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

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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 Understanding (11 quotes)

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I have before mentioned mathematics, wherein algebra gives new helps and views to the understanding. If I propose these it is not to make every man a thorough mathematician or deep algebraist; but yet I think the study of them is of infinite use even to grown men; first by experimentally convincing them, that to make anyone reason well, it is not enough to have parts wherewith he is satisfied, and that serve him well enough in his ordinary course. A man in those studies will see, that however good he may think his understanding, yet in many things, and those very visible, it may fail him. This would take off that presumption that most men have of themselves in this part; and they would not be so apt to think their minds wanted no helps to enlarge them, that there could be nothing added to the acuteness and penetration of their understanding.
— John Locke
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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Is it possible that a promiscuous Jumble of Printing Letters should often fall into a Method and Order, which should stamp on Paper a coherent Discourse; or that a blind fortuitous Concourse of Atoms, not guided by an Understanding Agent, should frequently constitute the Bodies of any Species of Animals.
— John Locke
In 'Of Wrong Assent, or Error', An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1706), Book 4, 601.
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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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Nature never makes excellent things, for mean or no uses: and it is hardly to be conceived, that our infinitely wise Creator, should make so admirable a Faculty, as the power of Thinking, that Faculty which comes nearest the Excellency of his own incomprehensible Being, to be so idlely and uselesly employ’d, at least 1/4 part of its time here, as to think constantly, without remembering any of those Thoughts, without doing any good to it self or others, or being anyway useful to any other part of Creation.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 15, 113.
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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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Such propositions are therefore called Eternal Truths, not because they are Eternal Truths, not because they are External Propositions actually formed, and antecedent to the Understanding, that at any time makes them; nor because they are imprinted on the Mind from any patterns, that are any where out of the mind, and existed before: But because, being once made, about abstract Ideas, so as to be true, they will, whenever they can be supposed to be made again at any time, past or to come, by a Mind having those Ideas, always actually be true. For names being supposed to stand perpetually for the same ideas, and the same ideas having immutably the same habitudes one to another, Propositions concerning any abstract Ideas that are once true, must needs be eternal Verities.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 11, Section 14, 638-9.
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The Ideas of primary Qualities of Bodies, are Resemblances of them, and their Patterns do really exist in the Bodies themselves; but 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 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.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 15, 137.
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The senses at first let in particular Ideas, and furnish the yet empty Cabinet: And the Mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they are lodged in the Memory, and Names got to them.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book I, Chapter 2, Section 15, 55.
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There is not so contemptible a Plant or Animal that does not confound the most enlarged Understanding. Though the familiar use of Things, take off our Wonder; yet it cures not our Ignorance.
— John Locke
In An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), 211.
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Those intervening ideas, which serve to show the agreement of any two others, are called proofs; and where the agreement or disagreement is by this means plainly and clearly perceived, it is called demonstration; it being shown to the understanding, and the mind made to see that it is so. A quickness in the mind to find out these intermediate ideas, (that shall discover the agreement or disagreement of any other) and to apply them right, is, I suppose, that which is called sagacity.
— John Locke
In An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Bk. 6, chaps. 2, 3.
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Truth scarce ever yet carried it by Vote any where at its first appearance: New Opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other Reason, but because they are not already common.
— John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), The Epistle Dedicatory, 4.
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  • 29 Aug - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Locke's birth.

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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