An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

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Description

The Essay marks an important moment in the prehistory of empirical psychology. Locke seeks to explain how we come to have certain mental states (“ideas”) while doggedly avoiding metaphysical speculation of the sort found in Descartes’s work. As a consequence of this methodological starting point, the philosophical account of the mind set forth in the Essay is largely negative: whoever investigates the matter honestly “will confess, that he is very far from certainly knowing what his soul is” (542). Rather than providing grandiose accounts of the mind’s nature, Locke attempts to deal with specific explanatory problems about the mind’s operations. (How do humans learn language? How do they acquire ideas of causal connections, or of mathematical relationships?) This methodology was a major source of inspiration for the piecemeal, empirical science of psychology that arose in the late nineteenth century, the precursor to contemporary psychology.

Creator

Publisher

Edited by P. Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975 [1690].

Date

08/01/2017

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Citation

Locke, John, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” Legacies of the Enlightenment, accessed May 25, 2024, https://enlightenmentlegacies.org/items/show/48.