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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  8,836 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Many of the earliest books, particularly those dating back to the 1900s and before, are now extremely scarce and increasingly expensive. Pomona Press are republishing these classic works in affordable, high quality, modern editions, using the original text and artwork.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Pomona Press (first published 1689)
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Rowland Bismark
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
Brian
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
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Matthew
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
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Benjamin
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
Tyler
Apr 23, 2008 Tyler rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
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
Brian
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
...more
Keith
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
Not an easy read, but the ideas contained here still have a weight. Locke was truly a genius.
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 27, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
...more
Yann
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
mohamed mostafa
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
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Nate
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.
Brittany Petruzzi
Locke's understanding of human understanding accounts for much of what is wrong with our society today. Yuck.
David Balfour
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
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Xandri Fiori
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
Matt
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
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CJ Bowen
"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
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Sibyl
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
Erik Graff
Nov 04, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: philosophy fans
Recommended to Erik by: Vicky Wike
Shelves: philosophy
Some of this book was assigned for the History of Classical Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago during the first semester of 1980/81, but I read all of it, albeit quickly at times.

Like Hume, Locke is a relatively easy philosopher for modern Anglo-Americans, their thought being so substantially constituative of contemporary prejudice, both in philosophy and in the natural sciences. He is not, however, as careful and precise--not as "acute" as Kant put it--as Hume was.

Although I did not do it
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Brian Powell
Obviously Locke is a giant of enlightenment philosophy, and his "Essay" was brilliantly original in his time. Through his "Essay", Locke explored the nature and limits of human inquiry and laid the foundations of modern epistemology. His acknowledgment of the primacy of knowledge gained through observation to that borne out of superstition and hearsay solidified his place as a champion of empiricism, inspiring the ire of theologians and critics worldwide. For these reasons and others, this is on ...more
Dale Bryant
May 31, 2014 Dale Bryant marked it as to-read
One of the recommend "great" books.
Cat
Jun 24, 2013 Cat rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cat by: my professor
GAH!
Okay, I like philosophy, but everything has limits!
I had to read this book for an assignment I have, and well, it was...weird?
John Locke kept on saying something and after some pages going all against to what he previously said.
His opinions?
I don't know if I agree, I was too absorbed trying to make sense of what he was actually saying.
And I had to keep notes, so yeah...

I haven't really read the last pages, but I will go through them quickly for my project when I'll be on the library. Because
...more
Иван Собаков
Колико сам разумео, врло ми је значило.
Samantha
I have a hard time buying a lot of what Locke is selling, largely because he writes off so many of the questions I have as not being relevant to his theory. Epistemology makes sense to a certain point, but I think the idea of the tabula rasa is too much for me to fully wrap my head around or endorse. That being said, he has some really interesting ideas about perceptions and how we use language, all of which made this unit of my Modern Philosophy - Descartes to Kant course bearable.
Mike
I get the sense from reading this that John Locke would be someone I would enjoy hanging out with. His pragmatic approach is refreshing in the world of philosophy, and his argumentative style beats you over the head with its sensibility again and again. I find it fascinating to see how much our institutions built on the thoughts espoused here. Locke comes across as an incredible orator as well, though I haven't heard the urban legends of that aspect of our "founding father".
Robert
I hate to give a work like this one star, especially when I recognize there are flashes of brilliance herein: nonetheless, a rudimentary understanding of modern cognitive science and physics blows many of Locke's arguments out of the water. Combined with the dry and repetitive prose, it was a painful read. However, there are some real gems of quotes in here.

I am not going to rush to finish books 3 and 4... (my version is only the first two books).
John
Mar 17, 2011 John is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I read "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" when I was an undergrad, but I haven't read it since. I'm currently working on a paper based on "Paradise Regain'd" that centers on the dual natures of Jesus in the poem so I began with "Essay" as a sort of refresher for human perspective. I know that sounds weird.

I'm interested in getting into the "Second Treatise" as well, but that will have to wait for now.
Levis517
it took me 6 months to read but it was worth every minute. everything you ever wanted to know about why you think the way you do, why other people don't think the way you do, what you really know (not much) and what you might be wrong about (several things). Farther of empiricism, yes, but also the true nature of liberal thought, as Russell pointed out.
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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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More about John Locke...
Second Treatise of Government Two Treatises of Government A Letter Concerning Toleration: Humbly Submitted The Second Treatise of Government/A Letter Concerning Toleration Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration

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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.” 16 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.” 12 likes
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