An Essay Concerning Human Understanding | Study Guide

John Locke

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding | Chapter Summaries

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Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Letter to the Earl of Pembroke Locke dedicates the Essay to Thomas Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, a leading English politician of his day. Likening the E... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapters 1–4 The first book of the Essay consists of just four chapters, including an introduction. In them, Locke criticizes a popul... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapters 1–3 Locke begins Book 2 by elaborating on his definition of idea (see Book 1, Chapter 4). Ideas, he says, come from two so... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapters 4–9 Continuing his inventory of simple ideas, Locke discusses the concept of solidity. We get our idea of solidity from ou... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapters 10–13 For Locke, perception goes hand-in-hand with the retention of ideas. This happens in two ways, which Locke denotes con... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapters 14–17 Locke proceeds to offer a categorization of "modes of duration" similar to the one he offered for "modes of space" in ... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapters 18–21 Locke now rounds out his discussion of simple modes, previously defined as modes "contained within the bounds of one s... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 2, Chapters 22–24 Mixed modes, Locke says, are complex ideas formed from simple ideas of different kinds. Examples include "drunkenness"... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapters 25–28 Relations are the third and final kind of complex idea, serving to yoke things together. As with modes and substances,... Read More
Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapters 29–33 Locke next launches into a discussion of how ideas are represented in the mind. He notes that some ideas are "clear an... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 3, Chapters 1–4 Locke begins Book 3 with a brief account of how words arose from humankind's ability to form articulate sounds. Becaus... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 3, Chapters 5–9 Locke now extends his discussion of language to mixed modes and relations, categories of ideas discussed in Book 2, Ch... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 3, Chapters 10–11 Although language is naturally imperfect, Locke observes that people often compound the problem by "render[ing]" lingu... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapters 1–4 Locke defines knowledge as "the perception of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas." There are four basic ways, ... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapters 5–6 Having just defined knowledge, Locke now defines truth and attempts "to observe how the mind distinguishes it from fal... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapters 7–9 Locke next turns his attention to maxims, a group of self-evident statements which are taken as fundamental and often ... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapters 10–14 In this chapter Locke contends that "we are capable of knowing certainly that there is a God." In support of this asse... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapters 15–19 Locke defines probability as "the appearance of agreement upon fallible proofs." A thing is probable, in other words, ... Read More
Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapters 20–21 Locke now raises the question: how do people come to believe false or improbable things? One cause of such "error," he... Read More
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