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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Summary

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❶Yet no one would say that pain is actually a property from fire. This may seem to be a strange position for him to take since the scientists whose methods he was attempting to follow always considered that they were studying the material world and not merely the appearances which it produced in human minds.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

According to Locke, why can't ideas be present in a soul before it is united with a body?
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Summary & Study Guide Description
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Having stated his reasons for rejecting the belief in innate ideas, he now goes on to show how it is possible to construct the whole pattern of human knowledge from what has been experienced. Beginning with an account of simple ideas which are derived from the senses, he proceeds to an explanation of the ideas of reflection, perception, space, time, substance, power, and others that are related to these.

Book III has to do with the meanings of words. It includes analysis of general terms, the names of simple ideas, the names of substances, an account of abstract and concrete terms, and a discussion concerning the abuse of words. Book IV treats the subjects of knowledge and probability. Some information is given about knowledge in general, and this leads to a discussion with reference to the degrees of knowledge and the extent of human knowledge.

In addition, it includes a detailed account of such subjects as the reality of knowledge, the nature of truth, the character of judgments, and the respective roles of reason and faith. Locke's theory of knowledge as a whole may be said to have four dominant characteristics. 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. Just how these two worlds, which are so different in their respective characteristics, can interact on one another is something that Locke did not explain, but that an interaction of some kind did take place he never doubted.

It had been recognized for some time that the sense qualities of color, sound, taste, and so forth, do not belong to the objects that are sensed but to the mind which perceives the objects. At the same time, it was generally assumed that spatial characteristics and such items as size, weight, and density are present in the objects which constitute the material world. Locke followed the customary practice of designating the qualities that belong only to the mind as secondary and those that belong to the objects as primary.

The essay was one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern philosophy, and influenced many enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley. Book I of the Essay is Locke's attempt to refute the rationalist notion of innate ideas. Book II sets out Locke's theory of ideas, including his distinction between passively acquired simple ideas , such as "red," "sweet," "round," etc.

Locke also distinguishes between the truly existing primary qualities of bodies, like shape, motion and the arrangement of minute particles, and the secondary qualities that are "powers to produce various sensations in us" [1] such as "red" and "sweet.

He also offers a theory of personal identity , offering a largely psychological criterion. Book III is concerned with language, and Book IV with knowledge, including intuition , mathematics, moral philosophy , natural philosophy "science" , faith , and opinion.

If we will attentively consider new born children, we shall have little reason to think that they bring many ideas into the world with them. Locke allowed that some ideas are in the mind from an early age, but argued that such ideas are furnished by the senses starting in the womb: If we have a universal understanding of a concept like sweetness, it is not because this is an innate idea, but because we are all exposed to sweet tastes at an early age.

One of Locke's fundamental arguments against innate ideas is the very fact that there is no truth to which all people attest. He took the time to argue against a number of propositions that rationalists offer as universally accepted truth, for instance the principle of identity , pointing out that at the very least children and idiots are often unaware of these propositions. Furthermore, Book II is also a systematic argument for the existence of an intelligent being: Book 3 focuses on words.

Locke connects words to the ideas they signify, claiming that man is unique in being able to frame sounds into distinct words and to signify ideas by those words, and then that these words are built into language. Chapter ten in this book focuses on "Abuse of Words. He also criticizes the use of words which are not linked to clear ideas, and to those who change the criteria or meaning underlying a term.

Thus he uses a discussion of language to demonstrate sloppy thinking. Locke followed the Port-Royal Logique [6] in numbering among the abuses of language those that he calls "affected obscurity" in chapter Locke complains that such obscurity is caused by, for example, philosophers who, to confuse their readers, invoke old terms and give them unexpected meanings or who construct new terms without clearly defining their intent.

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.

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The Essay Concerning Human Understanding is sectioned into four books. Taken together, they comprise an extremely long and detailed theory of knowledge starting from the very basics and building up. Taken together, they comprise an extremely long and detailed theory of knowledge starting from the very basics and building up.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding begins with a short epistle to the reader and a general introduction to the work as a whole. Following this introductory material, the Essay is divided into four parts, which are designated as books. In An Essay concerning Human Understanding written by John Locke there is a focus on physical objects and the interpretation of such objects in the human mind. In the text Locke takes a full empiricist point of view and argues that ideas or perception are created from our own experience with objects.

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An Essay concerning human Understanding by John Locke. An essay concerning human understanding is one of the greatest philosophy works: Locke, folllowing, Descartes, described the new world of spirit and consciousness, thaht make human dignity. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding study guide contains a biography of John Locke, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, and a full summary and analysis. About An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.