An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 2 volumes bound in one (Complete)
London: J. Churchill (Vol. 1); A. and J. Churchill (Vol. 2), 1716 (Vol. 1); 1715 (Vol. 2). Seventh Edition, with large Additions. Hardcover. Octavo (8 x 5"). , 372, ; , 340, [25, index], pp. Contemporary full calf, with modern white lettering on spine. Raised bands. Previous owner's gift inscription on front free endpaper: "To the Edinburgh Academical Club, This Book Is Presented By One of its Original Members, John M. Balfour.* 1829." Engraved frontispiece portrait of John Locke by J. Nutting, after a painting by S. Brounower. Title page for each volume.
Seventh and enlarged edition of John Locke’s Essay "Concerning Human Understanding," a philosophical landmark originally published in 1689 (although dated 1690).
One of the principal sources of empiricism in modern philosophy, this essay presents a detailed, systematic philosophy of mind and thought, and wrestles with fundamental questions about how we think and perceive, and it even touches on how we express ourselves through language, logic, and religious practices. In the introduction, entitled 'The Epistle to the Reader,' Locke describes how he became involved in his current mode of philosophical thinking. He relates an anecdote about a conversation with friends that made him realize that men often suffer in their pursuit of knowledge because they fail to determine the limits of their understanding.
The Essay is divided into four books (two per volume):
- Book I is devoted to an attack on nativism or the doctrine of innate ideas. Locke allowed that some ideas are in the mind from an early age, but argued that such ideas are furnished by the senses starting in the womb: for instance, differences between colors or tastes. If we have a universal understanding of a concept like sweetness, it is not because this is an innate idea, but because we are all exposed to sweet tastes at an early age. One of Locke's fundamental arguments against innate ideas is the very fact that there is no truth to which all people attest. He took the time to argue against a number of propositions that rationalists offer as universally accepted truth, for instance the principle of identity, pointing out that at the very least children and idiots are often unaware of these propositions.
- Book II: Whereas Book I is intended to reject the doctrine of innate ideas proposed by Descartes and the rationalists, Book II explains that every idea is derived from experience either by sensation - direct sensory information - or reflection - "the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got". Furthermore, Book II is also a systematic argument for the existence of an intelligent being: "Thus, from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth, that there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing being; which whether any one will please to call God, it matters not!"
- Book III focuses on words. Locke connects words to the ideas they signify, claiming that man is unique in being able to frame sounds into distinct words and to signify ideas by those words, and then that these words are built into language. Chapter ten in this book focuses on "Abuse of Words." Here, Locke calls out metaphysicians for making up new words that have no clear meaning. He also criticizes the use of words which are not linked to clear ideas, and to those who change the criteria or meaning underlying a term. Thus he uses a discussion of language to demonstrate sloppy thinking. Locke followed the Port-Royal Logique (1662) in numbering among the abuses of language those that he calls "affected obscurity" in chapter 10. Locke complains that such obscurity is caused by, for example, philosophers who, to confuse their readers, invoke old terms and give them unexpected meanings or who construct new terms without clearly defining their intent. Writers may also invent such obfuscation to make themselves appear more learned or their ideas more complicated and nuanced or erudite than they actually are.
- Book IV and last, focuses on knowledge in general - that it can be thought of as the sum of ideas and perceptions. Locke discusses the limit of human knowledge, and whether knowledge can be said to be accurate or truthful. Thus there is a distinction between what an individual might claim to "know", as part of a system of knowledge, and whether or not that claimed knowledge is actual. For example, Locke writes at the beginning of Chap. IV (Of the Reality of Knowledge): "I doubt not my Reader by this Time may be apt to think that I have been all this while only building a Castle in the Air; and be ready to say to me, To what purpose all of this stir? Knowledge, say you, is only the Perception of the Agreement or Disagreement of our own Ideas: but who knows what those Ideas may be? ... But of what use is all this fine Knowledge of Man's own Imaginations, to a Man that enquires after the reality of things? It matters now that Mens Fancies are, 'tis the Knowledge of Things that is only to be priz'd; 'tis this alone gives a Value to our Reasonings, and Preference to one Man's Knowledge over another's, that is of Things as they really are, and of Dreams and Fancies." In the last chapter of the book, Locke introduces the major classification of sciences into physics, semiotics, and ethics.
Binding heavily rubbed along edges, with closed tears along joints. Head and tail of spine slightly chipped. Hinges reinforced with binder's tape. Previous owner's bookplate on inside of front cover (James A. Young). Stamp of the Edinburgh Academical Club at lower margin of front free endpaper and on both title pages. Moderate and sporadic age-toning throughout, and minor and sporadic creasing along paper margin (not affecting lettering). Binding in overall fair, interior in good to very good condition. fair to vg. Item #42019
* "John Balfour (1750-1842) was a Scottish politician and a civil servant in the East India Company, with connections to the Orcadian island of Shapinsay." (From Wikipedia).