Philosophy, Psychology

and Humanities Web Site



ARCHIBALD B. D. ALEXANDER - 1922 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt






Its origin and character


SOCRATES. Cynics and Cyrenaics



Stoicism. Epicureanism

Roman Moralists: Seneca, Epictetus, M. Aurelius
Alexandrian Mystics: Philo, Plotinus, Proclus


THE PATRISTIC PERIOD Augustine and Church Fathers

SCHOLASTIC PERIOD Nominalism and Realism

Anselm, Abelard, Peter Lombard

1. Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas
2. Duns Scotus, Francis of Assisi, William of Occam


1. Revival of Learning
2. Reformation
3. Rise of Sciences
Bruno, Böhme, Montaigne



Geulinx, Occasionalism
Malebranche, Pantheism
Spinoza, Acosmism



Development of empiricism-Berkeley
Sceptical Conclusion-Hume

Natural Philosophy
Theological Controversy
Ethical Theories
Scottish Philosophy

Earlier Rationalism
Bossuet, Fontenelle, Bayle, Montesquieu, Condillac, Helvetius
Materialistic Tendencies
Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert,  La Mettrie, Holbach, Rousseau


Thomasius, Tschirnhausen, Wolff

Mendelssohn, Nicolai







Hamann, Herder, Jacobi
Schiller and Humboldt

1. Science of Knowledge
2. Its Theoretic Principles
3. Its Practical Sphere

1. Philosophy of Nature
2. Philosophy of Identity
3. Mythology and Revelation

1. Novalis and Schlegel
2. Baader and Krause
3. Schleiermacher


1. Herbart
2. Beneke
3. Schopenhauer


1. Influence of Hegelianism
2. Materialistic Tendency—Haeckel
3. Idealistic Tendency
Fechner, Lotze, Hartmann, Wundt
4. Modern Psychology
5. Neo-Kantianism
Dühring, Schuppe, Ritschl
6. Eucken and Activist Tendency

1. Cousin and Eclecticism
2. Comte and Positivism
3. Religious Philosophy
4. Philosophy of Development—Taine, Renan, Fouillée

1. Utilitarianism—Bentham and Mill
2. Evolution—Darwin and Spencer. Maurice, Newman, Martineau
3. Influence of German Idealism. Caird, Green, Bradley, etc.

Pragmatism—Wm. James
Neo-Realism. Revival of Idealism in Italy. The Philosophy of the Gifford Lectures






Part V. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT - Sect. 1. British Enlightenment

Chap. I. Empiricism. Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) was the originator of Modern Empiricism in England. He was born at Wrington, near Bristol, in the same year as Spinoza. In his youth he studied philosophy, science, and medicine in Oxford, but the University was dominated by the spirit of Scholasticism, and he received little impulse from its teaching. For three years he was secretary to the Embassy in Berlin. In 1666 he came under the influence of the Earl of Shaftesbury, one of the greatest statesmen of Charles II., whose friendship he enjoyed throughout his life, and in whose house he held intercourse with some of the most distinguished men in England. On the fall of his patron, he was compelled to seek refuge on the Continent, and from 1675 till 1679 he lived in France, and latterly in Holland.


On the accession of William of Orange, he returned to England, under whose government he filled several high offices of State, and took a prominent part both by his writings and activities in shaping the policy of the new regime. His last years were spent in retirement in the county of Essex. He died at the age of seventy-three in 1704.

All his contemporaries testify to his sincerity of life and to his ardent attachment to the cause of truth and liberty. Moderation and prudence marked his public career, while his writings are distinguished by candour and toleration of spirit and clearness and precision of style.

His works include: An Essay on Civil Government (1690); Letters on Education (1693); Letters on Toleration; and The Reasonableness of Christianity (1693); and also his greatest work, Essay on the Human Understanding, which appeared for the first time in 1690.

In all these writings we may detect the same general aim, which is to expose the uselessness of empty opinion and traditional assumption, and to vindicate the freedom of the intellect to examine facts and form judgments. The immediate object of the Essay on Civil Government was to reply to the partisans of the Stuarts, who accused the new Government of usurpation. Locke attempts to show that government really rests on the will of the people, and he agrees with Hobbes, and anticipates Rousseau in his contention that it is a matter of social contract. His treatises on Toleration and the Reasonableness of Christianity have a similar aim. In the former he defends the right of individual liberty, and advocates toleration on the ground that it is irrational to compel men to believe. In the latter he seeks to encourage unity among the diverse sects of religion by emphasizing the points which are common to all, and minimizing those on which Christians differ.

The Essay on the Human Understanding has also a practical aim, and was written in the interests of political truth and liberty. But in order to attain his ultimate object, he finds himself compelled, at the outset, to examine and vindicate the human understanding as an organ of knowledge. Locke's attention was first directed to this examination in an almost casual manner. Twenty years before the book was actually published a few friends were gathered in his chambers to discuss some scientific topics, but found they could make no headway. "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."

These words indicate at once the caution and individualism of Locke. Like Descartes, it may be said, he begins with doubt; but while Descartes' tone is assured and self-confident, that of Locke is distrustful and cautious. He must, he feels, be careful to admit no truth which does not justify itself to his mind, and he must, therefore, keep within the limits of his own sensations and thoughts. His object is not so much to discover objective truth as to discover the means of knowing the truth. It is, as he says, "to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge."

Locke may be called the founder of modern Psychology. He is concerned with the origin of our ideas. He himself clearly distinguishes psychology from physics and metaphysics. "I shall not at present meddle with the physical considerations of the mind, or trouble myself to examine wherein its essence consisteth. It shall suffice my present purpose to consider the discerning faculties of a man as they are employed about the objects which they have to do with."

The purpose of the essay, therefore, is clearly set forth and its limits defined. It is a work of psychology and not of ontology. It does not investigate the principles of the understanding, but rather the action of the faculty, the phenomena by which it is developed and manifested. These phenomena Locke calls "ideas." "I have used it to express whatever is meant by phantom, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking." This is the very watchword of Locke. His philosophy is a study of ideas. It is the distinction of Locke, that the demand which the Criticism of Kant attempted to satisfy—viz., that philosophy should ascertain and trace the limits of human knowledge —was by him clearly and expressly stated. Locke is the first of a long line of thinkers who maintain the limitation of knowledge, and the inability of the mind to deal with certain matters which transcend it. We must not go "beyond the reach of our capacities," he says. Men are apt to let their thoughts wander into depths where they can find no sure footing, with the result that they only increase their doubts and bring themselves to perfect scepticism. "Whereas, were the capacities of our understanding well considered, the extent of our knowledge once discovered, and the horizon found, which set the bounds between the enlightened and dark parts of things, between what is and what is not comprehensible by us; men would perhaps, with less scruple, acquiesce in the avowed ignorance of the one, and employ their thoughts and discourse with more advantage and satisfaction in the other."

The essay is divided into four books. The first book is a preliminary argument against the innateness of any part of our knowledge, which prepares the way for the statement of his main position, that whatever a man knows or can in any way conceive, is dependent on experience. All our ideas, the most complex as well as the simplest, are ideas which refer either to data, which happen to have been presented through our five senses, or to operations of the mind which have been made objects of reflection. In other words, all our experience is due to sensation or reflection. Words which do not mean either what is sensuous or what is mental must be empty words. The proof of this thesis is offered throughout the second and third books, and thus prepares for the subject of the fourth, which deals with the intuitive facts and principles constituting our real knowledge. Much of the second and third books is occupied with an examination of the ideas of space, time, infinity, identity, substance, causality, power, with the object of showing that even these ideas depend upon experience, and must wholly disappear if all the elements which are due to experience are left out.

The two great principles, then, which Locke seeks to establish are: (1) That there are no innate ideas, and (2) that all knowledge is derived from experience.

(1) On entering on the investigation of the origin of our ideas, Locke is confronted with an assumption which, if well founded, would cut short his inquiry, viz., that the human mind possesses innate ideas. This is a notion which before Locke's time held undisputed sway, and was defended by Descartes. "When men have found some general propositions which could not be doubted of, as soon as understood, it was a short and easy way to conclude them innate." It is no explanation to say ideas are innate. It is simply to acknowledge they are a mystery, not to be questioned or investigated. Locke proceeds, therefore, to combat the theory of Descartes. There are two reasons which have been commonly given in support of this doctrine: First, that these propositions are universally admitted; second, that they are primitively admitted, that they are known as soon as the soul awakes. But that these ideas are neither universally nor primitively known Locke proves by an appeal to the experience of children and of various races. Neither in the speculative sphere, nor in the practical, is it possible to discover a notion that can be called innate. Take the most self-evident proposition, that of identity, what is, is,—A equals A ; or that of contradiction,—it is impossible that the same thing can be and not be at the same time,—they are so far from being innate that neither children nor savages nor idiots possess them. The ideas of identity, of difference, etc., are extremely abstract ideas, which we are so far from possessing at birth that we only acquire them after long experience. Nor can it be assumed that there are any propositions in the practical world which are primitively known or universally held. Locke submits moral maxims to the same test. Take, for example, the maxim, "Do to others as you would be done by." If we examine the manners of savages, the narrations of travellers, and the observations of children, we by no means find that it is generally assented to. Nor does he except from this demonstration even the idea of God; for not only are there some nations which are entirely devoid of it, but among others who acknowledge a God, He assumes most diverse forms. Nor will Locke allow that these ideas might be contained in the soul implicitly, though not actually,—that they might be already outlined in the soul and pass into consciousness as the reason ripens, for this would be virtually to say that reason makes men know what they know already, in other words, that the soul is capable of forming them. And if that were so, where would you draw the limit? If mathematical truths are innate, all relations of space and number must be equally so, indeed, all self-evident propositions, such truths as sweet is not bitter, black is not white, etc., must also be innate.

It has been objected by Cousin and others that this method of appealing to savages and children, in regard to whose state it is so difficult to get accurate information, is by no means scientific or trustworthy. Moreover, children and savages do not understand your abstract questions with regard to identity, opposition, or even with regard to the idea of a God. But put your question in a concrete form adequate to their capacity and it will be found that many of those ideas which you imagined were the result of a process of education or experience, are really already present.

(2) But, now, if there be no innate ideas, as Locke claims to have demonstrated, what is the source of our ideas? whence comes our knowledge? This is the question he deals with in the second book. "Let us then suppose," he says, "the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters without any idea, how comes it to be furnished? ... To this I answer in one word, to experience; in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that ultimately derives itself." And let us see what Locke understands by experience. "Our observation employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our mind, perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These are the two fountains of knowledge from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring." Experience, therefore, is twofold. It comes to us either by sensation or reflection. It has been objected by Cousin that Locke confounds reflection with consciousness. While reflection is a faculty exercised only by the few, consciousness belongs to every man as an intellectual being. Moreover, he limits the reach of reflection by limiting it to the operations of the soul, whereas it has for its objects all the phenomena which pass within us, sensations as well as mental operations. If we ask whether sensation or reflection comes first into exercise, Locke has no hesitation in saying that our first ideas are furnished to us by sensation, while those which we owe to reflection come later. "These alone, so far as I can discover, are the windows by which the light is let into this dark room; for methinks the understanding is not much unlike a closet wholly shut from light, with only some little opening left, to let in some external visible resemblances, or ideas of things without." It will thus be seen that, according to Locke, the mind is a wholly passive faculty; it cannot do otherwise than perceive what is given to it through the organs of sense. It is as little able to create ideas out of nothing or destroy those which have been framed as a man is able to create or destroy a mote in the sunbeam. It simply acts as a mirror reflecting the images of objects presented to it. Yet when Locke deals with the operation of the mind he seems to imply a certain degree of activity. While the mind receives its first materials from sensation and reflection, he seems to attribute to its several faculties,—perception, retention, discernment, comparison, composition, abstraction,—a certain power of combining the isolated and transitory impressions into complex ideas. This power, indeed, he regards as merely formal, as adding nothing to the matter of the ideas. But the very fact that he acknowledges any activity of the mind at all, would imply that it is not merely a passive receptacle, but an active agent or factor in the formation of our knowledge. May we not say that the co-operation of the mind, with the elements of experience, insisted on by Kant, was already dimly, though unconsciously, suggested by Locke?

(3) Classification of ideas. Though all our ideas are derived from sensation and reflection, if we analyse them we find that they may be divided into two classes—simple and complex.

(a) Simple ideas are those which the mind receives from without. They may come through a single sense, as ideas of colour through sight, or sound through hearing, or solidity through touch. Or they may be those which come through several senses at once, as extension, form, motion. Or they may be those which arise from reflection alone, as the ideas of doubt, belief, will. Or yet again, they may be such as are derived from sensation and reflection together, such as pleasure, pain, or the ideas of unity, power, and succession.

Locke reckons our ideas of Space, Time, and Number in the class of the simple, "being no other than what the mind, by the ordinary use of its own faculties, employed about ideas received from objects of sense, or from the operations it observes in itself about them, may or does attain to." Locke sets aside the erroneous identification of matter with extension, introduced by Descartes, and substitutes for it the idea of solidity which "we receive by our touch, and which arises from the resistance which we find in body, to the entrance of any other body." Space and body are, indeed, distinct. But we cannot conceive of the second without the first. Space may be imagined "either as filled with solid parts, so that another body cannot come there ... or else as void of solidity, so that a body of equal dimensions to that empty space may be placed in it." We obtain the idea of space, therefore, by means of sight and touch. In like manner our idea of time springs also from the two universal sources of knowledge, sensation and reflection. We reach the conception by reflecting upon our feelings and thoughts in the order in which they succeed each other in our minds. Without perceptions we should have no idea of duration or time. Time and space have much in common: both are infinite, and cannot be limited by the world of matter. It is always possible to think away bodies and motion, but we are unable to conceive limits to space and time. The difference between the two is that while space can extend itself in many directions, time has only one dimension. Of all ideas, says Locke, none is so simple as that of number. All things are united in number. Number gives fixity and definiteness to the infinite mass of things presented by sensation or reflection. Numeration consists only of addition and subtraction, and both operations may be continued to infinity.

(b) Complex Ideas. "When the understanding is once stored with these simple ideas, it has the power to repeat, compare, and unite them, even to an almost infinite variety, and so can make at pleasure new complex ideas." These may be brought under three heads: Modes, Substances, Relations.


Modes are such as have no independent existence. They are complex ideas which, however compounded, contain not in them the supposition of existing by themselves, but are considered as dependencies on, or affections of, substances; such are ideas signified by the words, "triangle, gratitude, murder, etc." They may be simple or mixed modes, and may consist of all the various modifications of space, time, number, thought.

Substances are such ideas as correspond to actual things. These things, however, are unknown to us in themselves, and are only cognisable through certain underlying notions which we call substances. "We have no clear idea of substance in general." It is that unknown something in which we combine a particular aggregate of qualities and predicates. If we inquire what is the subject in which this weight or that colour resides, we are referred to a solid and extended something which we cannot immediately know. In a word, all our ideas of substance are but "collections of simple ideas with a supposition of something to which they belong and in which they subsist." Have we not here a suggestion of Kant's "thing in itself "?

The last kind of complex ideas is that of Relation. Relations are ideas which are so united that the one calls up the other. Such are the ideas of cause and effect, identity and diversity.

(4) Relation of Mind to Real World. In proclaiming the impossibility of forming any clear idea of substance and in insisting that all ideas of time, space, causality, identity, etc., are but ideas of the mind to be traced back to sensation and reflection, Locke establishes the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge and makes man himself, the individual consciousness, the source and criterion of all truth. He joins hands here with the individualism of Descartes as against the universalism of Spinoza. It is the self which thinks, over against which is the manifold world of things, only known to the thinking subject by its own ideas received through its own faculties of sensation and reflection.

The distinction which Locke makes between primary and secondary qualities, most interesting in itself, suggests a similar conclusion. Certain qualities are inseparable from a body whatever its state; these are called original or primary qualities, and include solidity, extension, figure, motion, number. "Secondly, such qualities, which in truth are nothing in the objects themselves, but powers to produce various sensations in us by their primary qualities, i.e. by the bulk, figure, texture, and motion of their insensible parts, as colours, sounds, tastes, etc., these I call secondary qualities." Now, while "the ideas of primary qualities of bodies are resemblances of them, and their patterns do really exist in the bodies themselves, the ideas produced in us by these secondary qualities have no resemblance of them at all. There is nothing like our ideas existing in the bodies themselves. They are, in the bodies we denominate from them, only a power to produce those sensations in us; and what is sweet, blue, or warm in idea, is but the certain bulk, figure and motion of the insensible parts in the bodies themselves which we call so." But if these secondary qualities are only ideas in our mind and represent nothing in the bodies themselves, how are we to bridge the gulf which exists between the thinking subject and the real world? Elsewhere, he says (bk. II. ch. IV.): "It is evident the mind knows not things immediately, but only by the intervention of the ideas it has of them. Our knowledge is real only so far as there is a conformity between our ideas and the reality of things." What then shall be the criterion? How shall the mind, when it perceives nothing but its own ideas, know that they agree with the things themselves? Here Locke states the problem with which philosophy has ever been confronted,—a problem which has been variously solved by idealism and realism. What is the relation of the subject and object? Locke, it may be said, is scarcely alive to the full significance of this question, and he overcomes the difficulty by a mere petitio principii. We have a conviction that such a reality exists to which our ideas correspond. Our ideas are the product of things "operating on the mind in a natural way, and producing those perceptions which, by the will and wisdom of our Maker, they are ordained for and adapted to. Whence it follows that simple ideas are not fictions of our fancies, but the natural and regular productions of things without us; and so carry all the conformity which is intended, or which our state requires; for they represent things to us under those appearances which they are fitted to produce in us." The truth is that Locke fails to make the transition from the individual to the world, or from the world to the individual, and he resorts, like Descartes and Malebranche, to a Deus ex machina, by whom the conformity is brought about. All our knowledge is really subjective, according to Locke, and human certainty is only relative certainty. Ideas may be true for us without having absolute validity.

(5) Nature and Limits of Knowledge. Having so far examined the source and range of our ideas, Locke proceeds in the fourth book to consider the kinds of knowledge which those ideas afford, and to treat of the various judgments, intuitive, demonstrative, probable, and erroneous, into which ideas enter. He defines knowledge as "the perception of the connection, and agreement or disagreement, and repugnancy, of any of our ideas"; holding that "the mind hath no other immediate objects in all its thoughts and reasonings but its own ideas." Where this perception exists there is knowledge, and where it is not, though we may fancy, guess, or believe, yet we always come short of knowledge.

If the mind knows nothing but its own ideas, how, it may be asked, have we any real knowledge of things and persons outside ourselves? How, in other words, do we attain to a knowledge of God and the material world? What bridge is there between the faculty of knowing within us and the objects of knowledge without us? Only on the supposition that the mind contains images or archetypes of God, of the soul, and the external world. Thus, though Locke starts his essay by strenuously contending against innate ideas; at the close, by affirming that the mind possesses archetypes or intuitive ideas of certain things, he seems to give his case away, and to bring back what he formerly expelled.

According to the completeness or incompleteness with which an idea corresponds to its archetype is the clearness of our knowledge. There are, therefore, three degrees of certainty of knowledge. First, "when the mind perceives the agreement or disagreement of two ideas immediately by themselves, without the intervention of any other; this we may call intuitive knowledge, which leaves no room for hesitation. The second, is when it perceives the agreement or the disagreement of any of the ideas, but not immediately; this is demonstrative knowledge. The third degree is the problematic, such as the knowledge the mind has of the material world."

Now there are three objects of which the mind may be said to have a real knowledge. We have an intuitive knowledge of our own existence. That truth needs no proof. We have also a real, though, in this case, a demonstrative knowledge, of God, whose existence is assured for us both by the design in the outer world and still more by our own existence and our powers, which demand a supremely powerful and intelligent being as their creator. Lastly, we have a knowledge of material things through our sensations, which, if it falls short of being as sure as the knowledge of ourselves and of God, is still highly probable and practically certain. Of this we have various evidence. Our senses imply a cause, which the organs of our mind have not produced. Also, we have the assurance which comes from the general agreement of our senses and the consensus of mankind. Of these things we may be said to have a real and certain knowledge. But all else upon which the human understanding can be exercised is referable to the sphere of probability, presumption, or even of ignorance. All judgments, about absent things of sense, about the relations of the qualities of nature, about the attributes of Spiritual beings, can only at best have a vague uncertain presumption. Hence probability is the guide of life, and the weighing of reasons for and against a proposition is the chief exercise of the human understanding. With regard to the nature of God, and of the spiritual world, we have no knowledge as such, and can only rely upon revelation and faith.

Locke does not work out a separate ethical theory, but many of his remarks bear directly upon practical conduct.

Personal identity consists of continuity of consciousness. Personality is the foundation of all responsibility. Locke rejects the doctrine of the freedom of the will in the common acceptation. What he calls will is the power of self-determination towards motion or rest, thought or no thought. Freedom has to do with action, not with will. A man is not free to will and not to will. So far as a man's power of acting in accordance with his own thought extends, so far is he free. "The motive for continuing in the same state or action is only the present satisfaction in it; the motive for change is always some uneasiness." Our will is, in the first instance, determined by the desire to avoid pain, or to put it positively, by our desire for happiness. Locke makes an important distinction between desire and will. "We are endowed with a power to suspend any particular desire, and keep it from determining the will and engaging us in action." We can compare our desires and calculate their consequences. "In this lies the liberty a man has." In other words, the will is determined by "the last judgment of good or evil." Good and evil are, however, with him nothing but that which procures pleasure and pain. And he defines "moral good and evil as only the conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law, whereby good and evil is drawn on us from the will and power of the lawmaker." He holds that ethical rules are obligatory on us independently of political society, though he does not regard those principles as implanted in the human mind at birth. The aggregate of such rules he conceives to be the law of God.

Locke's significance consists in his being the first thinker of modern times who turned men's minds to the question, whence do we get our ideas, how do we know? and he has suggested the chief problems which in different forms have occupied philosophy since. In opposition to the mere "mode" of Spinoza he has emphasized the reality of the individual and has pointed to the individual thinking man as the true subject of all knowledge. "Locke," says Schopenhauer, "was the first to proclaim the great doctrine that a philosopher who wishes to prove or derive anything from ideas must first investigate the origin of these ideas." His hesitation, however, between pure individualism, which can only conceive things as given by sense and reflection, and can, therefore, never go beyond its own subjective standpoint, and the assumption of an objective world existing without, which it yet presumes in some way to know,—is the flaw in his system which his followers were not slow to detect. Locke is not, in fact, consistent with himself. Sometimes he speaks as if the external objects of the world themselves made impressions on the mind; at other times he seems to imply that all that the mind can know are its own ideas.

The defect of Locke's philosophy, therefore, is that these two theories cannot be reconciled, and neither gives an adequate explanation of our knowledge. On the one hand, if we begin with the individual mind we are f6rced to conceive its knowledge as limited to its own sensations, with the result that the objective world must be totally beyond the possibility of knowledge. If, on the other hand, we begin with the outer world, which only acts on the individual through the senses, we assume a knowledge of things in themselves independent of the sensations of the individual.

Modern philosophy. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment              Modern philosophy. Empiricism. Berkeley



© TORRE DE BABEL EDICIONES - Edition: Isabel Blanco  - Legal notice and privacy policy