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An Essay concerning Human Understanding.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

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2. The Limits of Human Understanding
According to Locke, why can't ideas be present in a soul before it is united with a body?
1. Historical Background and Locke’s Life

I found some paragraphs of this essay stunnin I enjoyed aspects of 'An Essay Concerning Human Understanding', but only because I was reading it for the light it cast on Locke's political philosophy as described in his revolutionary work 'Two Treatises of Government'.

I found some paragraphs of this essay stunning for their revolutionary nature. Yet Locke hides his most brilliant gems in a lot of writing that is turgid and seemingly irrelevant. I wonder if he did this on purpose, to protect himself from the wrath of those he was reacting against? I can certainly understand why Locke delayed the publication of this work until near the end of his life.

It is a radical book, but one that leaves me feeling uncertain that I know Locke's actual views on either morality and Christianity. How much is he paying lip service to these ideas; how much is he trying to undermine them altogether; or does he want to hold onto them, in the process of redefining them?

For me there were two major problems with Locke's thinking that he does not seem to resolve: Also, if human dignity lies in an individual's capacity to use reason, does our capacity to imagine count for nothing?

Locke says the capacity to reason is what distinguishes us from animals, but I have heard the same said about our capacity to imagine. I think human creativity is not given enough weight by such philosophers. Jun 10, Lisa Harmonybites rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Recommended to Lisa Harmonybites by: This treatise published in was listed in Good Reading 's " Significant Books.

Rejecting Descartes' argument of innate principles, Locke argues that humans at birth are a blank slate written on by experience. Locke argues that innate ideas can't exist since by their nature they'd be universal, and there is no knowledge everyone agrees upon. I'm not sure given human nature I agree. I know that as different as hu This treatise published in was listed in Good Reading 's " Significant Books.

I know that as different as human cultures and individuals might be, there are some constants, and even linguists think that's reflected in the structure of language. Many scientists and philosophers seem to try to argue for one single cause for things. I see no reason to believe identity and ideas couldn't come from both a hard-wired human nature and experience--that is, both nature and nurture.

It's not that I disagree that what knowledge we have can only come from the senses and the use of reason to interpret it. That makes sense to me--but that doesn't mean I find Locke's particular line of argument completely convincing.

And particularly because epistemology lies at the root of philosophy, it has consequences for ethics and politics. Locke is associated with the libertarian principles of the American Revolution. If humans are blank slates to be written on, in one way that can be very heartening and optimistic--a chance to make the world anew. But it also tempts people into totalitarian schemes, thinking humans can be twisted into whatever shapes they will.

I have other doubts about Locke's arguments. If we only know things by experience, and there are no universals, how can Locke argue in Book II that it is a "certain and evident truth" that there is a God?

But then even in the dedication and "Epistle" to the reader there seemed to be a nervousness that the entire thrust of his argument is atheist. Methinks here Locke was not being intellectually honest or at least not intellectually consistent--and given the intolerance of his times I hardly blame him. Moreover I really don't see the usefulness of dividing ideas and things into simple and complex, primary and secondary qualities.

But the importance of the ideas in this essay I do not doubt. And despite the difficulties of the subject, I found Locke fairly lucid--it probably helped I was exposed to excerpts from this essay before in school.

I don't know that I'd call it enjoyable reading, and I think this could be more succinct even Locke admits that in his opening remarks. But reading it is useful to know to understand not just the subjects it touches upon, but its influence on history.

Nov 20, David Balfour rated it really liked it Shelves: This is very dry and repetitive, but it makes a whole lot more sense than anything by the Rationalists. Locke has an endearing humbleness whereby he genuinely acknowledges that he is liable to error, and that there are certain things we cannot know, or at least be sure we know.

The way he identifies language and inconsistent terminology as the source of so much disagreement and misunderstanding is also a real breakthrough, I think. Occasionally Locke shows a hilariously dry sense of humour, for i This is very dry and repetitive, but it makes a whole lot more sense than anything by the Rationalists. Occasionally Locke shows a hilariously dry sense of humour, for instance in his comments on the maxim "What is, is": It is but like a monkey shifting his oyster from one hand to the other; and had he had but words, might no doubt have said, "Oyster in right hand is subject, and oyster in left hand is predicate;" and so might have made a self-evident proposition of oyster, i.

In the last book, Locke makes many good arguments against unfounded belief but ignores the fact that they could be applied to his own religious beliefs. Either he's exercising some kind of double-think, or he's avoiding political condemnation.

The edition I have actually features a number of ancillary discussions between Locke and a Bishop who harangues him about the possible blasphemous implications of his writing. Lastly, I think Locke's conviction in the following statement is pretty funny for such an otherwise sensible guy: What daunts each of us in reading philosophical text could be outlined as follows; its readability and also of its relevance.

Both of these main challenges, could more or less, traced back to one problem; limitation on resources whether financial, time to read in the former or the time to digest and apply in the latter.

Before we elaborate on those two points, we could take a cursory glance on the main idea that Locke tried to present to us in this essay. Empiricism John Locke is one of the ea What daunts each of us in reading philosophical text could be outlined as follows; its readability and also of its relevance.

Empiricism John Locke is one of the earliest and perhaps, most well-known among British empiricist. An apt example could be taken from a contemporary scientific experiment. A dog that is exposed to a certain hues of colors or patterns of lines since birth could only identify those that it has been exposed, while the brain remained irresponsive towards the colors or lines it never encountered previously.

The man cannot recognize the object from his sight, Locke answers, but if he is allowed to touch the object, he would immediately recall that this object has been acquainted to him before. Readability What is meant as readability is this; am I able to read, complete and digest the content of the book? This of course, depends on the scope and challenges in the book. If the scope exceed our exposure, training or span of attention, the book is not readable.

If we can't find solutions to the challenges inherent in us or the book, we can't finish it either. This book's scope is massive. It is not excessive to say that this book is a world-building book, that it tries to elaborate and include everything within the reach of humankind in it.

While Hobbes' Leviathan is a political thought world-building book, Locke's essay is on a journey to dictate the history of the entire human understanding. It starts from what is the material of the mind sensation so it can gain cognition of the world without, to the question of freedom of human will.

So, if we are expecting Locke to elaborate on empiricism alone, it would be a bummer for he elaborated on it most of them, only in Book I and Book II, the rest are the application or how the world fits in Locke's empirical framework.

Notable arguments he presented other than his empiricism is as follows; the question of freedom of the will, language as a tool for communication, scope and extent of our human reasoning etc.

But above all is his elaboration on the unity of consciousness, which is superb, a prototype of Humean later doctrine of consciousness and Kant's "transcendental unity of perception". There are a few of challenges and difficulties that perhaps hamper our progress in completing the book. They are, in my opinion: Sentence structure, punctuation and vocabulary. One example would be abundance of commas in one sentence. Elaboration on subtle arguments.

Most of people, including me, perhaps wanted to read Locke for an introduction to his empiricism. As Locke embarked on a project to elaborate on the history of our understanding, from its conception to its modifications and applications, he cannot escape from mentioning and elaborating on many things that perhaps do not interest the modern reason.

Examples would be his defence on the existence of vacuum space, or that solidity and extension is not body etc. The upshots in the text almost, or already excelled its challenges. If we are to be asked why there should not be any innate ideas, we would perhaps, tried to explain in a very academic and dense way. If we indeed can comprehend something but only to not be conscious of it as in innate ideas , would it not be just a complex way of saying that we do not comprehend anything at all?

The tone throughout the book is discursive rather than polemical, so I think it really help us to digest his entire point rather than his version of rebuttal against someone else. The lingo used in this essay, the archaic vocabulary aside, is pretty much readable, compared to Kant's arsenal s of new terms. Speaking of Kant, people usually either lump him in the rationalist or in a some kind of reconciliatory position, a bridge between empiricism and rationalism.

But what Locke has been trying to convey in this book shares a lot with Kant's ideas. So, it really helps to understand Kant even a bit further. But compared to Kant, Locke's style of prose is much more sprightly that I can't help to admire him more than Kant. To a drowning man, even the sight of a simple plank is much more welcoming than the entire sea, no matter how picturesque the view in the ocean bed at all. Conclusion While the scope of the book is massive, I do think it is very worthwhile to spend our time in reading this book.

I made a mistake for reading Kant before Locke, and hey there you go, I think I am able to further understand where Kant's coming from after reading Locke. As one person commenting on Schopenhauer's style of prose, it is a sign of a great author if he not only make an effort to make the reader to understand his point, but also after reading his work, one become much wiser in other author's ideas, even of his opponents'. I began reading portions of this scholarly Nidditch edition of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding in and read additional substantial portions in I have not, however, finished it.

The work, albeit famous, is quite tedious for the twenty-first-century reader. 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. These are empiricism, dualism, subjectivism, and skepticism. A brief word concerning each of these should be helpful in preparing one to read the entire book.

Locke's empiricism was to a large extent the result of the contrast he had observed between the natural scientists of his day and the work of the moralists and theologians. The conclusions advanced by the scientists were tentative and always subject to revision in the light of new facts. Moralists and theologians were usually of the opinion that their doctrines expressed the final and absolute truth, and no amount of experimentation or observation would cause them to change.

The scientists were making remarkable progress and, with all of their differences, were discovering more and more areas of agreement.

No similar progress could be observed in the areas of morals and religion. Indeed, there seemed to be more confusion and disagreements here than in other fields of inquiry. What was the reason for all of this? The answer, as Locke saw it, was to be found in the different methods that had been used. The scientists did not begin with some innate idea or presupposition from which their knowledge could be derived.

Instead, they looked to experience as the sole source of information, and they accepted as true only those conclusions that could be verified by experiment and observation. The moralists and theologians had used a different method.

They began with some authoritative statement. It might be an innate idea, as it was in the philosophy of Descartes, or it could be a divine revelation or something that was so regarded by an ecclesiastical body.

Whatever was accepted in this fashion necessarily became the source from which knowledge must be derived. Since this knowledge could be obtained by deductive inference from the initial starting point, it was believed to have a certainty and finality about it that would not be possible on any other basis. People who believe they have certain or absolute knowledge are likely to be intolerant of those who hold opposite opinions. Intolerance leads to persecution and the suppression of human freedom.

In view of these considerations, it seemed clear to Locke that the method employed by the scientists was the only safe one to follow and that this method should be extended to cover all fields of inquiry.

In his acceptance of the empirical method used by the scientists, Locke took over some of their basic presuppositions as well. One of these was the belief in an external world the existence of which is quite independent of what human minds may know about it. Although he remained somewhat skeptical about the nature of that which is external to the mind, he followed the customary procedure among the scientists of referring to it as a material world.

On the other hand, knowledge and all that is included in human consciousness were regarded as the world of mind, something that was separate and distinct from the world of matter. This dualism of mind and matter was comparable to that of a knowing subject and an object which is known.

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. 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 other projects Wikisource. This page was last edited on 28 August , at By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

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Essay I John Locke i: Introduction Perhaps then we shall stop pretending that we know every-thing, and shall be less bold in raising questions and getting.

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Other articles where An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is discussed: John Locke: Association with Shaftesbury: his most important philosophical work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (), began at a meeting with friends in his rooms, probably in February The group had gathered to consider questions of . An Essay Concerning Human Understanding has 12, ratings and reviews. Rowland said: The Essay Concerning Human Understanding is sectioned into four /5.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Penguin Classics) [John Locke, Roger Woolhouse] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, first published in , John Locke () provides a complete account of how we acquire everyday/5(39). 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 .