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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index L > John Locke Quotes > Knowledge

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John Locke
(29 Aug 1632 - 28 Oct 1704)

English philosopher, physician and philosopher who was the most important philosopher during the Age of Reason.


John Locke Quotes on Knowledge (14 quotes)

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Euclid and Archimedes are allowed to be knowing, and to have demonstrated what they say: and yet whosoever shall read over their writings without perceiving the connection of their proofs, and seeing what they show, though he may understand all their words, yet he is not the more knowing. He may believe, indeed, but does not know what they say, and so is not advanced one jot in mathematical knowledge by all his reading of those approved mathematicians.
— John Locke
In Conduct of the Understanding, sect. 24.
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From whence it is obvious to conclude that, since our Faculties are not fitted to penetrate into the internal Fabrick and real Essences of Bodies; but yet plainly discover to us the Being of a GOD, and the Knowledge of our selves, enough to lead us into a full and clear discovery of our Duty, and great Concernment, it will become us, as rational Creatures, to imploy those Faculties we have about what they are most adapted to, and follow the direction of Nature, where it seems to point us out the way.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 11, 646.
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I have mentioned mathematics as a way to settle in the mind a habit of reasoning closely and in train; not that I think it necessary that all men should be deep mathematicians, but that, having got the way of reasoning which that study necessarily brings the mind to, they might be able to transfer it to other parts of knowledge, as they shall have occasion. For in all sorts of reasoning, every single argument should be managed as a mathematical demonstration; the connection and dependence of ideas should be followed till the mind is brought to the source on which it bottoms, and observes the coherence all along; …
— John Locke
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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In all things, therefore, where we have clear evidence from our ideas, and those principles of knowledge I have above mentioned, reason is the proper judge; and revelation, though it may, in consenting with it, confirm its dictates, yet cannot in such cases invalidate its decrees: nor can we be obliged, where we have the clear and evident sentience of reason, to quit it for the contrary opinion, under a pretence that it is matter of faith: which can have no authority against the plain and clear dictates of reason.
— John Locke
in Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), book 4, ch. 18, sec. 20.
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In our search after the Knowledge of Substances, our want of Ideas, that are suitable to such a way of proceeding, obliges us to a quite different method. We advance not here, as in the other (where our abstract Ideas are real as well as nominal Essences) by contemplating our Ideas, and considering their Relations and Correspondencies; that helps us very little, for the Reasons, and in another place we have at large set down. By which, I think it is evident, that Substances afford Matter of very little general Knowledge; and the bare Contemplation of their abstract Ideas, will carry us but a very little way in the search of Truth and Certainty. What then are we to do for the improvement of our Knowledge in Substantial beings? Here we are to take a quite contrary Course, the want of Ideas of their real essences sends us from our own Thoughts, to the Things themselves, as they exist.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 9, 644.
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Let us then suppose the Mind to be, as we say, white Paper, void of all Characters, without any Ideas; How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless Fancy of Man has painted on it, with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of Reason and Knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from Experience: In that, all our Knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives it self. Our Observation employ’d either about external, sensible Objects; or about the internal Operations of our Minds, perceived and reflected on by our selves, is that, which supplies our Understandings with all the materials of thinking.
— John Locke
In 'Of Ideas in general, and their Original', An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Book 2, Chap. 1, Sec. 2, 37.
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No Man’s Knowledge here, can go beyond his Experience.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 19, 115.
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Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge, it is thinking makes what we read ours.
— John Locke
On the Conduct Of Understanding (written 1697, published posthumously 1706), collected in Works (5th Ed. 1751), Vol. 3, 387.
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Secondly, the study of mathematics would show them the necessity there is in reasoning, to separate all the distinct ideas, and to see the habitudes that all those concerned in the present inquiry have to one another, and to lay by those which relate not to the proposition in hand, and wholly to leave them out of the reckoning. This is that which, in other respects besides quantity is absolutely requisite to just reasoning, though in them it is not so easily observed and so carefully practised. In those parts of knowledge where it is thought demonstration has nothing to do, men reason as it were in a lump; and if upon a summary and confused view, or upon a partial consideration, they can raise the appearance of a probability, they usually rest content; especially if it be in a dispute where every little straw is laid hold on, and everything that can but be drawn in any way to give color to the argument is advanced with ostentation. But that mind is not in a posture to find truth that does not distinctly take all the parts asunder, and, omitting what is not at all to the point, draws a conclusion from the result of all the particulars which in any way influence it.
— John Locke
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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The Commonwealth of Learning is not at this time without Master-Builders, whose mighty Designs, in advancing the Sciences, will 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 other of that Strain; 'tis Ambition enough to be employed as an Under-Labourer in clearing Ground a little, and removing some of the Rubbish, that lies in the way to Knowledge.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), The Epistle to the Reader, 9-10.
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The dexterous management of terms and being able to fend and prove with them, I know has and does pass in the world for a great part of learning; but it is learning distinct from knowledge, for knowledge consists only in perceiving the habitudes and relations of ideas one to another, which is done without words; the intervention of sounds helps nothing to it. And hence we see that there is least use of distinction where there is most knowledge: I mean in mathematics, where men have determined ideas with known names to them; and so, there being no room for equivocations, there is no need of distinctions.
— John Locke
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 31.
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The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it.
— John Locke
Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693).
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To show, therefore, that we are capable of knowing, i.e. being certain that there is a God, and how we may come by this certainty, I think we need go no further than ourselves, and that undoubted knowledge we have of our own existence... For man knows that he himself exists... If any one pretends to be so sceptical as to deny his own existence, (for really to doubt of it is manifestly impossible,) let him for me enjoy his beloved happiness of being nothing, until hunger or some other pain convince him of the contrary... He knows also that nothing cannot produce a being; therefore something must have existed from eternity... Next, it is evident, that what had its being and beginning from another, must also have all that which is in and belongs to its being from another too. All the powers it has must be owing to and received from the same source. This eternal source, then, of all being must also be the source and original of all power; and so this eternal Being must be also the most powerful... And most knowing. Again, a man finds in himself perception and knowledge. We have then got one step further; and we are certain now that there is not only some being, but some knowing, intelligent being in the world. There was a time, then, when there was no knowing being, and when knowledge began to be; or else there has been also a knowing being from eternity...And therefore God.
— John Locke
Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), book 4, ch. 10, sec 19.
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Upon this ground it is that I am bold to think that morality is capable of demonstration, as well as mathematics: since the precise real essence of the things moral words stand for may be perfectly known, and so the congruity and incongruity of the things themselves be certainly discussed; in which consists perfect knowledge.
— John Locke
From An Essay in Human Understanding (1777), as quoted and cited in Philip Davis with Reuben Hersh, in The Mathematical Experience (1981), 110.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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