Essay Human Understanding Locke

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Your lordship is known to have so far advanced your speculations in the most abstract and general knowledge of things, beyond the ordinary reach or common methods, that your allowance and approbation of the design of this Treatise will at least preserve it from being condemned without reading, and will prevail to have those parts a little weighted, which might otherwise perhaps be thought to deserve no consideration, for being somewhat out of the common road.

The imputation of Novelty is a terrible charge amongst those who judge of men's heads, as they do of their perukes, by the fashion, and can allow none to be right but the received doctrines.

It is trial and examination must give it price, and not any antique fashion; and though it be not yet current by the public stamp, yet it may, for all that, be as old as nature, and is certainly not the less genuine.

Your lordship can give great and convincing instances of this, whenever you please to oblige the public with some of those large and comprehensive discoveries you have made of truths hitherto unknown, unless to some few, from whom your lordship has been pleased not wholly to conceal them.

The systematic undermining of the theory of innate ideas first targeted the weakest pillar of its support: it must be true because there is universal agreement that it must be true.

Essay Human Understanding Locke

Locke response to this unsound support was to observer that “this argument of universal consent, which is made use of to prove innate principles, seems to me a demonstration that there are none such; because there are none to which all mankind give a universal assent.” The investment of belief in an idea partly on the basis that it is universally accepted as true actually seems antithetical to the underlying skepticism of rationalist philosophers toward in trusting any and all received perceptions as true; Locke uses the revelation of this contradiction as the wrecking ball which proceeds to demolish belief in the existence of innate ideas.

The central symbol in the essay to describe how knowledge is acquired is the “tabula rasa” or blank slate that exists at birth.

Only through experience can knowledge be written upon that slate.

is the foundational text for modern philosophical empiricism.

This essay set the standard for empirically-based arguments against the traditions of rationalism.


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