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This Treatise, which is grown up under your lordship's eye, and has

ventured into the world by your order, does now, by a natural kind of

right, come to your lordship for that protection which you several years

since promised it. It is not that I think any name, how great soever,

set at the beginning of a book, will be able to cover the faults that

are to be found in it. Things in print must stand and fall by their own

worth, or the reader's fancy. But there being nothing more to be desired

for truth than a fair unprejudiced hearing, nobody is more likely to

procure me that than your lordship, who are allowed to have got so

intimate an acquaintance with her, in her more retired recesses. Your

lordship is known to have so far advanced your speculations in the most

abstract and general knowledge of things, beyond the ordinary reach or

common methods, that your al owance and approbation of the design of

this Treatise wil at least preserve it from being condemned without

reading, and wil prevail to have those parts a little weighed, which

might otherwise perhaps be thought to deserve no consideration, for

being somewhat out of the common road. The imputation of Novelty is a

terrible charge amongst those who judge of men's heads, as they do of

their perukes, by the fashion, and can al ow none to be right but the

received doctrines. Truth scarce ever yet carried it by vote anywhere

at its first appearance: new opinions are always suspected, and usually

opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already

common. But truth, like gold, is not the less so for being newly brought

out of the mine. It is trial and examination must give it price, and

not any antique fashion; and though it be not yet current by the public

stamp, yet it may, for al that, be as old as nature, and is certainly

not the less genuine. Your lordship can give great and convincing

instances of this, whenever you please to oblige the public with some

of those large and comprehensive discoveries you have made of truths

hitherto unknown, unless to some few, from whom your lordship has been

pleased not whol y to conceal them. This alone were a sufficient reason,

were there no other, why I should dedicate this Essay to your lordship;

and its having some little correspondence with some parts of that nobler

and vast system of the sciences your lordship has made so new, exact,

and instructive a draught of, I think it glory enough, if your lordship

permit me to boast, that here and there I have fallen into some thoughts

not wholly different from yours. If your lordship think fit that, by

your encouragement, this should appear in the world, I hope it may be a

reason, some time or other, to lead your lordship further; and you will

al ow me to say, that you here give the world an earnest of something

that, if they can bear with this, will be truly worth their expectation.

This, my lord, shows what a present I here make to your lordship; just

such as the poor man does to his rich and great neighbour, by whom the

basket of flowers or fruit is not il taken, though he has more plenty

of his own growth, and in much greater perfection. Worthless things

receive a value when they are made the offerings of respect, esteem, and

gratitude: these you have given me so mighty and peculiar reasons to

have, in the highest degree, for your lordship, that if they can add a

price to what they go along with, proportionable to their own greatness,

I can with confidence brag, I here make your lordship the richest

present you ever received. This I am sure, I am under the greatest

obligations to seek all occasions to acknowledge a long train of favours

I have received from your lordship; favours, though great and important

in themselves, yet made much more so by the forwardness, concern,

and kindness, and other obliging circumstances, that never failed to

accompany them. To all this you are pleased to add that which gives yet

more weight and relish to al the rest: you vouchsafe to continue me in

some degrees of your esteem, and allow me a place in your good thoughts,

I had almost said friendship. This, my lord, your words and actions so

constantly show on al occasions, even to others when I am absent, that

it is not vanity in me to mention what everybody knows: but it would be

want of good manners not to acknowledge what so many are witnesses of,

and every day tell me I am indebted to your lordship for. I wish they

could as easily assist my gratitude, as they convince 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,


Your Lordship's most humble and most obedient servant,


2 Dorset Court, 24th of May, 1689



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, il 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, wil (whatever he lights on) not miss the hunter's satisfaction;

every moment of his pursuit will reward his pains with some delight; and

he wil have reason to think his time not ill spent, even when he cannot

much boast of any great acquisition.

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 al readily assented; and 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 wil 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

il ustrate 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 wil 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 wil 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


It wil 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 wil not cease to be so; and the goodness of my

intention ought to be some excuse for the worthlessness of my present.

It is that chiefly which secures me from the fear of censure, which

I expect not to escape more than better writers. Men's principles,

notions, and relishes are so different, that it is hard to find a book

which pleases or displeases all men. I acknowledge the age we live in is

not the least knowing, and therefore not the most easy to be satisfied.

If I have not the good luck to please, yet nobody ought to be offended

with me. I plainly tell al my readers, except half a dozen, this

Treatise was not at first intended for them; and therefore they need not

be at the trouble to be of that number. But yet if any one thinks fit to

be angry and rail at it, he may do it securely, for I shall find some

better way of spending my time than in such kind of conversation. I

shall always have the satisfaction to have aimed sincerely at truth

and usefulness, though in one of the meanest ways. The commonwealth

of learning is not at this time without master-builders, whose mighty

designs, in advancing the sciences, wil leave lasting monuments to the

admiration of posterity: but every one must not hope to be a Boyle or

a Sydenham; and in an age that produces such masters as the great

Huygenius and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some others of that

strain, it is ambition enough to be employed as an under-labourer in

clearing the ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish that

lies in the way to knowledge;--which certainly had been very much more

advanced in the world, if the endeavours of ingenious and industrious

men had not been much cumbered with the learned but frivolous use

of uncouth, affected, or unintelligible terms, introduced into the

sciences, and there made an art of, to that degree that Philosophy,

which is nothing but the true knowledge of things, was thought unfit or

incapable to be brought into wel -bred company and polite conversation.

Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, have so

long passed for mysteries of science; and hard and misapplied words,

with little or no meaning, have, by prescription, such a right to be

mistaken for deep learning and height of speculation, that it will not

be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that

they are but the covers of ignorance, and hindrance of true knowledge.

To break in upon the sanctuary of vanity and ignorance wil be, I

suppose, some service to human understanding; though so few are apt to

think they deceive or are deceived in the use of words; or that the

language of the sect they are of has any faults in it which ought to be

examined or corrected, that I hope I shall be pardoned if I have in the

Third Book dwelt long on this subject, and endeavoured to make it

so plain, that neither the inveterateness of the mischief, nor the

prevalency of the fashion, shall be any excuse for those who will not

take care about the meaning of their own words, and wil not suffer the

significancy of their expressions to be inquired into.

I have been told that a short Epitome of this Treatise, which was

printed in 1688, was by some condemned without reading, because INNATE

IDEAS were denied in it; they too hastily concluding, that if innate

ideas were not supposed, there would be little left either of the notion

or proof of spirits. If any one take the like offence at the entrance of

this Treatise, I shall desire him to read it through; and then I hope he

will be convinced, that the taking away false foundations is not to the

prejudice but advantage of truth, which is never injured or endangered

so much as when mixed with, or built on, falsehood. In the Second

Edition I added as followeth:--

The bookseller wil not forgive me if I say nothing of this New Edition,

which he has promised, by the correctness of it, shall make amends for

the many faults committed in the former. He desires too, that it should

be known that it has one whole new chapter concerning Identity, and many

additions and amendments in other places. These I must inform my reader

are not all new matter, but most of them either further confirmation of

what I had said, or explications, to prevent others being mistaken in

the sense of what was formerly printed, and not any variation in me from


I must only except the alterations I have made in Book II. chap. xxi.

What I had there written concerning Liberty and the Will, I thought

deserved as accurate a view as I am capable of; those subjects having

in al ages exercised the learned part of the world with questions and

difficulties, that have not a little perplexed morality and divinity,

those parts of knowledge that men are most concerned to be clear in.

Upon a closer inspection into the working of men's minds, and a stricter

examination of those motives and views they are turned by, I have found

reason somewhat to alter the thoughts I formerly had concerning that

which gives the last determination to the Wil in all voluntary actions.

This I cannot forbear to acknowledge to the world with as much freedom

and readiness; as I at first published what then seemed to me to be

right; thinking myself more concerned to quit and renounce any opinion

of my own, than oppose that of another, when truth appears against it.

For it is truth alone I seek, and that wil always be welcome to me,

when or from whencesoever it comes. But what forwardness soever I have

to resign any opinion I have, or to recede from anything I have writ,

upon the first evidence of any error in it; yet this I must own, that I

have not had the good luck to receive any light from those exceptions

I have met with in print against any part of my book, nor have, from

anything that has been urged against it, found reason to alter my sense

in any of the points that have been questioned. Whether the subject I

have in hand requires often more thought and attention than cursory

readers, at least such as are prepossessed, are willing to allow; or

whether any obscurity in my expressions casts a cloud over it, and

these notions are made difficult to others' apprehensions in my way of

treating them; so it is, that my meaning, I find, is often mistaken, and

I have not the good luck to be everywhere rightly understood.

Of this the ingenious author of the Discourse Concerning the Nature of

Man has given me a late instance, to mention no other. For the civility

of his expressions, and the candour that belongs to his order, forbid me

to think that he would have closed his Preface with an insinuation, as

if in what I had said, Book II. ch. xxvi , concerning the third rule

which men refer their actions to, I went about to make virtue vice and

vice virtue, unless he had mistaken my meaning; which he could not have

done if he had given himself the trouble to consider what the argument

was I was then upon, and what was the chief design of that chapter,

plainly enough set down in the fourth section and those following. For

I was there not laying down moral rules, but showing the original and

nature of moral ideas, and enumerating the rules men make use of in

moral relations, whether these rules were true or false: and pursuant

thereto I tel what is everywhere cal ed virtue and vice; which "alters not the nature of things," though men generally do judge of and

denominate their actions according to the esteem and fashion of the

place and sect they are of.

If he had been at the pains to reflect on what I had said, Bk. I. ch.

i . sect. 18, and Bk. II. ch. xxvi i. sect. 13, 14, 15 and 20, he would

have known what I think of the eternal and unalterable nature of right

and wrong, and what I call virtue and vice. And if he had observed that

in the place he quotes I only report as a matter of fact what OTHERS

call virtue and vice, he would not have found it liable to any great

exception. For I think I am not much out in saying that one of the rules

made use of in the world for a ground or measure of a moral relation

is--that esteem and reputation which several sorts of actions find

variously in the several societies of men, according to which they are

there called virtues or vices. And whatever authority the learned Mr.

Lowde places in his Old English Dictionary, I daresay it nowhere tells

him (if I should appeal to it) that the same action is not in credit,

called and counted a virtue, in one place, which, being in disrepute,

passes for and under the name of vice in another. The taking notice that

men bestow the names of 'virtue' and 'vice' according to this rule of

Reputation is al I have done, or can be laid to my charge to have done,

towards the making vice virtue or virtue vice. But the good man does

well, and as becomes his calling, to be watchful in such points, and to

take the alarm even at expressions, which, standing alone by themselves,

might sound il and be suspected.

'Tis to this zeal, alowable in his function, that I forgive his citing

as he does these words of mine (ch. xxvi i. sect. II): "Even the

exhortations of inspired teachers have not feared to appeal to common

repute, Philip, iv. 8;" without taking notice of those immediately

preceding, which introduce them, and run thus: "Whereby even in the

corruption of manners, the true boundaries of the law of nature, which

ought to be the rule of virtue and vice, were pretty wel preserved. So

that even the exhortations of inspired teachers," &c. By which words, and the rest of that section, it is plain that I brought that passage

of St. Paul, not to prove that the general measure of what men cal ed

virtue and vice throughout the world was the reputation and fashion of

each particular society within itself; but to show that, though it were

so, yet, for reasons I there give, men, in that way of denominating

their actions, did not for the most part much stray from the Law of

Nature; which is that standing and unalterable rule by which they ought

to judge of the moral rectitude and gravity of their actions, and

accordingly denominate them virtues or vices. Had Mr. Lowde considered

this, he would have found it little to his purpose to have quoted this

passage in a sense I used it not; and would I imagine have spared the

application he subjoins to it, as not very necessary. But I hope this

Second Edition wil give him satisfaction on the point, and that this

matter is now so expressed as to show him there was no cause for


Though I am forced to differ from him in these apprehensions he has

expressed, in the latter end of his preface, concerning what I had said

about virtue and vice, yet we are better agreed than he thinks in what

he says in his third chapter (p. 78) concerning "natural inscription and innate notions." I shal not deny him the privilege he claims (p. 52),

to state the question as he pleases, especially when he states it so as

to leave nothing in it contrary to what I have said. For, according

to him, "innate notions, being conditional things, depending upon the

concurrence of several other circumstances in order to the soul's

exerting them," al that he says for "innate, imprinted, impressed notions" (for of innate IDEAS he says nothing at al ), amounts at last

only to this--that there are certain propositions which, though the

soul from the beginning, or when a man is born, does not know, yet

"by assistance from the outward senses, and the help of some previous

cultivation," it may AFTERWARDS come certainly to know the truth of;

which is no more than what I have affirmed in my First Book. For I

suppose by the "soul's exerting them," he means its beginning to know them; or else the soul's 'exerting of notions' wil be to me a very

unintelligible expression; and I think at best is a very unfit one

in this, it misleading men's thoughts by an insinuation, as if these

notions were in the mind before the 'soul exerts them,' i. e. before

they are known;--whereas truly before they are known, there is nothing

of them in the mind but a capacity to know them, when the 'concurrence

of those circumstances,' which this ingenious author thinks necessary

'in order to the soul's exerting them,' brings them into our knowledge.

P. 52 I find him express it thus: 'These natural notions are not so

imprinted upon the soul as that they naturally and necessarily exert

themselves (even in children and idiots) without any assistance from the

outward senses, or without the help of some previous cultivation.' Here,

he says, they 'exert themselves,' as p. 78, that the 'soul exerts them.'

When he has explained to himself or others what he means by 'the soul's

exerting innate notions,' or their 'exerting themselves;' and what that

'previous cultivation and circumstances' in order to their being exerted

are--he wil I suppose find there is so little of controversy between

him and me on the point, bating that he cal s that 'exerting of notions'

which I in a more vulgar style call 'knowing,' that I have reason to

think he brought in my name on this occasion only out of the pleasure he

has to speak civil y of me; which I must gratefully acknowledge he has

done everywhere he mentions me, not without conferring on me, as some

others have done, a title I have no right to.

There are so many instances of this, that I think it justice to my

reader and myself to conclude, that either my book is plainly enough

written to be rightly understood by those who peruse it with that

attention and indifferency, which every one who wil give himself the

pains to read ought to employ in reading; or else that I have written

mine so obscurely that it is in vain to go about to mend it. Whichever

of these be the truth, it is myself only am affected thereby; and

therefore I shall be far from troubling my reader with what I think

might be said in answer to those several objections I have met with, to

passages here and there of my book; since I persuade myself that he who

thinks them of moment enough to be concerned whether they are true or

false, wil be able to see that what is said is either not well founded,

or else not contrary to my doctrine, when I and my opposer come both to

be wel understood.

If any other authors, careful that none of their good thoughts should be

lost, have published their censures of my Essay, with this honour done

to it, that they will not suffer it to be an essay, I leave it to the

public to value the obligation they have to their critical pens, and

shall not waste my reader's time in so idle or il -natured an employment

of mine, as to lessen the satisfaction any one has in himself, or gives

to others, in so hasty a confutation of what I have written.

The booksellers preparing for the Fourth Edition of my Essay, gave me

notice of it, that I might, if I had leisure, make any additions or

alterations I should think fit. Whereupon I thought it convenient to

advertise the reader, that besides several corrections I had made here

and there, there was one alteration which it was necessary to mention,

because it ran through the whole book, and is of consequence to be

rightly understood. What I thereupon said was this:--

CLEAR and DISTINCT ideas are terms which, though familiar and frequent

in men's mouths, I have reason to think every one who uses does not

perfectly understand. And possibly 'tis but here and there one who gives

himself the trouble to consider them so far as to know what he himself

or others precisely mean by them. I have therefore in most places chose

to put DETERMINATE or DETERMINED, instead of CLEAR and DISTINCT, as more

likely to direct men's thoughts to my meaning in this matter. By

those denominations, I mean some object in the mind, and consequently

determined, i. e. such as it is there seen and perceived to be. This, I

think, may fitly be cal ed a determinate or determined idea, when such

as it is at any time objectively in the mind, and so determined there,

it is annexed, and without variation determined, to a name or articulate

sound, which is to be steadily the sign of that very same object of the

mind, or determinate idea.

To explain this a little more particularly. By DETERMINATE, when applied

to a simple idea, I mean that simple appearance which the mind has in

its view, or perceives in itself, when that idea is said to be in it:

by DETERMINED, when applied to a complex idea, I mean such an one as

consists of a determinate number of certain simple or less complex

ideas, joined in such a proportion and situation as the mind has before

its view, and sees in itself, when that idea is present in it, or should

be present in it, when a man gives a name to it. I say SHOULD be,

because it is not every one, nor perhaps any one, who is so careful of

his language as to use no word till he views in his mind the precise

determined idea which he resolves to make it the sign of. The want of

this is the cause of no small obscurity and confusion in men's thoughts

and discourses.

I know there are not words enough in any language to answer all the

variety of ideas that enter into men's discourses and reasonings. But

this hinders not but that when any one uses any term, he may have in his

mind a determined idea, which he makes it the sign of, and to which he

should keep it steadily annexed during that present discourse. Where he

does not, or cannot do this, he in vain pretends to clear or distinct

ideas: it is plain his are not so; and therefore there can be expected

nothing but obscurity and confusion, where such terms are made use of

which have not such a precise determination.

Upon this ground I have thought determined ideas a way of speaking less

liable to mistakes, than clear and distinct: and where men have got such

determined ideas of all that they reason, inquire, or argue about, they

will find a great part of their doubts and disputes at an end; the

greatest part of the questions and controversies that perplex mankind

depending on the doubtful and uncertain use of words, or (which is the

same) indetermined ideas, which they are made to stand for. I have made

choice of these terms to signify, (1) Some immediate object of the mind,

which it perceives and has before it, distinct from the sound it uses as

a sign of it. (2) That this idea, thus determined, i.e. which the mind

has in itself, and knows, and sees there, be determined without any

change to that name, and that name determined to that precise idea. If

men had such determined ideas in their inquiries and discourses, they

would both discern how far their own inquiries and discourses went, and

avoid the greatest part of the disputes and wranglings they have with


Besides this, the bookseller wil think it necessary I should advertise

the reader that there is an addition of two chapters wholly new; the one

of the Association of Ideas, the other of Enthusiasm. These, with some

other larger additions never before printed, he has engaged to print by

themselves, after the same manner, and for the same purpose, as was done

when this Essay had the second impression.

In the Sixth Edition there is very little added or altered. The greatest

part of what is new is contained in the twenty-first chapter of the

second book, which any one, if he thinks it worth while, may, with a

very little labour, transcribe into the margin of the former edition.



1. An Inquiry into the Understanding pleasant and useful.

Since it is the UNDERSTANDING that sets man above the rest of sensible

beings, and gives him al the advantage and dominion which he has over

them; it is certainly a subject, even for its nobleness, worth our

labour to inquire into. The understanding, like the eye, whilst it makes

us see and perceive al other things, takes no notice of itself; and it

requires and art and pains to set it at a distance and make it its own

object. But whatever be the difficulties that lie in the way of this

inquiry; whatever it be that keeps us so much in the dark to ourselves;

sure I am that all the light we can let in upon our minds, all the

acquaintance we can make with our own understandings, will not only be

very pleasant, but bring us great advantage, in directing our thoughts

in the search of other things.

2. Design.

This, therefore, being my purpose--to inquire into the original,

certainty, and extent of HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, together with the grounds and

degrees of BELIEF, OPINION, and ASSENT;--I shall not at present meddle

with the physical consideration of the mind; or trouble myself to

examine wherein its essence consists; or by what motions of our spirits

or alterations of our bodies we come to have any SENSATION by our

organs, or any IDEAS in our understandings; and whether those ideas do

in their formation, any or al of them, depend on matter or not. These

are speculations which, however curious and entertaining, I shall

decline, as lying out of my way in the design I am now upon. It shal

suffice to my present purpose, to consider the discerning faculties of a

man, as they are employed about the objects which they have to do with.

And I shall imagine I have not wholly misemployed myself in the thoughts

I shall have on this occasion, if, in this historical, plain method,

I can give any account of the ways whereby our understandings come to

attain those notions of things we have; and can set down any measures

of the certainty of our knowledge; or the grounds of those persuasions

which are to be found amongst men, so various, different, and whol y

contradictory; and yet asserted somewhere or other with such assurance

and confidence, that he that shal take a view of the opinions of

mankind, observe their opposition, and at the same time consider the

fondness and devotion wherewith they are embraced, the resolution and

eagerness wherewith they are maintained, may perhaps have reason to

suspect, that either there is no such thing as truth at all, or that

mankind hath no sufficient means to attain a certain knowledge of it.

3. Method.

It is therefore worth while to search out the bounds between opinion and

knowledge; and examine by what measures, in things whereof we have no

certain knowledge, we ought to regulate our assent and moderate our

persuasion. In order whereunto I shal pursue this following method:--

First, I shall inquire into the original of those ideas, notions, or

whatever else you please to cal them, which a man observes, and is

conscious to himself he has in his mind; and the ways whereby the

understanding comes to be furnished with them.

Secondly, I shall endeavour to show what knowledge the understanding

hath by those ideas; and the certainty, evidence, and extent of it.

Thirdly, I shall make some inquiry into the nature and grounds of FAITH

or OPINION: whereby I mean that assent which we give to any proposition

as true, of whose truth yet we have no certain knowledge. And here we

shall have occasion to examine the reasons and degrees of ASSENT.

4. Useful to know the Extent of our Comprehension.

If by this inquiry into the nature of the understanding, I can discover

the powers thereof; how far they reach; to what things they are in any

degree proportionate; and where they fail us, I suppose it may be of use

to prevail with the busy mind of man to be more cautious in meddling

with things exceeding its comprehension; to stop when it is at the

utmost extent of its tether; and to sit down in a quiet ignorance of

those things which, upon examination, are found to be beyond the reach

of our capacities. We should not then perhaps be so forward, out of an

affectation of an universal knowledge, to raise questions, and

perplex ourselves and others with disputes about things to which our

understandings are not suited; and of which we cannot frame in our minds

any clear or distinct perceptions, or whereof (as it has perhaps too

often happened) we have not any notions at all. If we can find out how

far the understanding can extend its view; how far it has faculties to

attain certainty; and in what cases it can only judge and guess, we may

learn to content ourselves with what is attainable by us in this state.

5. Our Capacity suited to our State and Concerns.

For though the comprehension of our understandings comes exceeding short

of the vast extent of things, yet we shall have cause enough to magnify

the bountiful Author of our being, for that proportion and degree of

knowledge he has bestowed on us, so far above al the rest of the

inhabitants of this our mansion. Men have reason to be wel satisfied

with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as

St. Peter says) [words in Greek], whatsoever is necessary for the

conveniences of life and information of virtue; and has put within the

reach of their discovery, the comfortable provision for this life, and

the way that leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may

come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet

secures their great concernments, that they have light enough to lead

them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties.

Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their

hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly

quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings

their hands are fil ed with, because they are not big enough to grasp

everything. We shall not have much reason to complain of the narrowness

of our minds, if we wil but employ them about what may be of use to us;

for of that they are very capable. And it will be an unpardonable, as

well as childish peevishness, if we undervalue the advantages of our

knowledge, and neglect to improve it to the ends for which it was given

us, because there are some things that are set out of the reach of it.

It wil be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant, who would not

attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad

sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us shines bright enough for all

our purposes. The discoveries we can make with this ought to satisfy us;

and we shal then use our understandings right, when we entertain

al objects in that way and proportion that they are suited to our

faculties, and upon those grounds they are capable of being proposed to

us; and not peremptorily or intemperately require demonstration, and

demand certainty, where probability only is to be had, and which is

sufficient to govern all our concernments. If we will disbelieve

everything, because we cannot certainly know al things, we shal do

much what as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit stil and

perish, because he had no wings to fly.

6. Knowledge of our Capacity a Cure of Scepticism and Idleness.

When we know our own strength, we shall the better know what to

undertake with hopes of success; and when we have well surveyed the

POWERS of our own minds, and made some estimate what we may expect from

them, we shall not be inclined either to sit still, and not set our

thoughts on work at all, in despair of knowing anything; nor on the