Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book Quotes

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For I imagine anyone would easily grant, that it would be impertinent to suppose, the ideas of colors innate in a creature, to whom God had given sight, and a power to receive them by the eyes from external objects: and no less unreasonable would it be to attribute several truths, to the impressions of nature, and innate characters, when we may observe in ourselves faculties, fit to attain as easy and certain knowledge of them, as if they were originally imprinted on the mind.

This statement neatly sums up Locke's entire purpose in the lengthy Book II, though it is made at the very start of Book I. In Book I, immediately following this quotation, he attempts to demolish the position of *innate ideas* and principles on their own terms. In Book II he turns to the more important task of demonstrating how our faculties are, in fact, able to cull from experience all the ideas that fill our head. If he can really account for all of our ideas by tracing them to experience, he will undermine the need for innate ideas and strengthen the empiricist position considerably.

Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters.

This is the well-known "tabula rasa" passage. It is probably the most famous statement of the empiricist position. By calling the mind a blank sheet of paper, Locke means to claim that the mind at birth contains no ideas. Experience must then "write" on the mind by furnishing it with ideas.

Pound an almond and the clear white color will be altered to a dirty one and the sweet taste into an oily one. What real alteration can the beating of a pestle make in any body, but an alteration of the texture of it?

This is one of Locke's most famous thought experiments. It is meant to demonstrate that secondary qualities, as we perceive them, are not really in objects themselves. Instead, all that is in objects is primary qualities, such as size, shape, and motion. The secondary qualities that we experience are simply caused by various arrangements of primary qualities. Though an almond tastes sweet to us and looks white to us, there is no taste or color in the almond. His proof? When we alter the taste and color, all we are really doing is pounding the almond into smaller pieces. We are altering the primary qualities of the almond, and yet the change also affects the secondary qualities. Secondary qualities, therefore, exist in objects only as arrangements of primary qualities.

Thus we may conceive how words, which were by nature so well adapted to that purpose, came to be made use of by men, as the signs of their ideas.

This is a concise statement of Locke's theory of meaning. Words, in his view, do not refer to things in the external world, but to the ideas in our head. When you say "dog," for instance, you are not really referring to any dog out in the world, you are referring to an idea you have in your mind of something furry, four legged, loyal, and panting. Even if you say "Lassie" you are not referring directly to that creature you see running around the television screen. You are referring to the idea you have of the dog running around the television screen, in this case the idea that is, or once was, your sensation of that particular dog.

Our knowledge in all these enquiries reaches very little farther than our experience.

This quotation expresses Locke's estimation of the capacity for human knowledge. The "enquiries" to which he is referring include all of natural science. Locke's definition of knowledge is extremely strict; he believes one can only be said to know when one perceives a necessary connection. That is to say, I can only know that A caused B if I can deduce from A that B had to happen. To put it another way, looking simply at A I can predict with absolute certainty that B will happen. Short of this sort of understanding, all one is left with is opinion or belief.


English philosopher (1632-1704)

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings, capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom.

JOHN LOCKE, Second Treatise of Government


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There are a thousand ways to Wealth, but only one way to Heaven.

JOHN LOCKE, Letters on Toleration


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Try all things, hold fast that which is good.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


No man's knowledge can go beyond his experience.

JOHN LOCKE, Essay Concerning Human Understanding


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It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of the truth.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


All men are liable to error; and most men are, in many points, by passion or interest, under temptation to it.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


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I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


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The reservedness and distance that fathers keep, often deprive their sons of that refuge which would be of more advantage to them than an hundred rebukes or chidings.

JOHN LOCKE, Some Thoughts Concerning Education


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Now I appeal to the consciences of those that persecute, torment, destroy, and kill other men upon pretense of religion, whether they do it out of friendship and kindness towards them, or no: and I shall then indeed, and not till then, believe they do so, when I shall see those fiery zealots correcting, in the same manner, their friends and familiar acquaintance, for the manifest sins they commit against the precepts of the Gospel; when I shall see them prosecute with fire and sword the members of their own communion that are tainted with enormous vices, and without amendments are in danger of eternal perdition; and when I shall see them thus express their love and desire of the salvation of their souls, by the infliction of torments, and exercise of all manner of cruelties. For if it be out of a principle of charity, as they pretend, and love to mens souls, that they deprive them of their estates, maim them with corporal punishments, starve and torment them in noisome prisons, and in the end even take away their lives; I say, if all this be done merely to make men Christians, and procure their salvation, why then do they suffer whoredom, fraud, malice, and such like enormities, which, according to the Apostle, manifestly relish of heathenish corruption, to predominate so much and abound amongst their flocks and people?

JOHN LOCK, Letters Concerning Toleration


Beating is the worst, and therefore the last means to be us'd in the correction of children, and that only in the cases of extremity, after all gently ways have been try'd, and proved unsuccessful; which, if well observ'd, there will very seldom be any need of blows.

JOHN LOCKE, Some Thoughts Concerning Education


In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity.

JOHN LOCKE, Second Treatise of Government


Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided.

JOHN LOCKE, Some Thoughts Concerning Education


In short, herein seems to lie the difference between idiots and madmen, that madmen put wrong ideas together, and so make wrong propositions, but argue and reason right from them: but idiots make very few or no propositions, and reason scarce at all.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


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I am sure, zeal or love for truth can never permit falsehood to be used in the defense of it.

JOHN LOCKE, The Reasonableness of Christianity


He that would seriously set upon the search of truth, ought in the first place to prepare his mind with a love of it. For he that loves it not, will not take much pains to get it; nor be much concerned when he misses it.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


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Defects and weakness in men's understandings, as well as other faculties, come from want of a right use of their own minds; I am apt to think, the fault is generally mislaid upon nature, and there is often a complaint of want of parts, when the fault lies in want of a due improvement of them.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it.

JOHN LOCKE, Second Treatise of Government


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The speaking in perpetual hyperbole is comely in nothing but love.

JOHN LOCKE, "Of Love", The Conduct of the Understanding: Essays, Moral, Economical, and Political


Seek to make thy course regular, that men may know beforehand what they may expect.

JOHN LOCKE, "Of Great Place", The Conduct of the Understanding: Essays, Moral, Economical, and Political


Anger is uneasiness or discomposure of the mind upon the receipt of any injury, with a present purpose of revenge.

JOHN LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


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