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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  12,835 Ratings  ·  109 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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Justin Rutledge "Our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct. If we can find out those measures, whereby a rational creature put…more"Our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct. If we can find out those measures, whereby a rational creature put into that state, which man is in, in this world, may and ought to govern his opinions, and actions depending thereon, we need not be troubled, that some other things escape our knowledge."

-John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Locke speaks for himself with regards to your question. But I would add that this book is a tour de force of modern epistemology; an essay that reaches beneath the boundaries of science, and down into the foundations of knowledge itself. At least, it is one man's take on it.(less)

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Rowland Pasaribu
Jun 03, 2010 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
Mar 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, owned
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
Apr 18, 2008 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
Apr 24, 2016 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
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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
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
Aug 03, 2011 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
Aug 14, 2015 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
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Locke can't be blamed for getting most things wrong: our understanding of the world has changed drastically since his time. He can be blamed however for being wrong in things that his contemporaries or even predecessors got right, especially when this is caused by a very shallow treatment of the questions he addresses. I strongly disliked the Essay, it reads like the work of someone who tried to build his own simplistic system from scratch as a way to compensate for an inability to grasp anythin ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Aug 18, 2012 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 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 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 rated it it was amazing
Not an easy read, but the ideas contained here still have a weight. Locke was truly a genius.
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I thought about writing a joint review of this book with Second Treatise of Government. Without understanding Locke's stance on human nature, one could not say something essential about his political theory. In return, looking at his political theory alone without understanding his idea on human nature would lead to a philistine interpretation of him, as Leo Strauss demonstrated (sadly). I guess I have to split up a deeply intertwining review into two, with 1.a, 1.b, 2.a, 2.b, 3.a, 3.b paragraph ...more
Justin Rutledge
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Tabula Rasa is the phrase that we always hear parroted when referring to John Locke, but this concept of being born with a blank slate, ready for knowledge to imprinted upon, is largely irrelevant for the crux of his argument in the Essay.

Another concept commonly taught to entry level philosophy students is Locke's ideas of "reflection" and "sensation", but I firmly believe these too are not central to what the Essay is concerning.

The Essay is one great crescendo of epistemology, beginning with
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it

I enjoyed aspects of 'An Essay Concerning Human Understanding', but only because I was reading it for the light it cast on Locke's political philosophy as described in his revolutionary work 'Two Treatises of Government'. In 'An Essay' Locke attempts an understanding of what it is to be human, or perhaps, what human dignity means: an individual's use of reason in all things, even in areas where prejudices are strongly held, such as religious beliefs. I found some paragraphs of this essay stunnin
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 10, 2013 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
David Balfour
Nov 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my_reviews
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
Mamluk Qayser
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
What daunts each of us in reading philosophical text could be outlined as follows; its readability and also of its relevance. Both of these main challenges, could more or less, traced back to one problem; limitation on resources whether financial, time to read (in the former) or the time to digest and apply (in the latter). Before we elaborate on those two points, we could take a cursory glance on the main idea that Locke tried to present to us in this essay.


John Locke is one of the ea
Alan Johnson
Mar 18, 2014 marked it as partially-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophers
I began reading portions of this scholarly (Nidditch) edition of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 2002 and read additional substantial portions in 2015. I have not, however, finished it. The work, albeit famous, is quite tedious for the twenty-first-century reader. As a result of its classic status in the history of modern philosophy and its importance for understanding Locke's other writings, I will have to finish reading and analyzing it at some point. For the time being, howeve ...more
Apr 24, 2008 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.
Brittany Petruzzi
Locke's understanding of human understanding accounts for much of what is wrong with our society today. Yuck.
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), the English philosopher John Locke tried to come up with a theory of knowledge, that would do away with all earlier attempts of philosophers from the time of Plato onwards to Descartes. This book is a long and dense one, but it is well-structured and written (relatively) approachable for the general public.

(This review is based on my reading of this book two years ago, so I will only give the broad outlines. I was planning to read the Essay for
I do not much care for John Locke. I will not take the argument that some people have taken and argue that all of the contemporary world's problems are the result of his work. That said, John Locke's opinions and ideas have heavily disseminated into the culture and are largely unignorable. Many people, through a sort of cultural osmosis, have probably actually read this book. I got to about the last 150 pages and started skimming huge sections. Nothing was new. Still, I feel completely comfortab ...more
Ken Ryu
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Locke is accessible yet profound, which is rare for philosophers. His assertion is that human knowledge is learned and not innate. His common example of this is that a man born blind has no concept of the colors red or blue. If this man were to gain the power of sight, then, and only then, would he comprehend the meaning of these colors. It is a logical argument, but obviously one that is oversimplified.

He discusses how humans are uniquely capable of going beyond simple concepts and can underst
Cheng Yap
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: discontinued
Locke clearly attempts to explain his philosophy clearly, but it is unfortunately bogged down by too many examples as well as long and winding prose that does not seem particularly important. Locke even admits that his work may be too long in places, but he writes it as such anyway as he needs to explain everything he has in mind. I, however, found many of the tangents unproductive and boring, putting a real drag on the book that I could not even get pass 'On Ideas'. I guess I'll have to find wh ...more
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The tabula rasa upon which all modern empiricism has been scribed
Patrick Devitt
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
tabula rasa
Morris Yen
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
brilliant ideas of empiricism
Paul Gaschen
This vast and detailed work is foundational to building a philosophical repertoire, and I find that, despite its "relative newness," it has shaped much of the philosophical discussion today.
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  • Principles of Human Knowledge & Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous
  • A Treatise of Human Nature
  • Philosophical Essays
  • Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
  • Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)
  • The New Organon
  • Word and Object
  • The Philosophy of History
  • Metaphysics
  • Ethics
  • Principia Ethica (Philosophical Classics)
  • Meno
  • Naming and Necessity
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

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
“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.” 31 likes
“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.” 31 likes
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