Among Locke's philsophical works,the best known is his
Essay concerning human understanding. In the Essay,Locke concentrates his
assessment on the origins and nature of human knowledge,which is one of the
fundamental questions asked in epistemology.As he gains lots of influences
from his scientists friends such as Robert Boyle,he forms his system of
knowledge with empiricist idioms. I shall introduce one or two distinct
thoughts which Locke forms: The first is that he establishes an account that
there are two kinds of ideas,i.e. simple and complex ideas.The former such as
'sweet','blue',and 'cold' have attributes of sensory experiences to objects,
whereas the latter is the compounds of the former.However,both simple and
complex ideas are regarded as the mere material basis for knowledge.
The extended version of Locke's assessment of this is his distinction between
primary and secondary qualities.Locke regards primary qualities as in
solidity,extension,figure motion or rest and number all of which are
intrinsic properties of material objects.The secondary qualities are characterised
as colours,sounds and tastes ,and they are the powers to produce various
sensations in us by the primary qualities.They also depend on partly the
perceptual power of an observer. For instance, a bar of chocolate ,its
primary quality can be portrayed as a solid brick which resembles most of all
chocolate shape,and the secondary quality as 'sweetness','bitterness',
'darkness',and 'hardness' of the chocolate,depending on each individual's
palatal taste or other kinds.These features do not correspond to the
feature of the chocolate.They are merely sensory sources of what makes a
chocolate chocolate character.The primary quality corresponds to the
resemblance of material objects and are ideas of being things in themselves.
In a nutshell,the ideas of primary qualities have no power to produce
perceptions on us but resemble the grounds of the powers to produce such ideas,
(they can depict what is there in things),whereas of secondary qualities
have powers to produce perceptions and can provide corresponding attributes
to the material objects.
Although Locke's theory of knowledge is often attacked by many philosophers
for its equivocality and inconsistency in his Essay,some other philosophers
take it that his theory is only misunderstood by them.
Locke's other thought: possibility of innate moral and religious ideas,
human knowledge derived from experiences.
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Last updated 21/1/97 by Shino