John Locke’s Understanding of Knowledge and LanguageJune 27, 2021
The true founder of empiricism in the modern era is John Locke (1632-1704). He became the pioneer of the enlightenment in Europe with his social and political views, and played an educational role for his age by defending fundamental rights and freedoms and a way of life based on reason. He was born in 1632 near Bristol, England. He grew up in a Puritan family. After a classical education, he received higher education at Oxford.
He taught in Greek, Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy. While working on Aristotelian logic and metaphysics, he became uncomfortable with Scholastic thought. He saw this area as having lost his way in fuzzy terms and useless questions. Meanwhile, he was influenced by the works of Descartes, and as a result of this influence, he began to think that clear and organized thinking could also be possible in philosophy. After meeting Robert Boyle, he also turned to natural science subjects. He studied medicine and became a general practitioner. He served as medical adviser to the Earl of Shaftesbury. He met Cartesians and their opponents in France, where he went in 1675. He was influenced by the anti-Cartesian Gassendi. When he returned to England, he rejoined Shaftesbury’s service, but found himself in political trouble because of this man’s political position. His later life was filled with political turmoil. He gave his important works during this period. He died in Essex in 1704. He adopted a prudent attitude in favor of experience in every field. He did not become a radical empiricist-empiricist, although he acknowledged that knowledge was based on sense perceptions. On social and political issues, he took a rationalist stance, arguing that all beliefs should be controlled by reason. He opposed oppressive authority in any field, advocated tolerance, and preferred moderate piety in terms of action, although he did not deny divine revelation. His masterpiece, An Essay Concerning the Human Understanding, was published in 1790. Other important works are: Two Treatises on Civil Government, Reflections on Education, Reasonableness of Christianity, and Letter on Tolerance.
Locke is known above all for his contributions to the field of epistemology. His main work in this field is An Essay on the Human Understanding. In the preface of the work, Locke argues that before discussing metaphysical issues, the limits of the understanding of the human mind should be determined. “This work is an investigation into the origin, precision, and breadth of human knowledge: it explains how understanding arrives at the concepts of objects; is to determine the degree of certainty of our knowledge. It is seeking the boundaries between thinking and knowing.”
Locke’s main aim was to determine the limits of the mind’s understanding before discussing metaphysical issues.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook