SparkNotes: Essay Concerning Human Understanding

He was now at full liberty to pursue his speculations, and accordingly, in the year 1689, he published his ‘Essay on Human Understanding.’ This work, which has made our author’s name immortal, and which does honour to our country, gave great offence to many people at the first publication. It was proposed at a meeting of the heads of houses of the university of Oxford, to censure and discourage the reading of it; and after various debates among themselves, it was concluded, that each head of an house should endeavour to prevent its being read in his college. The reason of this is obvious; Mr. Locke had let in more light upon the minds of men than was consistent with the dark designs of some persons.

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In 1670, and the year following, our author began to form the plan of his ‘Essay on Human Understanding,’ at the earnest request of Mr. Tyrrell, Dr. Thomas, and some other friends, who met frequently in his chamber to converse together on philosophical subjects; but his employments and avocations prevented him from finishing it then—About this time, it is supposed, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

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accredited online phd Locke Essay an analysis of john lockes an essay concerning human understanding Concerning Human Understanding .

§ 11. Here, perhaps, it will be objected, that it is no argument that the rule is not known, because it is broken. I grant the objection good, where men, though they transgress, yet disown not the law; where fear of shame, censure, or punishment, carries the mark of some awe it has upon them. But it is impossible to conceive, that a whole nation of men should all publicly reject and renounce what every one of them, certainly and infallibly, knew to be a law: for so they must, who have it naturally imprinted on their minds. It is possible men may sometimes own rules of morality, which, in their private thoughts, they do not believe to be true, only to keep themselves in reputation and esteem amongst those, who are persuaded of their obligation. But it is not to be imagined, that a whole society of men should publicly and professedly disown, and cast off a rule, which they could not, in their own minds, but be infallibly certain was a law; nor be ignorant, that all men they should have to do with, knew it to be such: and therefore must every one of them apprehend from others, all the contempt and abhorrence due to one, who professes himself void of humanity; and one, who, confounding the known and natural measures of right and wrong, cannot but be looked on as the professed enemy of their peace and happiness. Whatever practical principle is innate, cannot but be known to every one to be just and good. It is therefore little less than a contradiction to suppose, that whole nations of men should, both in their professions and practice, unanimously and universally give the lie to what, by the most invincible evidence, every one of them knew to be true, right, and good. This is enough to satisfy us, that no practical rule, which is any where universally, and with public approbation or allowance, transgressed, can be supposed innate. But I have something farther to add, in answer to this objection.


Locke devotes Book III of An Essay Concerning HumanUnderstanding to language. This is a strong indication that Lockethinks issues about language were of considerable importance inattaining knowledge. At the beginning of the Book he notes theimportance of abstract general ideas to knowledge. These serve assorts under which we rank all the vast multitude of particularexistences. Thus, abstract ideas and classification are of centralimportance in Locke’s discussion of language.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

In 1675 he travelled into France, on account of his health. At Montpelier he staid a considerable time; and there his first acquaintance arose with Mr. Herbert, afterward Earl of Pembroke, to whom he dedicated his ‘Essay on Human Understanding,’ having the highest respect for that noble lord. From Montpelier he went to Paris, where he contracted a friendship with Mr. Justel, whose house was at that time the place of resort for men of letters: and there he saw Mr. Guenelon, the famous physician of Amsterdam, who read lectures in anatomy with great applause. He became acquainted likewise with Mr. Toignard, who favoured him with a copy of his ‘Harmonia Evangelica,’ when there were no more than five or six copies of it complete. The earl of Shaftesbury being restored to favour at court, and made president of the council in 1679, thought proper to send for Mr. Locke to London. But that nobleman did not continue long in his post; for refusing to comply with the designs of the court, which aimed at the establishment of popery and arbitrary power, fresh crimes were laid to his charge, and he was sent to the Tower. When the earl obtained his discharge from that place, he retired to Holland; and Mr. Locke not thinking himself safe in England, followed his noble patron thither, who died soon after. During our author’s stay in Holland, he renewed his acquaintance with Mr. Guenelon, who introduced him to many learned persons of Amsterdam. Here Mr. Locke contracted a friendship with Mr. Limborch, professor of divinity among the remonstrants, and the most learned Mr. Le Clerc, which he cultivated after his return into England, and continued to the end of his life.