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By John Locke / Clarendon Press / 1894
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Volume two contains books III and IV of An Essay concerning Human Understanding. In book III, Locke presents his theory of language. He connects words with the ideas they signify. He then critiques the abuse of words by philosophers who make up new words not connected to a clear idea or connect old words to new ideas.
In book IV, Locke lays out his general theory of knowledge. He defines knowledge as the sum of one’s ideas and perceptions. He looks at the limits of knowledge and the divide between purported knowledge and reality—the divide, in other words, between a person’s claim of knowledge (based on their experience) and reality, which might not correspond to that knowledge.
This volume is linked with the other texts in your Noet library, allowing you to cross-reference important words with a click. This is particularly helpful, as philosophers were in constant dialogue with each other’s works—critiquing, supporting. Now you can see the cited works in context in seconds. Moreover, every word is indexed for remarkably fast searching. Search results show up with a helpful context snippet, so you can quickly get the reference you’re looking for.
John Locke (1632–1704) was born in Wrington, Somerset, to a Puritan family. He attended Christ Church, Oxford, where he earned a BA, an MA, and a Bachelor of Medicine. After studying medicine, he met the Earl of Shaftesbury and became involved in Shaftesbury’s Whig movement. In 1683, he fled to the Netherlands to escape prosecution over his supposed involvement in the Rye House Plot. Most of his published works were written while he was in exile in the Netherlands. He returned to England and continued to work with the Whig party until his death in 1704.
Many political philosophers consider Locke the father of classical liberalism. One of the first British empiricists, his main works focus on political philosophy and epistemology. His work had a major influence on Voltaire and Rousseau, as well as on many of the founding fathers of the United States (including Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson). His concept of natural law and the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property are reflected prominently in the Declaration of Independence.
Locke is also credited as one of the founders of British empiricism. He taught, contrary to Continental rationalism, that humans cannot have a priori knowledge. In other words, the only sure knowledge that humans can have is based on experience. One must experience—observe, interact with—in order to know. He believed that the human mind was blank (tabula rasa) at the beginning of life. One’s experiences “wrote” on this blank paper, creating knowledge. Locke’s theory of knowing (epistemology) is considered by some philosophers to contain the seed of the Western concept of self.