answer is no.

  • On the yes side, one argument goes as follows: The person could identify the cube because they would have an innate understanding of its three-dimensional shape. This argument relies on the idea that there are certain truths about the world that we know instinctively, without having to learn them through experience.

  • On the no side, one argument goes as follows: The person would not be able to identify the cube because they have never experienced seeing it before. To them, it would just look like a blur or an undefined shape. This argument relies on the idea that all knowledge must be acquired through experience.

On the other hand, there are also two main arguments against the affirmative answer to Molyneux’s problem.

  1. The first is that the blind person might have some innate knowledge about objects and their shapes.

  2. The second argument is that even if the blind person did not have any previous knowledge about objects, they could still learn to identify them by their touch alone through experience.

Evidence for and against:

The 300-yr-old Philosophy Brain Teaser that was Solved only in 2011

There is evidence for and against the Molyneux problem. Some people argue that it exists, while others contend that it does not.

Those who believe the Molyneux problem exists point to research showing that congenitally blind people struggle to identify objects by touch when they are first exposed to them. For example, one study found that participants were only able to correctly identify about 50% of common objects after being given sight.

However, there is also evidence against the Molyneux problem. A recent study found that participants who were born blind and had never seen before were able to correctly identify 70% of common objects by touch. This suggests that the ability to identify objects by touch is not as impaired as some have suggested.

Ultimately, there is still nothing that supports the existence of the Molyneux problem. More research is needed to determine whether this phenomenon is real or a myth.

The Molyneux problem is a philosophical question that asks how someone who has been blind from birth would know what an object looks like if they were to gain sight suddenly. The problem highlights the difficulty of understanding the world through our senses, and how we can never be sure that our experiences are truly representative of reality. While the Molyneux problem may never be definitively answered, it remains an intriguing thought experiment that challenges us to question our perception of the world.

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