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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding


thereupon it was agreed that this should be our first inquiry. Some hasty and undigested thoughts,
on a subject I had never before considered, which I set down against our next meeting, gave the
first entrance into this Discourse; which having been thus begun by chance, was continued by
intreaty; written by incoherent parcels; and after long intervals of neglect, resumed again, as my
humour or occasions permitted; and at last, in a retirement where an attendance on my health gave
me leisure, it was brought into that order thou now seest it.
This discontinued way of writing may have occasioned, besides others, two contrary faults, viz.,, that
too little and too much may be said in it. If thou findest anything wanting, I shall be glad that what I
have written gives thee any desire that I should have gone further. If it seems too much to thee, thou
must blame the subject; for when I put pen to paper, I thought all I should have to say on this matter
would have been contained in one sheet of paper; but the further I went the larger prospect I had;
new discoveries led me still on, and so it grew insensibly to the bulk it now appears in. I will not
deny, but possibly it might be reduced to a narrower compass than it is, and that some parts of it
might be contracted, the way it has been writ in, by catches, and many long intervals of interruption,
being apt to cause some repetitions. But to confess the truth, I am now too lazy, or too busy, to
make it shorter.
I am not ignorant how little I herein consult my own reputation, when I knowingly let it go with a fault,
so apt to disgust the most judicious, who are always the nicest readers. But they who know sloth is
apt to content itself with any excuse, will pardon me if mine has prevailed on me, where I think I
have a very good one. I will not therefore allege in my defence, that the same notion, having
different respects, may be convenient or necessary to prove or illustrate several parts of the same
discourse, and that so it has happened in many parts of this: but waiving that, I shall frankly avow
that I have sometimes dwelt long upon the same argument, and expressed it different ways, with a
quite different design. I pretend not to publish this Essay for the information of men of large thoughts
and quick apprehensions; to such masters of knowledge I profess myself a scholar, and therefore
warn them beforehand not to expect anything here, but what, being spun out of my own coarse
thoughts, is fitted to men of my own size, to whom, perhaps, it will not be unacceptable that I have
taken some pains to make plain and familiar to their thoughts some truths which established
prejudice, or the abstractedness of the ideas themselves, might render difficult. Some objects had
need be turned on every side; and when the notion is new, as I confess some of these are to me; or
out of the ordinary road, as I suspect they will appear to others, it is not one simple view of it that will
gain it admittance into every understanding, or fix it there with a clear and lasting impression. There
are few, I believe, who have not observed in themselves or others, that what in one way of
proposing was very obscure, another way of expressing it has made very clear and intelligible;
though afterwards the mind found little difference in the phrases, and wondered why one failed to be
understood more than the other. But everything does not hit alike upon every man's imagination. We
have our understandings no less different than our palates; and he that thinks the same truth shall
be equally relished by every one in the same dress, may as well hope to feast every one with the
same sort of cookery: the meat may be the same, and the nourishment good, yet every one not be
able to receive it with that seasoning; and it must be dressed another way, if you will have it go down
with some, even of strong constitutions. The truth is, those who advised me to publish it, advised
me, for this reason, to publish it as it is: and since I have been brought to let it go abroad, I desire it
should be understood by whoever gives himself the pains to read it. I have so little affection to be in
print, that if I were not flattered this Essay might be of some use to others, as I think it has been to
me, I should have confined it to the view of some friends, who gave the first occasion to it. My
appearing therefore in print being on purpose to be as useful as I may, I think it necessary to make
what I have to say as easy and intelligible to all sorts of readers as I can. And I had much rather the
speculative and quick-sighted should complain of my being in some parts tedious, than that any
one, not accustomed to abstract speculations, or prepossessed with different notions, should
mistake or not comprehend my meaning.
It will possibly be censured as a great piece of vanity or insolence in me, to pretend to instruct this
our knowing age; it amounting to little less, when I own, that I publish this Essay with hopes it may
be useful to others. But, if it may be permitted to speak freely of those who with a feigned modesty
condemn as useless what they themselves write, methinks it savours much more of vanity or
insolence to publish a book for any other end; and he fails very much of that respect he owes the
public, who prints, and consequently expects men should read, that wherein he intends not they
should meet with anything of use to themselves or others: and should nothing else be found
allowable in this Treatise, yet my design will not cease to be so; and the goodness of my intention
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