Locke on Ideas

David Banach


Ideas are the objects of thought and understanding. Whenever we think, perceive, or contemplate, we think about ideas.


All ideas come from Experience. Hence, all the materials of reason and knowledge arise from experience. None are innate.

Experience may be of two different origins:


1. Sensation- These are ideas of external sensible objects conveyed to us by the senses: yellow, white, hot, cold.

2. Reflection- These are perceptions of the internal operations of our minds: thinking, doubting, willing.



Ideas from these sources may also be of two basic types:

                1. Simple Ideas- Of one uniform appearance or conception in the mind; cannot be created or destroyed.

                2. Complex ideas- Constructed by us in various ways using other simple ideas.



Simple ideas: These can be of four basic types:


                a. Ideas from one sense: Light, noise, taste, smell, heat, solidity, texture. (secondary properties)

                b. Ideas from more than one sense: space, extension, figure, rest, motion. (primary properties)

                c. Ideas from reflection only: perception, willing.

                d. Ideas from both sense and reflection: pleasure and pain, power, existence, unity.



Complex Ideas: These are constructed by us using three different methods:


1. Combination- putting various ideas together into one complex idea: a unicorn constructed from the ideas of horn and horse.

2. Relation- seeing the relation between ideas: equality.

3. Abstraction- separating one property from many particular ideas: all general, abstract ideas.



Complex ideas can also be of three different types of objects:

A. Modes- these don't contain the supposition of independent subsistence.

      1. Simple- combine same type of ideas: number (12).

      2. Mixed- combine different types of ideas: beauty combines color and form.

B. Substances- These represent distinct particular things.

      1. Single- An individual taken to exist by itself: a man.

      2. Collective- a group consisting of other individuals: an army or flock of sheep.

C. Relations- These are relationships between other ideas, substances, or modes.

© 2006 David Banach 

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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