Essay on the human understanding

Hobbes vs Locke is one of the top debates in philosophy.

CHAP. I.: Introduction.

In the first book, Locke attacks the doctrine of innate ideas, found in Descartes. This doctrine says that man is born with ideas already formed in the mind, like God, as he argues in his Meditations.

Locke shows that man can discover all the ideas by the mere use of his natural faculties. Nevertheless, some principles are universally recognized. Can you imagine them to be because of their innate character? Locke questions the existence of universal principles. Locke shows that an idea is innate means that the soul naturally sees this idea is the meaning of this doctrine. So it can not be any innate idea unnoticed. In fact, the only thing Locke grants the innateness is the fact that the faculty of understanding is innate.

Locke devotes an entire chapter of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding practice principles, to show that none of them is therefore innate universal. Indeed, if morality was innate, we would all moral, and we would all have pangs of conscience for violation of murder or theft, which is not the case. The rules of morality need to be proven, so they are not innate.

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Locke takes a classic argument from the skeptics, which shows the diversity of morals among the people: child sacrifice practiced by the Greeks or the Romans, the abandonment of the elderly in some tribes, etc.. In fact, we take innate practical principles because we have not seen or that has forgotten its origin. How did it come to receive ideas? This experience is one of the objects of the sensible world, as well as domestic operations of our minds.

Our senses are first affected in various ways by external objects, resulting in a certain type of perception, and thus their minds. Thus we get the idea from white to yellow, cold, etc.. Or mind not only to welcome these ideas obtained through passive sensation: the operations of the mind thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, willing, etc.


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To take the object. As a result, new ideas emerge, and the origin of the latter is no longer the sensation but the reflection. In both cases, the idea is a perception, or of sensible bodies, or operations of the mind. We see once again affirmed the empiricism of Locke, which supports this view of the mind as a tabula rasa. Locke distinguished in the Essay on Human Understanding two kinds of ideas: ideas simple and complex ideas. What is more, evaluation of our moral conduct in the light of our accountability to God for the actions we perform provides amply for our hope of a better existence beyond this life.

Limited though it may be, Locke supposed, the human capacity for knowledge is sufficient for our happiness here and hereafter, and since that is that is our primary concern, it would be pointless to demand that our faculties reach any further. This presentation of the central themes indicates what Locke himself regarded as his most significant contributions to the subject. Then he outlined the account of our formation of crucial complex ideas, including those of substances, mixed modes, and relations.

Noting his own belated discovery of the vital importance of language, Locke offered a basic statement of his own theory of language, with special attention to the relation between general terms and abstract ideas. Drawing the distinction between civil and philosophical uses of language, he pointed out that difficulties in communication result both from the natural imperfections of language and from its deliberate misuse.

Finally, Locke defined knowledge and distinguished its several types, each of which is subject to strict limitations. Arguing in some detail against the common inclination to rely upon supposedly self-evident principles, Locke proposed that genuine advances in human knowledge depend instead upon the proper exercise of good judgment in assenting to opinions suitable to the ideas with which they are concerned.

Locke rarely commented explicitly on the relation of his own work with that of other thinkers. Although he sometimes presupposed a dualistic account of human nature, Locke disputed many of its Cartesian corrolaries, including the continual thinking of the soul and the absence of thought in animals, and he notoriously suggested the possibility that matter might have the power to think.

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These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring. And thus we come by those ideas we have of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, and all those which we call sensible qualities ….

Let any one examine his own thoughts, and thoroughly search into his understanding; and then let him tell me, whether all the original ideas he has there, are any other than of the objects of his senses, or of the operations of his mind, considered as objects of his reflection. Locke thinks that sensation and reflection are our only sources of ideas. Though the qualities that affect our senses are, in the things themselves, so united and blended, that there is no separation, no distance between them; yet it is plain, the ideas they produce in the mind enter by the senses simple; and unmixed.

For, though the sight and touch often take in from the same object, at the same time, different ideas;—as a man sees at once motion and colour; the hand feels softness and warmth in the same piece of wax: yet the simple ideas thus united in the same subject, are as perfectly distinct as those that come in by different senses. First , then, there are some which come into our minds by one sense only.

An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 by John Locke

Secondly , there are others that convey themselves into the mind by more senses than one. Thirdly , others that are had from reflection only. Fourthly , there are some that make themselves way, and are suggested to the mind by all the ways of sensation and reflection. Thus we say, fire has a power to melt gold, i.

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For we cannot observe any alteration to be made in, or operation upon anything, but by the observable change of its sensible ideas; nor conceive any alteration to be made, but by conceiving a change of some of its ideas. As able to make, or able to receive any change. The one may be called active , and the other passive power. Whether matter be not wholly destitute of active power, as its author, God, is truly above all passive power; and whether the intermediate state of created spirits be not that alone which is capable of both active and passive power, may be worth consideration.

I shall not now enter into that inquiry, my present business being not to search into the original of power, but how we come by the idea of it. But since active powers make so great a part of our complex ideas of natural substances, as we shall see hereafter, and I mention them as such, according to common apprehension; yet they being not, perhaps, so truly active powers as our hasty thoughts are apt to represent them, I judge it not amiss, by this intimation, to direct our minds to the consideration of god and spirits, for the clearest idea of active power.

For, our ideas of extension, duration, and number, do they not all contain in them a secret relation of the parts? For all power relating to action, and there being but two sorts of action whereof we have an idea, viz. Thinking and motion, let us consider whence we have the clearest ideas of the powers which produce these actions. Locke draws what should by now be a familiar distinction.

Thus a snowball having the power to produce in us the ideas of white, cold, and round—the power to produce those ideas in us, as they are in the snowball, I call qualities; and as they are sensations or perceptions in our understandings, I call them ideas; which ideas , if I speak of sometimes as in the things themselves, I would be understood to mean those qualities in the objects which produce them in us.

These, which I call original or primary qualities of body, are wholly inseparable from it; and such as in all the alterations and changes it suffers, all the force can be used upon it, it constantly keeps; and such as sense constantly finds in every particle of matter which has bulk enough to be perceived; and the mind finds inseparable from every particle of matter, though less than to make itself singly be perceived by our senses: e. It being impossible to conceive that body should operate on what it does not touch which is all one as to imagine it can operate where it is not , or when it does touch, operate any other way than by motion.

By the operation of insensible particles on our senses. Bulk, figure, texture, and motion of parts and therefore I call them secondary qualities. There is nothing like our ideas, existing in the bodies themselves. They are, in the bodies we denominate from them, only a power to produce those sensations in us …. But light, heat, whiteness, or coldness, are no more really in them than sickness or pain is in manna. Take away the sensation of them; let not the eyes see light or colours, nor the can hear sounds; let the palate not taste, nor the nose smell, and all colours, tastes, odours, and sounds, as they are such particular ideas , vanish and cease, and are reduced to their causes, i.

Hinder light from striking on it, and its colours vanish; it no longer produces any such ideas in us: upon the return of light it produces these appearances on us again. Can any one think any real alterations are made in the porphyry by the presence or absence of light; and that those ideas of whiteness and redness are really in porphyry in the light, when it is plain it has no colour in the dark?

It has, indeed, such a configuration of particles, both night and day, as are apt, by the rays of light rebounding from some parts of that hard stone, to produce in us the idea of redness, and from others the idea of whiteness; but whiteness or redness are not in it at any time, but such a texture that hath the power to produce such a sensation in us. What real alteration can the beating of the pestle make in an body, but an alteration of the texture of it? For, if we imagine warmth , as it is in our hands, to be nothing but a certain sort and degree of motion in the minute particles of our nerves or animal spirits, we may understand how it is possible that the same water may, at the same time, produce the sensations of heat in one hand and cold in the other; which yet figure never does, that never producing the idea of a square by one hand which has produced the idea of a globe by another.

If there were no observers or perceivers, what would the world be like, according to Locke? That is, what qualities does a physical object have in itself? How does Locke argue for his three theses?


  • An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 by John Locke;
  • According to Locke, why can't ideas be present in a soul before it is united with a body?.
  • An essay concerning human understanding, - John Locke - Google книги.
  • John Locke : An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
  • Online Library of Liberty.
  • SparkNotes users wanted!.
  • If our sensation of heat resembled any quality in the object, that quality would have to be the cause of the heat that it produces.

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