Outline of John Locke’s Theory of Knowledge

This post summarizes in outline form Locke’s main points. Great review for Phil 101

Epistemology is the study of how we acquire knowledge. What is the “foundation” of science? What is the difference between a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge?

Let’s begin.

I. Humans and Innate Ideas

A. Humans have none, no way!

B. Mind

1.. Blank paper or white paper

2. Tabula Rasa = Blank Slate / Paper

3. “Void of all characters, without any ideas”

C. How does mind come to be furnished with ideas, with “the materials of reason and knowledge?”

1.. Experience (Ta-Da!)

2. Empiricism = Experience

3. Locke is an Empiricist

D. Also, mind reflecting on own internal operation

E. “These two [Experience and self-reflection] are the fountains of knowledge”

III. Sensation and Reflection

A. Those two things are fountains

B. Senses (= Sensation)

1.. “Convey” into mind distinct perceptions of things (external objects)

2. We have ideas of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet (= secondary qualities) by senses

3. From external objects, senses “convey” qualities (#2) that produce perceptions into mind

4. Sequence (simplified):

External Object / Qualities → Senses → Perceptions → Mind → Ideas → Understanding

C. Internal Sense (= Reflection)

1.. Internal only, does not come from outside

a.. For example, perception, thinking, doubting, believing, knowing, willing, etc.

2. Reflection is the notice that the mind takes of its own operation

D. Two fountains furnish understanding with ideas

E. Two fountains are “the only originals from whence [where] all our ideas take their beginnings”

1.. Example of child

a. He learns by degrees (builds up gradually)

b. Ideas of “qualities” are imprinted in memory

c. Tangible qualities “force an entrance to the mind”

d. Child kept in room of only black and white? He’d have no idea of scarlet or green!

IV. Primary and Secondary Qualities

A. Primary

1.. Constantly in object, no matter what happens to object, “utterly inseparable” from a thing

a. For example, grain of wheat, even if chopped up: Solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, number

B. Secondary

1.. For example, Colors, sounds, taste, etc.

2. Can change in object, variable

3. “Power” of things to produce sensations in us

C. Differences between Primary and Secondary

1.. Ideas of Primary: resemblance and patterns “really do exist in the bodies [objects] themselves”

2. Ideas of Secondary: “no resemblance of them [bodies, objects] at all”

a. “What is sweet, blue or warm in idea [secondary] is but the certain bulk, figure, and motion of the insensible parts, in the bodies themselves”

3. For Example:

a. Fire and snowball: pain and comfort (secondary) in us, based on distance, but cannot produce this but by bulk, figure, number, motion (all primary)

b. Water: warmth is motion in minute particles of our nerves in our hand, produced by “corpuscles” of another body; thus same water, at same time, may produce warmth in one hand and cold in other hand (secondary), but figure (primary) never does

D. “Locke’s exposition of the doctrine is seriously confused”—Isaiah Berlin

V. Degrees of Knowledge

A. Intuitive

1.. Agreement or disagreement of two ideas, immediately by themselves, w/o intervention

2. For example,

a. White is not black, circle not a triangle; three is more than two and equal to one and two

3. Irresistible, like bright sunshine

4. Certainty and evidence of all our knowledge

B. Demonstrative

1.. Agreement or disagreement of two ideas, but not immediately, and must have intervening ideas (proofs) and reasoning

a. For example, three angles of triangle and two right ones

2. Slight doubt at first, unlike intuitive knowledge

C. Faith or opinion

1.. It comes “short” of intuitive and demonstrative knowledge

D. Sensitive (sensory) knowledge

1.. Knowledge of existence of particular external objects

2. How do we know?

a. “By that perception and consciousness we have of the actual entrance of ideas from them”

b. I cannot avoid ideas produced in my mind, e.g. the sunlight in my eyes

G. This is Empiricism

Locke is an empiricist–knowledge comes by experience through five senses.

ARTICLES IN SERIES (alphabetical order)

Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

Clifford’s Ethics of Belief

Descartes’s Meditations I and II

Hick’s Evil and God of Love

Hume’s Argument against Design

Hume’s Theory of Knowledge

James’s Will to Believe

Kant’s Ethics

Locke’s Theory of Knowledge

Mill’s Ethics

Nietzsche’s Madman and the Death of God

Paley’s Watchmaker and Design Argument

Plato the Soul Man

Plato’s View of Justice and the Soul

Rachels’s Moral Objectivism

Ryle’s Category Mistake

Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism”

Socrates’s “Apology”


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