Jump to navigation Jump to search Not to be confused with An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is a work by John Locke concerning the foundation of human knowledge and understanding. Book I of the Essay is Locke’s attempt to david hume essay the rationalist notion of innate ideas.
Book II sets out Locke’s theory of ideas, including his distinction between passively acquired simple ideas, such as “red,” “sweet,” “round,” etc. Locke indeed sought to rebut a prevalent view, of innate ideas, that was vehemently held by philosophers of his time. One of Locke’s fundamental arguments against innate ideas is the very fact that there is no truth to which all people attest. He took the time to argue against a number of propositions that rationalists offer as universally accepted truth, for instance the principle of identity, pointing out that at the very least children and idiots are often unaware of these propositions. Locke connects words to the ideas they signify, claiming that man is unique in being able to frame sounds into distinct words and to signify ideas by those words, and then that these words are built into language.
Chapter ten in this book focuses on “Abuse of Words. Here, Locke criticizes metaphysicians for making up new words that have no clear meaning. He also criticizes the use of words which are not linked to clear ideas, and to those who change the criteria or meaning underlying a term. Thus he uses a discussion of language to demonstrate sloppy thinking. Locke discusses the limit of human knowledge, and whether knowledge can be said to be accurate or truthful. Thus there is a distinction between what an individual might claim to “know”, as part of a system of knowledge, and whether or not that claimed knowledge is actual. To what purpose all of this stir?