An Essay Concerning Human Understanding By John Locke Study Help Essay Questions

1. Give a brief account of the life of John Locke, mentioning in particular those events that were most influential in shaping the development of his philosophy.

2. Describe briefly Locke's participation in the discussion group that led eventually to the writing of his famous Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

3. Make a list of Locke's published writings and show how the ideas set forth in the Essay are related to the other writings.

4. Make a short outline of the topics discussed in the Essay and show how these are related to the main purpose for which it was written.

5. Explain in some detail the doctrine concerning innate ideas which had been accepted by many of Locke's contemporaries and predecessors.

6. Why did Locke think it was important to prove that innate ideas do not exist? What proof did he offer in support of his position?

7. Criticize, from the point of view of logical adequacy, the arguments which Locke used to prove that innate ideas do not exist.

8. What, according to Locke, are the two sources from which all ideas are derived? Explain briefly the kinds of ideas that are derived from each of these sources.

9. How does Locke distinguish between simple ideas and complex ideas? Give some examples to illustrate each of these two kinds of ideas.

10. Name and illustrate each of the four kinds of simple ideas.

11. How does Locke distinguish between primary and secondary qualities? Give some examples to illustrate each.

12. What reasons are given to support the belief that primary qualities are present in the external objects while secondary qualities are present only in the mind?

13. Explain with illustrations what Locke means by simple modes and mixed modes.

14. How does Locke explain the origin of such ideas as duration, expansion, power, and relations?

15. What explanation is given concerning the origin and meaning of the idea of substance?

16. How does Locke's view concerning the meaning of the term substance differ from the traditional one which had been held by his predecessors?

17. How does Locke account for the origin and meaning of the idea of causality? Do you think his conception of causality is consistent with his general theory of ideas? Explain.

18. How does Locke distinguish between true and false ideas?

19. What is the purpose of the discussion about words that forms the subject matter of Book III? In what respect does this part of the Essay constitute a contribution to the philosophy of language?

20. What, according to Locke, are some of the common errors that result from a wrong use of words? How, in his judgment, can these errors be avoided?

21. What does Locke mean by "degrees of our knowledge"? What different degrees does he recognize, and how does he account for the differences?

22. What, according to Locke, are the limitations of human knowledge? In what areas can we have certain knowledge? In what areas can we have only probable knowledge?

23. What is Locke's position concerning the validity of universal propositions in the formal sciences and in the inductive sciences?

24. What, according to Locke, constitutes the basis for one's belief in his own existence? What reason do we have for believing in the existence of God?

25. What, if anything, do we have a right to believe about the existence and the nature of the external world?

26. What, for Locke, constitutes the basis for one's belief in the principles of morality?

27. What does Locke mean by faith and by revelation? How can one distinguish between genuine revelation and blind superstition?

28. What do you regard as Locke's most important contributions toward an adequate theory of knowledge?

29. What inconsistencies do you find in the doctrines that are set forth in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding?

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According to Locke, why can't ideas be present in a soul before it is united with a body?




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