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John Locke, 1632-1704

locke.gif (16509 bytes)While collecting URLs for this page I was rather surprised to find so few sites devoted to the ideas of John Locke. After all, had it not been for Locke (and his fellow countryman, Isaac Newton), the Age of Enlightenment could possibly have been delayed and quite different in its outlook, perhaps even Cartesian!

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy contains a brief biography of Locke. You can find a digitized version of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding at Oregon State. Of the Conduct of the Understanding (the Essay) is available from ILTWeb at Columbia. Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government is available in HTML format. A searchable version of the Letter Concerning Toleration is at Oregon State. Also available: Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest, and Raising the Value of Money (1691) and Further Considerations Concerning Raising the Value of Money Wherein Mr. Lowendes's Arguments for it in his late Report concerning An Essay for the Amendment of Silver Coins, are particularly Examined.

A select bibliography is included here.

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Excerpt from the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas: -- How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE. In that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation employed either, about external sensible objects or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring.

First, our Senses, conversant about particular sensible objects, do convey into the mind several distinct perceptions of things, according to those various ways wherein those objects do affect them. And thus we come by those ideas we have of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, and all those which we call sensible qualities; which when I say the sense convey into the mind, I mean, they from external objects convey into the mind what produces there those perceptions. This great source of most of the ideas we have, depending wholly upon our senses, and derived by them to the understanding, I call SENSATION.

Secondly, the other fountain from which experience furnisheth the understanding with ideas is, -- the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got. . . . And such are perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing, and all the different actings of our own minds; -- which we being conscious of, and of observing in ourselves, do from these receive into our understandings as distinct ideas as we do from bodies affecting our senses. This source of ideas every man has wholly in himself; and though it be not sense, as having nothing to do with external objects, yet it is very like it, and might properly enough be called internal sense. But as I call the other Sensation, so I call this REFLECTION, the ideas it affords being such only as the mind gets by reflecting on its own operations within itself. 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. These two, I say, viz. external material things, as the objects of SENSATION, and the operations of our own minds within, as the objects of REFLECTION, are to me the only originals from whence all our ideas take their beginnings. . . .

The understanding seems to me not to have the least glimmering of any ideas which it doth not receive from one of these two. External objects furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us; and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations.

These, when we have taken a full survey of them, and their several modes, (combinations, and relations,) we shall find to contain all our whole stock of ideas; and that we have nothing in our minds which did not come in one of these two ways. Let any one 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 of the objects of his senses, or of the operations of his mind, considered as objects of his reflection. And how great a mass of knowledge soever he imagines to be lodged there, he will, upon taking a strict view, see that he has not any idea in his mind but what one of these two have imprinted; -- though perhaps, with infinite variety compounded and enlarged by the understanding, as well shall see hereafter.

He that attentively considers the state of a child, at first coming into the world, will have little reason to think him stored with plenty of ideas, that are to be the matter of his future knowledge. It is by degrees he comes to be furnished with them.

[Source: John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vol.1, (New York: Dover, 1959), pp.121-125.]


Aaron, R. I. John Locke, rev. ed. Oxford University Press, 1955.
Alexander, Peter. Ideas, Qualities, and Corpuscles: Locke and Boyle on the External World. Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Ashcraft, Richard. Locke's Two Treatises of Government. Allen and Unwin, 1987.
Ayers, Michael. Locke (Vol.1: Epistemology; Vol.2: Ontology). Routledge, 1991.
Dunne, John. Locke. Oxford University Press, 1984.
Cranston, M. John Locke: A Biography. Longmans, 1957.
Fowler, Thomas. Locke. AMS Press, 1968.
Fraser, Alexander Campbell. Locke. Kennikat, 1970.
Gibson, James. Locke's Theory of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press, 1917.
Grant, Ruth. John Locke's Liberalism. University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Jeffreys, Montagu. John Locke: Prophet of Common Sense. Methuen, 1967.
Jolley, Nicholas. Leibniz and Locke: A Study of the New Essays and Human Understanding. Oxford University Press, 1984.
Kendall, Willmoore. John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority Rule. Urbana, 1959.
Kraus, John L. John Locke: Empiricist, Atomist, Conceptualist, and Agnostic. Philosophical Library, 1969.
Lamprecht, Sterling. The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Locke. Russell and Russell, 1962.
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Mackie, J. L. Problems from Locke. Oxford University Press, 1976.
Marshall, John. John Locke: Resistance, Religion & Responsibility. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
O'Connor, D. J. John Locke. Penguin, 1952.
Pickering, Samuel F. John Locke and Children's Books in Eighteenth Century England. University of Tennessee Press, 1981.
Quintana, Ricardo. Two Augustans: John Locke and Jonathan Swift. Oxford University Press, 1978.
Ryle, Gilbert. Locke on the Human Understanding. Oxford University Press, 1933.
Seliger, M. The Liberal Politics of John Locke. Praeger, 1968.
Smith, Norman Kemp. John Locke. Manchester University Press, 1933.
Squadrito, Kathleen. John Locke. Twayne Publishers, 1979.
Tipton, I. C., ed. Locke on Human Understanding. Oxford University Press, 1977.
Tully, James. A Discourse on Property: John Locke and His Adversaries. Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Vaughn, Karen Iverse. John Locke, Economist and Social Scientist. University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Webb, T. E. The Intellectualism of John Locke. Dublin, 1857.
Woolhouse, R. S. Locke. University of Minnesota Press, 1985.


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