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Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Introductory Lecture on Locke's Major Epistemological Treatise

David Bleeden

on 1 May 2013

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Transcript of Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding John Locke
1632-1704 Book One (I,I, ¶ 2) “This, therefore, being my purpose; to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent; I shall not at present meddle, with the physical consideration of the mind, or trouble myself to examine, wherein its essence consists, or by what motions of our spirits, or alterations of our bodies, we come to have any sensation by our organs, or any ideas in our understandings; and whether those ideas do, in their formation, any, or all of them, depend on matter or not. These are speculations which, however curious and entertaining, I shall decline, as lying out of my way in the design I am now upon. It shall suffice to my present purpose, to consider the discerning faculties of a man, as they are employed about the objects which they have to do with.” Locke's Project (I, I, ¶8) ‘that term which stands for the object of the understanding when a person thinks.’
(II, VII, ¶8) ‘Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perception, thought or understanding.’ Idea (I, II, ¶1): “that there are in the understanding certain innate principles; some primary notions, koinai ennoiai, characters, as it were stamped upon the mind of man; which the soul receives in its very first being, and brings into the world with it.” What Locke Means by 'Innatism'. (I, II, ¶15): “The steps by which the mind attains several truths. The senses at first let in particular ideas, and furnish the yet empty cabinet, and the mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they are lodged in the memory, and names got to them. Afterwards, the mind proceeding further, abstracts them, and by degrees learns the use of general names. In this manner the mind comes to be furnished with ideas and language, the materials about which to exercise its discursive faculty. And the use of reason becomes daily more visible, as these materials that give it employment increase. But though the having of general ideas and the use of general words and reason usually grow together, yet I see not how this any way proves them innate. The knowledge of some truths, I confess, is very early in the mind but in a way that shows them not to be innate. For, if we will observe, we shall find it still to be about ideas, not innate, but acquired; it being about those first which are imprinted by external things, with which infants have earliest to do, which make the most frequent impressions on their senses. In ideas thus got, the mind discovers that some agree and others differ, probably as soon as it has any use of memory; as soon as it is able to retain and perceive distinct ideas. But whether it be then or no, this is certain, it does so long before it has the use of words; or comes to that which we commonly call "the use of reason." For a child knows as certainly before it can speak the difference between the ideas of sweet and bitter (i.e. that sweet is not bitter), as it knows afterwards (when it comes to speak) that wormwood and sugarplums are not the same thing.” Provisional Statement of Locke's Understanding of the Origin of Knowledge. (I, iv, ¶17) “If the idea of God be not innate, no other can be supposed innate. Since then though the knowledge of a God be the most natural discovery of human reason, yet the idea of him is not innate, as I think is evident from what has been said; I imagine there will be scarce any other idea found that can pretend to it [my emphasis].” If the Idea of 'God' is not Innate,
Then None Other can be. (I, iv, ¶26): “Wherein I warn the reader not to expect undeniable cogent demonstrations, unless I may be allowed the privilege, not seldom assumed by others, to take my principles for granted; and then, I doubt not, but I can demonstrate too. All that I shall say for the principles I proceed on is, that I can only appeal to men's own unprejudiced experience and observation whether they be true or not; and this is enough for a man who professes no more than to lay down candidly and freely his own conjectures, concerning a subject lying somewhat in the dark, without any other design than an unbiased inquiry after truth” Appeals to 'Experience' to Support his Case. Book Two (Book II, Chapter I, ¶ 2) “All ideas come from sensation or reflection. Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas:- How comes it to be furnished? 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. In that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. 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” [the capitalized is Locke’s]. All Ideas and Hence all Knowledge has only two Sources: Sensation and Reflection. (Book II, Chapter I, ¶ 3) “First, our Senses, conversant about particular sensible objects, do convey into the mind several distinct perceptions of things, according to those various ways wherein those objects do affect them. 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; which when I say the senses convey into the mind, I mean, they from external objects convey into the mind what produces there those perceptions. This great source of most of the ideas we have, depending wholly upon our senses, and derived by them to the understanding, I call SENSATION.” Definition of 'Sensation'. (Book II, Chapter I, ¶ 4) “The operations of our minds, the other source of them. Secondly, the other fountain from which experience furnisheth the understanding with ideas is,- the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got;- which operations, when the soul comes to reflect on and consider, do furnish the understanding with another set of ideas, which could not be had from things without. And such are perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing, and all the different actings of our own minds;- which we being conscious of, and observing in ourselves, do from these receive into our understandings as distinct ideas as we do from bodies affecting our senses. This source of ideas every man has wholly in himself; and though it be not sense, as having nothing to do with external objects, yet it is very like it, and might properly enough be called internal sense. But as I call the other SENSATION, so I Call this REFLECTION, the ideas it affords being such only as the mind gets by reflecting on its own operations within itself. By reflection then, in the following part of this discourse, I would be understood to mean, that notice which the mind takes of its own operations, and the manner of them, by reason whereof there come to be ideas of these operations in the understanding. These two, I say, viz. external material things, as the objects of SENSATION, and the operations of our own minds within, as the objects of REFLECTION, are to me the only originals from whence all our ideas take their beginnings. The term operations here I use in a large sense, as comprehending not barely the actions of the mind about its ideas, but some sort of passions arising sometimes from them, such as is the satisfaction or uneasiness arising from any thought.” 'Reflection' Defined that notice which the mind takes of its own operations, and the manner of them, by reason whereof there comes to be ideas of these operations in the understanding. Reflection Again (Book II, Chapter I, ¶ 7) “Men then come to be furnished with fewer or more simple ideas from without, according as the objects they converse with afford greater or less variety; and from the operations of their minds within, according as they more or less reflect on them.” Key Statement of Locke's Position (Book II, Chapter I, ¶ 24) “All those sublime thoughts which tower above the clouds, and reach as high as heaven itself, take their rise and footing here: in all that great extent wherein the mind wanders, in those remote speculations it may seem to be elevated with, it stirs not one jot beyond those ideas which sense or reflection have offered for its contemplation.” (Book II, Chapter III, ¶ 1) “The better to conceive the ideas we receive from sensation, it may not be amiss for us to consider them, in reference to the different ways whereby they make their approaches to our minds, and make themselves perceivable by us.
First, then, There are some which come into our minds by one sense only. Light and color, come from sight; noise, from hearing.
Secondly, There are others that convey themselves into the mind by more senses than one. (Nails dragging across the blackboard.)
Thirdly, Others that are had from reflection only. (Ideas of perception/thinking, willing, believing and so on.)
Fourthly, There are some that make themselves way, and are suggested to the mind by all the ways of sensation and reflection. Extension, figure, rest; pleasure/pain; existence and unity; power (the effects that natural bodies produce on one another, our abilities to move our bodies from rest); succession.” The Ways Ideas From Sensation are Received It is essential to distinguish bodies, meaning material objects, from the ideas that they cause in us. Ideas in the mind distinguished from that in things which gives rise to them. (Book II, Chapter VIII, ¶ 2) “Ideas in the mind distinguished from that in things which gives rise to them. Thus the ideas of heat and cold, light and darkness, white and black, motion and rest, are equally clear and positive ideas in the mind; though, perhaps, some of the causes which produce them are barely privations, in those subjects from whence our senses derive those ideas. These the understanding, in its view of them, considers all as distinct positive ideas, without taking notice of the causes that produce them: which is an inquiry not belonging to the idea, as it is in the understanding, but to the nature of the things existing without us. These are two very different things, and carefully to be distinguished; it being one thing to perceive and know the idea of white or black, and quite another to examine what kind of particles they must be, and how ranged in the superficies, to make any object appear white or black.” (Book II, Chapter VIII, ¶ 7) Ideas in the mind, qualities in bodies. To discover the nature of our ideas the better, and to discourse of them intelligibly, it will be convenient to distinguish them as they are ideas or perceptions in our minds; and as they are modifications of matter in the bodies that cause such perceptions in us: that so we may not think (as perhaps usually is done) that they are exactly the images and resemblances of something inherent in the subject; most of those of sensation being in the mind no more the likeness of something existing without us, than the names that stand for them are the likeness of our ideas, which yet upon hearing they are apt to excite in us.” Ideas [are] in the mind,
qualities [are] in bodies. Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perception, thought, or understanding, that I call idea; and the power to produce any idea in our mind, I call quality of the subject wherein that power is. 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. Our ideas and the qualities of bodies
(Book II, Chapter VIII, ¶ 8) Inseparable from the bodies themselves: solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, number. Primary Qualities The powers to produce sensations in us by means of the primary qualities—these are dependent upon the condition of our bodies: color, smell, taste, sound and other like sensible qualities. Secondary Qualities (Book II, Chapter VIII, ¶ 13) …let us suppose at present that the different motions and figures, bulk and number, of such particles, affecting the several organs of our senses, produce in us those different sensations which we have from the colours and smells of bodies; v.g. that a violet, by the impulse of such insensible particles of matter, of peculiar figures and bulks, and in different degrees and modifications of their motions, causes the ideas of the blue colour, and sweet scent of that flower to be produced in our minds. It being no more impossible to conceive that God should annex such ideas to such motions, with which they have no similitude, than that he should annex the idea of pain to the motion of a piece of steel dividing our flesh, with which that idea hath no resemblance. Three Types of Qualities Associated With Bodies/Material Objects Primary Qualities: bulk, figure, number, situation and motion and rest of their solid parts.

Secondary Qualities: the power in any body to operate on our senses to produce different qualitative sensations in us.

Power: the force of any body by means of its primary qualities to change the primary quality of another object such that the other object will act on our senses differently than it had before: the sun melting wax for example. (Book II, Chapter VIII, ¶25) “For, through receiving the idea of heat or light from the sun, we are apt to think it is a perception and resemblance of such a quality in the sun; yet when we see wax, or a fair face, receive change of colour from the sun, we cannot imagine that to be the reception or resemblance of anything in the sun, because we find not those different colours in the sun itself. For, our senses being able to observe a likeness or unlikeness of sensible qualities in two different external objects, we forwardly enough conclude the production of any sensible quality in any subject to be an effect of bare power, and not the communication of any quality which was really in the efficient, when we find no such sensible quality in the thing that produced it. But our senses, not being able to discover any unlikeness between the idea produced in us, and the quality of the object producing it, we are apt to imagine that our ideas are resemblances of something in the objects, and not the effects of certain powers placed in the modification of their primary qualities, with which primary qualities the ideas produced in us have no resemblance[my emphasis].” (Book II, ix, ¶1) ...the first faculty of the mind exercised about our ideas; so it is the first and simplest idea we have from reflection, and is by some called thinking in general. Perception (Book II, ix, 4) …wherever there is sense, or perception, there are some ideas actually produced, and present in the understanding. (Book II, Chapter IX, ¶8) by an habitual custom alters the appearances into their causes. The Powers of the Mind 1. Retention (Book II, X, ¶1) ..the keeping of those simple ideas, which from sensation or reflection it has received. (Book II, X, ¶1) …keeping the idea which is brought into it, for some time actually in view… 2. Contemplation (Book II, X, ¶2) ..the power to revive again in our minds those ideas which, after imprinting, have disappeared, or have been as it were laid aside out of sight…The storehouse of our ideas. 3. Memory 4. Discerning (Book II, XI, ¶1) …Unless the mind had a distinct perception of different objects and their qualities, it would be capable of very little knowledge, though the bodies that affect us were as busy about us as they are now, and the mind were continually employed in thinking. On this faculty of distinguishing one thing from another depends the evidence and certainty of several, even very general, propositions, which have passed for innate truths… (Book II, XI, ¶4) The COMPARING them one with another, in respect of extent, degrees, time, place, or any other circumstances, is another operation of the mind about its ideas, and is that upon which depends all that large tribe of ideas comprehended under relation… 5. Comparison (Book II, Chapter XI, ¶8) “When children have, by repeated sensations, got ideas fixed in their memories, they begin by degrees to learn the use of signs. And when they have got the skill to apply the organs of speech to the framing of articulate sounds, they begin to make use of words, to signify their ideas to others. These verbal signs they sometimes borrow from others, and sometimes make themselves, as one may observe among the new and unusual names children often give to things in the first use of language.” Naming Abstraction (Book II, Chapter XI, ¶9) “The use of words then being to stand as outward marks of our internal ideas, and those ideas being taken from particular things, if every particular idea that we take in should have a distinct name, names must be endless. To prevent this, the mind makes the particular ideas received from particular objects to become general; which is done by considering them as they are in the mind such appearances,- separate from all other existences, and the circumstances of real existence, as time, place, or any other concomitant ideas. This is called ABSTRACTION, whereby ideas taken from particular beings become general representatives of all of the same kind; and their names general names, applicable to whatever exists conformable to such abstract ideas. Such precise, naked appearances in the mind, without considering how, whence, or with what others they came there, the understanding lays up (with names commonly annexed to them) as the standards to rank real existences into sorts, as they agree with these patterns, and to denominate them accordingly. Thus the same colour being observed to-day in chalk or snow, which the mind yesterday received from milk, it considers that appearance alone, makes it a representative of all of that kind; and having given it the name whiteness, it by that sound signifies the same quality wheresoever to be imagined or met with; and thus universals, whether ideas or terms, are made.” (Book II, Chapter XI, ¶15) “And thus I have given a short, and, I think, true history of the first beginnings of human knowledge;- whence the mind has its first objects; and by what steps it makes its progress to the laying in and storing up those ideas, out of which is to be framed all the knowledge it is capable of: wherein I must appeal to experience and observation whether I am in the right: the best way to come to truth being to examine things as really they are, and not to conclude they are, as we fancy of ourselves, or have been taught by others to imagine.” The true beginning of human knowledge Knowledge …is the perception of the connection and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our ideas (IV, i, ¶1). The understanding in not unlike, “…a closet wholly shut from light, with only some little openings left, to let in external visible resemblances, or ideas of things without: would the pictures coming into such a dark room but stay there, and lie so orderly as to be found upon occasion, it would very much resemble the understanding of a man, in reference to all objects of sight and the ideas of them” (II, xi, ¶17). 1.Combining several ideas into one complex idea: this is how all complex ideas are made.

2.Bringing two ideas, whether simple or complex, together and placing them “by one another,” so as to view both at once, though not uniting them into one: this is how we get all ideas of relation.

3.Separating them from all other ideas that accompany them in their real existence: this is abstraction and is the means by which all general ideas are made. Three Primary Acts by Which the Mind Constructs Complex Ideas Complex ideas are either MODES, SUBSTANCES OR RELATIONS (Book II, Chapter XII, ¶4) “complex ideas which, however compounded, contain not in them the supposition of subsisting by themselves, but are considered as dependences on, or affections of substances;- such as are the ideas signified by the words triangle, gratitude, murder, &c.” Modes Locke Divides These Into two Kinds Simple: (Book II, Chapter XII, ¶5) “which 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 units added together.”

Mixed: (Book II, Chapter XII, ¶5) “there are others compounded of simple ideas of several kinds, put together to make one complex one;- v.g. beauty, consisting of a certain composition of colour and figure, causing delight to the beholder; theft, which being the concealed change of the possession of anything, without the consent of the proprietor, contains, as is visible, a combination of several ideas of several kinds.” Simple and Mixed Modes (Book II, Chapter XII, ¶6) “…combinations of simple ideas as are taken to represent distinct particular things subsisting by themselves; the supposed or confused idea of substance, such as it is, is always the first and chief Thus if to substance be joined the simple idea of a certain dull whitish colour, with certain degrees of weight, hardness, ductility, and fusibility, we have the idea of lead.” Substances (Book II, Chapter XII, ¶7) “…consists in the consideration and comparing one idea with another.” Relation (Book II, Chapter XII, ¶8) “…those even large and abstract ideas are derived from sensation or reflection, being no other than what the mind, by the ordinary use of its own faculties, employed about ideas received from objects of sense, or from the operations it observes in itself about them, may, and does, attain unto.” How we get our Ideas
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