Sunday, November 15, 2009

John Locke - An essay concerning human understanding

Modern European Intellectual History - 2

John Locke (1632-1704) - born in Wrington, Somerset. 1646 - entered Westminster School, studied the classics, Hebrew, and Arabic. 1652 - elected to a studentship at Christ’s Church, Oxford. 1656 - B.A., remained in residence for the master’s degree. Lectured in Latin and Greek. 1664 - appointed censor of moral philosophy. Studied medicine. 1665 - diplomatic mission accompanying Sir Walter Vane to the elector of Brandenburg at Cleves. Rejected a secretaryship under the earl of Sandwich, ambassador to Spain. Returned to Oxford and began to seriously study philosophy. Descartes. 1662 - Met Lord Ashley, earl of Shaftesbury. 1667 - became his personal physician. Assisted Shaftesbury in the framing of a constitution for the colony of Carolina. Secretary for the presentation of benefices and then secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Became a fellow in the Royal Society. 1675 - visited France for his health. 1679 - returned to an England torn by intense political conflicts. 1683 - Fled to Holland. 1689 - returned to England, escorting the princess of the Orange, who later became Queen Mary. 1689 - published Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Purpose of the “Essay” - to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent. Our understanding and knowledge fall far short of all that exists, but we have a capacity for knowledge sufficient for our purposes and matters enough to inquire into.

Ideas - whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks; whatsoever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking.

No innate ideas - we get all our ideas from experience. The senses provide us with particular ideas, which the mind abstracts to general ideas. General ideas, general words, and the use of reason grow together, and assent to the truth of propositions depends on having clear and distinct ideas of the meaning of terms. We have natural faculties or capacities to think and to reason. No innate moral or practical principles, since there is no universal agreement on them. There are eternal principles of morality, which we come to know through the use of reason and experience - but they are not innate.

Source of ideas - sensation or reflection.

Ideas and the real world - physical realism - the ideas we have do represent real things outside of us and do constitute the links by which we know something of the external physical world.

Identity - existence itself constitutes the principle of individuation.

Origin of sensation - a man first begins to think when he has any sensation.

Simple and complex ideas - simple ideas are nothing but one uniform appearance or conception in the mind, and are not distinguishable into different ideas. Once it has them, the mind can combine simple ideas any way it likes, but it can never generate new ones on its own. With simple ideas the mind is passive, they are given by experience. Some ideas, such as pleasure, pain, power, existence, and unity, we have from both sensation and reflection.

Primary and secondary qualities - primary qualities are utterly inseparable from body (solidity, extension, figure, mobility). Secondary qualities are powers to produce various sensation. These ideas do not resemble the qualities of the body themselves (color, odor, sound, warmth, smell). They are signs of events in real bodies.

Ideas of reflection - perception is the first faculty of the mind and without it we know nothing else. The idea of perception is the first and simplest idea we have from reflection.

Memory and contemplation - the retention manifested in contemplation and memory is the second faculty of the mind. Contemplation consist in holding an idea before the mind for some time. Memory - the ability of the mind to revive perception which it has once had, with this additional perception attached, that it has had them before.

Other ideas of reflection - discerning and distinguishing one idea from another, comparing and compounding, naming and abstracting.

Complex ideas - the mind can join several simple ideas together to form one complex idea. Three categories: modes, substance, and relations. Modes are dependencies or affection of substances. Simple modes are variations or different combinations of one simple idea, whereas in mixed modes several distinct ideas are joined to make a complex idea. Ideas of substances represent distinct particular things subsisting in themselves. Complex ideas of relation consist in comparing one idea with another. The mind does not construct complex ideas arbitrarily - objective reality.

Relations - the mind can consider any ideas as it stands in relation to any other. Relations are external. They terminate in simple ideas.

Causation - cause is that which produces any simple or complex idea, and effect is that which is produced.

Identity and diversity - the relation of a thing to itself, particularly with respect to different times and places. Personal identity is consciousness of being the same thinking self at different times and places.

Language - the primary functions of language are to communicate with our fellow men, to make signs for ourselves of internal conceptions, and to stand as marks for ideas. Words, in their primary or immediate signification, stand for nothing but the ideas in the mind of him that uses them. We suppose they stand for the same ideas in the minds of others. Words stand for things only indirectly.

Definition - definition by genus and differentia is merely a convenience by which we avoid enumerating various simple ideas for which the genus stands.

Names - names of simple ideas are not definable. Complex ideas consisting of several simple ideas are definable and intelligible provided one has experience of the simple ideas that compose them. Simple ideas are perfectly taken from the existence of things and are not arbitrary at all. Ideas of substances refer to a pattern with some latitude, whereas ideas of mixed modes are absolutely arbitrary and refer to no real existence. They are not, however, made at random or without reason. It is the name that ties these ideas together, and each idea is its own prototype. Since names for substances stand for complex ideas perceived regularly to go together and supposed to belong to one thing, we necessarily come short of the real essences, if there are any. Essences are of our own making without being entirely arbitrary. The boundaries of the species of substances are drawn by men.

Connective words - signify an action of the mind.

Knowledge - the perception of the connection and agreement or disagreement and repugnancy, of any of our ideas. This agreement or disagreement is in respect to four types: identity and diversity, relation, coexistence or necessary connection, and real existence.

2 sources of knowledge: sensation and reflection. In reflection the mind observes its own action.

Propositions - where there is knowledge, there is judgment, since there can be no knowledge without a proposition, mental or verbal. Truth is the joining or separation of sings as the things signified by them do agree or disagree one with another. There are two sorts of propositions: mental, wherein the ideas in our understandings are, without the use of words, put together or separated by the mind perceiving or judging of their agreement or disagreement; and verbal, which stand for mental propositions.

Judgments - ideas are the materials of knowledge, the terms of mental propositions. They are, insofar as they are given in sensation and reflection, the subject matter of reflection. If perception of agreement or disagreement in identity and diversity is the first act of the mind, than that act is a judgment.

Degrees of knowledge - 2 degrees of knowledge: intuition and demonstration. Intuition is the more fundamental and certain - the mind perceives the agreement or disagreement of two ideas immediately by themselves, without the intervention of any other. Irresistible knowledge, no room for doubt or hesitation. The mind perceives not a third idea, but its own act. In demonstration the mind perceives agreement or disagreement, not immediately, but through other mediating ideas. Each step in demonstration rests upon an intuition. A third degree of knowledge is employed about the particular existence of finite beings without us, which going beyond bare probability and not yet reaching perfectly to either of the foregoing degrees of certainty, passes under the name of knowledge (sensitive knowledge).

Limits of knowledge - knowledge extends no farther than our ideas and, specifically, no further than the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas. We cannot have knowledge of all the relations of our ideas or rational knowledge of the necessary relation between many of our ideas. Sensitive knowledge goes only as far as the existence of things, not to their real essence, or reality.

Knowledge of existents - even though are knowledge terminates in ideas, it is real. Simple ideas are not fictions of our fancies, but the natural and regular production of things without us, really operating upon us; and so carry with them all the conformity which is intended; or which our state requires. All our complex ideas, except those of substances, being archetypes of the mind’s own making, not intended to be copies of anything, not referred to the existence of anything, as to their original, cannot want any conformity necessary to real knowledge. Universal propositions, the truth of which may be known with certainty, are not concerned directly with existence. We have intuitive knowledge of our own existence. We have a demonstrable knowledge of God’s existence. We have sensitive knowledge of the existence of other things.

Probability - faith was the acceptance of revelation. It must be sharply distinguished from reason, which is the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas which it has got by the use of its natural faculties, viz. by sensation or reflection. Though reason is not able to discover the truth of revelation, nevertheless, something claimed to be revelation cannot be accepted against the clear evidence of the understanding. Enthusiasm sets reason aside and substitutes for it bare fancies born of conceit and blind impulse.

Error - error cannot lie in intuition. 4 sources of error: the want of proofs, inability to use them, unwillingness to use them, and wrong measures of probability.

Science or human knowledge is divided into 3 classes - natural philosophy, practical action and ethics, and the doctrine of signs.

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