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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,967 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
John Locke is widely regarded as the father of classical liberalism. This essay was groundbreaking in its approach to foundation of human knowledge and understanding, he describes the mind at birth as a blank slate filled later through experience, the essay became the principle sources of empiricism in modern philosophy and influenced many enlightenment philosophers. Many ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 24th 2007 by Pomona Press (first published 1689)
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Rowland Bismark
Jun 03, 2010 Rowland Bismark rated it really liked it
The Essay Concerning Human Understanding is sectioned into four books. Taken together, they comprise an extremely long and detailed theory of knowledge starting from the very basics and building up. Book I, "Of Innate Ideas," is an attack on the Cartesian view of knowledge, which holds that human beings are born with certain ideas already in their mind. "Of Innate Ideas" begins with an argument against the possibility of innate propositional knowledge (that is, innate knowledge of fact, such as ...more
Jul 19, 2014 Brian rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, philosophy
There is absolutely no doubt that Locke's ideas and arguments are very straightforward and clear in style. He's the father of empiricism, among many other schools of thought (i.e. liberalism and individualism, which in essence, forms the proliferating values of the global society).

But he's a dude from 17th century.
And having read this along with his Second Treatise,
I'm beginning to feel that although the literary challenge may be good for the brains, it may turn out to be a deterrent for people
Nancy Burns

After reading this book...I've earned several ch. chip cookies!
This was my first philosphical book and my last.

Here is my short review:
Aug 03, 2011 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Locke has some of the best reasons why we should not believe in innate ideas, and from this, why we should not be in agreement with the Rationalists. However, this begs the question "How can we trust ideas based on experience?"

Instead of bogging down his argument, I find that his trust in human experience to be refreshing. We cannot live our lives sitting in a room thinking about the random crap in the world -- we have to get out there and live it!

This particular edition was a different one
Si bien d'autre m'ont été agréable et instructifs, Voila le livre de philosophie qui m'aura été le plus profitable de tous ceux qui me sont tombés dans les mains. L'essai philosophique sur l'entendement humain, écrit par John Locke en 1655 est une petite merveille, et réussit haut la main son pari d'apporter de la lumière sur la question. L'auteur écrit dans un style clair, très accessible et hors de toute affectation, mais sans céder aucun pouce aux exigences de clarté et de rigueur. Pour autan ...more
Apr 23, 2008 Tyler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: _People interested in philosophy, but scared of it
Shelves: philosophy
John Locke's readable discourse on empiricism, which we might think of now as inductive reasoning from contingent facts, covers a broad scope and gives readers a taste of the Enlightenment in its full flower.

Written before philosophy became too specialized for everyday discourse, this book serves as an excellent starting point anyone wanting to venture into philosophy. John Locke's easy writing style stands in contrast to his formidable reputation, and within these pages he pulls together his d
May 28, 2016 Zelda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
When I was making my reading list I included this title, intending also to reread Two Treatises, but when this author was the next on the list, I felt too pressed for time. I did the reread but set this aside. However, I then realized that I would have to also forego my intended Leibniz reading because it is a response to this. So, I'm way behind my fairly arbitrary and entirely self-imposed timetable because I doubled back and read this.

I can't be the first reader to roll my eyes and grimace a
Aug 30, 2011 Benjamin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time I've read this book, sort of. The first time was at university. After 10 or 11 years I decied to return to it and see how much I'd forgotten (especially as I teach bits of Locke for A-level Philosophy). I slowly realised that after the first few chapters, the notes and annotations disappeared from my book, indicating that I'd never finished it. After a couple of days of reading this, I realised why. Yes, it is one of the most important documents in Philosophical history. ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Aug 18, 2012 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
I don't know if I just wasn't in the right mindset when reading this or what but I think this book could have been condensed to perhaps a third of its current size? The redundancy was astounding and the word choice so flowery for something that was not only not poetry but not even pleasant to the reader. I just felt like the style and flow of the book was very circular in kind of a spiral factor sort of way. What he had to say on complex ideas was brilliant, and the way he approached the mind an ...more
Aug 14, 2009 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
This was one of the mammoth works I tackled after reading about Locke in Russell's book and hearing every enlightenment series start off with Locke and his contributions to politics as well as epistemological philosophy.

I read this for pleasure not school, and it was difficult but very rewarding. I used Locke to springboard into the study of human knowledge and he is probably the best place to start in trying to understand just what we think we know and how we could know it.

This might be a long
Jul 04, 2007 Keith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading this again, under less purposive circumstances, I'm struck by how well it works as a work of prose, with delerious, rushed passages and moments of stillness and clarity, things Locke wants to say but steps back from (i.e. the possibility that matter can think), and funny, self-deprecating lines like "as the chief End of Language in Communication [is] to be understood, Words serve not well for that end." Great.
Sean Chick
Jan 30, 2012 Sean Chick rated it it was amazing
Not an easy read, but the ideas contained here still have a weight. Locke was truly a genius.
Dec 28, 2015 K rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding is a book which aspired to do the following:

a) Provide the epistemological foundation – empiricism – for corpuscularian (i.e., atomistic), and, perhaps, Newtonian science
b) Reveal the inadequacies of Cartesianism and Aristotelianism in natural philosophy
c) Reveal the inadequacies of the rationalists with their emphasis on innate ideas
d) Provide an original and fairly convincing story of the origins of all of our ideas
e) Provide a comprehensive natural
David Balfour
Dec 10, 2014 David Balfour rated it it was amazing
This is very dry and repetitive, but it makes a whole lot more sense than anything by the Rationalists. Locke has an endearing humbleness whereby he genuinely acknowledges that he is liable to error, and that there are certain things we cannot know, or at least be sure we know. The way he identifies language and inconsistent terminology as the source of so much disagreement and misunderstanding is also a real breakthrough, I think.

Occasionally Locke shows a hilariously dry sense of humour, for i
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 27, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Good Reading: 100 Significant Books
This treatise published in 1689 was listed in Good Reading's "100 Significant Books." It's a work of epistemology--the branch of philosophy that examines knowledge. Rejecting Descartes' argument of innate principles, Locke argues that humans at birth are a blank slate written on by experience.

Locke argues that innate ideas can't exist since by their nature they'd be universal, and there is no knowledge everyone agrees upon. I'm not sure given human nature I agree. I know that as different as hu
"For where is the man that has incontestable evidence of the truth of all that he holds, or of the falsehood of all he condemns; or can say that he has examined to the bottom all his own, or other men's opinions? The necessity of believing without knowledge, nay often upon very slight grounds, in this fleeting state of action and blindness we are in, should make us more busy and careful to inform ourselves than constrain others. At least, those who have not thoroughly examined to the bottom all ...more
mohamed mostafa
Jun 06, 2014 mohamed mostafa rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews
Locke was the most important early modern English philosopher. In An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, he offered an empiricist counterpoint to Descartes.
For Locke, all ideas and knowledge come from experience. There can be no innate ideas: The mind is an empty cabinet, a blank slate on which experience writes. The crux of the rationalist-empiricist debate lies in how we explain our possession of ideas that seemingly could not come from experience, like infinity and perfection (God).

Like a
Apr 06, 2016 Lisa rated it liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: Potter's School Classical Track Year 3
Published 1690. Excerpt from Chapter 1: He argues that all ideas are learned, not innate. Evidence usually given for the idea that that certain ideas are indeed innate: there are certain principles agreed upon by all of mankind, which suggests they are innate, such as the principles that asserts: Whatever is, it is impossible for that thing to be and not to be at the same time. He says that even if we assume there are indeed certain principles that all agree on, it doesn't necessarily follow tha ...more
Mar 19, 2010 Nathaniel rated it it was amazing
I only read the part of this that deal with moral law and morality. The most famous part of this book are those that deal with epistemology so I will have to pick this book up again. Nontheless the sections that I did read were pretty exceptional.
Jordan Seaver
Sep 24, 2015 Jordan Seaver rated it really liked it
Locke's most famous text is so for a reason: it contains some of the most subtly fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable thought experiments in philosophy.

At this point his "tabula rasa" has been turned into a smartboard (with inborn capacities and a whole network of basic, inset information), and gone are the days of the debutant, decked out in full flowing peruke bursting upon a party with a voluptuous pineapple on one arm; yet, it is still enjoyable to read, if you're willing to make the effort
Brittany Petruzzi
Locke's understanding of human understanding accounts for much of what is wrong with our society today. Yuck.
Mar 19, 2016 Erick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
This book was overlong and I am glad to be finished with it. Locke has a tendency to iterate and reiterate points and "proofs" ad nauseam. He also has a tendency to discourse on things that are not altogether relevant to the topic at hand; while this might be acceptable now and then, Locke does it to an extreme that is taxing on the reader's attention and patience. This book, if it weren't for the redundancies and lack of focus, would be a far more acceptable length. That being said, it was not ...more
Oct 01, 2015 Raúl rated it it was ok
Supongamos que la mente es, como nosotros decimos, un papel en blanco, vacío de caracteres, sin ideas. ¿Cómo se llena? ¿De dónde procede el vasto acopio que la ilimitada y activa imaginación del hombre ha grabado en ella con una variedad casi infinita? A esto respondo con una palabra: de la experiencia'.

Descartes, quizás sin pretenderlo, hizo de la filosofía epistemología; luego John Locke (1632-1704) dedicó una obra exclusivamente a la epistemología. Si Descartes estudió el entendimiento con el
Xandri Fiori
Jul 13, 2014 Xandri Fiori rated it liked it
For a philosophical work, this is probably one of the least incisive, or at least unusually sloppy. Certainly Locke is intelligent but his terms shift, assume themselves (what is up with primary qualities? We know there are corpuscles but we'll never experience them? What?). Also, substances, real essences, and primary qualities all seem to be able to be further organized without having three terms for a similar idea. He seems to think nothing is a-priori yet assumes certain concepts, such as si ...more
Jun 24, 2013 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Locke’s Essay is considered a foundational work for the new empiricism which arose out of the friction between Descartes with his rationalist followers and the old-school Aristotelian empiricists of the Scholastics. In true empiricist form, Locke binds himself to the proposition that all knowledge can only be gained through the senses but, in an interesting twist, also refuses to put blind faith in the accuracy of the senses.

To begin, Locke spends Book I rejecting any notion that there is innate
CJ Bowen
Dec 04, 2009 CJ Bowen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts." I.iii.3.

"It is therefore little less than a contradiction, to suppose, that whole nations of men should both in their professions, and practice unanimously and universally give the lie to what, by the most invincible evidence, every one of them knew to be true, right, and good." I.iii.11

"If it shall be demanded then, when a man begins to have any ideas? I think, the true answer is, when he first has any sensation
Feb 08, 2016 Enya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Exams are coming closer and I finished this just in time. Well, I skipped a lot of parts but let me cheat a little on that, because he IS very repetitive.
This is one of the more readable philosophical works, as Locke gives a lot of examples and explains his terminology. He also assures the reader of the uncertainty of his own theories several times, which may not have been necessary because that's just what philosophy is like and if you go into a philosophical book expecting facts, you would be
Thomas Hume
Apr 08, 2015 Thomas Hume is currently reading it
Locke said that people's ideas are "invisible" because we can directly realize only our own ideas. Referent or express ideas by sending voice, we will be able to share our thoughts with others.Locke's world is mind of philosophy's world……
Nov 17, 2013 Sibyl rated it did not like it
This essay is not easy to get through for the simple reason that most of the time, the thoughts of Locke, formulated in 1670, appear to be outdated. The ancient language does not help the reading, long and articulated reflections are those of a thinker who does not have the knowledge of modern science, sometimes similar to the ramblings of a lonely shepherd in the mountains that lacks concepts such as synapses or molecule. It is something curious to read, it is advisable to enjoy it in small dos ...more
Dec 01, 2015 Robyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Locke is brilliant, and his ideas are interesting, but reading Locke is often a chore. My brain definitely got a workout.
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John Locke was an English philosopher. Locke is considered the first of the British Empiricists, but is equally important to social contract theory. His ideas had enormous influence on the development of epistemology and political philosophy, and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential Enlightenmen
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“For where is the man that has incontestable evidence of the truth of all that he holds, or of the falsehood of all he condemns; or can say that he has examined to the bottom all his own, or other men's opinions? The necessity of believing without knowledge, nay often upon very slight grounds, in this fleeting state of action and blindness we are in, should make us more busy and careful to inform ourselves than constrain others.” 25 likes
“The great question which, in all ages, has disturbed mankind, and brought on them the greatest part of their mischiefs ... has been, not whether be power in the world, nor whence it came, but who should have it.” 22 likes
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