Michael Dorais's Reviews > An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding 1, Books 1-2

An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding 1, Books 1-2 by John Locke
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Jan 16, 2016

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bookshelves: owned-kindle, philosophy
Read from March 10 to April 08, 2012

I am reviewing Volume 1, books 1 and 2.
"An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding" by John Locke, is a difficult read. I would not recommend it if you are only interested in concise point-by-point descriptions of philosophical positions and arguments for them. As other reviewers have said Locke is long-winded and often repetitious.

I would recommend this book to people who are in one of several conditions. 1) You are interested in the intellectual history of western thought and and want to read original sources. I think this work should be considered essential for you. It is a pivotal work in western philosophy. 2) You have already read much of philosophy, including metaphysics and epistemology and are looking for a deep dive into one important philosophers views and arguments and you appreciate some dwelling on subjects, even if it includes repetition for the time it gives you to ponder the same subject. 3) You are a student of philosophy and are embarking on advanced study of empiricism. Since Locke is the founder of British empiricism and this book is Locke's major work on the subject, you will want to read this. 3) You just want to have read for yourself one of the classics of English literature and are intellectually tough and patient.

In this book Locke makes the case that we do not have innate ideas. ('Ideas' as used by Locke are essentially 'concepts'.) All ideas are from sensation or reflection, with the reflection using the simple ideas from sensation as its material. Locke explores many implications and applications of that thesis. Among them include an analysis of ideas that breaks them down into simple ideas and those derived from them by modes, combination, relation, etc. He examines the relationship between the ideas reality. How ideas are not the things themselves but produced by the power of things to produce the simple ideas in us. He puts forth a position about what the idea of substance is - how it is not a simple (direct) idea of an actually existing substance, but a collection of ideas that we observe together and the substance is assumed. It helps to understand the concept of substance (refer to descriptions of Aristotle's substance). He also puts forth an interesting thesis about case and effect, desire, will, and liberty, identity, and person. In the end he examines what it means for an idea to be adequate or inadequate and how ideas might relate to the concepts of true and false, with a discussion of how we associate ideas, rightly and wrongly.

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Reading Progress

9.0% "No innate ideas."
14.0% "I had to use Google Translate for the sections in Latin that he quotes, but doesn't bother to translate."
27.0% ""Whence has it all the MATERIALS of reason and knowledge? ... EXPERIENCE. In that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation employed either, about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by our selves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the MATERIALS of thinking." - John Locke"
38.0% "Chapter XI Of Discerning, and Other Operations of the Mind; Chapter XII Of Complex Ideas; Chapter XIII Complex Ideas of Simple Modes"
45.0% "Ideas of space and time."
51.0% "Ideas of infinite space and eternity ultimately derived from - innate knowledge - NO! - From simple ideas from sense and reflection upon them of course."
65.0% "Desire as uneasiness about absent pleasure (of various sorts) or present pain (of various sorts). Will as a power of the mind to producing, continuing, or stopping any action as far as it depends on us. Volition (or willing) is the actual exercise of will. Liberty is the power in any agent to do or forbear any particular action as one wills. The will itself is determined by need for happiness and is not free."
77.0% "Substances are nothing than collections of simple ideas, derived from sensation and reflection to which they are supposed to belong. Most of the simple ideas that make up the the supposed substances are only powers to cause our sensations by "something-or-substance-I-know-not what". Locke also makes an not very convincing argument that we are as sure of immaterial spirits as we should be of bodies."
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