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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke

2. The Limits of Human Understanding

❶At the same time, Locke's work provided crucial groundwork for future empiricists such as David Hume.

1. Historical Background and Locke’s Life

CHAP. I.: Introduction.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Summary & Study Guide Description
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Writers may also invent such obfuscation to make themselves appear more educated or their ideas more complicated and nuanced or erudite than they actually are. This book focuses on knowledge in general — that it can be thought of as the sum of ideas and perceptions. Locke discusses the limit of human knowledge, and whether knowledge can be said to be accurate or truthful Thus there is a distinction between what an individual might claim to "know", as part of a system of knowledge, and whether or not that claimed knowledge is actual.

For example, Locke writes at the beginning of Chap. IV Of the Reality of Knowledge: Knowledge, say you, is only the Perception of the Agreement or Disagreement of our own Ideas: But of what use is all this fine Knowledge of Man's own Imaginations, to a Man that enquires after the reality of things? It matters now that Mens Fancies are, 'tis the Knowledge of Things that is only to be priz'd; 'tis this alone gives a Value to our Reasonings, and Preference to one Man's Knowledge over another's, that is of Things as they really are, and of Dreams and Fancies.

In the last chapter of the book, Locke introduces the major classification of sciences into physics , semiotics , and ethics. Many of Locke's views were sharply criticized by rationalists and empiricists alike.

In the rationalist Gottfried Leibniz wrote a response to Locke's work in the form of a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal, the Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain "New Essays on Human Understanding". Leibniz was critical of a number of Locke's views in the Essay , including his rejection of innate ideas, his skepticism about species classification, and the possibility that matter might think, among other things. Leibniz thought that Locke's commitment to ideas of reflection in the Essay ultimately made him incapable of escaping the nativist position or being consistent in his empiricist doctrines of the mind's passivity.

The empiricist George Berkeley was equally critical of Locke's views in the Essay. Berkeley held that Locke's conception of abstract ideas was incoherent and led to severe contradictions.

He also argued that Locke's conception of material substance was unintelligible, a view which he also later advanced in the Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous.

At the same time, Locke's work provided crucial groundwork for future empiricists such as David Hume. John Wynne published An Abridgment of Mr. Locke's Essay concerning the Human Understanding , with Locke's approval, in From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Redirected from Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Of the Conduct of the Understanding. An Essay concerning Human Understanding La logique ou l'Art de penser.

Retrieved from " https: Views Read Edit View history. In his capacity as the secretary of the Board of Trade Locke was the collection point for information from around the globe about trade and colonies for the English government. In his capacity as the secretary to the Lords Proprietors, Locke was involved in the writing of the fundamental constitution of the Carolinas.

There was a monetary crisis in England involving the value of money, and the clipping of coins. Locke wrote papers for Lord Ashley on economic matters, including the coinage crisis. While living in London at Exeter House, Locke continued to be involved in philosophical discussions. He tells us that:. Were it fit to trouble thee with the history of this Essay, I should tell thee, that five or six friends meeting at my chamber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves quickly at a stand, by the difficulties that rose on every side.

After we had awhile puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with.

This I proposed to the company, who all readily assented; and thereupon it was agreed that this should be our first inquiry. Some hasty and undigested thoughts, on a subject I had never before considered, which I set down against our next meeting, gave the first entrance into this Discourse; which having been thus begun by chance, was continued by intreaty; written by incoherent parcels; and after long intervals of neglect, resumed again, as my humour or occasions permitted; and at last, in a retirement where an attendance on my health gave me leisure, it was brought into that order thou now seest it.

Epistle to the Reader, N: He recalls the discussion being about the principles of morality and revealed religion Cranston Thus the Oxford scholar and medical researcher came to begin the work which was to occupy him off and on over the next twenty years.

In after Shaftesbury had left the government, Locke went back to Oxford, where he acquired the degree Bachelor of medicine, and a license to practice medicine, and then went to France Cranston The Edict of Nantes promulgated by Henry IV in was in force, and so there was a degree of religious toleration in France. Louis XIV was to revoke the edict in and French Protestants were then killed while some , went into exile. In Shaftesbury was imprisoned in the tower.

His imprisonment lasted for a year. In , after the mysterious murder of a London judge, informers most notably Titus Oates started coming forward to reveal a supposed Catholic conspiracy to assassinate the King and put his brother on the throne. This whipped up public anti-Catholic frenzy. Though Shaftesbury had not fabricated the conspiracy story, nor did he prompt Oates to come forward, he did exploit the situation to the advantage of his party.

In the public chaos surrounding the sensational revelations, Shaftesbury organized an extensive party network, exercised great control over elections, and built up a large parliamentary majority. As the panic over the Popish plot receded, Shaftesbury was left without a following or a cause. Shaftesbury was seized on July 21, and again put in the tower. He was tried on trumped-up charges of treason but acquitted by a London grand jury filled with his supporters in November.

At this point some of the Country Party leaders began plotting an armed insurrection which, had it come off, would have begun with the assassination of Charles and his brother on their way back to London from the races at Newmarket. The chances of such a rising occurring were not as good as the plotters supposed.

Memories of the turmoil of the civil war were still relatively fresh. Eventually Shaftesbury, who was moving from safe house to safe house, gave up and fled to Holland in November He died there in January Locke stayed in England until the Rye House Plot named after the house from which the plotters were to fire upon the King and his brother was discovered in June of Locke left for the West country to put his affairs in order the very week the plot was revealed to the government and by September he was in exile in Holland.

He also wrote and published his Epistola de Tolerentia in Latin. The English government was much concerned with this group. They tried to get a number of them, including Locke, extradited to England. In the meanwhile, the English intelligence service infiltrated the rebel group in Holland and effectively thwarted their efforts—at least for a while.

The revolt was crushed, Monmouth captured and executed Ashcraft Ultimately, however, the rebels were successful. This became known as the Glorious Revolution of It is a watershed in English history. For it marks the point at which the balance of power in the English government passed from the King to the Parliament. Locke returned to England in on board the royal yacht, accompanying Princess Mary on her voyage to join her husband. It is worth noting that the Two Treatises and the Letter Concerning Toleration were published anonymously.

Locke had met Damaris Cudworth in and became involved intellectually and romantically with her. She was the daughter of Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge Platonist, and a philosopher in her own right. During the remaining years of his life Locke oversaw four more editions of the Essay and engaged in controversies over the Essay most notably in a series of published letters with Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester. In a similar way, Locke defended the Letter Concerning Toleration against a series of attacks.

Nor was Locke finished with public affairs. In the Board of Trade was revived. Locke played an important part in its revival and served as the most influential member on it until The new Board of Trade had administrative powers and was, in fact, concerned with a wide range of issues, from the Irish wool trade and the suppression of piracy, to the treatment of the poor in England and the governance of the colonies.

During these last eight years of his life, Locke was asthmatic, and he suffered so much from it that he could only bear the smoke of London during the four warmer months of the year. Locke plainly engaged in the activities of the Board out of a strong sense of patriotic duty. After his retirement from the Board of Trade in , Locke remained in retirement at Oates until his death on Sunday 28 October Locke is often classified as the first of the great English empiricists ignoring the claims of Bacon and Hobbes.

Locke explains his project in several places. Perhaps the most important of his goals is to determine the limits of human understanding. For I thought that the first Step towards satisfying the several Enquiries, the Mind of Man was apt to run into, was, to take a Survey of our own Understandings, examine our own Powers, and see to what Things they were adapted.

Some philosophers before Locke had suggested that it would be good to find the limits of the Understanding, but what Locke does is to carry out this project in detail. In the four books of the Essay Locke considers the sources and nature of human knowledge.

Book I argues that we have no innate knowledge. In this he resembles Berkeley and Hume, and differs from Descartes and Leibniz. So, at birth, the human mind is a sort of blank slate on which experience writes. In Book II Locke claims that ideas are the materials of knowledge and all ideas come from experience. Experience is of two kinds, sensation and reflection. One of these—sensation—tells us about things and processes in the external world.

The other—reflection—tells us about the operations of our own minds. Reflection is a sort of internal sense that makes us conscious of the mental processes we are engaged in. Some ideas we get only from sensation, some only from reflection and some from both. Locke has an atomic or perhaps more accurately a corpuscular theory of ideas. Ideas are either simple or complex.

We cannot create simple ideas, we can only get them from experience. In this respect the mind is passive. Once the mind has a store of simple ideas, it can combine them into complex ideas of a variety of kinds. In this respect the mind is active. Thus, Locke subscribes to a version of the empiricist axiom that there is nothing in the intellect that was not previously in the senses—where the senses are broadened to include reflection.

Book III deals with the nature of language, its connections with ideas and its role in knowledge. Book IV, the culmination of the previous reflections, explains the nature and limits of knowledge, probability, and the relation of reason and faith.

Let us now consider the Essay in some detail. The role of Book I of the Essay is to make the case that being innate is not a way in which the understanding is furnished with principles and ideas. Locke treats innateness as an empirical hypothesis and argues that there is no good evidence to support it.

In pursuing this enquiry, Locke rejects the claim that there are speculative innate principles I. Locke rejects arguments from universal assent and attacks dispositional accounts of innate principles. Why should children and idiots be aware of and able to articulate such propositions? It seems to me a near Contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the Soul, which it perceives or understands not; imprinting if it signify anything, being nothing else but the making certain Truths to be perceived.

Locke then proceeds to attack dispositional accounts that say, roughly, that innate propositions are capable of being perceived under certain circumstances.

Until these circumstances come about the propositions remain unperceived in the mind. With the advent of these conditions, the propositions are then perceived. Locke gives the following argument against innate propositions being dispositional:. For if any one [proposition] may [be in the mind but not be known]; then, by the same Reason, all Propositions that are true, and the Mind is ever capable of assenting to, may be said to be in the Mind, and to be imprinted: Thus, even if some criterion is proposed, it will turn out not to do the work it is supposed to do.

When Locke turns from speculative principles to the question of whether there are innate practical moral principles, many of the arguments against innate speculative principles continue to apply, but there are some additional considerations. Thus, one can clearly and sensibly ask reasons for why one should hold the Golden Rule true or obey it I.

There are substantial differences between people over the content of practical principles. Thus, they are even less likely candidates to be innate propositions or to meet the criterion of universal assent. In the fourth chapter of Book I, Locke raises similar points about the ideas which compose both speculative and practical principles.

The point is that if the ideas that are constitutive of the principles are not innate, this gives us even more reason to hold that the principles are not innate. He examines the ideas of identity, impossibility and God to make these points.

In Book I Locke says little about who holds the doctrine of innate principles that he is attacking. For this reason he has sometimes been accused of attacking straw men. John Yolton has persuasively argued Yolton that the view that innate ideas and principles were necessary for the stability of religion, morality and natural law was widespread in England in the seventeenth century, and that in attacking both the naive and the dispositional account of innate ideas and innate principles, Locke is attacking positions which were widely held and continued to be held after the publication of the Essay.

But there are also some important connections with particular philosophers and schools that are worth noting and some points about innate ideas and inquiry. Locke rather clearly has in mind the Aristotelians and scholastics at the universities. It is an expression of his view of the importance of free and autonomous inquiry in the search for truth.

Ultimately, Locke holds, this is the best road to knowledge and happiness. Locke, like Descartes, is tearing down the foundations of the old Aristotelian scholastic house of knowledge.

The attack on innate ideas is thus the first step in the demolition of the scholastic model of science and knowledge. Ironically, it is also clear from II. In Book II of the Essay , Locke gives his positive account of how we acquire the materials of knowledge. Locke distinguishes a variety of different kinds of ideas in Book II. Locke holds that the mind is a tabula rasa or blank sheet until experience in the form of sensation and reflection provide the basic materials—simple ideas—out of which most of our more complex knowledge is constructed.

While the mind may be a blank slate in regard to content, it is plain that Locke thinks we are born with a variety of faculties to receive and abilities to manipulate or process the content once we acquire it.

Thus, for example, the mind can engage in three different types of action in putting simple ideas together. The first of these kinds of action is to combine them into complex ideas.

Complex ideas are of two kinds, ideas of substances and ideas of modes. Substances are independent existences. Beings that count as substances include God, angels, humans, animals, plants and a variety of constructed things. Modes are dependent existences. These include mathematical and moral ideas, and all the conventional language of religion, politics and culture. The second action which the mind performs is the bringing of two ideas, whether simple or complex, by one another so as to take a view of them at once, without uniting them.

This gives us our ideas of relations II. The third act of the mind is the production of our general ideas by abstraction from particulars, leaving out the particular circumstances of time and place, which would limit the application of an idea to a particular individual.

In addition to these abilities, there are such faculties as memory which allow for the storing of ideas.

Having set forth the general machinery of how simple and complex ideas of substances, modes, relations and so forth are derived from sensation and reflection, Locke also explains how a variety of particular kinds of ideas, such as the ideas of solidity, number, space, time, power, identity, and moral relations arise from sensation and reflection. Several of these are of particular interest. Locke also made a number of interesting claims in the philosophy of mind.

He suggested, for example, that for all we know, God could as easily add the powers of perception and thought to matter organized in the right way as he could add those powers to an immaterial substance which would then be joined to matter organized in the right way.

His account of personal identity in II. Both of these topics and related ones are treated in the supplementary document: Locke offers an account of physical objects based in the mechanical philosophy and the corpuscular hypothesis.

The adherents of the mechanical philosophy held that all material phenomena can be explained by matter in motion and the impact of one body on another. They viewed matter as passive. Some corupscularians held that corpuscles could be further divided and that the universe was full of matter with no void space.

Atomists, on the other hand, held that the particles were indivisible and that the material world is composed of atoms and the void or empty space in which the atoms move. Locke was an atomist. They are extended, they are solid, they have a particular shape and they are in motion or rest. They combine together to produce the familiar stuff and physical objects, the gold and the wood, the horses and violets, the tables and chairs of our world. These familiar things also have properties.

They are extended, solid, have a particular shape and are in motion and at rest. In addition to these properties that they share with the atoms that compose them, they have other properties such as colors, smells, tastes that they get by standing in relation to perceivers. The distinction between these two kinds of properties goes back to the Greek atomists.

This distinction is made by both of the main branches of the mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century.

Both the Cartesian plenum theorists, who held that the world was full of infinitely divisible matter and that there was no void space, and the atomists such as Gassendi, who held that there were indivisible atoms and void space in which the atoms move, made the distinction between these two classes of properties. Still, the differences between these two branches of the mechanical philosophy affect their account of primary qualities. In the chapter on Solidity II. The primary qualities of an object are properties which the object possesses independent of us—such as occupying space, being either in motion or at rest, having solidity and texture.

The secondary qualities are powers in bodies to produce ideas in us like color, taste, smell and so on that are caused by the interaction of our particular perceptual apparatus with the primary qualities of the object.

Our ideas of primary qualities resemble the qualities in the object, while our ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble the powers that cause them. Locke also distinguishes a second class of secondary properties that are the powers that one substance has to effect another, e. Among the issues are which qualities Locke assigns to each of the two categories. Locke gives several lists. Another issue is what the criterion is for putting a quality in one list rather than another.

Does Locke hold that all the ideas of secondary qualities come to us by one sense while the ideas of primary qualities come to us through two or is Locke not making the distinction in this way?

Another issue is whether there are only primary qualities of atoms or whether compounds of atoms also have primary qualities.

Related to this issue is how we are supposed to know about particles that we cannot sense. It seems clear that Locke holds that there are certain analogies between the middle sized macroscopic objects we encounter in the world, e.

These analogies allow us to say certain things about the nature of particles and primary and secondary qualities. For example we can infer that atoms are solid and that heat is a greater rate of motion of atoms while cold is a slower motion. But these analogies may not get us very far in grasping the necessary connections between qualities in nature. Yet another issue is whether Locke sees the distinction as reductionistic.

If what we mean by reductionistic here is that only the primary qualities are real and these explain the secondary qualities then there does not seem to be a clear answer.

Secondary qualities surely are nothing more than certain primary qualities that affect us in certain ways. This seems to be reductionistic. And while Locke holds that our ideas of secondary qualities are caused by primary qualities, in certain important respects the primary qualities do not explain them.

Locke holds that we cannot even conceive how the size, figure and motion of particles could cause any sensation in us. So, knowing the size, figure and motion of the particles would be of no use to us in this regard see IV. Locke probably holds some version of the representational theory of perception, though some scholars dispute this.

On such a theory what the mind immediately perceives are ideas, and the ideas are caused by and represent the objects which cause them. Thus perception is a triadic relation, rather than simply being a dyadic relation between an object and a perceiver. Such a dyadic relational theory is often called naive realism because it suggests that the perceiver is directly perceiving the object, and naive because this view is open to a variety of serious objections.

Some versions of the representational theory are open to serious objections as well. If, for example, one treats ideas as things, then one can imagine that because one sees ideas, the ideas actually block one from seeing things in the external world.

The idea would be like a picture or painting. The picture would copy the original object in the external world, but because our immediate object of perception is the picture we would be prevented from seeing the original just as standing in front of a painting on an easel might prevent us from seeing the person being painted. One philosopher who arguably held such a view was Nicholas Malebranche, a follower of Descartes. Antoine Arnauld, by contrast, while believing in the representative character of ideas, is a direct realist about perception.

Locke follows Arnauld in his criticism of Malebranche on this point Locke, , Vol. Yet Berkeley attributed the veil of perception interpretation of the representational theory of perception to Locke as have many later commentators including Bennett.

Woozley puts the difficulty of doing this succinctly:. A review of this issue at a symposium including John Rogers, Gideon Yaffe, Lex Newman, Tom Lennon, and Vere Chappell at a meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in and later expanded and published in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , volume 85, issue 3 found most of the symposiasts holding the view that Locke holds a representative theory of perception but that he is not a skeptic about the external world in the way that the veil of perception doctrine might suggest.

He is also puzzled about what material and immaterial substances might have in common that would lead us to apply the same word to both. These kinds of reflections led him to the relative and obscure idea of substance in general. For we have no experience of that supporting substance. It is clear that Locke sees no alternative to the claim that there are substances supporting qualities.

He does not, for example, have a theory of tropes tropes are properties that can exist independently of substances which he might use to dispense with the notion of substance. In fact, he may be rejecting something like a theory of tropes when he rejects the Aristotelian doctrine of real qualities and insists on the need for substances.

But, it is also quite clear that he is regularly insistent about the limitations of our ideas of substances. Bishop Stillingfleet accused Locke of putting substance out of the reasonable part of the world. But Locke is not doing that. It seems to imply that we have a particular without any properties, and this seems like a notion that is inconsistent with empiricism.

We have no experience of such an entity and so no way to derive such an idea from experience. Locke himself acknowledges this point I. The real essence of a material thing is its atomic constitution. This atomic constitution is the causal basis of all the observable properties of the thing, from which we create nominal essences.

Were the real essence known, all the observable properties could be deduced from it. Locke claims that the real essences of material things are quite unknown to us. Thus, Ayers wants to treat the unknown substratum as picking out the same thing as the real essence—thus eliminating the need for particulars without properties. This proposed way of interpreting Locke has been criticized by scholars both because of a lack of textural support, and on the stronger grounds that it conflicts with some things that Locke does say see Jolley This is a strong indication that Locke thinks issues about language were of considerable importance in attaining knowledge.

At the beginning of the Book he notes the importance of abstract general ideas to knowledge. These serve as sorts under which we rank all the vast multitude of particular existences. Without general terms and classes we would be faced with the impossible task of trying to know a vast world of particulars. In his discussion of language Locke distinguishes words according to the categories of ideas established in Book II of the Essay. So there are ideas of substances, simple modes, mixed modes, relations and so on.

It is in this context that Locke makes the distinction between real and nominal essences noted above. Perhaps because of his focus on the role that kind terms play in classification, Locke pays vastly more attention to nouns than to verbs. Locke recognizes that not all words relate to ideas. This thesis has often been criticized as a classic blunder in semantic theory. Kretzmann, however, argues persuasively that Locke distinguishes between meaning and reference and that ideas provide the meaning but not the reference of words.

Thus, the line of criticism represented by the quotation from Mill is ill founded. In addition to the kinds of ideas noted above, there are also particular and abstract ideas. Particular ideas have in them the ideas of particular places and times which limit the application of the idea to a single individual, while abstract general ideas leave out the ideas of particular times and places in order to allow the idea to apply to other similar qualities or things.

Berkeley argued that the process as Locke conceives it is incoherent. In part this is because Berkeley is an imagist—that is he believes that all ideas are images. If one is an imagist it becomes impossible to imagine what idea could include both the ideas of a right and equilateral triangle. Michael Ayers has recently argued that Locke too was an imagist. Locke thinks most words we use are general III. Clearly, it is only general or sortal ideas that can serve in a classificatory scheme.

Physical substances are atoms and things made up of atoms. But we have no experience of the atomic structure of horses and tables. We know horses and tables mainly by secondary qualities such as color, taste and smell and so on and primary qualities such as shape, motion and extension. What the general word signifies is the complex of ideas we have decided are parts of the idea of that sort of thing.

These ideas we get from experience. Locke calls such a general idea that picks out a sort, the nominal essence of that sort. One of the central issues in Book III has to do with classification. On what basis do we divide things into kinds and organize those kinds into a system of species and genera?

In the Aristotelian and Scholastic tradition that Locke rejects, necessary properties are those that an individual must have in order to exist and continue to exist. These contrast with accidental properties. Accidental properties are those that an individual can gain and lose and yet continue in existence. If a set of necessary properties is shared by a number of individuals, that set of properties constitutes the essence of a natural kind.

The borders between kinds is supposed to be sharp and determinate. The aim of Aristotelian science is to discover the essences of natural kinds. Kinds can then be organized hierarchically into a classificatory system of species and genera. This classification of the world by natural kinds will be unique and privileged because it alone corresponds to the structure of the world.

This doctrine of essences and kinds is often called Aristotelian essentialism. Locke rejects a variety of aspects of this doctrine. He rejects the notion that an individual has an essence apart from being treated as belonging to a kind. He also rejects the claim that there is a single classification of things in nature that the natural philosopher should seek to discover.

He claims that there are no fixed boundaries in nature to be discovered—that is there are no clear demarcation points between species. There are always borderline cases. The first view is that Locke holds that there are no Aristotelian natural kinds on either the level of appearance or atomic reality.

The second view holds that Locke thinks there are Aristotelian natural kinds on the atomic level, it is simply that we cannot get at them or know what they are. On either of these interpretations, the real essence cannot provide the meaning to names of substances.

By contrast, the ideas that we use to make up our nominal essences come to us from experience. Locke claims that the mind is active in making our ideas of sorts and that there are so many properties to choose among that it is possible for different people to make quite different ideas of the essence of a certain substance.

This has given some commentators the impression that the making of sorts is utterly arbitrary and conventional for Locke and that there is no basis for criticizing a particular nominal essence. Sometimes Locke says things that might suggest this. But this impression should be resisted. Locke claims that while the making of nominal essences is the work of the understanding, that work is constrained both by usage where words stand for ideas that are already in use and by the fact that substance words are supposed to copy the properties of the substances they refer to.

Locke says that our ideas of kinds of substances have as their archetype the complex of properties that produce the appearances we use to make our nominal essences and which cause the unity of the complex of ideas which appear to us regularly conjoined. The very notion of an archetype implies constraints on what properties and hence what ideas can go together. If there were no such constraints there could be no archetype. Let us begin with the usage of words.

It is important in a community of language users that words be used with the same meaning. If this condition is met it facilitates the chief end of language which is communication.

If one fails to use words with the meaning that most people attach to them, one will fail to communicate effectively with others. Thus one would defeat the main purpose of language. It should also be noted that traditions of usage for Locke can be modified. Otherwise we would not be able to improve our knowledge and understanding by getting more clear and determinate ideas.

In the making of the names of substances there is a period of discovery as the abstract general idea is put together e. Language itself is viewed as an instrument for carrying out the mainly prosaic purposes and practices of every day life. Ordinary people are the chief makers of language. Vulgar Notions suit vulgar Discourses; and both though confused enough, yet serve pretty well for the Market and the Wake. Merchants and Lovers, Cooks and Taylors, have Words wherewith to dispatch their ordinary affairs; and so, I think, might Philosophers and Disputants too, if they had a mind to understand and to be clearly understood.

These ordinary people use a few apparent qualities, mainly ideas of secondary qualities to make ideas and words that will serve their purposes. Scientists are seeking to find the necessary connections between properties. A whale is not a fish, as it turns out, but a mammal.

There is a characteristic group of qualities which fish have which whales do not have. There is a characteristic group of qualities which mammals have which whales also have. To classify a whale as a fish therefore is a mistake.

Similarly, we might make an idea of gold that only included being a soft metal and gold color. But the product of such work is open to criticism, either on the grounds that it does not conform to already current usage, or that it inadequately represents the archetypes that it is supposed to copy in the world.

We engage in such criticism in order to improve human understanding of the material world and thus the human condition. In becoming more accurate the nominal essence is converging on the real essence. In contrast with substances modes are dependent existences—they can be thought of as the ordering of substances. These are technical terms for Locke, so we should see how they are defined. First, Modes I call such complex Ideas , which however compounded, contain not in themselves the supposition of subsisting by themselves; such are the words signified by the Words Triangle, Gratitude, Murther, etc.

Of these Modes , there are two sorts, which deserve distinct consideration. First, there are some that are only variations, or different combinations of the same simple Idea , without the mixture of any other, as a dozen or score; which are nothing but the ideas of so many distinct unities being added together, and these I call simple Modes , as being contained within the bounds of one simple Idea.

Secondly, There are others, compounded of Ideas of several kinds, put together to make one complex one; v. Beauty , consisting of a certain combination of Colour and Figure, causing Delight to the Beholder; Theft , which being the concealed change of the Possession of any thing, without the consent of the Proprietor, contains, as is visible, a combination of several Ideas of several kinds; and these I call Mixed Modes.

When we make ideas of modes, the mind is again active, but the archetype is in our mind. The question becomes whether things in the world fit our ideas, and not whether our ideas correspond to the nature of things in the world. Our ideas are adequate. If we find that someone does not fit this definition, this does not reflect badly on our definition, it simply means that that individual does not belong to the class of bachelors.

Modes give us the ideas of mathematics, of morality, of religion and politics and indeed of human conventions in general. Since these modal ideas are not only made by us but serve as standards that things in the world either fit or do not fit and thus belong or do not belong to that sort, ideas of modes are clear and distinct, adequate and complete.

Thus in modes, we get the real and nominal essences combined. One can give precise definitions of mathematical terms that is, give necessary and sufficient conditions and one can give deductive demonstrations of mathematical truths. Locke sometimes says that morality too is capable of deductive demonstration. Though pressed by his friend William Molyneux to produce such a demonstrative morality, Locke never did so.

The terms of political discourse also have some of the same modal features for Locke. When Locke defines the states of nature, slavery and war in the Second Treatise of Government , for example, we are presumably getting precise modal definitions from which one can deduce consequences. It is possible, however, that with politics we are getting a study which requires both experience as well as the deductive modal aspect.

In the fourth book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke tells us what knowledge is and what humans can know and what they cannot not simply what they do and do not happen to know. This definition of knowledge contrasts with the Cartesian definition of knowledge as any ideas that are clear and distinct. What about knowing the real existence of things? Locke, for example, makes transdictive inferences about atoms where Berkeley is unwilling to allow that such inferences are legitimate.

This implies that Locke has a semantics that allows him to talk about the unexperienced causes of experience such as atoms where Berkeley cannot. What then can we know and with what degree of certainty? We can know that God exists with the second highest degree of assurance, that of demonstration.

We also know that we exist with the highest degree of certainty. The truths of morality and mathematics we can know with certainty as well, because these are modal ideas whose adequacy is guaranteed by the fact that we make such ideas as ideal models which other things must fit, rather than trying to copy some external archetype which we can only grasp inadequately. On the other hand, our efforts to grasp the nature of external objects is limited largely to the connection between their apparent qualities.

The real essence of elephants and gold is hidden from us: Our knowledge of material things is probabilistic and thus opinion rather than knowledge. We do have sensitive knowledge of external objects, which is limited to things we are presently experiencing. While Locke holds that we only have knowledge of a limited number of things, he thinks we can judge the truth or falsity of many propositions in addition to those we can legitimately claim to know.

This brings us to a discussion of probability. Knowledge involves the seeing of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas.

What then is probability and how does it relate to knowledge? So, apart from the few important things that we can know for certain, e. What then is probability? As Demonstration is the shewing of the agreement or disagreement of two Ideas, by the intervention of one or more Proofs, which have a constant, immutable, and visible connexion one with another: Probable reasoning, on this account, is an argument, similar in certain ways to the demonstrative reasoning that produces knowledge but different also in certain crucial respects.

It is an argument that provides evidence that leads the mind to judge a proposition true or false but without a guarantee that the judgment is correct. This kind of probable judgment comes in degrees, ranging from near demonstrations and certainty to unlikeliness and improbability in the vicinity of impossibility. It is correlated with degrees of assent ranging from full assurance down to conjecture, doubt and distrust.

The new science of mathematical probability had come into being on the continent just around the time that Locke was writing the Essay.

His account of probability, however, shows little or no awareness of mathematical probability. Rather it reflects an older tradition that treated testimony as probable reasoning. Thus, when Locke comes to describe the grounds for probability he cites the conformity of the proposition to our knowledge, observation and experience, and the testimony of others who are reporting their observation and experience.

Concerning the latter we must consider the number of witnesses, their integrity, their skill in observation, counter testimony and so on. In judging rationally how much to assent to a probable proposition, these are the relevant considerations that the mind should review.

We should, Locke also suggests, be tolerant of differing opinions as we have more reason to retain the opinions we have than to give them up to strangers or adversaries who may well have some interest in our doing so.

Locke distinguishes two sorts of probable propositions. The first of these have to do with particular existences or matters of fact, and the second that are beyond the testimony of the senses. Matters of fact are open to observation and experience, and so all of the tests noted above for determining rational assent to propositions about them are available to us.

Things are quite otherwise with matters that are beyond the testimony of the senses. These include the knowledge of finite immaterial spirits such as angels or things such as atoms that are too small to be sensed, or the plants, animals or inhabitants of other planets that are beyond our range of sensation because of their distance from us. Concerning this latter category, Locke says we must depend on analogy as the only help for our reasoning.

Thus the observing that the bare rubbing of two bodies violently one upon the other, produce heat, and very often fire it self, we have reason to think, that what we call Heat and Fire consist of the violent agitation of the imperceptible minute parts of the burning matter…. We reason about angels by considering the Great Chain of Being; figuring that while we have no experience of angels, the ranks of species above us is likely as numerous as that below of which we do have experience.

This reasoning is, however, only probable. The relative merits of the senses, reason and faith for attaining truth and the guidance of life were a significant issue during this period.

As noted above James Tyrrell recalled that the original impetus for the writing of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was a discussion about the principles of morality and revealed religion. In Book IV Chapters 17, 18, and 19 Locke deals with the nature of reason, the relation of reason to faith and the nature of enthusiasm. Locke remarks that all sects make use of reason as far as they can.

It is only when this fails them that they have recourse to faith and claim that what is revealed is above reason. And I do not see how they can argue with anyone or even convince a gainsayer who uses the same plea, without setting down strict boundaries between faith and reason.

That is we have faith in what is disclosed by revelation and which cannot be discovered by reason. In such cases there would be little use for faith.

Traditional revelation can never produce as much certainty as the contemplation of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas. Similarly revelations about matters of fact do not produce as much certainty as having the experience oneself. Revelation, then, cannot contradict what we know to be true.

If it could, it would undermine the trustworthiness of all of our faculties. This would be a disastrous result. Where revelation comes into its own is where reason cannot reach. Where we have few or no ideas for reason to contradict or confirm, this is the proper matters for faith. These and the like, being Beyond the Discovery of Reason, are purely matters of Faith; with which Reason has nothing to do.

Because the Mind, not being certain of the Truth of that it evidently does not know, but only yielding to the Probability that appears to it, is bound to give up its assent to such Testimony, which, it is satisfied, comes from one who cannot err, and will not deceive. But yet, it still belongs to Reason, to judge of the truth of its being a Revelation, and of the significance of the Words, wherein it is delivered. So, in respect to the crucial question of how we are to know whether a revelation is genuine, we are supposed to use reason and the canons of probability to judge.

Should one accept revelation without using reason to judge whether it is genuine revelation or not, one gets what Locke calls a third principle of assent besides reason and revelation, namely enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a vain or unfounded confidence in divine favor or communication. It implies that there is no need to use reason to judge whether such favor or communication is genuine or not. This kind of enthusiasm was characteristic of Protestant extremists going back to the era of the civil war.

Locke was not alone in rejecting enthusiasm, but he rejects it in the strongest terms. Enthusiasm violates the fundamental principle by which the understanding operates—that assent be proportioned to the evidence. To abandon that fundamental principle would be catastrophic. Locke wants each of us to use our understanding to search after truth. Of enthusiasts, those who would abandon reason and claim to know on the basis of faith alone, Locke writes:.

Rather than engage in the tedious labor required to reason correctly to judge of the genuineness of their revelation, enthusiasts persuade themselves that they are possessed of immediate revelation. Thus, Locke strongly rejects any attempt to make inward persuasion not judged by reason a legitimate principle. Ruth Grant and Nathan Tarcov write in the introduction to their edition of these works:. The Essay thus shows how the independence of mind pursued in the Conduct is possible.

Some Thoughts Concerning Education was first published in This became quite long and was never added to the Essay or even finished. As Locke was composing these works, some of the material from the Conduct eventually made its way into the Thoughts.

Though they also note tensions between the two that illustrate paradoxes in liberal society. The Thoughts is addressed to the education of the sons and daughters of the English gentry in the late seventeenth century.

It is in some ways thus significantly more limited to its time and place than the Conduct. Yet, its insistence on the inculcating such virtues as.


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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book I: Innate Notions John Locke Essay I John Locke i: Introduction Chapter i: Introduction 1. Since it is the understanding that sets man above all other This was what first started me on this Essay Concerning the Understanding. I thought that the first step towards an-.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding ()- An inquiry into the nature of knowledge that attempts to settle what questions hu- man understanding is and is not equipped to handle.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book II: Ideas John Locke Essay II John Locke Chapter viii: Some further points about our simple ideas29 when I have shown where the understanding can get all its ideas from—an account that I contend will be supported by. This text-based PDF or EBook was created from the HTML version of this book and is part of the Portable Library of Liberty. HTML: AN Essay concerning Human Understanding, Book III. Chap. VII. to the end of Chap. IV. Book IV. An Essay concerning Human Understanding concluded.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke. Table of Contents. Dedication Epistle to the Reader BOOK I Neither Principles nor Ideas Are Innate. Introduction; No Innate Speculative Principles; No Innate Practical Principles; Other considerations concerning Innate Principles, both Speculative and Practical; BOOK II Of Ideas. Of Ideas. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. John Locke. This web edition published by [email protected] Last updated Tuesday, July 14, at .