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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689)

Tekijä: John Locke

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Volume 1 of a 2-volume set of Locke's monumental work containing every word of all 4 books comprising the Essay. Marginal analyses of almost every paragraph, plus hundreds of explanatory footnotes.
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The year of 1689 saw two publications that would make John Locke influential force in political discussions for the next four plus centuries, but a third publication would set the stage for a new school of modern philosophy. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in which Locke argues against that the mind is born with innate ideas and is instead a blank slate that knowledge is gained through experience.

The work is divided into four books: Book I focuses on Locke’s main thesis in opposing the principle of innate ideas, Book II presents Locke’s argument that every idea is derived from experience either by sensation or reflection, Book III focuses on words and how man uses unique sounds to signify ideas then relate them to others, and Book IV focuses on knowledge in general—that it can be thought of as the sum of ideas and perceptions—and if there can be a limit to human knowledge. Over the 635 pages, Locke’s reasoning while thorough also verged on bloated arguments that would have diluted the overall piece. Of the entire essay, Book IV had the most interesting material as Locke focused on various issues but the one that stood out the most was his look into the existence of God and of Faith and Reason.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is a thoughtful yet nearly bloated piece in which John Locke puts forth his thoughts on how we gain knowledge and how we should use it. ( )
  mattries37315 | Feb 19, 2023 |
I also agree with him. Innate idea does not exist. without some memory with DNA> >
  Azmir_Fakir | Oct 31, 2022 |
CG-2
  Murtra | Oct 12, 2020 |
This book was overlong and I am glad to be finished with it. Locke has a tendency to iterate and reiterate points and "proofs" ad nauseam. He also has a tendency to discourse on things that are not altogether relevant to the topic at hand; while this might be acceptable now and then, Locke does it to an extreme that is taxing on the reader's attention and patience. This book, if it weren't for the redundancies and lack of focus, would be a far more acceptable length. That being said, it was not as tiresome as I thought it would be. He does make some interesting points and his exploration of topics are often adequately thorough, although I did not always agree with his arguments. His "tabula rasa" is the obvious first point of contention for me. While I agree that the mind lacks fully formed ideas, to compare it to a blank canvas or blank notepad is an incredibly poor analogy. A pad of paper doesn't comprehend the words written on it. The human mind, from birth, has some capability towards semeiotic dynamism that is not only lacking in lifeless media, but also lacking in other lifeforms on this planet. Some very complex preset condition must be responsible for this. While Locke allows the mind some instinctual capability from birth, he allows it no preset ideas. I think that Jung, and others before and after him, did a fairly good job of proving the validity of archetypal (a word found in Locke interestingly enough) notions being very basic within human generation. I do intend to read Leibniz's response to this book because I know he was against the foregoing theory. Some other things did catch my attention while reading this book as well; one was the phrase "pursuit of happiness" that is found and explored in a section of this work. One can't help thinking that it was this section that inspired the framers of the Declaration of Independence to use that phrase. What I found interesting though is that essential to Locke's discussion is the notion that not all pursuits really make for happiness but one must be discerning and choose to relinquish false avenues in that pursuit. Too bad many Americans do not know the context of the phrase "pursuit of happiness" that was originally intended by Locke.
The last hundred pages were probably the most interesting for me. I wound up marking whole paragraphs in the chapter devoted to enthusiasm. Also, his discussions regarding intuitive knowledge I agreed with in large part, although my definition of intuitive knowledge is slightly more broad.
While Locke was a professing Christian, this work, along with others, contributed to the growing tide of deism in England. Some of his points were utilized by deists subsequently, and are still used by atheists. I did agree with his discussion regarding faith and reason to a large extent, but I think some of his arguments regarding the role of reason and faith are not as clear cut as he sets out here. Many of the roles he delegates to reason puts far too much stock in it's ability to always know definitively and a priori how it can work as a foil to faith/revelation.
It is easy to see the influence this work had on philosophers subsequently. It almost certainly was an influence on Kant. I doubt I will be rereading this anytime soon. It was worth reading once and noting the more interesting portions for future reference. ( )
  Erick_M | Jun 4, 2016 |
I see I gave book three of the Essay five-and-a-half stars when I read it on its own, which I hope shows that I do see the insightful and innovative side of this magnum opus, because I think I'm about to come across more negative about it than I mean to.

Why?? Well, so there is a cute thing Locke says near the beginning that serves not only as life maxim but also as oblique and presumably unintentional commentary on his own work: "It is of great use to the sailor to know the length of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths of the ocean. It is well he knows that it is long enough to reach the bottom, at such places as are necessary to direct his voyage, and caution him against running upon shoals that may ruin him." Locke goes further to say that is our job here in the Essay too and we shouldn't expect to know it all, but dude ... I feel so incorrigibly modern for saying this, but stop trying to know it all then! You can't be a fox and a hedgehog at the same time! Or if you're going to be a psychologist, then psychologize, but stop talking about sailors and ropes and not needing to know it all if you're about to spend six hundred pages anatomizing our ideas of things and the operations of the human mind. This is not a cheery, speculative, line-trawling kind of book--it is a System, and how you feel about reading the thing instead of a two paragraph summary in A History of Western Philosophy or your psych text or something will depend a lot on how you feel about prolix, ponderous systematicity.

For me, I am getting old and sad and this old sailor didn't need Locke to prove that cultural relativism exists or that it doesn't make sense to argue that ideas are innate if kids still have to learn them. I know it was noble service. I'm even prepared to imagine that you invented the present-day model of the self, because if not you, then who? But did you have to do it at such length, and then mock us by being all "I know I repeat myself, but enhhh, fuckit"?

One good way to deal with this issue is to read this as a treasure hunt for epigrams, which will result in a rich sense of the process whereby the gentleman of the Enlightenment gathers the low-hanging fruit of the understanding. Sometimes it is perverse--like, the kind of perversity that takes "manna" as the go-to example of the perception of the qualities of substances--manna is sweet, manna is white, shove your manna up your manna hole. But sometimes it's kind of neat--if the sun melts wax is that quality in the sun or the wax? Sunny-dock, grass-chewing stuff. Overall I'm sort of 49% no on that stuff (I challenge anyone to remove a part of space from space. Now!); but what it distracts from is that he's discussing infinity/eternity and categoricity/gradience and free will in sophisticated ways and sometimes talks about what it would be like if we had microscope eyes, and that stuff I am like 57% yes on, even when it's done Locke style.

One funny thing is the way he tries to be universalist and then tumbles into the rabbit hole of differences in perception and the only thing he can do to deal with it is turn to language--the weird ways we put words together, they ways they trick and slied, the "double conformity" of words to our ideas and the ideas of others, and the funny little social compact called language that we try to salvage meaning with. The "connection of ideas," a concept with import beyond its days. (Probably this would be a weird review of Locke if it didn't also mention the tabula rasa in that capacity.) There is annoying Christian contusions about epistemology--"here is a thing that makes sense but oh the one exception is God." And much of this is near-impenetrable and seemingly trivial when penetrated. Is that a founder effect, like it seems obvious NOW, or am I just a whiner? At least it's not Leibniz. ( )
2 ääni MeditationesMartini | Jul 24, 2013 |
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John Lockeensisijainen tekijäkaikki painoksetlaskettu
Ikere, ZaigaKääntäjämuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
Woolhouse, RogerToimittajamuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
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Since it is the understanding that sets man above the rest of sensible beings, and gives him all the advantage and dominion which he has over them; it is certainly a subject, even for its nobleness, worth our labour to inquire into.
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Volume 1 of a 2-volume set of Locke's monumental work containing every word of all 4 books comprising the Essay. Marginal analyses of almost every paragraph, plus hundreds of explanatory footnotes.

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