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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke

According to Locke, why can't ideas be present in a soul before it is united with a body?

❶This refutation turned out to be way more profound than it seemed to be, for at some point Locke led his reader to reflect on the concept of human.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
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He therefore that talks of innate notions in the understanding, cannot if he intend thereby any distinct sort of truths mean such truths to be in the understanding as it never perceived, and is yet wholly ignorant of. So that, to be in the understanding and not to be understood; to be in the mind, and never to be perceived; is all one as to say, anything is, and is not, in the mind or understanding. If therefore these two propositions: That men know them when they come to the use of reason, answered.

Doubtful expressions, that have scarce any signification, go for clear results to those who, being prepossessed, take not the pains to examine even what they themselves say.

If reason discovered them, that would not prove them innate. That, whatever truths reason can certainly discover to us and make us firmly assent to, those are all naturally imprinted on the mind; since that universal assent which is made the mark of them, amounts to no more but this — that by the use of reason we are capable to come to a certain knowledge of, and assent to, them; and by this means there will be no difference between the maxims of the mathematicians and theorems they deduce from them: It is false that reason discovers them.

That certainly can never be thought innate which we have need of reason to discover, unless, as I have said, we will have all the certain truths that reason ever teaches us to be innate.

We may as well think the use of reason necessary to make our eyes discover visible objects as that there should be need of reason, or the exercise thereof to make the understanding see what is originally engraved in it, and cannot be in the understanding before it be perceived by it. So that to make reason discover these truths thus imprinted, is to say, that the use of reason discovers to a man what he knew before; and if men have those innate impressed truths originally, and before the use of reason and yet are always ignorant of them till they come to the use of reason, it is in effect to say that men know, and know them not, at the same time.

It will here perhaps be said, that mathematical demonstrations, and other truths that are not innate, are not assented to, as soon as proposed, wherein they are distinguished from these maxims and other innate truths. I shall have occasion to speak of assent upon the first proposing, more particularly by and by. I shall here only, and that very readily, allow, that these maxims and mathematical demonstrations are in this different — that the one has need of reason using of proofs to make them out and to gain our assent; but the other, as soon as understood, are, without any the least reasoning, embraced and assented to.

But I withal beg leave to observe, that it lays open the weakness of this subterfuge which requires the use of reason for the discovery of these general truths, since it must be confessed, that in their discovery there is no use made of reasoning at all. For this would be to destroy that bounty of nature they seem so fond of, whilst they make the knowledge of those principles to depend on the labour of our thoughts; for all reasoning is search and casting about, and requires pains and application.

Idea is the object of thinking. It is in the first place then to be inquired, How he comes by them? I know it is a received doctrine, that men have native ideas and original characters stamped upon their minds in their very first being. All ideas come from sensation or reflection. Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety?

Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, From experience: Our observation, employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds, perceived and reflected on by ourselves is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking.

These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring. As a result of its classic status in the history of modern philosophy and its importance for understanding Locke's other writings, I will have to finish reading and analyzing it at some point.

For the time being, howeve I began reading portions of this scholarly Nidditch edition of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding in and read additional substantial portions in For the time being, however, I am procrastinating in exactly the same manner I procrastinate going to the dentist. Apr 24, Nathaniel rated it it was amazing.

I only read the part of this that deal with moral law and morality. The most famous part of this book are those that deal with epistemology so I will have to pick this book up again. Nontheless the sections that I did read were pretty exceptional.

Locke's understanding of human understanding accounts for much of what is wrong with our society today. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , the English philosopher John Locke tried to come up with a theory of knowledge, that would do away with all earlier attempts of philosophers from the time of Plato onwards to Descartes.

This book is a long and dense one, but it is well-structured and written relatively approachable for the general public. This review is based on my reading of this book two years ago, so I will only give the broad outlines. I was planning to read the Essay for In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , the English philosopher John Locke tried to come up with a theory of knowledge, that would do away with all earlier attempts of philosophers from the time of Plato onwards to Descartes.

I was planning to read the Essay for a second time, but I have so much else to do, that this will be not worth my time - maybe some time in the future. In book 1, Locke destroys the Cartesian idea of innate knowledge. Descartes claimed and he was the only real alternative to Aristotelean, Christian philosophy that we have immortal souls - at our conception these souls are temporarily bound to flesh our bodies are machines, according to Descartes - and that therefore we come equipped with clear and distinct knowledge i.

For Descartes, this was his building block for the rest of his epistemology. But back to Locke: But are these ideas reliable knowledge? Before answering this highly important question, Locke sets out to look closer at the concept of our ideas in book 2. According to Locke, there are two ways for ideas to originate: So now we know the origin of our ideas, what are these ideas? Locke answers this question by distinguishing between simple ideas and complex ideas. Simple ideas are ideas that are of one uniform conception and cannot be created or destroyed - they just are there for us to perceive them.

Complex ideas are collections of two or more simple ideas, formed by one of three processes: Locke further distinguishes between different types of simple ideas and between complex ideas of different objects - topics I will skip over for my own head's sake. An important point to make about book 2 is Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities and the consequences for us knowing the world around us.

Primary qualities are things like shape and size of objects; secondary qualities are things like colors and smells. Why is this important? Well, according to Locke when we perceive the primary qualities of objects in our world, the relationship that forms between those qualities and our ideas is one of resemblance. Our ideas resemble the existing qualities more or less accurately. The relationship that forms between our ideas and secondary qualities of objects around us, is more problematic though: It follows from this, that our ideas are reliable in so far as they concern primary qualities, when our ideas concern secondary qualities, we should be careful not to trust our senses too much or at all?

In essence, Locke says there's an objective reality for us to grasp, but not all of this reality is 'reliably graspable'. Before coming up with his own theory of knowledge, Locke delves into language.

This might seem as a diversion, but as Locke himself states: Therefore, we should study language as a part of knowledge. Locke claims that our language derives its meaning from our ideas, not from the world around us. We use words to describe ideas in us, not to describe the objects we perceive. But this brings Locke to two important and obscure problems: And 2 are generalizations and abstractions existing objects?

These two questions I cannot answer with the current recollection the book - this will be one of the interesting parts for my future re-read of the Essay. Now, the last part of the Essay, book 4, wherein Locke offers his own theory of knowledge. I remember that this part amazed me the most. Locke distinguishes between different type of 'knowledge' and uses degrees of assent to signify how much we should rely on each type of knowledge. For Locke, the reliability of our knowledge derives from the relationship between the different ideas making up this part of knowledge; therefore Locke makes a subtle distinction between four types of relationships between ideas: These relations signify knowledge.

Locke's defintion of knowledge is [broadly speaking] strong internal relationships between all the ideas making up the respective part of knowledge Now that we have the tool to make judgements about what is knowledge and what not, let's proceed to the final step. Based on the internal relationships between ideas, Locke sees three types of knowledge.

The first is intuitive knowledge: In other words, these are self-evident truths, or better the undisputed axioms in a deductive logical system. The second type of knowledge is what Locke calls 'demonstrative knowledge' - knowledge that can be gained from applying our reason scrupulously in order to derive new truths from intuitive knowledge. But, as Locke whittly remarks, the longer the chain of reasoning, the less reliable the knowledge becomes.

The third type of knowledge is what's left, namely most of our 'everyday knowledge' - sensitive knowledge. Everyday we perceive the world around us via our senses and our reflections on these perceptions. Even though this is, from the human standpoint, the most important part of knowledge, Locke claims that sensitive knowledge is the least reliable form of knowledge.

Of course, that leaves the matter of opinion and belief. Well, according to Locke, these ideas are defintely not knowledge, so in the words of the physicist Wolfgang Pauli: Should we become sceptics and live our life as if nothing can be certain? Locke was an empiricist and a rationalist, but he certainly was no sceptic. Locke moved in the English scientific circles himself and was highly interested in the medical sciences of his time.

He claims that science is important in and of itself - it is the only and closest way we can come to pure knowledge. We should just accept that even though science progresses, we will never reach the point where we have true knowledge of the world. It is interesting to note that this is contra Plato, who claimed that true knowledge lies in the fact of us understanding the world mathematically as it were we should de-sensitize ourselves from this world ; it is also contra modern day physicists, like Max Tegmark, who claim that a theory of everything - the ultimate foundation for all of physics, therefore science warning: A second interesting point about Locke's Essay is the fact that Locke claims morality to be a type of demonstrative and even intuitive knowledge.

So for Locke, ture moral ideas lie closer to true knowledge, and are easier to attain for us mere mortals, than scientific understanding of our world.

This is strange, indeed. I always wonder, when reading these old books, about the reason for such arcane and out-of-place statements. Did Locke truly believe this to be true? Did he, in some way or other, think it necessary to make this addition to his Essay? Or social or political reasons? We might never know As I said in the beginning of this review, this is a long and dense book, abstract at many points, but interesting as a foundation for later theories of knowledge.

Locke was the first to analyze the way in which we form ideas and to think about the psychology of knowledge. Later thinkers like Hume and Kant and all the great minds after them , owe a large debt to Locke.

For this reason alone, this book is worth the effort - even though it is outdated by now and even by 18th century standards. I do not much care for John Locke. I will not take the argument that some people have taken and argue that all of the contemporary world's problems are the result of his work. That said, John Locke's opinions and ideas have heavily disseminated into the culture and are largely unignorable.

Many people, through a sort of cultural osmosis, have probably actually read this book. I got to about the last pages and started skimming huge sections. Still, I feel completely comfortab I do not much care for John Locke. Still, I feel completely comfortable saying that I have actually read this book, have not skipped any of it.

My knowledge of the book is probably about the same as someone who read it two or three months ago, and I believe I will retain that which I have studied. Aside from the sort of platitudes that Locke is known in contemporary society for spouting, there are some interesting sections on semiotics and knowledge that I think many people would be surprised were the subject of some of Locke's inquiry and were very much not unique to "post modern" thinkers.

Few really need to wade through pages and pages of unnecessary documentation of more or less commonplace observations contained here. Much contained in this book had been rewritten by the time Locke wrote it. Even what I consider his more interesting arguments can be found in Aristotle. It is important to note that this is a large book by an influential thinker regarded as a wise person at the time of his writing it.

The novelty of that which is contained in the book is of less significance than the social position of John Locke. John Locke said very little people would find disgusting, although much of it can be critiqued from different angles. It is important to note, though, that much of what John Locke said that was not disgusting which is to say most of what John Locke here wrote was not unique to John Locke. It was written before him and after him. Someone new to philosophy and looking for a large book to read will probably get more out of this than someone who has studied philosophy for a long time.

Many contemporary appeals to John Locke have more to do with how easy Locke is to read than the real significance of what he did. Locke was an aggregator. He was someone who aggregated different opinions that were fairly common place. That is a different type of philosopher than someone like Hume, for instance.

Hume, as regards something like epistemology, shares some similarity with Locke, but he was primarily someone who would take a position and turn it over in multiple ways and really inquire about it. This book should be regarded more as almost a philosophy text book, I think, than as a really significant new line of argumentation. Jul 21, Ken Ryu rated it really liked it. Locke is accessible yet profound, which is rare for philosophers. His assertion is that human knowledge is learned and not innate.

His common example of this is that a man born blind has no concept of the colors red or blue. If this man were to gain the power of sight, then, and only then, would he comprehend the meaning of these colors.

It is a logical argument, but obviously one that is oversimplified. He discusses how humans are uniquely capable of going beyond simple concepts and can underst Locke is accessible yet profound, which is rare for philosophers.

He discusses how humans are uniquely capable of going beyond simple concepts and can understand complex ideals. An example is that humans look at gold and can make simple sensory attributes to the substance such as its yellow color, its heavy weight and its luminescence.

These simple observations are extended to its rarity and its unique malleability, thus leading to its high value associated with this appealing and rare material.

He goes on to show that words and definitions are tools that humans use to classify and remember objects and situations. He cautions that words are powerful and can be used to provide clarity, but when misused can create confusion and misunderstanding.

He discussed maxims and known truths, as well as provable theorems that pervade mathematics and geometry. He states that provable theories are easier to grasp than probabilities.

He concludes by stating that there is a higher power. He argues that god exists, and our existence and the complexity of the universe and all its inherent interworkings is sufficient proof.

The book has an interesting appendix where Locke is engaged in a philosophical debate with the Bishop of Worcester. In the debate, the Bishop worries that Locke's methods are at odds with the bible's teachings including Jesus' Easter resurrection. Locke defends his stands and considers his theories on human knowledge as compatible with Christianity and the bible.

In all, Locke is rightfully placed as a key thought leader in modern philosophy. His distillation of how humans learn, think and interpret are logical and well defended.

His explanation how our senses provide the stimulus to interpret our world are sound. His explanation of our understanding of maxims, proofs and probabilities help to show how humans build up our world views and knowledge.

His nod to faith and enthusiasm to fathom ideals such as god and the mysteries of the universe that cannot be proven provides a completion to his thesis. An excellent book that provides a basis from which many modern philosophers have built from. The text is too long as Locke is overly verbose and repetitive, but despite this shortcomings, an excellent book.

Locke clearly attempts to explain his philosophy clearly, but it is unfortunately bogged down by too many examples as well as long and winding prose that does not seem particularly important. Locke even admits that his work may be too long in places, but he writes it as such anyway as he needs to explain everything he has in mind. I, however, found many of the tangents unproductive and boring, putting a real drag on the book that I could not even get pass 'On Ideas'.

I guess I'll have to find wh Locke clearly attempts to explain his philosophy clearly, but it is unfortunately bogged down by too many examples as well as long and winding prose that does not seem particularly important. I guess I'll have to find what Locke is attempting to say elsewhere Jul 09, Eric rated it really liked it. The tabula rasa upon which all modern empiricism has been scribed.

Nov 20, Morris Yen rated it it was amazing. Dec 22, Paul Gaschen rated it it was amazing Shelves: This vast and detailed work is foundational to building a philosophical repertoire, and I find that, despite its "relative newness," it has shaped much of the philosophical discussion today.

Mar 03, Jessica rated it liked it. Interesting treatise exploring how we learn something. He opposed rationalist theory, that our learning is innate. Instead, everything we know and understand comes through our senses. There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. John Locke was an English philosopher. Locke goes on to explain the difference between primary and secondary qualities. Ideas of primary qualities—such as texture, number, size, shape, and motion—resemble their causes. Ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble their causes, as is the case with color, sound, taste, and odor. In other words, primary qualities cannot be separated from the matter, whereas secondary qualities are only the power of an object to produce the idea of that quality in our minds.

Locke devotes much of book II to exploring various things that our minds are capable of, including making judgments about our own perceptions to refine our ideas, remembering ideas, discerning between ideas, comparing ideas to one another, composing a complex idea from two or more simple ideas, enlarging a simple idea into a complex idea by repetition, and abstracting certain simple ideas from an already complex ideas.

Locke also discusses complex ideas, breaking them down into four basic types: Complex ideas are created through three methods: In book III, Locke discusses abstract general ideas. We form abstract general ideas for three reasons:

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke is one of the great books of the Western world. It has done much to shape the course of intellectual development, especially in Europe and America, ever since it was first published in -John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke speaks for himself with regards to your question. But I would add that this book is a tour de force of modern epistemology; an essay that reaches beneath the boundaries of science, and down into the foundations of knowledge itself/5.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is a work by John Locke concerning the foundation of human knowledge and understanding. It first appeared in (although dated ) with the printed title An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding/5(6). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. John Locke. This web edition published by [email protected] Last updated Tuesday, July 14, at .