A Summary of John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Topics: Mind, Epistemology, Philosophy Pages: 2 (706 words) Published: November 9, 2008
John Locke wrote an Essay Concerning Human Understanding to give his philosophy of mind and thought. In Book I, Locke told that discovering where our ideas come from, ascertaining what it means to have these ideas and what an idea essentially is, and examining issues of faith and opinion to determine how we should proceed logically when our knowledge is limited were the three goals of his project. He disagreed with the idea of Plato and Descartes that all men have an innate knowledge. He states that no principle is accepted by every human, and if one did exist, it would not be because of innate knowledge. He also believes that humans cannot have ideas that they are unaware of, and that to possess even the most basic principle, they must be taught it, or learn for themselves through experience. Also, God is not innate knowledge, since not all people believe in it.

In Book II, he proposes that knowledge is built up from ideas, so the most basic units of knowledge are simple ideas, which come only from experience. He explains that there are two types of experience; sensation (experiences from the outside world), and reflection (when the mind recognizes ideas about it’s own functions). He also explores things that our minds are capable of, such as making judgments about our own perceptions to refine our ideas, remembering ideas, discerning between ideas, comparing ideas, enlarging simple ideas, and finding simple ideas in more complex ideas.

In Book III, Locke talks about abstract general ideas. He says that everything that exists in the world is a particular “thing.” We make general ideas about these “things” because it’s too hard to remember a name for every single thing that exists, if that many words existed, communication would be extremely difficult, and the goal of science is to generalize and categorize everything. He agrees with Plato that we can only recognize something as a member of a species because we know the essence of the species....
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