Happy Birthday, John Locke: On Human Understanding and the Folly of Our Borrowed Opinions

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, August 29, 2013

“The understanding, like the eye, whilst it makes us see and perceive all other things, takes no notice of itself; and it requires an art and pains to set it at a distance and make it its own object.”

English philosopher and physician John Locke (August 29, 1632–October 28, 1704), endures as one of the most influential figures of the Enlightenment, whose work shaped the course of modern thought, permeated the American Declaration of Independence, and laid the foundation for today’s understanding of the self and human identity. One of his most central tenets was the idea, radical at the time, that we are born without innate ideas and that knowledge instead is acquired through direct experience and sense perception. That’s precisely what Locke explores in his seminal 1690 masterwork An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (public library; free download), often considered the catalyst for contemporary Western conceptions of the self — a dimensional inquiry into “the [origin], certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent.” []

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