Locke John, "An Essay on Human Understanding": content, reviews

Locke John, "An Essay on Human Understanding": content, reviews
Locke John, "An Essay on Human Understanding": content, reviews

Locke John, in An Essay on Human Understanding, states that almost all science, with the exception of mathematics and morality, and most of our daily experience, is subject to opinion or judgment. We base our judgments on the similarity of sentences to our own experiences and experiences we have heard from others.

"An Essay on Human Understanding" is Locke's fundamental work

Locke considers the relationship between reason and faith. He defines reason as the faculty that we use to obtain judgment and knowledge. Faith is, as John Locke writes in An Essay on Human Understanding, the recognition of revelation and has its truths which reason cannot discover.

locke philosophy

Reason, however, must always be used to determine which revelations are truly revelations from God and which are man-made. Finally, Locke divides all human understanding into three sciences:

  • natural philosophy, orlearning things to gain knowledge;
  • ethics, or learning how best to act;
  • logic, or the study of words and signs.

So let's analyze some of the main ideas presented in John Locke's An Essay on Human Understanding.


In his work, Locke effectively shifted the focus of seventeenth-century philosophy to metaphysics, to the basic problems of epistemology and how humans can gain knowledge and understanding. It severely restricts many aspects of human understanding and the functions of the mind. His most striking innovation in this regard is his rejection of the theory of the birth of people with innate knowledge, which philosophers such as Plato and Descartes tried to prove.

Idea tabula rasa

Locke replaces the theory of innate knowledge with his own concept of signature, tabula rasa or blank slate. With his ideas, John Locke tries to demonstrate that each of us is born without any knowledge: we are all “blank slates” at birth.

Philosophy of Locke

Locke builds a strong argument against the existence of innate knowledge, but the model of knowledge he proposes in his place is not without flaws. By emphasizing the need for experience as a prerequisite for knowledge, Locke downplays the role of the mind and neglects to adequately consider how knowledge exists and is stored in the mind. In other words, how do we remember information and what happens to our knowledge when we do not think about it, and it is temporarily out of our consciousness. Although in "An Essay on a Humanunderstanding” John Locke discusses in detail what objects of experience can be known, he leaves the reader little idea of ​​how the mind works to translate experience into knowledge and combine certain experiences with other knowledge in order to classify and interpret future information.

tabula rasa

Locke presents "simple" ideas as the basic unit of human understanding. He argues that we can break down our entire experience into these simple, fundamental pieces that cannot be "chunked down" further. For example, in the book, John Locke presented his idea through a simple wooden chair. It can be broken down into simpler units that are perceived by our minds through one sense, through multiple senses, through reflection, or through a combination of sensation and reflection. Thus, "chair" is perceived and understood by us in several ways: both brown and hard, both in accordance with its function (to sit on it), and as a specific shape that is unique to the object "chair". These simple ideas allow us to understand what a "chair" is and to recognize it when we come into contact with it. In general, in philosophy, knowledge is a single or continuous mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thinking, experience and feelings. As you can see, Locke perceived this process somewhat differently.


In this regard, Locke's philosophy with his theory of primary and secondary qualities is based on the corpuscular hypothesis of Robert Boyle, Locke's friend and contemporary. According to the corpuscular hypothesis, which Lockeconsidered the best scientific picture of the world in his time, all matter consists of small particles or corpuscles, which are too small, they are individual and colorless, tasteless, soundless and odorless. The arrangement of these invisible particles of matter gives the object of perception both its primary and secondary qualities. The main qualities of an object include its size, shape, and movement.

Experience of human understanding

For Locke in philosophy, knowledge is a mental process associated with evaluation, knowledge, learning, perception, recognition, memorization, thinking and understanding, which lead to awareness of the world around us. They are primary in the sense that these qualities exist regardless of who perceives them. Secondary qualities include color, smell, and taste, and they are secondary in the sense that they can be perceived by observers of the object, but they are not intrinsic to the object. For example, the form of a rose and the manner in which it grows are primary because they exist whether or not they are observed. However, rose redness only exists for the observer under the right lighting conditions, and if the observer's vision is functioning normally. John Locke in An Essay on Human Understanding suggests that since we can explain everything in terms of the existence of corpuscles and primary qualities only, we have no reason to think that secondary qualities have a real basis in the world.

Thinking and perception

According to Locke, every idea is the object of some action of perception and thought. Idea - in line with philosophyLocke is the immediate object of our thoughts, what we perceive and what we actively pay attention to. We also perceive some things without even thinking about them, and these things do not continue to exist in our minds because we have no reason to think about them or remember them. The latter are the objects with the minimum values. When we perceive the secondary qualities of an object, we are actually perceiving something that does not exist outside of our mind. In each of these cases, Locke argued that the act of perception always has an internal object - the thing that is perceived exists in our mind. Moreover, the object of perception sometimes exists only in our minds.

Thinking and perception

Reviews of John Locke's An Essay on Human Understanding suggest that one of the most confusing aspects of Locke's judgments is the fact that perception and thinking are sometimes, but not always, the same action.

Essence and being

Locke's discussion of essence or being may seem confusing because Locke himself does not seem to be convinced of his existence. Nevertheless, Locke's philosophy retains this concept for several reasons. First, he seems to think that the idea of ​​essence is necessary to understand our language. Second, the concept of essence solves the problem of persistence through change. For example, if a tree is just a collection of ideas like "tall", "green", "leaves", etc., then what should happen if the tree is short and leafless? Does this new set of qualities change the essence"tree"?

philosophical views of John Locke

From the content of John Locke's Essay on Human Understanding, it becomes clear that the essence of an object is preserved despite any change. The third reason Locke seems compelled to accept the notion of essence is to explain what unites ideas that exist at the same time, making them into one thing different from any other thing. The gist helps to clarify this unity, although Locke is not very specific about how it works. For Locke, the point is which qualities of objects are dependent and which are independent.

Locke's ideas in the context of world philosophy

Locke's view that our knowledge is far more limited than previously thought was shared by other thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For example, Locke was supported by Descartes and Hume, although Locke differs sharply from Descartes in understanding why this knowledge is limited.


However, for Locke, the fact that our knowledge is limited is more philosophical than practical. Locke points out that the very fact that we do not take such skeptical doubts about the existence of the external world seriously is a sign that we are overwhelmingly aware of the existence of the world.

John Locke

The overwhelming clarity of the idea of ​​an outside world, and the fact that it is confirmed by all but the mad, is important to Locke in itself. However, Locke believes that we will neverwe will be able to know the truth when it comes to natural science. Rather than encourage us to stop worrying about science, Locke says we should be aware of the limits.

Popular topic