An Essay concerning Human Understanding.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke

Locke - An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


"Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was a live, bi-directional, interactive, telematic, interspecies sonic installation I created with Ikuo Nakamura between Lexington (Kentucky), and New York. In this work, a canary dialogues over a regular phone line with a plant (Philodendron) 600 miles away. The piece was exhibited in the context of my show Dialogues, realized in 1994 simultaneously on the Internet and in museums and galleries. "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was presented publicly from October 21 to November 11, 1994, simultaneously at the Center for Contemporary Art, University of Kentucky, Lexington, and the Science Hall, in New York.

Includes “An answer to remarks upon an Essay concerning humane understanding,” a reply to ; reprinted (with Burnet’s ):  and

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John Locke's classic work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding laid the foundation of British empiricism and remains of enduring interest today. Rejecting doctrines of innate principles and ideas, Locke shows how all our ideas, even the most abstract and complex, are grounded in human experience--attained by sensation of external things or reflection upon our mental activities. A thorough examination of the communication of ideas through language and the convention of taking words as signs of ideas paves the way for his penetrating critique of the limitations of ideas and the extent of our knowledge of ourselves, the world, God and morals. This abridgement, based on P.H. Nidditch's acclaimed critical edition, retains in full all key passages, thus enabling Locke's arguments to be more clearly followed. The new introduction by Pauline Phemister provides valuable background on Locke's essay, illuminating its arguments and conclusions. The book also includes a chronological table of significant events, select bibliography, succinct explanatory notes, and an index--all of which supply additional historical information and aids to navigating the text.

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“An essay concerning human understanding.” // IN:  / edited by A.J.  and Raymond . – London : Routledge & K. Paul, 1952. – p. 31-160.

At the beginning of An Essay Concerning Human UnderstandingLocke says that since his purpose is “to enquire into theOriginal, Certainty and Extant of human knowledge, together with thegrounds and degrees of Belief, Opinion and Assent” he is goingto begin with ideas — the materials out of which knowledge isconstructed. His first task is to “enquire into the Original ofthese Ideas…and the ways whereby the Understanding comes to befurnished with them” (I. 1. 3. p. 44). The role of Book I of theEssay is to make the case that being innate is not a way inwhich the understanding is furnished with principles and ideas. Locketreats innateness as an empirical hypothesis and argues that there isno good evidence to support it.

John Locke, The Works of John Locke, vol. 1 (An Essay concerning Human Understanding Part 1) [1689]


: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).38th Edition from William Tegg, London; scanned in three separate excerpts from early in the work.John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Draft A of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: the Earliest Extant Autograph Version, edited by Peter H. Nidditch (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980) Special Collections B 1289 NN12
The English philosopher and political theorist John Locke (1632-1704) laid much of the groundwork for the Enlightenment and made central contributions to the development of liberalism. Trained in medicine, he was a key advocate of the empirical approaches of the Scientific Revolution. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” he advanced a theory of the self as a blank page, with knowledge and identity arising only from accumulated experience. His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect “life, liberty and estate” deeply influenced the United States’ founding documents. His essays on religious tolerance provided an early model for the separation of church and state.Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689) outlined a theory of human knowledge, identity and selfhood. To Locke, knowledge was not the discovery of anything either innate or outside of the individual, but simply the accumulation of “facts” derived from sensory experience. To discover truths beyond the realm of basic experience, Locke suggested an approach modeled on the rigorous methods of experimental science.John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Draft B of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: the Fullest Extant Autograph Version, edited by Peter H. Nidditch (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1982) Special Collections B 1289 NN13John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704) was a British philosopher, Oxfordacademic and medical researcher. Locke's monumental An EssayConcerning Human Understanding (1689) is one of the first greatdefenses of empiricism and concerns itself with determining the limitsof human understanding in respect to a wide spectrum of topics. Itthus tells us in some detail what one can legitimately claim to knowand what one cannot. Locke's association with Anthony Ashley Cooper(later the First Earl of Shaftesbury) led him to become successively agovernment official charged with collecting information about tradeand colonies, economic writer, opposition political activist, andfinally a revolutionary whose cause ultimately triumphed in theGlorious Revolution of 1688. Among Locke's political works he is mostfamous for The Second Treatise of Government in which heargues that sovereignty resides in the people and explains the natureof legitimate government in terms of natural rights and the socialcontract. He is also famous for calling for the separation of Churchand State in his Letter Concerning Toleration. Much ofLocke's work is characterized by opposition to authoritarianism. Thisis apparent both on the level of the individual person and on thelevel of institutions such as government and church. For theindividual, Locke wants each of us to use reason to search after truthrather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject tosuperstition. He wants us to proportion assent to propositions to theevidence for them. On the level of institutions it becomes importantto distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate functions ofinstitutions and to make the corresponding distinction for the uses offorce by these institutions. Locke believes that using reason to tryto grasp the truth, and determine the legitimate functions ofinstitutions will optimize human flourishing for the individual andsociety both in respect to its material and spiritual welfare. This inturn, amounts to following natural law and the fulfillment of thedivine purpose for humanity.