Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding—Book II


     Copyright © 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli


Book II. Of Ideas:


Book II of the Essay provides an exhaustive account of the way in which all the objects of the mind are “built-up” from the ideas of sensation and reflection, and, of course, an account of the various mental faculties which are involved in such a “construction.”  The first chapter provides an overall introduction.  I will divide the Book into eight parts:


A. Introduction—Chapter i,

B. Regarding Simple Ideas of Sensation—Chapters ii-v,

C. Regarding Simple Ideas of Reflection—Chapter vi,

D. Regarding Simple Ideas of Sensation and Reflection—Chapter vii,

E. Regarding the Distinction Between “Qualities” and “Ideas—Chapter viii,

F. Regarding Mental Faculties—Chapters ix-xi,

G. Regarding Complex Ideas: Modes, Substances, and Relations—Chapters xii-xxviii,

H. Properties and Characteristics of Ideas—Chapters xxix-xxxiii. 


A. Introduction—Chapter i:


Chapter i. Of ideas in general, and their original:[1]


*II i 1 Locke contends that the claim that we have ideas is “past doubt.”  The question then becomes, how do we come by them? 


*II i 2 He maintains that the mind is a “white paper,” and only sensation and reflection write upon it.[2]  That is, he holds that experience provides all the materials of knowledge. 


-Locke realized that some would object that our knowledge of necessary truths could not be derived from experience.  According to Woolhouse, “he replied by distinguishing between ideas, the materials of knowledge, and knowledge itself.  He then made it plain that what initially is derived from experience is merely ideas, not knowledge itself.”[3]  Woolhouse notes that Locke maintains that “...knowledge of this sort could not come from experience.  The conclusion was then drawn, for example by Lowde and by Leibniz, that knowledge of such truths must be innate. 

  Locke, of course, does not draw this conclusion.  There is a subtlety in his position.  He does not accept that a piece of knowledge must either be innate or else must come from experience.  Though he denies that any of our knowledge is innate, he also denies that it comes directly or immediately from experience.  What do come directly from experience are ideas.  But these do not constitute knowledge.  They are merely the materials out of which all knowledge is constructed.”[4] 


-Cf., II i 25. 


II i 3 Sensible ideas are identified by Locke: yellow, heat, cold, soft, bitter, etc.—ideas which arise in the understanding through sensation. 


-In this section Locke introduces the important conception of “qualities”—cf., II ii 1 and II viii 7-8. 


II i 4 Reflection is the other source of our ideas. 


-“By REFLECTION then, in the following part of this discourse, I would be understood to mean, that notice which the mind takes of its own operations, and the manner of them, by reason whereof, there come to be ideas of these operations in the understanding.” 


*II i 5 There is no other source of our ideas than sensation or reflection: “let anyone examine his own thoughts, and thoroughly search into his understanding, and then let him tell me, whether all the original ideas he has there, are any other than that of objects of his senses; or of the operations of his mind....” 


*II i 9 Locke maintains that the having of ideas and perceiving are one and the same thing—the mind begins to have ideas upon perception. 


-II i 10 But the having of ideas is not the essence of the mind—not any more than motion is the essence of the body.  The body may exist without moving, and the mind may exist without perceiving, thinking, or having ideas. 


--This claim constitutes a significant, and important disagreement with Descartes! 


--II i 11-19 Locke elaborates upon his difference with Descartes on the nature of the mind.  In sections 11 and 12, he argues that we need to connect thought and consciousness if we are to make sense of personal identity.  It would be hard to distinguish two different “Cartesian minds” at that point where neither is having occurrent conscious experiences!  Imagined cases of switching souls between Castor, Pollux,[5] Hercules, Plato, and Socrates.  Cf., II xxvii 3-29! 


II i 20 The view that there are no ideas except those which arise from sensation or reflection is evident if we observe children. 


-II i 24 All ideas, even the most sublime thoughts, have their origins in these two sources. 


*II i 25 In the case of simple ideas, the mind is passive: “...whether or not, it will have these beginnings, and as it were materials of knowledge, is not in its own power.  For the objects of our senses, do, many of them, obtrude their particular ideas upon our minds, whether we will nor no; and the operations of our minds, will not let us be without, at least some obscure notions of them....These simple ideas, when offered to the mind, the understanding can no more refuse to have, nor alter, when they are imprinted, nor blot them out, and make new ones in itself, than a mirror can refuse, alter, or obliterate the images or ideas, which, the objects set before it, do therein produce.” 


B. Regarding Simple Ideas of Sensation—Chapters ii-v:


Chapter ii. Of Simple Ideas:


*II ii 1 While the qualities[6] that affect our senses may be, in themselves, connected, the simple ideas we receive are distinct and unconnected.  Thus while sight and touch may be “connected” in the object, they are distinct in perception: “...there is nothing can be plainer to a man, than the clear and distinct perception he has of those simple ideas; which being each in itself uncompounded, contains in it nothing but one uniform appearance, or conception in the mind, and is not distinguishable into different ideas.” 


-This yields what can been called his “atomisticpsychology.  That is, he views the differing simple sensory qualities as distinct and distinguishable, and he views the different “simple ideas” as distinct and distinguishable. 


--Criticisms: In her “Do You Smell What I Hear? Neurologists Discover Crosstalk Among The Senses,” Lila Guterman maintains that: “if you think you have five separate senses, think again.  Neuroscientists are finding evidence that what you see can influence what you taste, what you touch changes what you see, and other sensory crosstalk can guide our perceptions.”[7] 


She also notes that: “you could also make a friend see visions.  If you show her a flash on a computer screen while playing two beeps, she’ll swear she saw two flashes.”[8] 


In her “Synesthetes Show Their Colors,” Guterman maintains that: “...synesthetes, encounter interactions among their senses daily: They see colors when they hear musical tones, envision shapes when they smell certain odors, or most commonly, see colors when they read letters or numbers.”[9] 


*II ii 2 Moreover, the mind can not make these simple qualities—it can repeat, compare, unite simple ideas, but it may not invent or frame them. 


Chapter iii. Of ideas of one sense:


*II iii 1 Simple ideas can be divided into those which come from:


-only one sense (colors, noises, tastes, etc.)—cf., II iv (solidity);

-more than one sense—cf., II v (space, figure, rest, motion, etc.);

-reflection only (some cases of remembrance, discerning, reasoning, judging, etc.)—cf., II vi; and

-both sensation and reflection (pleasure, pain, power, existence, unity, and succession)—cf., II vii. 


Chapter iv. Of Solidity:


In this Chapter Locke traces out the origin of our “spatial ideas”—he traces the ideas of solidity, space, hardness, etc.  His goal is to pursue his strategy of showing the “original” of our ideas (as a means of legitimating them).  W.T. Jones contends that Locke’s use of his “historical plain method” to reduce complex ideas (like those of space, number, and substance) to collections of simples has a fundamental flaw:


the basic trouble is Locke’s assumption that the originals of all our ideas are simple elements.  Because of this assumption, Locke’s method became a search for simple units of sensation (or reflection).  But do we start with the ideas “red,” “sweet,” “spherical,” and compound them to get the idea of “apple”?  Or do we see an apple and then, by a process of selective attention, note that it is red, spherical, and so on?  Surely, the latter.  The world of ordinary experience is a world of objects, and Locke’s simple ideas, far from being starting points of experience, are terminals. 

  As William James said,

No one ever had a simple sensation by itself.  Consciousness, from our natal day, is of a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations, and what we call simple sensations are results of discriminative attention, pushed often to a very high degree.  It is astonishing what havoc is wrought in psychology by admitting at the outset apparently innocent suppositions, that nevertheless contain a flaw.  The bad consequences develop themselves later on, and are irremediable, being woven through the whole texture of the work.  The notion that sensations, being the simplest things, are the first things to take up in psychology is one of these suppositions.[10] 

  Locke’s critique of innate ideas confused a psychological question with an epistemological question, asking “What are the causes of our ideas?” instead of “What is the test of their truth?”  Here, Locke made the opposite error.  Instead of the historical order (from complex to simple), he gave the logical order (from simple to complex).  But since he supposed himself to be giving the historical order, he had to invent various complicated mental processes to reconstruct the world of experience. 

  It seems likely that in this instance Locke was influenced by a physical parallel.  Psychology, he thought, must correspond to physics.  If the latter accounts for the behavior of gross bodies by showing that they are “composed” of particles in local motion, the former must deal with atomic sensations and account for psychic behavior in terms of various mechanical combinings and separatings of thought-elements. 

  Though such compoundings might conceivably account for such complex ideas as “centaur,” “gold mountain,” or “glass slipper,” they obviously cannot account for ideas like “substance,” which as Locke’s own analysis made clear, are not aggregates of elementary sensations.  Thus, if the idea of necessity is, as Locke said, a “conclusion,” it is manifestly not an original element.  It would seem that in using such vague terms as “collect,” “suggest,” "infer,” and “conclude,” Locke covertly introduced elements found neither in sensation nor in reflection.  This does not mean that “necessity” and “cause,” for instance, are innate ideas, in either the Cartesian or the Leibnizian sense.  On the contrary, it suggests...that the dispute over how ideas get “into” the mind was a red herring, and that the relation between the mind and its ideas must be conceived of in an altogether different way.[11] 


II iv 1 The idea of solidity, Locke contends, comes from touch, and we “receive” this idea constantly. 


-II iv 2 it “fills” space;


-II iv 3 it is distinct from space;


-II iv 4 it is distinct from hardness;


-II iv 5 it depends upon impulse, resistance, and protrusion; and


-II iv 6 if one is asked to define ‘solidity’, one cannot do it: “the simple ideas we have are such, as experience teaches them to us; but if beyond that, we endeavor, by words, to make them clearer in the mind, we shall succeed no better, than if we went about to clear up the darkness of a blind man’s mind, by talking; and to discourse into him the ideas of light and colors.” 


--Look at the MyDictionary.com definition of ‘solid!’ 


--Discuss “ostensive definitions.”  


Chapter v. Of simple ideas of divers senses:


These ideas include: space, extension, figure, rest, and motion. 


C. Regarding Simple Ideas of Reflection—Chapter vi:


Chapter vi. Of simple ideas of reflection:


II vi 2 The two principal actions of the mind are perception (or thinking) and volition (or willing).  These actions produce our ideas of perception and of willing. 


D. Regarding Simple Ideas of Sensation and Reflection—Chapter vii:


Chapter vii. Of simple ideas of both sensation and reflection:


II vii 1 Some ideas arise from both sensation and reflection.  Examples include: pleasure, pain, power, existence, unity, and succession. 


E. Regarding the Distinction Between “Qualities” and “Ideas”—Chapter viii:


Chapter viii. Some further considerations concerning our simple ideas:


*II viii 7 Ideas are in the mind, qualities are in bodies; and we can not simply conclude that the former are images or resemblances of the latter. 


-II viii 8 “Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object or perception, thought, or understanding, that I call idea; and the power to produce any idea in our mind, I call quality of the subject wherein that power is.” 


*II viii 9 Primary and Secondary Qualities:


Primary qualities “...are utterly inseparable from the body, in what estate soever it be; such as in all the alterations and changes it suffers, all the force can be used upon it, it constantly keeps; and such as sense constantly finds in every particle of matter, which has bulk enough to be perceived, and the mind finds inseparable from every particle of matter, though less than to make itself singly be perceived by our senses.  v.g. Take a grain of wheat, divide it into two parts, each part has still solidity, extension, figure, and mobility; divide it again, and it retains still the same qualities; and so divide it on, till the parts become insensible, they must retain still each of them all those qualities.  For division (which is all that a mill, or pestle, or any other body, does upon another, in reducing it to insensible parts) can never take away either solidity, extension, figure, or mobility from any body, but only makes two, or more distinct separate masses of matter....These I call original or primary qualities, of body, which I think we may observe to produce simple ideas in us....” 


-Here it might be helpful to distinguish between “representative” theories of perception; and “direct realistic,  phenomenalistic, "and “idealistic” theories of perception.  The former maintains that our ideas represent “things” (Locke is, of course, a representative theorist)!  Direct realists hold that we perceive the “things”—that is, they do not put something (“ideas”) between us and the “things” (Thomas Reid, a theorist of Locke’s time, is an example here).  Phenomenalists do not go beyond the appearances—like the representationalists they talk about the “ideas,” but, unlike the representationalists, they do not hold that these ideas “represent” anything; but, unlike the representationalists, they do not hold that we can know that these ideas “represent” anything (effectively, they are "agnostic" about claims regarding the representational capacity of our ideas.  Idealists, finally, deny there is anything to be “represented” by our ideas—Berkeley, as we shall see, offers such a view. 


*II viii 10 Secondary qualities are “separable from the object,” they are powers in bodies to produce certain sensations in us by the primary qualities: sensations such as colors, sounds, and tastes. 


II viii 11 Primary qualities of bodies produce ideas in us by impulse.  Note the Galilean-Newtonian world-view which is operative here! 


-Cf., the Glossary (p. 361) where ‘impulse’ is defined as: “the action of one body as it pushes against another.” 


II viii 13 “...ideas of secondary qualities are also produced...by the operation of insensible particles on our senses.” 


*II viii 15 The ideas produced by the primary qualities are resemblances: “...the ideas of primary qualities of bodies, are resemblances of them, and their patterns do really exist in the bodies themselves; but the ideas, produced in us by these secondary qualities, have no resemblance of them at all.  There is noting like our ideas, existing in the bodies themselves.  They are in the bodies, we denominate from them, only a power to produce those sensations in us....” 


-II viii 16 Examples of cases where the ideas caused by the secondary qualities are seen not be of the same sort as those produced by the primary qualities—flames, snow, bread, rocks, and almonds. 


II viii 17-26 Real qualities distinguished from “primary” and “secondary qualities. 


-17 Real qualities characterized. 


-18-20 Bread (manna, porphyry, and almonds) and “real qualities.” 


-II viii 21 This helps explain how a vat of water may feel hot to one hand (that has been, say, previously placed in ice-water), while cold to another (which had been previously placed in very hot water). 


-II viii 22 Locke apologizes for the excursion into natural philosophy [science], but contends that it was necessary to help clarify the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. 


-II viii 25 He notes that because the ideas caused by the secondary qualities seem to have noting to do with the primary qualities, we “naturally” assume they resemble some qualities in the bodies. 


--Criticism: Thomson offers a good synopsis of Berkeley’s critique of Locke’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities: “Berkeley criticizes Locke’s distinction by arguing that the resemblance thesis is inconsistent with Locke’s own view of perception.  Berkeley agrees with Locke that the immediate objects of perception are ideas in the mind and the “the mind perceives nothing but its own ideas.”  Berkeley, however, thinks that it is inconsistent to maintain concurrently (as Locke does) the resemblance thesis—that our ideas of primary qualities resemble the primary qualities themselves. 

  First, following Berkeley, we should ask how we could ever know that the resemblance thesis is true, given that we can only perceive our ideas.... 

  Second, Berkeley argues that the resemblance thesis does not even make sense.  The very idea of resemblance only makes sense if two things that are said to resemble each other can in principle be compared.  Berkeley claims that we should not talk of resemblance between mental ideas and material qualities, given that only the former can be perceived.... 

  Third, Berkeley claims that Locke has no reason for distinguishing between our ideas of secondary qualities and our ideas of primary qualities.  Both are really ideas in the mind, and both are equally subject to illusions; consequently, there is no reason to think that one type rather than the other fundamentally resembles the qualities of material objects.”[12] 


--Criticism: Locke’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities makes more sense in the science of his day than it makes in a quantum mechanical era—or does it? 


F. Regarding Mental Faculties—Chapters ix-xi:


In these chapters, Locke discusses: perception (ix); contemplation (x); memory (x); discerning and distinguishing (xi); comparing (xi); composing (xi); naming (xi); and abstraction (xi). 


Chapter ix. Of perception:


*II ix 1 The simplest ideas come to us in perception, which is the first faculty of the mind exercised by our ideas.  Moreover, “...in bare naked perception, the mind is, for the most part, only passive; and what it perceives, it cannot avoid perceiving.” 


-II ix 4 Locke notes that not all impressions yield sensations (sometimes the mind takes no notice of them). 


-II ix 8 He notes that ideas of sensation may be “altered” by judgment (without conscious activity).  He also discusses at length William Molyneaux’s question about the visual ideas of a well-schooled adult who was born blind who suddenly can see.  Locke contends that such an individual would not recognize the visual cube as related to the tactile one.  In his New Essays on Human Understanding, Leibniz considers this case and, as Colin Turbayne maintains: “Leibniz maintained that since shape is common to sight and touch, the once-blind man could recognize the cube by the principles of reason.  He argued that we all possess “a natural geometry.””[13] 


-In his “To See and Not To See,” Oliver Sacks maintains that: “ the seventeenth-century philosopher William Molyneux, whose wife was blind, posed the following question to his friend John Locke: “Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by touch to distinguish between a cube and a sphere [be] made to see: [could he now] by his sight, before he touched them...distinguish and tell which was the globe and which the cube?”  Locke considers this in his 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding and decides that the answer is no.  In 1709, examining the problem in more detail, and the whole relation between sight and touch, in A New Theory of Vision, George Berkeley concluded that there was no necessity concerning the connection between a tactile world and a sight world—that a connection between them could be established only on the basis of experience. 

  Barely twenty years elapsed before these considerations were put to the test—when, in 1728, William Cheselden an English surgeon, removed the cataracts from the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy born blind.  Despite his high intelligence and youth, the boy encountered profound difficulties with the simplest visual perceptions.  He had no idea of distance.  He had no idea of space or size.  And he was bizarrely confused by drawings and paintings, by the idea of a two-dimensional representation of reality.  As Berkeley had anticipated, he was able to make sense of what he saw only gradually and insofar as he was able to connect visual experiences to tactile ones.  It had been similar with many patients in the two hundred and fifty years since Cheselden’s operation: nearly all had experienced the most profound, Lockean confusion and bewilderment.”[14] 


--On the other hand: in his “Even Blind People Can Draw,” Daniel Zalewski maintains that: “early this year [2002], at the museum of Modern Art, scholars gathered to witness an astonishing presentation by an untutored “outsider” artist named Tracy Carcione.  At first glance, Carcione’s simple ballpoint-pen drawings of geometric objects did not seem so impressive—they looked like preparatory sketches for a still-life painting.  What made them remarkable, however, is the fact that Carcione has been blind since infancy.  Although she could only touch, not see, the wooden objects placed on a table in front of her, Carcione’s drawings featured easily recognizable cones, cubes and spheres—all infused with a deft use of perspective that even Leonardo would have admired. 

  All people blind since birth, cognitive scientists now say, share her basic ability to create realistic drawings of everyday objects: a Coke bottle, an armchair, a toothbrush.  But how can visual art possibly be made by people without vision?  The emerging idea is that picture-making is a cognitive ability so deeply embedded in our brains that it flourishes even when our eyes fail us.”[15] 


Zalewski maintains that “what has really shocked cognitive scientists, however, is that many blind artists seem to have tricks of the Renaissance buried inside their brains.  Foreshortening, vanishing points and other devices of modern pictorial realism—techniques that artists in the Middle Ages lacked—can be found in blind art.  At the Modern, when Kennedy asked Carcione to draw a cube balanced on a point with three faces toward her, she began by drawing a Y shape: three angles converging to a point.  When a cube was placed in front of a cone on the table, Carcione drew the cone smaller, to convey distance.  This discovery suggests that realistic art isn’t just a nifty cultural invention; it’s based on hard-wired systems of perception. 

  But if that’s true, why did it take Italian artists well into the 14th century to develop what Carcione came upon through intuition.  It’s still a mystery, but Kennedy theorizes that it has to do with the fact that many blind people, out of necessity, develop an acute ability to imagine physical space.  In other words, visual artists before the Renaissance were too bedazzled by sensory overload to grasp the fundamental architecture of pictorial space.”[16] 


--Then again, in his “Study of Vision Tackles A Philosophy Riddle,” Nicholas Bakalar discusses recent work on the “Molyneux Problem” maintaining that:


new research appears to shows definitely that Locke was right.  The brain cannot immediately make sense of what the eyes are taking in, and the blind man given the ability to see cannot distinguish the two objects.  But he can very quickly learn to do so. 

  Working with a group that provides medical treatment to the blinded and visually impaired in resource-poor countries, the researchers tested five subjects from rural northern India….blind since birth….Before their operations they could perceive light, and two could discern its direction but none could see objects.  Afterword, they all had vision measured at 20/160 or better, good enough to distinguish objects and carry out the tasks of daily living. 

  The children were tested within 48 hours of their operations.  The researchers placed 20 small objects similar to Lego blocks on the table where they could be seen, but not touched.  Then they had the children feel identical blocks under the table and where they were invisible, and try to match them with those they could see.  The average performance in matching one object with another by either touch or sight alone was high, close to 100 percent.  Yet when they were asked to match an object they had felt with an object seen, the average number of correct answers dropped to barely better than chance. 

  But improvement was rapid.[17] 


-II ix 11 Locke notes that perception seems to separate the animals from lesser things. 


Chapter x. Of retention [of ideas]:


*II x 1 The simplest form of retention of ideas is contemplation—which consists of keeping an idea in mind. 


*II x 2 Memory is the next form of retention of ideas: “this laying up of our ideas in the repository of the memory, signifies no more but this, that the mind has a power, in many cases, to revive perceptions, which it has once had, with this additional perception annexed to them, that it has had them before.”


-II x 5 “The pictures drawn in our minds, are laid in fading colors.” 


-II x 7 In remembering the mind may be either active or passive. 


-II x 8 The two defects of memory are oblivion and slowness. 


-II x 10 “Brutes” have memory. 


Chapter xi. Of discerning, and other operations of the mind:


II xi 1 Discerning and distinguishing,


II xi 4 comparing,


II xi 6 composition,




II xi 8 naming, and


*II xi 9 abstraction: “...the mind makes the particular ideas received from particular objects, to become general; which is done by considering them as they are in the mind such appearances, separate from all other existences, and the circumstances of real existences, as time, place, or any other concomitant ideas.  This is called ABSTRACTION, whereby ideas taken from particular beings, become general representatives of all of the same kind; and their names general names, applicable to whatever exists conformable to such abstract ideas.” 


-II xi 10 Brutes can not abstract—“...‘tis in this, that the species of brutes are discriminated from man; and ‘tis that proper difference wherein they are wholly separated, and which at last widens to so vast a distance.” 


II xi 15 Locke contends that the mental faculties discussed in Chapters ix-xi provide for the first beginnings of human knowledge.  One which marks its beginnings (“first objects”), and the steps it makes in progress beyond them.  Cf., I ii 15. 


II xi 17 Locke offers his “dark room” analogy—only external sensation and internal reflection let light in.  Cf., II i 2. 


G. Regarding Complex Ideas: Modes, Substances, and Relations—Chapters xii-xxviii:


Chapter xii. Of Complex Ideas:


*II xii 1 The complex ideas are made by combining, relating, and/or abstracting simple ideas (or other complex ideas).  Examples cited include: beauty, gratitude, a man, an army, and the universe. 


*II xii 3 The complex ideas fall under one of three headings:



-substances, or



-II xii 4 The complex ideas which are termed modes “...contain not in them the supposition of subsisting by themselves, but are considered as dependencies on, or affections of substances.  Examples: triangle, gratitude, murder. 


--II xii 5 The simplest modes are variations or combinations of the same simple idea—e.g., a dozen. 


--Mixed modes are combinations of different simple ideas. 


-II xii 6 The complex ideas which are termed substances are combinations of simple ideas “...taken to represent distinct particular things subsisting by themselves....”  They may be single (a man or a sheep) or several (an army or a flock). 


-II xii 7 The complex ideas which are termed relations “...consist in the consideration and comparing [of] one idea with another....” 


II xii 8 The most abstruse ideas we have can only be the result of the “...repeating and joining together of ideas, that it [the mind] had either from objects of sense, or from its own operations about them....” 


-Note that the distinction between modes, substances, and relations which he discusses here and throughout the remainder of the chapters of this Book is a distinction between various “kinds” of ideas—it involves our “suppositions,” “categorizations,” “conceiving,” etc.  He is primarily concerned with the ideas and with distinguishing them, though he does (inconsistently, I contend) also speak of a distinction between kinds of things (especially as he discusses kinds of substances). 


In Chapter xiii Locke discusses complex ideas which fall under the heading of “simple modes.”  He discusses our spatial ideas: space, distance, thickness, immensity, figure, extension, solidity.  His goal is to pursue his strategy of showing the “original” of our ideas (as a means of legitimating them).  While it is not the most thrilling reading, it is important to follow his detailed attempts to trace our ideas back to their “originals” at least once, and Chapter xiii provides such an opportunity (a briefer opportunity arose earlier, in II iv, where he traced out the origin of our ideas regarding solidity).  I will not comment upon his account here however. 


In Chapters xiv-ixx, he continues his account of our complex ideas under the heading of “simple modes” discussing: duration, succession, time, eternity, number, and infinity.  We will also be skipping over these discussions, but they are important to his enterprise of sketching out the “originals” and “history” of our ideas. 


*Chapter xx Of modes of pleasure and pain:


II xx 1 Amongst the simple ideas, which we receive from both sensation and reflection, pain and pleasure are two very considerable ones. 


II xx 2 Things, then are good or evil, only in reference to pleasure or pain.  That we call good, which is apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain in us; or else to procure, or preserve the passion of any other good, or absence of an evil. 


II xx 3 Pleasure and pain, and that which causes them, good and evil, are the hinges on which our passions turn; and if we reflect on ourselves, and observe how these, under various considerations, operate in us; what modifications or tempers of mind, what internal sensations….they produce in us, we may thence form to ourselves the ideas of our passions. 


If we are to understand Locke’s views it might help to contrast his views with those of Thomas Hobbes, and section 7, which is not included in our selection, can help make the point clearly:


7. JOY is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good; and we are then possessed of any good, when we have it so in our power that we can use it when we please.  Thus a man almost starved has joy at the arrival of relief, even before he has the pleasure of using it: and a father, in whom the very well-being of his children causes delight, is always, as long as his children are in such a state, in the possession of that good; for he needs but to reflect on it, to have that pleasure.[18] 


-The emotion of joy, as described in the second example here, is possible only if the father genuinely cares for the children, this form of pleasure can only arise in the father if he desires, and appreciates, the good of the children, and this is an emotion Hobbes can not allow for.[19] 


*Chapter xxi Of power:


Here Locke elaborates upon his discussion of pleasure, pain, and good, evil, detailing and developing the development of our ideas of power, the will, liberty, volition, necessity, and of our ability to suspend prosecution of our desires (II xxi 47).  These are key to the subsequent discussion of the “relation” of morality (II xxviii). 


II xxi 1 “The mind, being every day informed, by the senses of the alteration of those simple ideas, it observes in things without, and taking notice how one comes to an end, and ceases to be, and another begins to exist, which was not before; reflecting also on what passes within itself, and observing a constant change of its ideas, sometimes by the impression of outward objects on the senses, and sometimes by the determination of its own choice and concluding from what it has so constantly observed to have been, that the like changes will for the future be made, in the same things, by like agents, and by the like ways, considers in one thing the possibility of making that change; and comes by that idea we call power.” 


II xxi 5 This idea of power leads to a discussion of the idea of will, and


II xxi 13 the idea of necessity. 


II xxii He maintains that the question of the “freedom of the will” is “not proper,” whereas the question of the “freedom of the person" (or man) is proper. 


II xxi 31-33 This, in turn, leads to the idea of desire and to his discussion of the idea of determination of the will. 


-uneasiness (of desire) determines the will. 


II xxi 47 “For the mind having in most cases…a power to suspend the execution and satisfaction of any of its desires, and so all, one after another, is at liberty to consider the objects of them; examine them on all sides, and weight then with others.  In this lies the liberty man has; and from the not using it right comes all that variety of mistakes, errors, and faults which we run into, in the conduct of our lives, and our endeavors after happiness; whilst we precipitate the determination of our wills, and engage too soon before due examination.  To prevent this we have a power to suspend the prosecution of this or that desire, as everyone daily may experiment in himself.  This seems to me the source of all liberty; in this seems to consist that, which is…called free will.  For during this suspension of any desire, before the will be determined to action, and the action… done, we have the opportunity to examine, view, and judge, of the good or evil of what we are going to do; and when, upon due examination, we have judged, we have done our duty, all that we can, or ought to do, in pursuit of our happiness….”  This discussion leads to the foundation for the possibility of morality [cf., II xxviii 5-15]. 


Chapter xxii. Of Mixed Modes:


II xxxii 2 His discussion of "notions" is important to the ensuing discussion of “substance.” 


*Chapter xxiii. Of our complex ideas of substances:


II xxiii 1 Locke notes that where a number of simple ideas constantly appear to go together, we are apt to form a single name for this complex, and to consider them as a single (and seemingly simple) idea.  Moreover, since we cannot conceive of them as existing apart from one another these complex ideas “...we accustom ourselves[,] to suppose some substratum, wherein they do subsist, and from which they do result, which we therefore call substance.” 


-II xxiii 2 Strictly speaking, as noted in Chapter xxii 2, it is a notion here, rather than an idea however.  Cf., I iv 18, and II xiii 19. 


-II xxiii 4 Since we don’t have an idea of substance, we don’t have one of corporeal substance. 


-II xxiii 5 Nor, of course, do we have an idea of spirit:


--“...having no other idea or notion, of matter, but something wherein those many sensible qualities, which affect our senses, do subsist; by supposing a substance, wherein thinking, knowing, doubting, and a power of moving, &c. do subsist, we have as clear a notion of the substance of spirit, as we have of body; the one being supposed to be (without knowing what it is) the substratum to those simple ideas we have from without; and the other supposed (with a like ignorance of what it is) to be the substratum to those operations, which we experiment in ourselves within.” 


II xxiii 6 Whatever therefore be the secret and abstract nature of substance in general, all the ideas we have of particular distinct sorts of substances[,] are nothing but several combinations of simple ideas, coexisting in such, though unknown, cause of their union, as makes the whole subsist of itself.... 


-In sections 7-11 Locke notes that the concept of powers is part of the core of our complex ideas of substances. 


-II xxiii 15 He contends that we have as clear an idea of spiritual substances as we do of bodily ones. 


-II xxiii 16 Locke maintains that we have no abstract idea of substance. 


*II xxiii 32 Locke contends, we know nothing but our simple ideas:


-“...whensoever we would proceed beyond these simple ideas, we have from sensation and reflection, and dive further into the nature of things, we fall presently into darkness and obscurity, perplexedness and difficulties; and can discover nothing further, but our own blindness and ignorance.  But whichever of these complex ideas be clearest, that of body or immaterial spirit, this is evident, that the simple ideas that make them up, are no other than what we have received from sensation and reflection; and so is it of all our other ideas of substance, even of God himself.” 


-II xxiii 33-35 Indeed, the idea of we have of a deity is nothing but the complex of a number of simple ideas, each of which has “been enlarged to infinity.” 


II xxiii 37 Locke offers a summary of what ideas and knowledge we have of substance:


-our ideas of simple substances are nothing but collections of simple ideas which we suppose to subsist together;


-the simple ideas which are supposed as subsisting together each arise only from sensation or reflection;


-“...most of the simple ideas...when truly considered, are only powers, however we are apt to take them for positive qualities.”  That is, since many of the ideas which are supposed to co-subsist are produced by secondary qualities in bodies, our “notions” of substance are not simple “suppositions” of co-subsistence in a “something we know not what,” but they are nonrepresentational ideas (the products of other, primary, qualities). 


Chapter xxiv. Of collective ideas of substances: [skip]


In this Chapter, Locke discusses our “ideas” of collections of substances (e.g., an army, which is made up of many individuals [simple substances]).  Clearly, here, we have collections of collections, and they have an ontological status which is no greater than that of those “things” out of which they are constructed. 


Chapter xxv. Of relations:


The topic of relations is of central importance for Locke.  Given that we have no idea of what ideas subsist in (or, at least, no ideas of such which result in any significant knowledge), it is only through relating ideas to ideas that we will arrive at any knowledge beyond what can be had of simple ideas and complexes of simple ideas as either simple or complex modes (which carry no supposition of separate subsistencecf., II xii 4). 


II xxv 1 Here Locke defines ‘relation’:


Besides the ideas, whether simple or complex, that the mind has of things, as they are in themselves, there are others it gets from their comparison one with another.  The understanding, in the consideration of anything, is not confined to that precise object; it [the mind/understanding] can carry any idea, as it were, beyond itself, or, at least, look beyond it, to see how it stands in conformity to any other.  When the mind so considers one thing, that it does, as it were, bring to it, and set it by another, and carry its view from one to t’other: this is, as the words import, relation and respect....” 


-II xxv 2 Relations require “correlative terms” (father and son, etc.). 


-II xxv 7 Locke notes that simple ideas, and complex ideas (whether they are modes—either simple or complex—or substances) are all capable of almost an infinite number of relations. 


-II xxv 8 Locke contends that relational ideas are often clearer than are ideas of substances. 


-II xxv 9 Locke contends that all relations must “terminate” in simple ideas. 


Chapter xxvi. Of cause and effect, and other relations:


II xxvi 1 Locke contends that our idea of the relationship of cause and effect (which is one of the most basic, primitive, and early relational ideas we have), arises as we observe the “beginnings of things” via the application or operation of other things. 


-II xxvi 2 The idea of creation has a similar origin. 


-II xxvi 3-5 Locke notes that in discussing our ideas of time and space, he has already indicated the origin of the ideas of temporal and spatial relations. 


Chapter xxvii. Of identity and diversity:


In this Chapter Locke discusses the relationships of identity and diversity.  Along with the previous relations (cause-effect, time, and space), these relations form the core out of which any knowledge which goes beyond simple ideas and the mere collection of them into groups.  The discussion of identity is enriched by an extended discussion of his view of personal identity.  The difference between Descartes and Locke on this issue is important.  For Descartes, knowledge of the self is the first bit of knowledge which a clearly thinking individual may arrive at.  The self is the clearest, most certain, and best-known substance for him.  Upon this foundation, Descartes builds all his other knowledge claims.  For Locke, as the Chapter shows, the nature of the self is complex, and knowledge of the self is not at all a simple matter. 


II xxvii 1 Locke defines the relationships of identity and diversity: “...when considering anything as existing at any determined time and place, we compare it with itself existing at another time, and thereon form the ideas of identity and diversity....” 


II xxvii 2-6 Locke points out that we have ideas of “three different sorts of substances:” a deity, finite intelligences, and bodies; and each will have its own distinctive principle of individuation.  This discussion should not be taken as if it contradicted his earlier claims that, strictly speaking, we have no idea of substance (but, rather, only a notion).  Instead, what he is concerned with here is with the importance of the relations of identity and diversity, and one way focus our attention on these relations is to look at some broadly different principles of individuation.  Thus, by contrasting the different sorts of “identity” which can arise amongst the diversity of substances, he can help us understand the relations of identity and diversity.  Here Locke comes close to offering a version of is now called contextualism (a view which contends that meanings, distinctions, principles, justifications, etc., are deeply “contextual” rather than firmly fixed).  That is, Locke contends that what the identity conditions are varies depending on what kind of thing it is we are discussing (and what our purposes are).  This is suggestive of Fred Dretske’s contextualistic contention that what counts as “flat” or “empty” depends on the sort of thing we are discussing, our purposes in the discussion, etc.[20] 


Locke distinguishes between:


-the same atom;


-the same mass (collection) of atoms;


-the same organization (of a differing mass of atoms).  Here, according to him, we have what is the core criterion of identity (or principle of individuation) for living things (whether plants or brute animals); and


-the same man.  Locke contends that “same soul” will not do as a principle of individuation of individuals—not after we consider the possibility of “transmigration” of souls. 


-II xxvii 7-9 Locke contends that “same substance,” “same man,” and “same person” are actually different concepts—there are differing criteria of identity at work here:


--like “same animal,” “same man” [same body] has for its criterion of identity a “continued life”—or organization of differing particles;


--“same person,” however, is not the same thing as same man.  While it is usually the case that bodily continuity indicates the continuance of the person, when we reflect, we note that [9] a person is “...a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places; which it does only by consciousness....” 


--II xxvii 10 Locke notes that this [“same consciousness”] criterion of personal identity poses several problems however: we are not constantly conscious of ourselves as ourselves, and our memories are not all-inclusive or infallible.  Nonetheless, he contends in a long passage, it is here that personal identity is correctly located. 


---In his “Locke on Personal Identity,” Kenneth Winkler notes that “Locke’s account...is the ancestor of all those that dispense with sameness of substance (whether soul or body) or stuff (whether mental or physical) and concentrate instead on psychological continuity.”[21]  Locke’s discussion has been the subject of many essays and critiques here.  Of interest, in beginning to fathom the merits and problems in his discussion, are: Anthony Flew, “Locke and the Problem of Personal Identity;” and Henry Allison, “Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity: A Re-Examination.”[22] 


II xxvii 11-26 Locke offers an extended discussion of the relative merits of defining personal identity in terms of bodily-continuity and consciousness.  It is important to note that in this discussion he does not tell us what a person is, instead he gives us a criterion for recognizing whether or not we have a case of “same person.” 


-[11] if one tries to locate personal identity in a physical substance, one runs into problems.  We don’t treat loss of limbs as loss of self.  While we consider our limbs important, bodily continuity leaves off what is even more important: consciousness;


-[12] if one tries to locate personal identity in an immaterial substance, one “must show why personal identity cannot be preserved in the change of immaterial substances” [just as “same man” is preserved as the material atoms change];


-[13] he maintains that if it were possible to transfer “memories” amongst thinking substances, personal identity would move from one such substance to another;


-[14-15] were an immaterial substance permanently stripped of its memories, and came to have new ones, then we would have to say that there were two persons here.  For example [15] were the soul/memories of a prince to come to inhabit the body of a cobbler, we would speak of the cobbler-body as the prince;


-[15] talk of Resurrection [he implicitly notes] requires memories and consciousness, not simply souls;


-[16-18] he contends that consciousness is what is important for personal identity, since [18] “in this [conception of] personal identity is founded all the right and justice of reward and punishment; happiness and misery, being that, for which everyone is concerned for himself, not mattering what becomes of any substance, not joined to, or affected with that consciousness....” 


-[20] Locke recognizes that it will be objected that it is possible for one to partially lose one’s memories: “if it be possible for the same man [that is animal with bodily-continuity] to have distinct incommunicable consciousnesses at different times, it is past doubt the same man would at different times make different persons; which, we see, is the sense of mankind in the solemnest declaration of their opinions, human laws not punishing the madman for the sober man’s actions, nor the sober man for what the madman did.” 


-[21-23] He contends that when we consider (a) same soul, (b) same organization of bodily parts, and (c) same combination of soul and bodily-continuity; we find them all wanting as criteria for personal identity because it is consciousness which is important.  It is with it in mind that our ideas of punishment and reward are structured.  So, he concludes: “nothing but consciousness can unite remote existences into the same person, the identity of substance will not do it.  For whatever substance there is, however framed, without consciousness, there is no person; and a carcass may be a person, as well as any sort of substance be so without consciousness.” 


-[26] Locke contends that ‘person’ is a “forensic term.”[23]  It appropriates actions and their merit to individuals, and, so, “...belongs only to intelligent agents capable of a law, and happiness and misery.  This personality extends itself beyond present existence to what is past, only by consciousness, whereby it becomes concerned and accountable, owns and imputes to itself past actions, just upon the same ground, and for the same reason, that it does the present.” 


--Joseph Butler maintains that Locke’s account of personal identity is circular: “...consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity, any more than knowledge, in any other case can constitute truth, which it presupposes.”[24] 


--Thomas Reid offers the following critique: “suppose a brave officer to have been flogged when a boy at school for robbing an orchard, to have taken a standard from the enemy in his first campaign, and to have been made a general in advanced life; suppose also, which must be admitted to be possible, that when he took the standard he was conscious of his having been flogged at school, and that, when made a general, he was conscious of his taking the standard, but had absolutely lost the consciousness of his flogging.  These things being supposed, it follows from Mr. Locke’s doctrine, that he who was flogged at school is the same person who took the standard, and that he who took the standard is the same person who was made a general.  Whence it follows if there be any truth in logic, that the general is the same person with him who was flogged at school.  But the general’s consciousness does not reach so far back as his flogging; therefore according to Mr. Locke’s doctrine, he is not the same person who was flogged.  Therefore the general is, and at the same time is not, the same person with him who was flogged at school.”[25]  Winkler offers an interesting response to these criticisms in his “Locke On Personal Identity.” 


--To understand Locke’s “forensic view” better, we need to look at his discussion of morality in the next chapter and at his discussion of his knowledge of the self (in Book IV Chapter ix). 


Chapter xxviii. Of other relations:


In this chapter, Locke offers an account of morality.  While his attempt to “derive” the complex idea of murder, for example, from the simple ideas (and from his conception of the moral relationship) fails, it is instructive for our critical consideration of his “historical plain method.” 


II xxviii 2-4 Locke notes that other relations (those which are not temporal, locational, causal, or comparative, may be divided into natural ones ([2] which are used by mankind generally in common life); instituted ones ([3] which are alterable), and moral ones [4].  Given that we treat the relation between fathers and sons as very important, but don’t attach the same importance to the same relationship between cattle; we need to look carefully at the relations we call “moral!”  Locke will discuss the “natural” and “instituted” relations in II xxxiii and IV. 


II xxviii 4 & 5 He notes that at II xx 2 and II xxi 42, he characterized good and evil as “...noting but pleasure or pain, or that which occasions or procures pleasure or pain to us.  Morally good and evil, then, is only the conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law, whereby good or evil is drawn on us, from the will and power of the lawmaker; which good and evil, pleasure or pain, attending our observance, or breach of the law, by decree of the lawmaker, is that we call reward and punishment.”  Morality then, for Locke, is a relationship of our actions to laws. 


-II xxviii 7 Locke notes that there are three levels of law, divine law, civil law, and “the law of opinion or reputation.” 


-II xxviii 8 He maintains that the divine law “…has given a rule whereby men should govern themselves….He has a right to [impose such laws upon us because] we are his creatures; he has goodness and wisdom to direct our actions to that which is best; and he has power to enforce it by rewards and punishments, of infinite weight and duration, in another life: for nobody can take us out of his hands.  This is the only true touchstone of moral rectitude….” 


--Note that in this passage he says that the divine law may be “...promulgated to [men] by the light of nature [he means our experience and reason], or the voice of revelation.”  In effect, he is allowing two sources of knowledge, and this is noteworthy given the exclusive emphasis in the Essay, so far, on sensation and reflection as the sole source of our ideas (and knowledge).  Cf., IV xviii 4 and J.B. Schneewind’s “Locke’s Moral Philosophy.”[26] 


II xxviii 14-15 He contends that “...the mind is easily able to observe the relation any action has to [a law], and to judge, whether it agrees, or disagrees with the rule: and so has a notion of moral goodness or evil…is either conformity, or not conformity of any action to that rule.”  He then offers an account of how the complex idea of murder is “founded on” and “terminates in” simple ideas of reflection and sensation, and in their relationship to civil (and ultimately divine) law.” 


-In his “Locke’s Moral Philosophy,” J.B. Schneewind maintains that: “there is first the question of whether Locke can give an account of what he can take terms such as “right” and “authority” to mean.  All ideas come either from the senses or from inner perception of feelings and mental operations.  From these Locke thinks we can get ideas of pleasure and pain, which enable him to define the ideas of good and evil in their “natural” sense.  But the moral sense of the terms...depends on law, and law requires authority and right.  From introspection we get the idea of power...but the idea by itself does not suffice to account for the idea of authority.  Locke...offers no explicit account of authority as an idea, nor of the idea of right, and it is hard to see how he could do so without showing quite clearly that his epistemology does not contain the resources to enable him to draw the distinction he needs between them and mere power. 

  The second problem concerns motivation.  In the Essays it seems clear that Locke does not think that fear of punishment alone serves to move us to obey God’s natural laws.  Somehow the simple recognition of God’s rightful laws suffices to move us.  Now on Locke’s mature view, what moves us is always connected (however indirectly) with our anticipation of pleasure or pain.”[27] 


H. Properties and Characteristics of Ideas—Chapters xxix-xxxiii:


Chapter xxix: Of clear and obscure, distinct and confused ideas:


II xxix 2 “...our simple ideas are clear, when they are such as the objects themselves, from whence they were taken, did or might, in a well-ordered sensation or perception, present them....So far as they either want anything of the original exactness, or have lost any of their first freshness, and are, as it were, faded or tarnished by time, so far are they obscure.” 


-II xxix 4 For him clear ideas are those of full and evident perception; while distinct ideas are those “wherein the mind perceives a difference from all others.” 


II xxix 10 He contends that confusion in ideas usually (indeed almost always) results from the use of words.


-II xxix 15 He uses “eternity” as an example of a confused idea: “for nothing finite bears any proportion to infinite; and therefore our ideas, which are all finite, cannot bear any.” 


Chapter xxx. Of real and fantastical ideas:


II xxx 1 Real ideas are conformable to their archetypes—they “...have a foundation in nature; such as have a conformity with the real being, and existence of things, or with their archetypes.  Fantastical or chimerical [ideas]...have no foundation in nature, nor have any conformity with any reality of being.” 


-II xxx 2 Simple ideas are all real.  This is obviously the case with ideas caused by primary qualities.  With ideas caused by secondary qualities, “...though whiteness, and coldness, pain, &c. being in us the effects of powers in things without us, ordained by our maker, to produce in us such sensations; they are real ideas in us, whereby we distinguish the qualities, that are really in things themselves.” 


-II xxx 3 In the case of complex ideas, we must recognize that the mind is not passive.  Thus our minds have liberty in forming such ideas and we must look carefully here:


--II xxx 4 Consistent combinations of different simple ideas (what he calls mixed modes), and [consistent] relations cannot be chimerical. 


--II xxx 5 Ideas of substances would be real, of course, if they agree with the existence of things. 


Chapter xxxi. Of adequate and inadequate ideas:


II xxxi 1 Adequate ideas “...perfectly represent those archetypes which the mind supposes them taken from; which it intends them to stand for, and to which it refers them.  Inadequate ideas are such, which are but a partial, or incomplete representation of those archetypes to which they are referred.” 


-II xxxi 2 Our simple ideas are all adequate—though the ideas caused by primary qualities and those caused by secondary qualities differently conform to the powers of things. 


-II xxxi 3 Our complex ideas of modes, since they are simply combinations of simple ideas without any supposition that they conform to something else, “cannot but be adequate ideas.” 


-“But in our ideas of substances, it is otherwise.  For there desiring to copy things, as they really do exist; and to represent to ourselves that constitution, on which all their properties depend, we perceive our ideas attain not that perfection we intend: we find they still want something, we should be glad were in them; and so are all inadequate.  But mixed modes and relations, being archetypes without patterns, and so having nothing to represent but themselves, cannot but be adequate, everything being so to itself....” 


-II xxxi 5 But when modes are considered in reference to names, they may be inadequate. 


III xxxi 6 When ideas of substances are conceived of as if they expressed the real essences of things, they are, clearly, not adequate.  The “common idea” we have of iron (a certain combination of colors, weight, hardness and malleability), for example, can not be taken as the real essence of iron. 


-Talk of “substantial forms” adds nothing here.  Such forms (forma substantialis) were held by the scholastic philosophers (and by Leibniz) to be the “genius under which individuals fall (substantial forms are considered to play an important role in identity and individuation, and a role in explanation).  William Frankena maintains that they are “...that constitutive element of a substance which is the principle or source of its activity and which determines it to a definite species, or class, and differentiates it from any other substance.”[28] 


-Criticism: W.T. Jones points out that Locke’s acceptance of substance poses problems for him: “now consider solidity, figure, motion, and the other characteristics (or, as Locke called them, “primary qualities”) of bodies.  Is there more to both than these qualities?  Descartes had held that these qualities inhere in an “extended substance.”  In view of Locke’s ironic references to the “poor Indian philosopher” and his scorn for the Scholastic men “who suppose that real essences exist,” it might be expected that he would deny this.  But instead, he maintained in a Cartesian fashion that every object “has a real internal but unknown constitution whereon its discernible qualities depend.”  What is more, “all the properties flow: from this essence, so that, if only we could discover it, we could deduce these properties, just as we can deduce the properties of a triangle from its essence (which happens, of course, to be knowable).[29] 

  No wonder Locke’s critics inquired whether his concept of substance was “grounded upon true reason or not.”  Locke simply refused to face up to the alternatives these critics were trying to force on him.  There was little point in holding onto essences while denying that they can ever be known; indeed, if they are unknowable, how could Locke claim to know that they exist?  Nonetheless, Locke wanted to retain the concept of substance.  Most of the things that both he and his critics conceived to be important—God, self, values, for instance—had been interpreted for centuries in terms of substantival modes of thought, to throw out substance seemed equivalent to rejecting them all.  Moreover, Locke wanted a basically rational real.  Even though the historical plain method, which was supposed to be the test of truth and reality, revealed only sequences and groupings of simple sense experiences, Locke wanted to hold onto the view of his critics that this empirical order is somehow or other “grounded upon true reason.””[30]  Cf., III iii 15. 


-It might be said that in 91 years Immanuel Kant will develop “transcendental arguments,” in his Critique of Pure Reason [1781], to try and bridge the gap that Locke appears to confront here. 


Chapter xxxii. Of true and false ideas:


II xxxii 1 Locke points out that truth and falsity are, properly speaking, attributed not to ideas but, rather, to propositions.  As occurrent phenomena, ideas are, simply, had. 


II xxxii 4 When ideas are “referred to” anything [else], [only] then they can be said to be true or false. 


-II xxxii 5 The [other] things which our ideas are often intended to refer to include: other men’s ideas, real [independent] existences, and real essences [of those real existences]. 


--II xxxii 9 Rarely are we wrong when we refer our simple ideas to those of other persons.  Here the use of names is almost always correct. 


--II xxxii 10 In the case of complex ideas of simple modes, we are more likely to be in error when we refer our ideas to those of others. 


--In the case of complex ideas of mixed modes, we are still more likely to be in error when we refer our ideas to those of others.   


--II xxxii 13-18 But when we refer our ideas of substances to real existences, or to real essences, they will be false (this is not the case, however, with our simple ideas, nor is it so with our ideas of modes.  In the case of simple ideas, “truth consists in nothing else, but in such appearances.” 


II xxxii 26 Summary: “the ideas that are in a man’s mind, simply considered, cannot be wrong, unless complex ones, wherein inconsistent parts are jumbled together.  All other ideas are in themselves right; and the knowledge about them right and true knowledge; but when we come to refer them to anything, as to their patterns and archetypes, they are capable of being wrong, as far as they disagree with their archetypes.” 


Chapter xxxiii. Of the association of ideas:


II xxxiii 5 Some of our ideas have a natural correspondence and connection with each other; while some have either a chance, or a conventional connection with each other. 


II xxxiii 19 Before investigating what sorts of knowledge we can have of these connections, however, we need to examine words [language] more carefully.  This section of the Chapter includes both a brief summary of what he has done, and a plan of what is to come! 


(end of Book II)


I. A General Criticism of Book II:


In his “Locke’s Idea of ‘Idea’,” Douglas Greenlee maintains that:


it is a great lapse on Locke’s part neither to have asked nor to have answered in the Essay questions about the idea of idea, its origin and its classificatory location.  Presumably this idea, like that of the faculty of perception, is from reflection.  But Locke does not even come out with this observation.  The closest he comes is to discuss the idea of the faculty of perception, about which he says what he may well be expected to say of the idea of idea, that ‘it is the first and simplest idea we have from reflection, and is by some called thinking in general’ (II, ix, 1).[31] 


Notes: [click on note number to return to text the note refers to]

[1] Locke is using ‘original’ for ‘origin’.  It should be noted that philosophers use single quotes (‘’) to indicate situations where they are speaking about, or mentioning, a word rather than using it.  For example in the sentence “The word ‘short’ is not a long word.”, ‘short’ is mentioned while ‘long’ is used.  In the sentence about the example sentence (that is, the previous one), both are mentioned! 

[2] In his Discourse on Metaphysics [1686], Leibniz maintains that: “Aristotle preferred to compare our soul to tablets that are still blank, where there is room for writing, and he maintained that nothing is in our understanding that does not come from the senses” (Leibniz, Discourse On Metaphysics [1686] section 29, in G.W. Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays, trans. and eds. Daniel Garber and Roger Ariew [Indianapolis: Hackett: 1991], p. 29).  The translators’ note (in a footnote to this passage) that the reference to Aristotle is to his De Anima, Book II, Chapter 4, and that “the doctrine that nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses, attributed to Aristotle by the Scholastics, does not actually occur in Aristotle; perhaps it is a rendering of Posterior Analytics, Book II, chap. 19, or Nichomachean Ethics, Book VI, chap. 3, sec. 3”). 

[3] R.S. Woolhouse, Locke, op. cit., p. 45, emphasis added twice. 

[4] Ibid., pp. 45-46.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[5] Castor and Pollux were mythical immortal sons of Zeus.  These brothers were said to be involved in a number of noble adventures together. 

[6] For Locke, ‘qualities’ refers to powers or properties of bodies to cause sensible ideas in minds.  Cf., II viii 7-8, and II i 3. 

[7] Lila Guterman, “Do You Smell What I Hear? Neurologists Discover Crosstalk Among The Senses,” The Chronicle of Higher Education v. 48 (December 14, 2001), pp. A17-18, p. A17. 

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Lila Guterman, “Synesthetes Show Their Colors,” The Chronicle of Higher Education v. 48 (December 14, 2001), p. A17. 

[10] Jones cites from William James, The Principles of Psychology [1890] (N.Y.: Holt, 1890) v. 1, p. 224. 

[11] W.T. Jones, Hobbes to Hume: A History of Western Philosophy (second edition), op. cit., pp. 251-252. 

[12] Garrett Thomson, Bacon to Kant, op. cit., pp. 153-154. 

[13] Colin Turbayne, George Berkeley: Works on Vision [1709-1733] (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), p. 84, footnote.  Cf., Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding [1765], trans. and eds. Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett, op. cit., sections 136-139. 

[14] Oliver Sacks, “To See and Not To See,” in his An Anthropologist On Mars (N.Y.: Knopf, 1995), pp. 108-152, p. 110. 

[15] Daniel Zalewski, “Even Blind People Can Draw,” New York Times Magazine, December 15, 2002, p. 88. 

[16] Ibid. 

[17] Nicholas Bakalar, “Study of Vision Tackles A Philosophy Riddle,” New York Times, April 27, 2011, p. D 6. 

[18] From the online “The Project Gutenberg EBook of An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding,” Volume I., by John Locke

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10615/pg10615.html accessed January 31, 2013. 

[19] For more on this cf., Joel Feinberg’s “Psychological Egoism” [in Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings (second edition) (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1995), pp. 62-73—the essay was originally composed by Professor Feinberg for his students in 1958, and appeared regularly in his Reason and Responsibility of which there were many editions published by Wadsworth], and my lecture supplement on it at:

http://www2.fiu.edu/~hauptli/Feinberg%27sPsychologicalEgoism.html . 

[20] Cf., Fred Dretske, “The Pragmatic Dimension of Knowledge,” Philosophical Studies, v. 40 (1981), pp. 363-378. 

[21] Kenneth Winkler, “Locke on Personal Identity,” in Locke, ed. Vere C. Chappell (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1998), pp. 149-174, p. 149.  The essay originally appeared in Journal of the History of Philosophy v. 29 (1991), pp. 201-226. 

[22] Cf., Anthony Flew, “Locke and the Problem of Personal Identity,” Philosophy v. 26 (1951), which is reprinted in Locke and Berkeley, ed. C.B. Martin and D.M. Armstrong (Garden City: Doubleday, 1968); and Henry Allison, “Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity: A Re-Examination,” Journal of the History of Ideas v. 27 (1966), which is reprinted in Locke On Human Understanding, ed. Ian Tipton, op. cit. 

[23] As the Glossary at the end of the book makes clear, ‘forensic’ is used to indicate ‘legal’ here. 

[24] Joseph Butler, The Works of Joseph Butler v. 1 (Edinburgh: 1813), pp. 376-377.  The passage is cited in Kenneth Winkler, “Locke On Personal Identity,” op. cit., p. 154. 

[25] Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man [1785], ed. Ronald Beanblossom (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), III, Ch. 6, pp. 217-218). 

[26] Cf. J.B. Schneewind, “Locke’s Moral Philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Locke, ed. Vere Chappell, op. cit., pp. 199-225, esp. pp. 214-215. 

[27] J.B. Schneewind, “Locke’s Moral Philosophy,” op. cit., pp. 214-215.  Emphasis added to passage four  times—bold and italics. 

[28] William Frankena, “Forma,” in Dictionary of Philosophy (Fifteenth Edition), ed. Dagobert Runes (N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1960), p. 111. 

[29] Jones refers the reader to III iii 15, and II xxxi 6. 

[30] W.T. Jones, Hobbes to Hume: A History of Western Philosophy (second edition) (N.Y.: Harcourt, 1952), pp. 256-257. 

[31] Douglas Greenlee, “Locke’s Idea of ‘Idea’,” in Locke On Human Understanding, ed. Ian C. Tipton (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1977), pp. 41-47, p. 43.  The essay originally appeared in Theoria v. 33 (1967), pp. 98-106. 

Go to Lecture Supplement for Book III

Return to PHH 3402 Home-page

File last revised on 02/13/15.