Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding

John Locke
Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    Abstract General Ideas→ general terms
o    AGIs rather than anything in the world
o    Form AGIs by noticing similarities between ideas
•    Cartesians calls AGIs essence
•    Corpuscular Hypothesis: “new mechanistic science”
o    All events and states in the natural world can be explained with reference to the size, shape, and motion of corpuscules (reality)
•    Boyle
•    Demonstration is reasoning out a proof
o    Each step must be an intuition—depends on intuitive knowledge
•    Essence: quality of something that made is so (knife’s essence = ability to cut)
o    Descartes: 2 essences in the world: thought (essence of mind) and extension (essence of body)
•    Intuition is the highest form of knowledge: mind perceives connections
•    New Mechanistic Science: all explanation can be given in terms of matter and motion
•    Sensitive knowledge: lowest form of knowledge—doesn’t even count
•    Transparency of the Mental: nothing can be in our mind without our being aware of it
•    Veil of Perception: out perception of the world is indirect, filtered through a medium of ideas
•    Essay responds to two schools of thought
o    Aristotelian-influences Scholasticism (“nothing in the intellect, not first in the senses)
o    Cartesian Rationalism (“no trusting the senses until they have been verified by the intellect”)
•    “Of innate ideas” = against he possibility of innate propositional knowledge (whatever is, is) and argues against the possibility of innate ideas (idea of God)
•    Origins of Knowledge are from experience
•    Everything in our mind is an idea that takes one of two routes:
o    Come through senses
o    Come through the mind’s reflection on its own operation
•    Ideas: simple or complex (simple → complex)
•    Knowledge is the perception of strong internal relations that hold among the ideas themselves, without any reference to the external world
•    Four sorts of relations between ideas that would count as knowledge:
o    Identity/diversity
o    Relation
o    Coexistence
o    Actual existence
•    Warns: as good as our opinions becomes, never going to reach the level of knowledge
•    Primary Qualities: ideas which resemble their causes
o    Texture, number, size, shape, motion
•    Secondary Qualities: Ideas which don’t resemble their causes
o    Color, sound, taste, odor
•    Regarding memory: which ideas are best remembered—names the defects of memory
o    Since all mental items must be conscious, there isn’t much room allowed for memory
o    For Locke, memory isn’t literally a place where ideas are stored, but refers ot a power of the mind to revive perceptions it once had
•    Contrary to popular belief, we don’t know bodies better than we know the mind—we only know the observable qualities
•    Knowledge is “the perception by reason of the connection and agreement or repulsion and disagreement between any two or more ideas.”
o    To count as knowledge, connection between ideas must be very strong
•    Knowledge of existence in three parts:
o    Ourselves by intuition
o    God by demonstration
o    External world by resembling the world as we think it is
•    Judgment is a faculty concerned with identifying the truth/falsehoods of propositions
o    Based on probability (≠ knowledge based on intuition and demonstration)

(Thanks to Spark Notes for some invaluable assistance!)


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