Nominal essences on the other hand will vary from person to person. This whole account of essences, and indeed the deliberate use of the word essence , represents an important break from the essentialism of the Aristotelian tradition that Locke was taught in his youth. Aristotle believed that there are natural kinds, the essences of which can be organised into a single hierarchical system of classification which corresponds to the way nature is structured.
Locke rejected this claim entirely. Rather than a unique classification open to discovery by the scientist Locke thought it useful to classify things in lots of different ways depending on what one wanted to do. This is quite a profound difference. It represents an important break with the thinking of the past and in this he was clearly influenced by natural philosophers such as his old friend and mentor Robert Boyle. Part of the reason for discussing words in Book III of the Essay is precisely to break down the idea of fixed boundaries between species or sorts of ideas.
It might seem from this discussion that Locke believed that words never retain a common meaning when they are used by one person speaking to another, but this is not the case. Locke, the master of common sense, was well aware that words must sometimes signify the same meaning to different people for otherwise there would be no communication and language would be completely useless.
However, the more complex the idea signified by the word, the more likelihood that the word represents a different idea in the mind of each person who hears or reads it. For the most part Locke sees language as a tool for carrying out the pragmatic communication necessary in everyday life. His approach is to deal with what knowledge is, how we reach it, what the different types of knowledge are and how certain we can be of any knowledge we gain.
Here we can see why Locke is at such pains to make it clear what he means by ideas and their signs words before defining knowledge and embarking on the central question of the Essay. He defines four sorts of agreement or disagreement: identity , relation , co-existence or necessary connexion and real existence giving the examples:. He distinguishes between three types of knowledge, which have different degrees of certainty. The clearest and most certain is intuitive knowledge , the second most certain demonstrative knowledge and the third sensitive knowledge. I will not use any mathematical symbols as I know this will put off at least two thirds of my readers, but will rather use a series of diagrams.
The idea, remember, is that each step should have intuitive certainty in order to provide proof of the hypothesis through reasoning and I hope that the example I have chosen will carry you with it. If we take an identical triangle and turn it upside down as shown in , then bring the two triangles together as in  then we have the shape shown in  which we describe as a parallelogram.
We can see that each of the three angles a, b, c in our original triangle appear twice in the parallelogram.
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If we look at the top left corner of the parallelogram in  labelled D in  , I can draw a line from there to the base of the parallelogram to make a right angle with the base as shown in . Now what we have is a right angled triangle on the left and a four sided figure on the right that can be separated as in .
The triangle can be moved over to the right hand side of the diagram, where, because of the size of the angles it will fit exactly onto the other figure, making a rectangle, see  and . Thus we have demonstrated , by means of diagrams that the three angles a, b, c in our original triangle, when doubled two triangles in  have angles adding up to four right angles in the rectangle in .
Thus angles a, b and c add up to two right angles. There are other ways of proving this, but I quite like this diagrammatic proof by demonstration for its appeal to our intuitive feeling for shapes and how they fit together. The last type of knowledge Locke discusses, sensitive knowledge, is the least certain as it is founded on objects that enter our minds directly through the senses.
Locke is well aware of the doubts associated with trusting our senses but, ever the common-sense philosopher, argues strongly that it makes no sense to reject the input we receive from the outside world. We should accept that things in the external world have a real existence even if our knowledge of them will always be imperfect:. Continuing on this theme, Locke claims that it is not possible for us to discover the connection between what he describes as the primary and secondary qualities of a substance.
The problem is that, while there is no doubt a connection between these different types of quality, nothing in the substance itself truly resembles its secondary qualities. This leads on to a consideration of probability or likelihood of truth. We have to accept the lack of certainty associated with our understanding of the physical world because of our reliance on our senses, but this does not mean that we cannot make rational judgements about what we observe. Locke presents an account of probable reasoning which is very similar to the demonstrative reasoning that generates knowledge.
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However, not every step in probable reasoning has intuitive certainty, only a certain likelihood of truth. Thus when we judge an argument or proposition as true or false we cannot guarantee that our judgement is correct, only that it is more or less likely. Therefore there are degrees of such judgement ranging from near certainty to highly improbable. However, I want to draw attention to the profound importance of his points about probable reasoning if we are to have a true appreciation of the strengths and limits of the scientific method.
What is more likely? At every step of an argument we should be weighing up our level of certainty. However, the more experiments and observation we can perform related to each step to confirm or refute our assumptions, the more certain we can be. This is very important to appreciate and unfortunately is not appreciated by a lot of scientists! Morality does not have the advantage that mathematics has of being able to use diagrams and precisely defined symbols which allow you to review each stage of a demonstration with ease.
In Chapter X Locke lays out how we can be sure of the existence of God. I will not go into the details of his argument here, but do think it of interest to pick out two key points that lie at the heart of his reasoning and which I think are philosophically flawed. It being as impossible, that things devoid of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without any perception, should produce a knowing being, as it is impossible, that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones.
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For it is as repugnant to the idea of senseless matter, that it should put into itself sense, perception and knowledge, as it is repugnant to the idea of a triangle, that it should put into itself greater angles than two right angles. However, as with any of the great thinkers, it is also worth remembering when Locke was writing and not take it out of context. Locke believed in questioning everything and in not accepting the authority either of the past or of the clergy.
He wanted people to rely on their own judgement and reasoning which is precisely why he constructs an argument to justify believing in God, and that is interesting in its own right. I will return to this theme at the end of the chapter. Having found the bounds of human knowledge and certainty Locke turns to the various degrees of probability or likelihood of the truth of an idea. This is the area of human knowledge where, in the absence of certainty, we have to apply our judgement.
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