An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1

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Genres: Banned Books
Language: English
Type: Digital

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, published in 1689, is a major work of philosophy by John Locke, and one that greatly influenced Enlightenment thought. It deals with the nature of human knowledge, the origin of ideas, and the limits of human understanding.

Key Themes

  • Empiricism: Locke argues that all knowledge comes from experience. He rejects the idea of innate ideas, arguing that the mind is at birth a blank slate (tabula rasa).

  • Sensationalism: Locke argues that all ideas originate in the senses. He distinguishes between primary qualities, which are directly perceived by the senses, and secondary qualities, which are indirectly perceived.

  • Refutation of Innate Ideas: Locke argues that there are no innate ideas, such as the idea of God. He claims that all ideas come from experience, either directly through the senses or indirectly through reflection on sensory experiences.

  • The Role of Reason: Locke argues that reason is essential for understanding the world. However, he also argues that reason is limited by the extent of our experience.

  • The Limits of Human Understanding: Locke argues that there are limits to human understanding. We can never know the essence of things, and we can never know the world as it is in itself.

Impact and Legacy

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was a groundbreaking work of philosophy. It helped to establish empiricism as a major school of thought, and it had a profound impact on the development of Enlightenment thought.

The essay continues to be studied and debated today. It is a classic work of philosophy that is essential for understanding the nature of human knowledge.


  • "No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience."
  • "White and black, sweet and bitter, cold and hot, are not identical properties in things themselves, but modes of our sensations."
  • "The understanding cannot know anything without experience."
  • "The capacity of perceiving is the foundation of human knowledge."
  • "Knowledge of the extent of our ignorance is the beginning of wisdom."


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