Essay concerning human understanding (1689)

"Essay Concerning Human Understanding", YLEM, Vol. 15, No.4, August, p. 4; also published on the Internet in Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Volume 3, No. 8, August 1995, MIT Press.


Oxford University Press is in the process of producing a new edition ofall of Locke's works. This will supersede The Works of JohnLocke of which the 1823 edition is probably the most standard. Thenew Clarendon editions began with Peter Nidditch's edition of AnEssay Concerning Human Understanding in 1975. The Oxford Clarendoneditions contain much of the material of the Lovelace collection,purchased and donated to Oxford by Paul Mellon. This treasure trove ofLocke's works and letters, which includes early drafts of theEssay and much other material, comes down from Peter King,Locke's nephew, who inherited Locke's papers. Access to these papershas given scholars in the twentieth century a much better view ofLocke's philosophical development and provided a window into thedetails of his activities which is truly remarkable. Hence the newedition of Locke's works will very likely be definitive.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Essay Concerning Human Understanding

In An Essay concerning Human Understanding, John Locke sets out his theory of knowledge and how we acquire it. Eschewing doctrines of innate principles and ideas, Locke shows how all our ideas, even the most abstract and complex, are grounded in human experience and attained by sensation of external things or reflection upon our own mental activities. A thorough examination of the communication of ideas through language and the conventions of taking words as signs of ideas paves the way for his penetrating critique of the limitations of ideas and the extent of our knowledge of ourselves, the world, God, and morals.