John Locke

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John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) was born in Wrington, England to
Puritan parents who fostered his education in theology and
politics. He attended the Westminster school, and then
entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he received a
scholarship. Locke studied classical languages,
metaphysics, logic, and rhetoric there. He developed
friendships with Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, both of whom
influenced his views. In 1690, he wrote An Essay Concerning
Human Understanding, this is considered his greatest work.
The essay tries to set limits on human understanding. Locke
attempts to answer two questions. The first question is
where we get our ideas from. The second question is whether
we can rely on what our senses tell us. The Essay also
classifies knowledge into three degrees. These are the
intuitive, demonstrative, and the sensitive. Finally, the
Essay divides the ways ideas can be related into four
categories: identity or diversity, relation, coexistence,
and finally real existence. Part of Locke's theory is that
women are equal to men, this will be discussed in the second
part of my paper.
To understand why Locke wanted to explain where we get
our ideas from, it is important to understand what sect of
philosophy he was a part of. Locke belonged to an
eighteenth century group of British philosophers which
included George Berkeley and David Hume. These three
philosophers shared a view called empiricism. Empiricism is
the belief that all knowledge and ideas come from the
senses. Thus, a new born baby is a blank slate until its
first sensory experience with the world. Aristotle was the
originator of the empiricist way of thinking. Empiricism
directly conflicts with Plato, and the rationalist way of
thinking which states that humans are born with a set of
innate ideas about the world. As Locke explains in An Essay
Concerning Human Understanding, humans gain all ideas and
knowledge by interacting with the external world with their
senses, and by reflecting their new gained knowledge. By
senses, Locke is referring to the five senses: sight, sound,
taste, feeling, and hearing. Locke's definition of
reflection is the way the mind actively processes the
information given to it by sensation. In reflection, the
mind continues to analyze what it has sensed. This
analization includes trusting, not trusting, or
rationalizing the sensory experience and thereby parlaying
even more knowledge and ideas out of the experience.
Locke believed that simple sensations of something
eventually led to a complex idea of that thing. He thought
that we could only perceive simple parts of the whole which
would eventually lead up to the entire thing. Locke writes,
Combining several simple ideas into one compound one; and
thus all complex ideas are made. An example of this could
be a child's first experience with a chocolate chip cookie.
The child sees that the cookie is round, she notices the
brown color, and the dark chocolate spots that make up the
chips. The child is really not capable of understanding a
cookie yet, though. In another experience with the cookie,
the child reflects upon her past experience and builds upon
it. This time, she feels the rough texture, and tastes the
sweet confection. Only after the child experiences all the
sum of the cookies parts is she able to own the idea of
cookie.
One aspect of knowledge that Locke was concerned with
is what can be called false knowledge. This is knowledge
that can not be traced back to simple sensations. Even the
words God and eternity are being misused and
misconcepted because nobody has experienced these things.
Locke does not totally disbelieve that there is a God and
eternity though, because he later reasons in the Essay that,
Nothing cannot produce a Being; therefore Something must
have existed from Eternity.
The second question Locke attempts to tackle is whether
we can rely on what our senses tell us, or is the world the
way we perceive it. To help answer this question he divided
sensations into primary and secondary qualities. Primary
qualities are described as those that do not change when the
substance is divided. This includes solidity, extension,
figure, and mobility. Secondary qualities are those that
are subject to change in a substance, such as colors,
sounds, and tastes. Thus, all people see primary qualities
in the same way, but not everyone views the secondary
qualities in the same way. For example, although two
children see the same round cookie, one might think that it
tastes good and the other may despise the taste of it. It
is through these qualities that Locke attempted to judge
whether we can rely on our senses to correctly perceive the
world.
After Locke established how ideas are formed,

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