Sensualism Locke. The main ideas of John Locke

Sensualism Locke. The main ideas of John Locke
Sensualism Locke. The main ideas of John Locke

In any textbook on philosophy, you can read that John Locke is an outstanding representative of the era of the New Age. This English thinker made a huge impression on the later masters of the minds of the Enlightenment. His letters were read by Voltaire and Rousseau. His political ideas influenced the American Declaration of Independence. Locke's sensationalism became the starting point from which Kant and Hume repelled. And the idea that human knowledge is directly dependent on sensory perception, which forms experience, gained extreme popularity during the life of the thinker.

John Locke

A brief description of the philosophy of the New Time

In the XVII-XVIII centuries, science and technology began to develop rapidly in Western Europe. This was the time of the emergence of new philosophical concepts based on materialism, the mathematical method, and the priority of experience and experiment. But, as is often the case, thinkers are divided into two opposing camps. These are the rationalistsempiricists. The difference between them was that the former believed that we draw our knowledge from innate ideas, while the latter believed that we process information that enters our brain from experience and sensations. Although the main "stumbling block" of the philosophy of the New Age was the theory of knowledge, nevertheless, thinkers, based on their principles, put forward political, ethical and pedagogical ideas. Locke's sensationalism, which we will be discussing here, fits nicely into this picture. The philosopher belonged to the camp of empiricists.


The future genius was born in 1632 in the English city of Wrington, Somerset. When revolutionary events broke out in England, John Locke's father, a provincial lawyer, took an active part in them - he fought in Cromwell's army. At first, the young man graduated from one of the best educational institutions of that time, Westminster School. And then he entered Oxford, which since the Middle Ages was known for its university academic environment. Locke received a master's degree and worked as a Greek teacher. Together with his patron, Lord Ashley, he traveled widely. At the same time, he became interested in social problems. But due to the radicalization of the political situation in England, Lord Ashley emigrated to France. The philosopher returned to his homeland only after the so-called "glorious revolution" of 1688, when William of Orange was proclaimed king. The thinker spent almost his entire life in seclusion, almost a hermit, but he held various government positions. His friend was Lady Dameris Masham, in whose mansionhe died of asthma in 1704.

Biography of Locke

Main aspects of philosophy

Locke's views were formed quite early. One of the first thinkers noticed contradictions in the philosophy of Descartes. He worked hard to identify and clarify them. Locke created his own system partly to oppose it to Cartesian. The rationalism of the famous Frenchman disgusted him. He was a supporter of all kinds of compromises, including in the field of philosophy. No wonder he returned to his homeland during the "glorious revolution." After all, this was the year in which a compromise was reached between the main contending forces in England. Similar views were characteristic of the thinker in his approach to religion.

Criticism of Descartes

In our work "An Essay on the Human Mind" we see the already practically formed concept of Locke. He spoke there against the theory of "innate ideas", which was promoted and made very popular by René Descartes. The French thinker greatly influenced Locke's ideas. He agreed with his theories about certain truth. The latter should be an intuitive moment of our existence. But with the theory that to be means to think, Locke did not agree. All ideas that are considered innate, according to the philosopher, in fact, are not. The beginnings that are given to us by nature include only two abilities. It is will and reason.

John Locke's Theory of Sensationalism

From the point of view of a philosopher, the only source of any human ideas is experience. He, as the thinker believed, consists of singleperceptions. And they, in turn, are divided into external, cognizable by us in sensations, and internal, that is, reflections. The mind itself is something that uniquely reflects and processes information coming from the senses. For Locke, sensations were primary. They generate knowledge. In this process, the mind plays a secondary role.

Teaching about qualities

It is in this theory that the materialism and sensationalism of J. Locke are most manifest. Experience, - the philosopher argued, - generates images that we call qualities. The latter are primary and secondary. How to distinguish them? Primary qualities are permanent. They are inseparable from things or objects. Such qualities can be called figure, density, extension, movement, number, and so on. And what is taste, smell, color, sound? These are secondary qualities. They are impermanent, they can be separated from the things that give rise to them. They also differ depending on the subject who perceives them. The combination of qualities creates ideas. These are some kind of images in the human brain. But they refer to simple ideas. How do theories emerge? The fact is that, according to Locke, there are still some innate abilities in our brain (this is his compromise with Descartes). This comparison, combination and distraction (or abstraction). With their help, complex ideas arise from simple ones. This is how the process of knowing happens.

Locke's sensationalism in the writings of the philosopher

Ideas and method

John Locke's theory of sensationalism not only explains the origin of theories from experience. She also sharesdifferent ideas by criteria. The first of these is value. According to this criterion, ideas are divided into dark and clear. They are also grouped into three categories: real (or fantastic), adequate (or not consistent with patterns), and true and false. The last class can be attributed to judgments. The philosopher also spoke about what is the most suitable method for achieving real and adequate, as well as true ideas. He called it metaphysical. This method consists of three steps:

  • analysis;
  • dismemberment;
  • classifications.

You can say that Locke actually transferred the scientific approach to philosophy. His ideas in this regard proved to be extraordinarily successful. Locke's method dominated until the 19th century, until it was criticized by Goethe in his poems that if someone wants to study something living, he first kills it, then dismembers it into parts. But there is still no secret of life - there is only dust in the hands …

John Locke's theory of sensationalism

About language

Locke's sensationalism became the rationale for the emergence of human speech. The philosopher believed that language arose as a result of abstract thinking in people. Words are essentially signs. Most of them are general terms. They arise when a person tries to highlight similar features of various objects or phenomena. For example, people noticed that a black and a red cow are actually the same animal species. Therefore, a common term has appeared for its designation. Locke justified the existence of language andcommunication by the so-called theory of common sense. Interestingly, in a literal translation from English, this phrase sounds a little different. It is pronounced as "common sense". This prompted the philosopher that people tried to abstract from the individual in order to create an abstract term, with the meaning of which everyone agreed.

Political ideas

Despite the secluded life of the philosopher, he was not alien to the aspirations of the surrounding society. He is the author of "Two Treatises on the State". Locke's ideas about politics are reduced to the theory of "natural law". It can be called a classic representative of this concept, which was very fashionable in modern times. The thinker believed that all people have three basic rights - life, liberty and property. In order to be able to protect these principles, man left the state of nature and created the state. Therefore, the latter has the corresponding functions, which consist in the protection of these fundamental rights. The state must guarantee the observance of laws that guard the freedoms of citizens, and punish violators. John Locke believed that in this connection the power should be divided into three parts. These are legislative, executive and federal functions (under the latter, the philosopher understood the right to wage war and establish peace). They should be managed by separate, independent bodies. Locke also championed the people's right to rebel against tyranny and is known for developing the principles of democratic revolution. However, he is one of the advocates of the slave trade, as well as the authorpolitical rationale for the policy of North American colonists who took land from the Indians.

Political views of John Locke

Rule of Law

The principles of D. Locke's sensationalism are also expressed in his doctrine of the social contract. The state, from his point of view, is a mechanism that should be based on experience and common sense. Citizens renounce their right to protect their own lives, freedom and property, leaving it to a special service. She must keep order and the execution of laws. To do this, a government is elected by universal consent. The state must do everything to protect the freedom and well-being of the individual. Then he will obey the law. This is what the social contract is for. There is no reason to obey the arbitrariness of a despot. If power is unlimited, then it is a greater evil than the absence of a state. Because in the latter case, a person can at least rely on himself. And under despotism, he is generally defenseless. And if the state violates the agreement, the people can demand back their rights and withdraw from the agreement. The thinker's ideal was a constitutional monarchy.

About the person

Sensualism - the philosophy of J. Locke - also influenced his pedagogical principles. Since the thinker considered that all ideas come from experience, he concluded that people are born with absolutely equal abilities. They are like a blank slate. It was Locke who made popular the Latin phrase tabula rasa, that is, a board on which nothing has yet been written. So he imaginedthe brain of a newborn person, a child, in contrast to Descartes, who believed that we have certain knowledge from nature. Therefore, from the point of view of Locke, the teacher, by "putting into the head" the right ideas, in a certain order can form the mind. Education should be physical, mental, religious, moral and labor. The state should strive in every possible way to ensure that education is at a sufficient level. If it interferes with enlightenment, then, as Locke believed, it ceases to fulfill its functions and loses its legitimacy. Such a state should be changed. These ideas were subsequently picked up by the figures of the French Enlightenment.

Pedagogical views of Locke

Hobbes and Locke: what are the similarities and differences in the theories of philosophers?

Not only Descartes influenced the theory of sensationalism. Thomas Hobbes, the famous English philosopher who lived several decades earlier, was also a very significant figure for Locke. Even the main work of his life - "An Essay on the Human Mind" - he compiled according to the same algorithm as Hobbes's "Leviathan" was written. He develops the thoughts of his predecessor in the doctrine of language. He borrows his theory of relativistic ethics, agreeing with Hobbes that the concepts of good and evil do not coincide with many people, and only the desire to have fun is the strongest internal engine of the psyche. However, Locke is a pragmatist. He does not set out to create a general political theory, as Hobbes does. In addition, Locke does not consider the natural (stateless) state of mana war of all against all. After all, it was precisely with this provision that Hobbes justified the absolute power of the monarch. For Locke, free people can also live spontaneously. And they form a state only by negotiating among themselves.

Hobbes and Locke

Religious ideas

The philosophy of J. Locke - sensationalism - was reflected in his views on theology. The thinker believed that the eternal and good creator created our world limited in time and space. But everything that surrounds us has an infinite variety, reflecting the properties of God. The whole universe is arranged in such a way that each being in it has its own purpose and nature corresponding to it. As for the concept of Christianity, Locke's sensationalism manifested itself here in the fact that the philosopher considered that our natural reason discovered the will of God in the Gospel, and therefore it should become law. And the requirements of the Creator are very simple - one must do good both to oneself and to one's neighbors. The vice is to bring harm to one's own existence and to others. Moreover, crimes against society are more important than against individuals. Locke explains the evangelical requirements of self-restraint by the fact that, since constant pleasures await us in the other world, for the sake of them we can refuse those who come. Whoever does not understand this is the enemy of his own happiness.

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