Peter H. Nidditch (essay date 1975)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A foreword to An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke, edited by Peter H. Nidditch, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1975, pp. vii-xxv.

[In the following essay, Nidditch offers an overview of Locke's main objectives in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and considers several reasons why the work continues to be actively studied by philosophers.]

The Ascendancy of the Essay

The Essay has long been recognized as one of the great works of English literature of the seventeenth century, and one of the epoch-making works in the history of philosophy. It has been one of the most repeatedly reprinted,...

(The entire section is 7004 words.)

John W. Yolton (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: An introduction to An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited by John W. Yolton, Dent, 1977, pp. ix-xxxi.

[In the following essay, Yolton discusses the primary philosophical issues and concepts addressed by Locke in Book I of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. He emphasizes Locke's expansive treatment of scientific concepts and problems associated with diverse fields of study including ethics, linguistics, psychology, logic, and theology.]

In 1671 Locke began to write what became his Essay concerning Human Understanding, first published in 1690. During those intervening years the Essay went through many drafts, many starts and...

(The entire section is 9472 words.)

Robert L. Armstrong (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "John Locke on Ultimate Reality and Meaning," in Ultimate Reality and Meaning, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1980, pp. 264-74.

[Following a brief overview of Locke's life and writings, Armstrong examines the tension between the Christian and scientific aspects of Locke's thought in an Essay Concerning Human Understanding. He argues that Locke's Christian understanding of ultimate reality was balanced by a faith in human reason and experience as significant, although potentially limited, sources of knowledge.]


John Locke was born at Wrington, England on August 29, 1632. He spent his boyhood in his family's rural home of...

(The entire section is 5323 words.)

James Farr (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Way of Hypotheses: Locke on Method," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XL VIII, No. 1, January-March, 1987, pp. 51-72.

[In the following essay, Farr examines two opposing interpretations of Locke's understanding of the functions of scientific hypotheses and proposes an alternative reading of Locke's philosophy in an attempt to reconcile these two positions.]

"[A]s every ones hypothesis is, soe is his reason disposed to judge …"1

The specter of empiricism no longer haunts the Essay Concerning Human Understanding as once it did. Thanks to historically-minded philosophers and...

(The entire section is 8638 words.)

Michael Ayers (essay date 1991)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Personal Identity before the Essay, in Locke, Vol. II: Ontology, Routledge, 1991, pp. 254-59.

[In the following essay, Ayers discusses Locke's response to questions surrounding the nature of the human mind, soul, and identity in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.]

In the first of those few entries in his journals clearly on the subject-matter of the chapter 'Of Identity and Diversity' (although the word 'identity' does not occur) Locke launched an attack on the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul. The note begins with a statement of the 'usual physicall proofe' of natural immortality: since matter cannot think, the soul is immaterial; since...

(The entire section is 2852 words.)

Peter A. Schouls (essay date 1992)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "'Master Builder' and 'Under Labourer'," in Reasoned Freedom: John Locke and Enlightenment, Cornell University Press, 1992, pp. 9-29.

[In the following essay, Schouls argues that the "revolutionary" aspects of Locke's thought are a function of his scientific, as well as political, writings, since both emphasize the primacy of human reason. Schouls places Locke's scientific thought in the revolutionary tradition of Descartes, despite various doctrinal differences.]

"Master-Builder" and "Under-Labourer"

In the Essay's "Epistle to the Reader," Locke refers to the "Master-Builders" ("a Boyle, or a Sydenham; … the Great—Huygenius,...

(The entire section is 9351 words.)

Philip Vogt (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Seascape with Fog: Metaphor in Locke's Essay," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. LIV, No. 1, January, 1993, pp. 1-18.

[In the following essay Vogt explores the use of metaphor in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, arguing that Locke's imagery and meaning are far more varied, complex, and "probabilistic" than the straightforward empiricism suggested by the famous tabula rasa image.]

No image from John Locke's philosophical work is as widely recognized as that of the white paper, the famous tabula rasa. But calls by Dominick LaCapra and other similarly minded theorists of history for a rereading of such "great texts" as...

(The entire section is 8679 words.)

Roger Woolhouse (essay date 1994)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Locke's Theory of Knowledge," in The Cambridge Companion to Locke, edited by Vere Chappell, Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 146-71.

[In the following essay, Woolhouse examines Locke's view of the relationship between experience, ideas, and knowledge in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, emphasizing Locke's rejection of the innatist conception of the origin of knowledge and "moral truths."]

In the course of its considerable length the Essay concerning Human Understanding deals with many topics; but its main theme and concern is knowledge and the capacity of the human understanding to acquire it. "[M]y Purpose," Locke tells us,...

(The entire section is 10420 words.)