An Essay Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

me of the great and growing engagements it has to your lordship. This I am sure, I should write of
the Understanding without having any, if I were not extremely sensible of them, and did not lay hold
on this opportunity to testify to the world how much I am obliged to be, and how much I am,
My Lord,
Your Lordship's most humble and most obedient servant,
John Locke
Dorset Court,
24th of May, 1689
Epistle to the Reader
I have put into thy hands what has been the diversion of some of my idle and heavy hours. If it has
the good luck to prove so of any of thine, and thou hast but half so much pleasure in reading as I
had in writing it, thou wilt as little think thy money, as I do my pains, ill bestowed. Mistake not this for
a commendation of my work; nor conclude, because I was pleased with the doing of it, that therefore
I am fondly taken with it now it is done. He that hawks at larks and sparrows has no less sport,
though a much less considerable quarry, than he that flies at nobler game: and he is little
acquainted with the subject of this treatise--the Understanding--who does not know that, as it is the
most elevated faculty of the soul, so it is employed with a greater and more constant delight than
any of the other. Its searches after truth are a sort of hawking and hunting, wherein the very pursuit
makes a great part of the pleasure. Every step the mind takes in its progress towards Knowledge
makes some discovery, which is not only new, but the best too, for the time at least.
For the understanding, like the eye, judging of objects only by its own sight, cannot but be pleased
with what it discovers, having less regret for what has escaped it, because it is unknown. Thus he
who has raised himself above the alms-basket, and, not content to live lazily on scraps of begged
opinions, sets his own thoughts on work, to find and follow truth, will (whatever he lights on) not miss
the hunter's satisfaction; every moment of his pursuit will reward his pains with some delight; and he
will have reason to think his time not ill spent, even when he cannot much boast of any great
This, Reader, is the entertainment of those who let loose their own thoughts, and follow them in
writing; which thou oughtest not to envy them, since they afford thee an opportunity of the like
diversion, if thou wilt make use of thy own thoughts in reading. It is to them, if they are thy own, that I
refer myself: but if they are taken upon trust from others, it is no great matter what they are; they are
not following truth, but some meaner consideration; and it is not worth while to be concerned what
he says or thinks, who says or thinks only as he is directed by another. If thou judgest for thyself I
know thou wilt judge candidly, and then I shall not be harmed or offended, whatever be thy censure.
For though it be certain that there is nothing in this Treatise of the truth whereof I am not fully
persuaded, yet I consider myself as liable to mistakes as I can think thee, and know that this book
must stand or fall with thee, not by any opinion I have of it, but thy own. If thou findest little in it new
or instructive to thee, thou art not to blame me for it. It was not meant for those that had already
mastered this subject, and made a thorough acquaintance with their own understandings; but for my
own information, and the satisfaction of a few friends, who acknowledged themselves not to have
sufficiently considered it.
Were it fit to trouble thee with the history of this Essay, I should tell thee, that five or six friends
meeting at my chamber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves
quickly at a stand, by the difficulties that rose on every side. After we had awhile puzzled ourselves,
without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my
thoughts that we took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that
nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings
were, or were not, fitted to deal with. This I proposed to the company, who all readily assented; and