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« CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING."
him from Holland in February, 1688-9, was the manuscript of his ' Essay concerning Human Understanding. Frequent mention of this work has been made in former pages, and it is now time that we should take some account of it and of the circumstances of its composition and publication.
Its history extends over a long period of Locke's life. We have seen that in or near the year 1671, he undertook to direct the few chosen friends, like Tyrrell and Thomas, and perhaps Sydenham and Mapletoft, who formed with him a little club that met at his chamber in Exeter House, as to the way of getting out of “the difficulties that rose on every side” in their discussion of “ a subject very remote from this ;” and that he dated from this accident the origin of what, though he himself never so thought of it, we must regard as the most important philosophical treatise that has been written by any Englishman—the most important because to it is more or less due the writing of nearly every other important treatise that has since appeared — the most important, too, because, however much its doctrines have
been or may be superseded, nothing can lessen the influence of its perfect honesty and truthfulness.
His own too brief account of this memorable accident and its issue has been already quoted in part, but must here be quoted in full. “ After we had puzzled ourselves without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us,” he said, “it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course, and that, before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our abilities, and see what objects our understandings were or were not fitted to deal with. This I proposed to the company, who all readily assented; and thereupon it was agreed that this should be our first inquiry. Some hasty and undigested thoughts on a subject I had never before considered, which I set down against our next meeting, gave the first entrance into this discourse, which, having been thus begun by chance, was continued by entreaty, written by incoherent parcels, and after long intervals of neglect resumed again as my humour or occasions permitted; and at last, in a retirement where an attendance on my health gave me leisure, it was brought into that order thou now seest it. When I put pen to paper, I thought all I should have to say on this matter would have been contained in one sheet of paper, but the farther I went the larger prospect I had; new discoveries led me still on, and so it grew to the bulk it now appears in.”
We have not Locke's “hasty and undigested thoughts on the subject with which he started, and which had to do with “the principles of morality and revealed reli
»? but we have what is vastly more important to us, 1 Concerning Human Understanding,' Epistle to the Reader. Tyrrell's note in his copy of the · Essay,' now in the British Museum.
a rough sketch of the doctrines in which he instructed his friends in the Exeter House chamber, and ultimately instructed the world. In his common-place book ho made a notable entry beginning thus: “Sic cogitavit de intellectu humano Johannes Locke, anno 1671. Intellectus humanus cum cognitionis certitudine et assensus firmitate. I imagine that all knowledge is founded on, and ultimately derives itself from, sense or something analogous to it, and may be called sensation, which is done by our senses conversant about particular objects, which gives us the simple ideas or images of things, and thus we come to have ideas of heat and light, hard and soft, which are nothing but the reviving again in our minds these imaginations which those objects, when they affected our senses, caused in us, whether by motion or otherwise it matters not here to consider; and thus we do when we conceive heat or light, yellow or blue, sweet or bitter. And therefore I think that those things which we call sensible qualities are the simplest ideas we have, and the first object of our understanding.” 1
Long before 1671, from the time when, as an Oxford undergraduate, he began to study Descartes, it is clear that Locke had thought much “de intellectu humano,” and had gradually arrived at very distinct opinions of his own, altogether opposed to the doctrine of innate ideas which Descartes had reinforced with so many new and powerful arguments. Before that date, too, it is evident that he had become a diligent and wise student of Hobbes, and had learnt quite as much from his "Treatise of Human Nature' and his ‘Leviathan,' as from the ‘Discours de la Méthode' and the Meditationes' of Descartes.?
1 Lord King, p. 6. * It is impossible to doubt that, when writing the paragraph quoted above,
If not before 1671, moreover, he made in subsequent years as wise and diligent study of the writings of other men who helped to make the seventeenth century famous
Locke bad very clearly in his mind the opinions of Hobbes “de intellectu humano,” though even then he may have so assimilated and modified them, and made them his own, that he had half forgotten the source from which he obtained them. As Hobbes is not much read now-a-days, and as it is important that his influence upon Locke should be understood, I here append a few representative extracts from his writings.
“The thoughts of man," he said, “are every one a representation or appearance of some quality or other accident of a body without us, which is commonly called an object; which object worketh upon the eyes, ears and other parts of a man's body, and, by diversity of working, produceth diversity of appearances. The original of them all is that which we call sense, for there is no conception in a man's mind which hath not at first, totally or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of sense. The rest are derived from that original.” “ The cause of sense is the external body or object which keepeth the organ proper to each sense, either immediately, as in taste and touch, or mediately, as in seeing, hearing and smelling ; which pressure, by the mediation of the nerves and other strings and membranes of the body, continueth inwards to the brain and heart, and causeth there a resistance or counter-pressure, or endeavour of the heart to deliver itself, which endeavour, because outward, seemeth to be some matter without; and this seeming or fancy is what men call sense, and consisteth, as to the eye in a light or colour figured, to the ear in a sound, to the nostril in an odour, to the tongue and palate in a savour, and to the rest of the body in heat, cold, hardness, softness, and such other qualities as we discern by feeling: all which qualities, called sensible, are, in the object that causeth them, but so many motions of the matter by which it presseth our organs diversely. Neither in us that are pressed are they anything else but divers motions ; for motion produceth nothing but motion. But their appearance to us is fancy." “ But the philosophy schools, through all the universities of Christendom, grounded upon certain texts of Aristotle, teach another doctrine, and say, for the cause of vision, that the thing seen sendeth forth on every side a visible species-in English, a visible show, apparition or aspect, or a being seen, the receiving whereof in the eye is seeing; and, for the cause of hearing, that the thing heard sendeth forth an audible species, that is, an audible aspect, which, entering at the ear, maketh hearing ; nay, for the
for philosophical research, and yet more for philosophical suggestion, Gassendi being the chief of all these others, and the one to whom unquestionably Locke owed most.
cause of understanding also, they say the thing anderstood sendeth forth an intelligible species, which, coming into the understanding, makes us understand.”—Leviathan,' part i., ch. i.
From that bold and bald theory of sense, or, as we should call it, sensation, different altogether from the Aristotelian view, Hobbes proceeded to develope his equally original theory of imagination-what James Mill has taught us to call ideation. Imagination he aptly defined as “the remains of past sense," “sense decaying or weakened by the absence of the object.” (De Corpore,' ch. XXV., § 7.) “ That when a thing lies still,” he said, “ unless somewhat else stir it, it will lie still for ever, is a truth that no man doubts of. But that, when a thing is in motion, it will be eternally in motion, unless somewhat else stay it, though the reason be the same, namely, that nothing can change itself, is not so easily assented to. For men measure, not only other men, but all other things, by themselves; and, because they find themselves subject, after motion, to pain and lassitude, think everything else grows weary of motion and seeks repose of its own accord, little considering whether it be not some other motion wherein that desire of rest they find in themselves consisteth. From hence it is that the schools say heavy bodies fall downwards out of an appetite to rest and to conserve their nature in that place which is most proper for them; ascribing appetite and knowledge of what is good for their conservation, which is more than man has, to things inanimate, absurdly. When a body is in motion, it moveth, unless something else hinder it, eternally; and whatsoever hindereth it cannot in an instant, but in time and by degrees, quite extinguish it; and, as we see in the water, though the wind cease, the waves give not over rolling for a long time after, so also it happeneth in that motion which is made in the internal parts of a man; for after the object is removed, or the eye shut, we still retain an image of the thing seen, though more obscure than when we see it. And this is it the Latins call imagination, from the image made in seeing, and apply the same, though improperly, to all the other senses; but the Greeks call it fancy, which signifies appearance, and is as proper to one sense as to another. Imagination, therefore, is nothing but decaying sense.” " This decaying sense, when we would express the thing itself, I mean fancy itself, we call imagination; but when we would express the decay, and signify that the sense is fading, old, and past, it is callod memory. So that