Essay Concerning Human Understanding - SparkNotes
The English philosopher and political theorist John Locke (1632-1704) laid much of the groundwork for the Enlightenment and made central contributions to the development of liberalism. Trained in medicine, he was a key advocate of the empirical approaches of the Scientific Revolution. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” he advanced a theory of the self as a blank page, with knowledge and identity arising only from accumulated experience. His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect “life, liberty and estate” deeply influenced the United States’ founding documents. His essays on religious tolerance provided an early model for the separation of church and state.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding - Wikisource
John Locke in his Essay concerning Human Understandingrestates the importance of the experience of the senses overspeculation and sets out the case that the human mind at birth isa complete, but receptive, blank upon which experience imprintsknowledge. Locke definitely did not believe in powers ofintuition or that the human mind is invested with innateconceptions.
Essay concerning human understanding / John Locke. // IN: / edited with an introduction and analytical index by L.A. . Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1897. vol. 2:326-347.
"Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was a live, bi-directional, interactive, telematic, interspecies sonic installation I created with Ikuo Nakamura between Lexington (Kentucky), and New York. In this work, a canary dialogues over a regular phone line with a plant (Philodendron) 600 miles away. The piece was exhibited in the context of my show Dialogues, realized in 1994 simultaneously on the Internet and in museums and galleries. "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was presented publicly from October 21 to November 11, 1994, simultaneously at the Center for Contemporary Art, University of Kentucky, Lexington, and the Science Hall, in New York.
: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).38th Edition from William Tegg, London; scanned in three separate excerpts from early in the work."Essay Concerning Human Understanding", YLEM, Vol. 15, No.4, August, p. 4; also published on the Internet in Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Volume 3, No. 8, August 1995, MIT Press.John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Draft B of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: the Fullest Extant Autograph Version, edited by Peter H. Nidditch (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1982) Special Collections B 1289 NN13The construction of John Locke’s publishing persona is an interesting example of authorship. A Letter Concerning Toleration was published in 1686, in French, and then in English in 1690, without Locke’s name attached to it. Causing much heated debate, Locke then published three anonymous pamphlets in response to the criticism. In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, drafted in 1671 but not published until 1690, Locke is named as its author.In the fourth book of An Essay Concerning Human UnderstandingLocke tells us what knowledge is and what humans can know and whatthey cannot (not simply what they do and do not happen to know). Lockedefines knowledge as “the perception of the connexion andagreement or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our Ideas”(IV. I. 1. p. 525). This definition of knowledge contrasts with theCartesian definition of knowledge as any ideas that are clear anddistinct. Locke's account of knowledge allows him to say that we canknow substances in spite of the fact that our ideas of them alwaysinclude the obscure and relative idea of substance in general. Still,Locke's definition of knowledge raises in this domain a problemanalogous to those we have seen with perception and language. Ifknowledge is the “perception of … the agreement ordisagreement … of any of our Ideas” — are we nottrapped in the circle of our own ideas? What about knowing the realexistence of things? Locke is plainly aware of this problem, and verylikely holds that the implausibility of skeptical hypotheses, such asDescartes' Dream hypothesis (he doesn't even bother to mentionDescartes' malin genie or Evil Demon hypothesis), along withthe causal connections between qualities and ideas in his own systemis enough to solve the problem. It is also worth noting that there aresignificant differences between Locke's brand of empiricism and thatof Berkeley that would make it easier for Locke to solve the veil ofperception problem than Berkeley. Locke, for example, makestransdictive inferences about atoms where Berkeley is unwilling toallow that such inferences are legitimate. This implies that Lockehas a semantics that allows him to talk about the unexperienced causesof experience (such as atoms) where Berkeley cannot. (See Mackie'sperceptive discussion of the veil of perception problem,in Problems from Locke, pp. 51 through 67.)While in exile Locke finished An Essay Concerning HumanUnderstanding and published a fifty page advanced notice of it inFrench. (This was to provide the intellectual world on the continentwith most of their information about the Essay until PierreCoste's French translation appeared.) He also wrote and published hisEpistola de Tolerentia in Latin. Richard Ashcraft inhis Revolutionary Politics and Locke's Two Treatises ofGovernment suggests that while in Holland Locke was not onlyfinishing An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and nursinghis health, he was closely associated with the English revolutionariesin exile. The English government was much concerned with thisgroup. They tried to get a number of them, including Locke, extraditedto England. Locke's studentship at Oxford was taken away from him. Inthe meanwhile, the English intelligence service infiltrated the rebelgroup in Holland and effectively thwarted their efforts — atleast for a while. While Locke was living in exile in Holland, CharlesII died on Feb. 6, 1685 and was succeeded by his brother — whobecame James II of England. Soon after this the rebels in Holland senta force of soldiers under the Duke of Monmouth to England to try tooverthrow James II. Because of the excellent work of the Stuart spies,the government knew where the force was going to land before thetroops on the ships did. The revolt was crushed, Monmouth captured andexecuted (Ashcraft, 1986). For a meticulous, if cautious review, ofthe evidence concerning Locke's involvement with the English rebels inexile see Roger Woolhouse's Locke: A Biography (2007).Oxford University Press is in the process of producing a new edition ofall of Locke's works. This will supersede The Works of JohnLocke of which the 1823 edition is probably the most standard. Thenew Clarendon editions began with Peter Nidditch's edition of AnEssay Concerning Human Understanding in 1975. The Oxford Clarendoneditions contain much of the material of the Lovelace collection,purchased and donated to Oxford by Paul Mellon. This treasure trove ofLocke's works and letters, which includes early drafts of theEssay and much other material, comes down from Peter King,Locke's nephew, who inherited Locke's papers. Access to these papershas given scholars in the twentieth century a much better view ofLocke's philosophical development and provided a window into thedetails of his activities which is truly remarkable. Hence the newedition of Locke's works will very likely be definitive.