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Oxford academic and medical researcher ... In book III, Locke discusses abstract general ideas. ... General ideas occur when we group similar particular ideas ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: John%20Locke

John Locke
  • 1632-1704

John Locke
  • a British philosopher
  • Oxford academic and medical researcher
  • his association with Anthony Ashley Cooper (later
    the First Earl of Shaftesbury) led him to become
  • a government official charged with collecting
    information about trade and colonies,
  • An economic writer, opposition political
    activist, and
  • finally a revolutionary whose cause ultimately
    triumphed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
  • Much of his work is characterized by opposition
    to authoritarianism.

John Locke
  • This opposition is both on the level of the
    individual person and on the level of
    institutions such as government and church.
  • For the individual, Locke wants each of us to use
    reason to search after truth rather than simply
    accept the opinion of authorities or be subject
    to superstition.
  • He wants us to proportion assent to propositions
    to the evidence for them.
  • On the level of institutions it becomes important
    to distinguish the legitimate from the
    illegitimate functions of institutions and to
    make the corresponding distinction for the uses
    of force by these institutions.

John Locke
  • The positive side of Locke's anti-authoritarianism
    is that he believes that using reason to try to
    grasp the truth, and determining the legitimate
    functions of institutions will optimize human
    flourishing for the individual and society both
    in respect to its material and spiritual welfare.
  • This in turn, amounts to following natural law
    and the fulfillment of the divine purpose for
  • Locke's monumental An Essay Concerning Human
    Understanding concerns itself with determining
    the limits of human understanding in respect to
    God, the self, natural kinds and artifacts, as
    well as a variety of different kinds of ideas.

John Locke
  • It thus tells us in some detail what one can
    legitimately claim to know and what one cannot.
  • Locke also wrote a variety of important
    political, religious and educational works
    including the Two Treatises of Government, the
    Letters Concerning Toleration, The Reasonableness
    of Christianity and Some Thoughts Concerning

An Extraordinary Time
  • Locke grew up and lived through one of the most
    extraordinary centuries of English political and
    intellectual history.
  • It was a century in which conflicts between Crown
    and Parliament and the overlapping conflicts
    between Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics
    swirled into civil war in the 1640s.
  • With the defeat and death of Charles I, there
    began a great experiment in governmental
    institutions including the abolishment of the
    monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican
    church, and the establishment of Oliver
    Cromwell's Protectorate in the 1650s.

An Extraordinary Time
  • The collapse of the Protectorate after the death
    of Cromwell was followed by the Restoration of
    Charles II -- the return of the monarchy, the
    House of Lords and the Anglican Church.
  • period lasted from 1660 to 1688 and was marked by
    continued conflicts between King and Parliament
    and debates over religious toleration for
    Protestant dissenters and Catholics.
  • period ends with the Glorious Revolution of 1688
    in which James II was driven from England and
    replaced by William of Orange and his wife Mary.

An Extraordinary Time
  • The final period during which Locke lived
    involved the consolidation of power by William
    and Mary, and the beginning of William's efforts
    to oppose the domination of Europe by the France
    of Louis XIV, which later culminated in the
    military victories of John Churchill -- the Duke
    of Marlborough.

Essay on Human Understanding
  • Locke is often classified as the first of the
    great English empiricists (ignoring the claims of
    Bacon and Hobbes).
  • This reputation rests on Locke's greatest work,
    the monumental An Essay Concerning Human
  • In writing An Essay Concerning Human
    Understanding Locke adopted Descartes' way of
    ideas though it is transformed so as to become
    an organic part of Locke's philosophy.
  • Yet, while admiring Descartes, Locke's
    involvement with the Oxford scientists gave him a
    perspective which made him critical of the
    rationalist elements in Descartes' philosophy.

Essay on Human Understanding
  • Some philosophers before Locke had suggested that
    it would be good to find the limits of the
    Understanding, but what Locke does is to carry
    out this project in detail.
  • Lockes Essay presents a detailed, systematic
    philosophy of mind and thought.
  • it wrestles with fundamental questions about how
    we think and perceive, and it even touches on how
    we express ourselves through language, logic, and
    religious practices.
  • In the introduction, entitled The Epistle to the
    Reader, Locke describes how he became involved in
    his current mode of philosophical thinking. He
    relates an anecdote about a conversation with
    friends that made him realize that men often
    suffer in their pursuit of knowledge because they
    fail to determine the limits of their

Essay on Human Understanding
  • In the four books of the Essay Locke considers
    the sources and nature of human knowledge.
  • Book I argues that we have no innate knowledge.
    (In this he resembles Berkeley and Hume, and
    differs from Descartes and Leibniz.) So, at
    birth, the human mind is a sort of blank slate on
    which experience writes.
  • In Book II Locke claims that ideas are the
    materials of knowledge and all ideas come from
  • The term idea, Locke tells us "...stands for
    whatsoever is the Object of the Understanding,
    when a man thinks." (Essay I, 1, 8, p. 47)
  • Experience is of two kinds, sensation and
    reflection. One of these -- sensation -- tells us
    about things and processes in the external world.
    The other -- reflection -- tells us about the
    operations of our own minds. Reflection is a sort
    of internal sense that makes us conscious of the
    mental processes we are engaged in. Some ideas we
    get only from sensation, some only from
    reflection and some from both. Locke has an
    atomic or perhaps more accurately a corpuscular
    theory of ideas

Essay on Human Understanding
  • Ideas are either simple or complex. We cannot
    create simple ideas, we can only get them from
    experience. In this respect the mind is passive.
    Once the mind has a store of simple ideas, it can
    combine them into complex ideas of a variety of
    kinds. In this respect the mind is active.
  • Thus, Locke subscribes to a version of the
    empiricist axiom that there is nothing in the
    intellect that was not previously in the senses
    -- where the senses are broadened to include
  • Book III deals with the nature of language, its
    connections with ideas and its role in knowledge.
    Book IV, the culmination of the previous
    reflections, explains the nature and limits of
    knowledge, probability, and the relation of
    reason and faith

Essay on Human Understanding
  • the relationships among perception, thought, and
    language. As opposed to accepting the possibility
    of directly receiving truth, he sees physical
    science as moving toward truth, but knowledge as
  • Outside world--sense perception--ideas--knowledge
    of ideas--reflection upon those ideas--ideas as
    signs of real things and words as again removed.
  • Book III deals with the nature of language, its
    connections with ideas and its role in knowledge.
  • Book IV, the culmination of the previous
    reflections, explains the nature and limits of
    knowledge, probability, and the relation of
    reason and faith

Book I
  • In Book I, Locke lays out the three goals of his
    philosophical project
  • to discover where our ideas come from,
  • to ascertain what it means to have these ideas
    and what an idea essentially is, and
  • to examine issues of faith and opinion to
    determine how we should proceed logically when
    our knowledge is limited.
  • He attacks previous schools of philosophy, such
    as those of Plato and Descartes, that maintain a
    belief in a priori, or innate, knowledge.
  • begins by opposing the idea that we are all born
    knowing certain fundamental principles, such as
    whatever is, is.
  • The usual justification for this belief in innate
    principles is that certain principles exist to
    which all human beings universally assent.

Book I
  • Locke contends that, on the contrary, no
    principle is actually accepted by every human
  • Furthermore, if universal agreement did exist
    about something, this agreement might have come
    about in a way other than through innate
  • Locke offers another argument against innate
    knowledge, asserting that human beings cannot
    have ideas in their minds of which they are not
    aware, so that people cannot be said to possess
    even the most basic principles until they are
    taught them or think them through for themselves.
  • Still another argument is that because human
    beings differ greatly in their moral ideas, moral
    knowledge must not be innate.

Book I
  • Finally, Locke confronts the theory of innate
    ideas (along the lines of the Platonic Theory of
    Forms) and argues that ideas often cited as
    innate are so complex and confusing that much
    schooling and thought are required to grasp their
  • Against the claim that God is an innate idea,
    Locke counters that God is not a universally
    accepted idea and that his existence cannot
    therefore be innate human knowledge.

Book II
  • Having eliminated the possibility of innate
    knowledge, Locke in Book II seeks to demonstrate
    where knowledge comes from.
  • He proposes that knowledge is built up from
    ideas, either simple or complex.
  • Simple ideas combine in various ways to form
    complex ideas.
  • Therefore, the most basic units of knowledge are
    simple ideas, which come exclusively through

Book II
  • There are two types of experience that allow a
    simple idea to form in the human mind
  • sensation, or when the mind experiences the world
    outside the body through the five senses, and
    reflection, or when the mind turns inward,
    recognizing ideas about its own functions, such
    as thinking, willing, believing, and doubting.
  • Locke divides simple ideas into four categories
  • ideas we get from a single sense, such as sight
    or taste
  • ideas created from more than one sense, such as
    shape and size
  • ideas emerging from reflection and
  • ideas arising from a combination of sensation
    and reflection, such as unity, existence,
    pleasure, pain, and substance.

Book II
  • Locke goes on to explain the difference between
    primary and secondary qualities.
  • Ideas of primary qualitiessuch as texture,
    number, size, shape, and motionresemble their
  • Ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble
    their causes, as is the case with color, sound,
    taste, and odor.
  • In other words, primary qualities cannot be
    separated from the matter, whereas secondary
    qualities are only the power of an object to
    produce the idea of that quality in our minds.

Book II
  • Locke devotes much of book II to exploring
    various things that our minds are capable of,
    including making judgments about our own
    perceptions to refine our ideas, remembering
    ideas, discerning between ideas, comparing ideas
    to one another, composing a complex idea from two
    or more simple ideas, enlarging a simple idea
    into a complex idea by repetition, and
    abstracting certain simple ideas from an already
    complex ideas.

Book II
  • Locke also discusses complex ideas, breaking them
    down into four basic types
  • modes, which are ideas that do not exist in and
    of themselves, such as qualities, numbers, and
    other abstract concepts
  • substances, either self-subsisting things (such
    as a particular man or a sheep) or collections of
    such things (an army of men or a flock of sheep)
  • relations, such as father, bigger, and morally
    good and
  • abstract generals, such as man or sheep in
    general. Complex ideas are created through three
    methods combination, comparison, and abstraction.

Book III
  • In book III, Locke discusses abstract general
  • Everything that exists in the world is a
    particular thing.
  • General ideas occur when we group similar
    particular ideas and take away, or abstract, the
    differences until we are left only with the
  • We then use these similarities to create a
    general term, such as tree, which is also a
    general idea.
  • We form abstract general ideas for three reasons
  • it would be too hard to remember a different word
    for every particular thing that exists,
  • having a different word for everything that
    exists would obstruct communication, and
  • the goal of science is to generalize and
    categorize everything.

Book III
  • There is a clear connection between Book II and
    III in that Locke claims that words stand for
  • Locke argues against the notion of essences, a
    concept that had been widely accepted since at
    least Platos time.
  • Plato argued that we can only recognize
    individuals as members of a species because we
    are aware of the essence of that speciesfor
    example, we recognize a particular tree as a tree
    because we understand what a tree is in its
  • Locke argues that essences dont actually exist
    as ideal entities but are instead nothing more
    than the abstract, general ideas that we form
    about the things we observe, things that actually
    exist in the world.

Book III
  • Human beings decide which differences and
    similarities they will use to separate and
    classify particular things into categoriesthey
    choose how to define categories rather than
    discovering the essence of a given species.
  • Despite having just criticized the traditional
    concept of essences, Locke decides to adopt the
    term into his own philosophy and proceeds to
    distinguish between real essences and nominal
  • Nominal essences are the specific collections of
    observable properties from which we create an
    abstract general idea. For example, we observe
    similarities between many different individual
    dogs and from these observations form our idea of
    what a dog is.

Book III
  • Real essences are the invisible structures and
    arrangements of corpuscles or atoms that allow
    for those observable properties to be observable
    in the first place. For example, to return to the
    case of dogs, if we could fully understand the
    biological structures and processes that make a
    dog a dog, whether those would include DNA or
    other things as well, then we would understand
    the real essence of dogs. Unlike the nominal
    essence, the real essence has a basis in reality.
  • Locke moves on to discuss language, pointing out
    natural weaknesses and common abuses of language.
    The most significant problem with words is that
    they do not immediately and obviously mean the
    same thing to all people.

Book III
  • This problem has four main causes
  • a word may imply a very complex idea,
  • the ideas that words stand for may have no
    constant standard anywhere in nature to judge
    them against,
  • the standard that ideas refer to may not be
    easily known, and
  • the meaning of a word and the real nature of the
    thing referred to by the word may not be exactly
    the same.
  • Locke also identifies six common abuses
  • people often use words without really knowing
    what these words mean,
  • people use words inconsistently,

Book III
  • Locke also identifies six common abuses
  • people purposefully make terms obscure by using
    old words for new and unusual uses or by
    introducing new terms without defining them,
  • people mistakenly believe that words refer to
    things rather than ideas,
  • people try to use words incorrectly to change
    their meaning, and
  • people assume that others know what they are
    saying when they are not really being clear.
  • Locke suggests four remedies to counteract the
    natural shortcomings and the abuses of language
  • never use a word without having a clear idea of
    what it means
  • try to recognize the same meaning for words as
    others do so that we can communicate with a
    common vocabulary
  • if there is the slightest chance that the meaning
    of your words will be unclear, define your terms
  • always use words consistently.

Book IV
  • In book IV, Locke addresses the nature of
    knowledge itself, asking what knowledge is and in
    what areas we can hope to attain it.
  • For Locke, knowledge is what the mind is able to
    perceive through reasoning out the connection, or
    lack of connection, between any two or more of
    our ideas.
  • Because knowledge only has to do with relations
    between ideas, which are in the mind, the
    knowledge we are capable of is not actually
    knowledge of the world itself.

Book IV
  • Locke identifies four sorts of agreement and
    disagreement that reason can perceive to produce
  • identity (blue is blue) and diversity (blue is
    not yellow),
  • relation (two triangles with equal bases located
    between the same two parallel lines are equal
  • coexistence (iron is always susceptible to
    magnets), and
  • realization that existence belongs to the ideas
    themselves and is not in the mind (the idea of
    God and of the self).
  • Locke distinguishes between three grades or
    degrees of knowledge
  • intuition, when we immediately perceive an
    agreement or disagreement the moment the ideas
    are understood
  • demonstration, which requires some sort of proof
    and sensitive knowledge, which is about the
    existence of an external world, roughly
    resembling the world as we perceive it.

Book IV
  • Locke argues that we can never really develop a
    system of knowledge in natural philosophy.
  • The best that we can do is to observe certain
    qualities in the world that tend to occur
    together on a regular basis.
  • The kind of connection he demands is the sort
    that we find between properties occurring
    together regularly in geometrical figures.
  • Although he doesnt seem to think we will ever be
    able to know more about the true nature of
  • Locke is hopeful that we can understand
    existence, and the properties of things that
    exist in the world, much more thoroughly.

Book IV
  • Locke outlines three strategies for dealing with
    the problem of skepticism, or doubt about whether
    the world exists outside of our minds.
  • This problem arises naturally from Lockes theory
    of knowledge.
  • If we only have access to the ideas in our minds,
    which only exist in our minds, how do we know
    there is a real world outside of our minds?
  • Lockes first strategy is to refuse to take the
    skeptic seriously.
  • Can anyone really doubt, he asks, that there is
    an external world out there?

Book IV
  • His second strategy is to say that it doesnt
    matter whether we doubt the existence of an
    outside world or not.
  • All that matters is that we know enough to enable
    us to get around in the world.
  • His third line of attack involves seven marks of
    our experience that can best be explained by the
    existence of an external world
  • there is a certain realness and strength of
    clarity to perception of an immediate object that
    memories or products of the imagination do not
  • we cannot get these ideas without the sense organ
    appropriate to them,
  • we are able to receive ideas of this sort only
    in certain situations so it cannot be the organs
    themselves that are responsible for producing the

Book IV
  • we receive ideas passively,
  • some ideas are accompanied by pleasure or pain
    but the memories of those ideas are not,
  • our senses often bear witness to the truth of
    each others reports, and
  • two different people can share the same
  • Locke argues that almost all of science, with the
    exception of mathematics and morality, and most
    of our everyday experience is subject to opinion
    or judgment.
  • We base our judgments on the similarity between
    propositions to our own experience and to the
    experiences we have heard described by others.

Book IV
  • Locke examines the relation between reason and
  • He defines reason as being the faculty we use to
    obtain judgment and knowledge.
  • Faith is the acceptance of revelation and has its
    own truths, which reason cannot discover.
  • Reason, however, must always be used to determine
    which revelations truly are revelations from God
    and which are the constructions of man.
  • Finally, Locke divides all of human understanding
    into three sciences natural philosophy, or the
    study of things to gain knowledge ethics, or the
    study of how it is best to act and logic, or the
    study of words and signs.

Lockes Contribution
  • Locke effectively shifted the focus of
    seventeenth-century philosophy from metaphysics
    to the more basic problems of epistemology, or
    how people are able to acquire knowledge and
  • Locke rigorously addresses many different aspects
    of human understanding and of the minds
  • His most striking innovation in this regard is
    his rejection of the theory that human beings are
    born possessing innate knowledge, which
    philosophers such as Plato and Descartes had
    sought to prove.

Lockes Contribution
  • Locke replaces the theory of innate knowledge
    with his own signature concept, the tabula rasa,
    or blank slate.
  • Locke tries to demonstrate that we are born with
    no knowledge whatsoever we are all blank slates
    at birthand that we can only know that things
    exist if we first experience them.
  • Locke presents simple ideas as a basic unit of
    human understanding, claiming that we can break
    all of our experiences down into these simple,
    fundamental parts that cannot be broken down any

Lockes Contribution
  • For example, the idea of a plain wooden chair can
    be broken down into simpler units that are
    received by our minds through one sense, through
    multiple senses, through reflection, or through a
    combination of sensation and reflection.
  • Chair is thus perceived and understood by us in
    several ways as brown, as hard, as according to
    its function (to be sat upon), and as a certain
    shape that is unique to the object chair.
  • These simple ideas allow us to understand what
    chair is and to recognize it when we come in
    contact with it.

Lockes Contribution
  • Lockes theory of primary and secondary qualities
    is based on the Corpuscular Hypothesis of Robert
    Boyle, Lockes friend and contemporary.
  • According to the Corpuscular Hypothesis, which
    Locke considered the best scientific picture of
    the world in his day, all matter is composed of
    tiny particles, or corpuscles, which are too
    small to see individually and which are
    colorless, tasteless, soundless, and odorless.
  • The arrangement of these invisible particles of
    matter gives an object of perception both its
    primary and secondary qualities.
  • An objects primary qualities include its size,
    shape, and movement.

Lockes Contribution
  • They are primary in the sense that these
    qualities exist regardless of whether anyone
    perceives them.
  • Secondary qualities include color, odor, and
    taste, and they are secondary in the sense that
    they may be perceived by observers of the object,
    but they are not inherent in the object.
  • For example, a roses shape and the way it grows
    are primary because they exist regardless of
    whether they are observed, but the roses redness
    only exists for an observer under the right
    conditions of lighting and if the observers
    eyesight is functioning normally.
  • Locke suggests that because we can explain
    everything using the existence only of corpuscles
    and primary qualities, we have no reason to think
    that secondary qualities have any real basis in
    the world.

Lockes Contribution
  • According to Locke, every idea is an object of
    some action of perception and thinking.
  • An idea is an immediate object of our thoughts,
    something we perceive and to which we are
    actively paying attention.
  • We also perceive some things without ever
    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 nonimmediate objects. When we
    perceive an objects secondary qualities, we are
    actually perceiving something that does not exist
    outside of our minds.

Lockes Contribution
  • In each of these cases, Locke would maintain that
    the act of perception always has an internal
    objectthe thing that is perceived exists in our
  • Moreover, the object of perception sometimes
    exists only in our minds.
  • One of the more confusing aspects of Lockes
    discussion is the fact that perception and
    thinking are sometimes, but not always, the same
  • To add to the confusion, Locke claims in Book II
    that an action of perception may have a
    nonimmediate object, not that it must have one.
  • This makes it difficult to pin down a rule for
    what perception is and isnt, and how perception

Lockes Contribution
  • We may find Lockes discussion of essence, or
    substance, confusing because Locke himself
    doesnt seem convinced of its existence.
  • Locke may have chosen to retain this concept for
    several possible reasons.
  • First, he seems to think that the idea of essence
    is necessary to make sense of our language.
  • Second, the concept of essence solves the problem
    of persistence through change that is, if a tree
    is just a bundle of ideas such as tall,
    green, leaves, and so on, what happens when a
    tree is short and leafless?

Lockes Contribution
  • Does this new collection of qualities change the
    essence from tree to something new?
  • In Lockes view, the essence persists through any
    change, remaining the same despite changes in the
    objects properties.
  • A third reason Locke seem to be compelled to
    accept the notion of essence is to explain what
    unifies ideas that occur at the same time, making
    them into a single thing, distinct from any other
  • Essence helps clarify this unity, though Locke is
    not very specific about how this works.
  • For Locke, essence is what qualities are
    dependent on and exist in.

Lockes Contribution
  • Lockes view that our knowledge is much more
    limited than was previously supposed was shared
    by other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
    thinkers such as Descartes and Humeeven though
    Locke differs sharply from Descartes about why
    that knowledge is limited.
  • For Locke, however, the fact that our knowledge
    is limited is a philosophical rather than
    practical matter.
  • 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 of how overwhelmingly probable we feel the
    existence of the world to be.

Lockes Contribution
  • The overwhelming clarity of the idea of an
    external world, and the fact that it is confirmed
    by everybody except madmen, is important to Locke
    in and of itself.
  • Even so, Locke holds that we can never have real
    knowledge when it comes to natural science.
  • Rather than encouraging us to stop bothering with
    science, Locke seems to say instead that we
    should be aware of its limitations.