In the 17th century, philosophers René Descartes and John Locke challenged the idea of knowledge and its origin. Locke reasoned that knowledge cannot be absolute because it relies on the senses and observations. Descartes, however, argued that knowledge depends on absolute certainty which can only be obtained through innate ideas. Their disagreement leaves one wondering what the true source of knowledge really is. I propose that Locke's argument that knowledge is founded on our senses and experiences best accounts for acquiring knowledge.
In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke disputes the notion of innate ideas as a response to Cartesian Philosophy. In his essay, Locke claims all knowledge can be obtained "barely by the use of our natural faculties without the help of any innate impressions" (642). Locke asserts that innate ideas, if they do exist, must be universally agreed upon and known to the mind without any enlightenment or "activation." This is a key point. Basic logical statements such as "What is, is" (642) cannot be considered innate because children and the mentally challenged show no sign of knowing them (645). One may even feel like there is knowledge we are born with such as the importance of food, water, etc. but these are gained through sensation. I believe Locke's "tabula rasa" picture of the mind illustrates this principle best. When we are born, we have the potential to know things, but the "slate" is void of information. Devoid of experience, children know nothing but their physical needs. They acquire knowledge of what food is, where it comes from, who their parents are, etc. as they gain experience. A baby does not come out knowing what food is or where it will come from, but learns this as it's introduced to food and its source.
In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes argues that ideas such as infinity and God encompass more formal reality than do finite humans.