John Locke, Essay on Human Understanding

The Essay Concerning Human Understanding is one of the most significant works written by John Locke on the issues of human knowledge and understanding. Although it has quite a philosophical character, Locke’s ideas could be easily connected with the real life and show the importance of the collected experience. It is important to underline that the book appeared in 1689 with the title that now is well-known all over the world. John Locke used to describe the life of a person from birth and through the whole life as a process of gaining experience. Nevertheless, life starts with no experience, and the task of every person is to fulfill that blank slate with the appropriate practices and knowledge. This work is considered to be the primary source of the empirical knowledge in the modern philosophical idea. It influenced the way of thinking of the period and served as a basic philosophical thought for the most prominent thinkers, such as George Berkley and Jan Jack Russo.

The Essay Concerning Human Understanding is divided into four books that form the universal theory of knowledge. Thus, the work includes various notions from the basic understanding that is presented in the simple way to the ideas that deeply concentrate on the subject. Book I, "Of Innate Ideas," can be considered as the argument against the common knowledge that underlines the belief that human is already born with the specific ideas. This book starts with the arguments against the innate knowledge of certain facts, and through the book one can notice the strong position of the author that pointed out the fact of absence of the innate ideas (existence of God is taken as an example). There is a need to underline that Locke divided this book into two main parts regarding the presented information. Thus, the first part argues the existing ideas concerning knowledge and experience, and the second part is devoted to the explanation of Locke`s theory of knowledge and understanding. He explained that all the knowledge comes from the experience (Locke, 1979).

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The detailed position is presented in the Book II, as it provides the answer to the most common questions that could appear in mind while discussing the presented theory. Locke was sure that all the activity of human mind is based on the ideas that come through two channels and appear as the final decision in our mind. The first channel is presented by senses and the second one is considered being the reflection of the mind on its own activity. Locke conducted a research of the thoughts that come to our mind and divided them into simple and complex ideas. Further, he also developed the specific classification of the abovementioned categories. Due to the theory presented by Locke, all of the simple ideas are the part of complex ideas and create the specific way of thinking. This part of the book was written as a research on the origin of all ideas that appear in human mind and their connection with the emotions and events that happen before or after one’s mind generate a specific idea. This concept is an essential part of the theory that presents the philosophical and practical relations between the work of human mind and the knowledge that people collect during their life. Book III, "Of Words" presents the changing in theoretical grounds, as Locke changed the value of the philosophy of mind to the increasing value of the philosophy of language. Thus, in this part of the work he underlined several times that philosophy of mind should be considered as the key point for the entire theory.

The author had a rather simple explanation of such thought, as he underlined that words are not connected directly with the activity of a person in external life, but this power is delegated to the ideas that appear in mind and are able to initiate the activity in real life. The theory of ideas could be an essential step forward in understanding the human nature better and explain certain aspects of life from the point of view of philosophy. The final Book IV, "Of Knowledge and Opinion" gathered all the information concerning the theory of knowledge and explained its essence and application as a tool for understanding the nature of ideas and the way people used to gain life experience. Firstly, Locke used to define the term “knowledge” that better fits to the ideas that he presented in his work (Locke, 1979).

According to Locke`s understanding, knowledge is a strong eternal connection of all ideas in mind without any influence of the external environment. He mentioned four main types of relations between the ideas in mind: actual existence of ideas, their possible coexistence, identity, and relation. Moreover, the philosopher points at the existence of three main grades of knowledge that form the ideas in human mind. Thus, intuition is considered being the highest of three grades; demonstration is on the second place in the hierarchy, and sensitive knowledge is a step that forms information for other levels. Locke regarded the power of belief as one of the main tools for generation of new ideas. In the last part of the work, he underlined his attitude towards the science and to those data that is given to people with the help of scientific research. Thus, the scientific data should be collected by people in order to make a choice between different types of ideas that are generated in different ways. Locke saw the main aim of his theory in understanding the essence of knowledge and the way it could influence all the processes in human life. In fact, formation of the better opinion of the world could be considered as an important goal to achieve.

John Locke paid a lot of attention to the different sides of the human understanding and the activity of mind. His theory has some innovations that are directly connected with the multiple mechanisms of the research in the sphere of knowledge and experience. One of the most prominent of them concerns his strong argument against the belief that human beings are born with the certain type of knowledge and use it in the future life as the experience taken from the past. His critic was presented as the contrast to the ideas of such a prominent philosopher as Plato. Thus, Locke not only argued the existing theories but also replaced them by his own theory of knowledge that came from the idea of the blank slate, and underlined the fact that every person from the birth had no previous knowledge and was able to form the understanding and knowledge due to the collected experience.

The ideas are connected with the activity of mind that is provoked by the sense and reflection of mind. Thus, his theory has not explained all the possible ways of collecting information. Nevertheless, the experience should be the ground for the knowledge, but all people are free from any experience from birth and have to collect it while going through different types of feelings, emotions, and activities. Locke used to research different objects of experience but, at the same time, paid less attention to the connection between the experience and knowledge. It is important to understand how the experience could be transformed into knowledge and how to use this knowledge in future in order to combine proper ideas in mind. The author tried to explain in a plain language that all of the ideas that appear in human mind could be presented by simple ideas, and all of these simple thoughts could form a complex idea (Locke, 1979).

Thus, there is no doubt that there is no reason to break these simple ideas into smaller parts as they are already the elements of a more complex structure. Locke used to underline the fact that every idea is the result of the process of thinking or is a product of human activity. The idea could be considered as an immediate reaction of the mind to the changes in the external world or as a chain reaction of ideas inside the mind. In fact, Locke had no explanation on the ideas that appear in human mind without any connection to the real life or senses that may have an influence on the generation of certain ideas. One may find the above mentioned theory as one of the possible explanations of the essence, the role of an idea in the activity of mind, and main tools that could be used in order to generate new ideas based on certain knowledge. Locke had a rather specific understanding of knowledge that was quite different from those presented by philosophers of that period. However, most of the thinkers of the seventeenth century supported Locke`s idea about the limit of human knowledge. Thus, he used to implement these concepts in a philosophical manner but not as practical knowledge. After the research was conducted and these ideas were supported by philosophers of that period, Locke was still sure that the real knowledge could not be reached by the research of natural science. He points at the necessity to avoid any kind of limits when it comes to the knowledge and experience.

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