John Locke.

An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 online

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duration and infinite space, that they persuade themselves that they
have a positive idea of eternity, but that they have not, nor can have
any idea of infinite space. The reason of which mistake I suppose to be
this - that finding, by a due contemplation of causes and effects, that
it is necessary to admit some Eternal Being, and so to consider the real
existence of that Being as taken up and commensurate to their idea of
eternity; but, on the other side, not finding it necessary, but, on
the contrary, apparently absurd, that body should be infinite, they
forwardly conclude that they can have no idea of infinite space, because
they can have no idea of infinite matter. Which consequence, I conceive,
is very ill collected, because the existence of matter is no ways
necessary to the existence of space, no more than the existence of
motion, or the sun, is necessary to duration, though duration uses to be
measured by it. And I doubt not but that a man may have the idea of ten
thousand miles square, without any body so big, as well as the idea of
ten thousand years, without any body so old. It seems as easy to me to
have the idea of space empty of body, as to think of the capacity of a
bushel without corn, or the hollow of a nut-shell without a kernel in
it: it being no more necessary that there should be existing a solid
body, infinitely extended, because we have an idea of the infinity of
space, than it is necessary that the world should be eternal, because we
have an idea of infinite duration. And why should we think our idea of
infinite space requires the real existence of matter to support it, when
we find that we have as clear an idea of an infinite duration to come,
as we have of infinite duration past? Though I suppose nobody thinks it
conceivable that anything does or has existed in that future duration.
Nor is it possible to join our idea of future duration with present
or past existence, any more than it is possible to make the ideas of
yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow to be the same; or bring ages past and
future together, and make them contemporary. But if these men are of the
mind, that they have clearer ideas of infinite duration than of infinite
space, because it is past doubt that God has existed from all eternity,
but there is no real matter co-extended with infinite space; yet those
philosophers who are of opinion that infinite space is possessed by
God's infinite omnipresence, as well as infinite duration by his eternal
existence, must be allowed to have as clear an idea of infinite space as
of infinite duration; though neither of them, I think, has any positive
idea of infinity in either case. For whatsoever positive ideas a man has
in his mind of any quantity, he can repeat it, and add it to the former,
as easy as he can add together the ideas of two days, or two paces,
which are positive ideas of lengths he has in his mind, and so on as
long as he pleases: whereby, if a man had a positive idea of infinite,
either duration or space, he could add two infinites together; nay, make
one infinite infinitely bigger than another - absurdities too gross to be

21. Supposed positive Ideas of Infinity, cause of Mistakes.

But yet if after all this, there be men who persuade themselves that
they have clear positive comprehensive ideas of infinity, it is fit they
enjoy their privilege: and I should be very glad (with some others that
I know, who acknowledge they have none such) to be better informed by
their communication. For I have been hitherto apt to think that the
great and inextricable difficulties which perpetually involve all
discourses concerning infinity, - whether of space, duration, or
divisibility, have been the certain marks of a defect in our ideas
of infinity, and the disproportion the nature thereof has to the
comprehension of our narrow capacities. For, whilst men talk and dispute
of infinite space or duration, as if they had as complete and positive
ideas of them as they have of the names they use for them, or as they
have of a yard, or an hour, or any other determinate quantity; it is no
wonder if the incomprehensible nature of the thing they discourse of, or
reason about, leads them into perplexities and contradictions, and their
minds be overlaid by an object too large and mighty to be surveyed and
managed by them. 22. All these are modes of Ideas got from Sensation and

If I have dwelt pretty long on the consideration of duration, space, and
number, and what arises from the contemplation of them, - Infinity, it is
possibly no more than the matter requires; there being few simple ideas
whose MODES give more exercise to the thoughts of men than those do. I
pretend not to treat of them in their full latitude. It suffices to
my design to show how the mind receives them, such as they are, from
sensation and reflection; and how even the idea we have of infinity, how
remote soever it may seem to be from any object of sense, or operation
of our mind, has, nevertheless, as all our other ideas, its original
there. Some mathematicians perhaps, of advanced speculations, may have
other ways to introduce into their minds ideas of infinity. But this
hinders not but that they themselves, as well as all other men, got the
first ideas which they had of infinity from sensation and reflection, in
the method we have here set down.



1. Other simple Modes of simple Ideas of sensation.

Though I have, in the foregoing chapters, shown how from simple ideas
taken in by sensation, the mind comes to extend itself even to infinity;
which, however it may of all others seem most remote from any sensible
perception, yet at last hath nothing in it but what is made out of
simple ideas: received into the mind by the senses, and afterwards there
put together, by the faculty the mind has to repeat its own ideas;
- Though, I say, these might be instances enough of simple modes of the
simple ideas of sensation, and suffice to show how the mind comes by
them, yet I shall, for method's sake, though briefly, give an account of
some few more, and then proceed to more complex ideas.

2. Simple modes of motion.

To slide, roll, tumble, walk, creep, run, dance, leap, skip, and
abundance of others that might be named, are words which are no sooner
heard but every one who understands English has presently in his mind
distinct ideas, which are all but the different modifications of motion.
Modes of motion answer those of extension; swift and slow are two
different ideas of motion, the measures whereof are made of the
distances of time and space put together; so they are complex ideas,
comprehending time and space with motion.

3. Modes of Sounds.

The like variety have we in sounds. Every articulate word is a different
modification of sound; by which we see that, from the sense of hearing,
by such modifications, the mind may be furnished with distinct ideas, to
almost an infinite number. Sounds also, besides the distinct cries of
birds and beasts, are modified by diversity of notes of different length
put together, which make that complex idea called a tune, which a
musician may have in his mind when he hears or makes no sound at all, by
reflecting on the ideas of those sounds, so put together silently in his
own fancy.

4. Modes of Colours.

Those of colours are also very various: some we take notice of as the
different degrees, or as they were termed shades, of the same colour.
But since we very seldom make assemblages of colours, either for use
or delight, but figure is taken in also, and has its part in it, as in
painting, weaving, needleworks, &c.; - those which are taken notice of do
most commonly belong to MIXED MODES, as being made up of ideas of divers
kinds, viz. figure and colour, such as beauty, rainbow, &c.

5. Modes of Tastes.

All compounded tastes and smells are also modes, made up of the simple
ideas of those senses. But they, being such as generally we have no
names for, are less taken notice of, and cannot be set down in writing;
and therefore must be left without enumeration to the thoughts and
experience of my reader.

6. Some simple Modes have no Names.

In general it may be observed, that those simple modes which are
considered but as different DEGREES of the same simple idea, though they
are in themselves many of them very distinct ideas, yet have ordinarily
no distinct names, nor are much taken notice of, as distinct ideas,
where the difference is but very small between them. Whether men have
neglected these modes, and given no names to them, as wanting measures
nicely to distinguish them; or because, when they were so distinguished,
that knowledge would not be of general or necessary use, I leave it to
the thoughts of others. It is sufficient to my purpose to show, that all
our simple ideas come to our minds only by sensation and reflection; and
that when the mood has them, it can variously repeat and compound them,
and so make new complex ideas. But, though white, red, or sweet,
&c. have not been modified, or made into complex ideas, by several
combinations, so as to be named, and thereby ranked into species; yet
some others of the simple ideas, viz. those of unity, duration, and
motion, &c., above instanced in, as also power and thinking, have been
thus modified to a great variety of complex ideas, with names belonging
to them.

7. Why some Modes have, and others have not, Names.

The reason whereof, I suppose, has been this, - That the great
concernment of men being with men one amongst another, the knowledge of
men, and their actions, and the signifying of them to one another, was
most necessary; and therefore they made ideas of ACTIONS very nicely
modified, and gave those complex ideas names, that they might the more
easily record and discourse of those things they were daily conversant
in, without long ambages and circumlocutions; and that the things they
were continually to give and receive information about might be the
easier and quicker understood. That this is so, and that men in framing
different complex ideas, and giving them names, have been much governed
by the end of speech in general, (which is a very short and expedite way
of conveying their thoughts one to another), is evident in the names
which in several arts have been found out, and applied to several
complex ideas of modified actions, belonging to their several trades,
for dispatch sake, in their direction or discourses about them. Which
ideas are not generally framed in the minds of men not conversant about
these operations. And thence the words that stand for them, by the
greatest part of men of the same language, are not understood: v. g.
certain complex ideas, which being seldom in the minds of any but those
few whose particular employments do at every turn suggest them to their
thoughts, those names of them are not generally understood but by smiths
and chymists; who, having framed the complex ideas which these words
stand for, and having given names to them, or received them from others,
upon hearing of these names in communication, readily conceive those
ideas in their minds;-as by COHOBATION all the simple ideas of
distilling, and the pouring the liquor distilled from anything back upon
the remaining matter, and distilling it again. Thus we see that there
are great varieties of simple ideas, as of tastes and smells, which have
no names; and of modes many more; which either not having been generally
enough observed, or else not being of any great use to be taken notice
of in the affairs and converse of men, they have not had names given to
them, and so pass not for species. This we shall have occasion hereafter
to consider more at large, when we come to speak of WORDS.



1. Sensation, Remembrance, Contemplation, &c., modes of thinking.

When the mind turns its view inwards upon itself, and contemplates its
own actions, THINKING is the first that occurs. In it the mind observes
a great variety of modifications, and from thence receives distinct
ideas. Thus the perception or thought which actually accompanies, and
is annexed to, any impression on the body, made by an external object,
being distinct from all other modifications of thinking, furnishes the
mind with a distinct idea, which we call SENSATION; - which is, as it
were, the actual entrance of any idea into the understanding by the
senses. The same idea, when it again recurs without the operation of the
like object on the external sensory, is REMEMBRANCE: if it be sought
after by the mind, and with pain and endeavour found, and brought again
in view, it is RECOLLECTION: if it be held there long under attentive
consideration, it is CONTEMPLATION: when ideas float in our mind without
any reflection or regard of the understanding, it is that which the
French call REVERIE; our language has scarce a name for it: when the
ideas that offer themselves (for, as I have observed in another place,
whilst we are awake, there will always be a train of ideas succeeding
one another in our minds) are taken notice of, and, as it were,
registered in the memory, it is ATTENTION: when the mind with great
earnestness, and of choice, fixes its view on any idea, considers it on
all sides, and will not be called off by the ordinary solicitation of
other ideas, it is that we call INTENTION or STUDY: sleep, without
dreaming, is rest from all these: and DREAMING itself is the having of
ideas (whilst the outward senses are stopped, so that they receive not
outward objects with their usual quickness) in the mind, not suggested
by any external objects, or known occasion; nor under any choice or
conduct of the understanding at all: and whether that which we call
ECSTASY be not dreaming with the eyes open, I leave to be examined.

2. Other modes of thinking.

These are some few instances of those various modes of thinking, which
the mind may observe in itself, and so have as distinct ideas of as
it hath of white and red, a square or a circle. I do not pretend to
enumerate them all, nor to treat at large of this set of ideas, which
are got from reflection: that would be to make a volume. It suffices to
my present purpose to have shown here, by some few examples, of what
sort these ideas are, and how the mind comes by them; especially since
I shall have occasion hereafter to treat more at large of REASONING,
JUDGING, VOLITION, and KNOWLEDGE, which are some of the most
considerable operations of the mind, and modes of thinking.

3. The various degrees of Attention in thinking.

But perhaps it may not be an unpardonable digression, nor wholly
impertinent to our present design, if we reflect here upon the different
state of the mind in thinking, which those instances of attention,
reverie, and dreaming, &c., before mentioned, naturally enough suggest.
That there are ideas, some or other, always present in the mind of
a waking man, every one's experience convinces him; though the mind
employs itself about them with several degrees of attention. Sometimes
the mind fixes itself with so much earnestness on the contemplation
of some objects, that it turns their ideas on all sides; marks their
relations and circumstances; and views every part so nicely and with
such intention, that it shuts out all other thoughts, and takes no
notice of the ordinary impressions made then on the senses, which at
another season would produce very sensible perceptions: at other times
it barely observes the train of ideas that succeed in the understanding,
without directing and pursuing any of them: and at other times it
lets them pass almost quite unregarded, as faint shadows that make no

4. Hence it is probable that Thinking is the Action, not the Essence of
the Soul.

This difference of intention, and remission of the mind in thinking,
with a great variety of degrees between earnest study and very near
minding nothing at all, every one, I think, has experimented in himself.
Trace it a little further, and you find the mind in sleep retired as it
were from the senses, and out of the reach of those motions made on the
organs of sense, which at other times produce very vivid and sensible
ideas. I need not, for this, instance in those who sleep out whole
stormy nights, without hearing the thunder, or seeing the lightning, or
feeling the shaking of the house, which are sensible enough to those who
are waking. But in this retirement of the mind from the senses, it often
retains a yet more loose and incoherent manner of thinking, which we
call dreaming. And, last of all, sound sleep closes the scene quite,
and puts an end to all appearances. This, I think almost every one has
experience of in himself, and his own observation without difficulty
leads him thus far. That which I would further conclude from hence is,
that since the mind can sensibly put on, at several times, several
degrees of thinking, and be sometimes, even in a waking man, so remiss,
as to have thoughts dim and obscure to that degree that they are very
little removed from none at all; and at last, in the dark retirements of
sound sleep, loses the sight perfectly of all ideas whatsoever: since, I
say, this is evidently so in matter of fact and constant experience, I
ask whether it be not probable, that thinking is the action and not the
essence of the soul? Since the operations of agents will easily admit of
intention and remission: but the essences of things are not conceived
capable of any such variation. But this by the by.



1. Pleasure and Pain, simple Ideas.

AMONGST the simple ideas which we receive both from sensation and
reflection, PAIN and PLEASURE are two very considerable ones. For as in
the body there is sensation barely in itself, or accompanied with pain
or pleasure, so the thought or perception of the mind is simply so, or
else accompanied also with pleasure or pain, delight or trouble, call it
how you please. These, like other simple ideas, cannot be described, nor
their names defined; the way of knowing them is, as of the simple ideas
of the senses, only by experience. For, to define them by the presence
of good or evil, is no otherwise to make them known to us than by making
us reflect on what we feel in ourselves, upon the several and various
operations of good and evil upon our minds, as they are differently
applied to or considered by us.

2. Good and evil, what.

Things then are good or evil, only in reference to pleasure or pain.
That we call GOOD, which is apt to cause or increase pleasure, or
diminish pain in us; or else to procure or preserve us the possession of
any other good or absence of any evil. And, on the contrary, we name
that EVIL which is apt to produce or increase any pain, or diminish any
pleasure in us: or else to procure us any evil, or deprive us of any
good. By pleasure and pain, I must be understood to mean of body or
mind, as they are commonly distinguished; though in truth they be only
different constitutions of the MIND, sometimes occasioned by disorder in
the body, sometimes by thoughts of the mind.

3. Our passions moved by Good and Evil.

Pleasure and pain and that which causes them, - good and evil, are the
hinges on which our passions turn. And if we reflect on ourselves, and
observe how these, under various considerations, operate in us; what
modifications or tempers of mind, what internal sensations (if I may so
call them) they produce in us we may thence form to ourselves the ideas
of our passions.

4. Love.

Thus any one reflecting upon the thought he has of the delight which any
present or absent thing is apt to produce in him, has the idea we call
LOVE. For when a man declares in autumn when he is eating them, or in
spring when there are none, that he loves grapes, it is no more but
that the taste of grapes delights him: let an alteration of health or
constitution destroy the delight of their taste, and he then can be said
to love grapes no longer.

5. Hatred.

On the contrary, the thought of the pain which anything present or
absent is apt to produce in us, is what we call HATRED. Were it my
business here to inquire any further than into the bare ideas of our
passions, as they depend on different modifications of pleasure and
pain, I should remark that our love and hatred of inanimate insensible
beings is commonly founded on that pleasure and pain which we receive
from their use and application any way to our senses though with their
destruction. But hatred or love, to beings capable of happiness or
misery, is often the uneasiness of delight which we find in ourselves,
arising from their very being or happiness. Thus the being and welfare
of a man's children or friends, producing constant delight in him, he is
said constantly to love them. But it suffices to note, that our ideas
of love and hatred are but the dispositions of the mind, in respect of
pleasure and pain in general, however caused in us.

6. Desire.

The uneasiness a man finds in himself upon the absence of anything whose
present enjoyment carries the idea of delight with it, is that we call
DESIRE; which is greater or less as that uneasiness is more or less
vehement. Where, by the by, it may perhaps be of some use to remark,
that the chief, if not only spur to human industry and action is
UNEASINESS. For whatsoever good is proposed, if its absence carries no
displeasure or pain with it, if a man be easy and content without it,
there is no desire of it, nor endeavour after it; there is no more but a
bare velleity, the term used to signify the lowest degree of desire, and
that which is next to none at all, when there is so little uneasiness
in the absence of anything, that it carries a man no further than some
faint wishes for it, without any more effectual or vigorous use of the
means to attain it. Desire also is stopped or abated by the opinion of
the impossibility or unattainableness of the good proposed, as far as
the uneasiness is cured or allayed by that consideration. This might
carry our thoughts further, were it seasonable in this place.

7. Joy.

JOY is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or
assured approaching possession of a good; and we are then possessed of
any good, when we have it so in our power that we can use it when we
please. Thus a man almost starved has joy at the arrival of relief, even
before he has the pleasure of using it: and a father, in whom the very
well-being of his children causes delight, is always, as long as his
children are in such a state, in the possession of that good; for he
needs but to reflect on it, to have that pleasure.

8. Sorrow.

SORROW is uneasiness in the mind, upon the thought of a good lost, which
might have been enjoyed longer; or the sense of a present evil.

9. Hope.

HOPE is that pleasure in the mind, which every one finds in himself,
upon the thought of a probable future enjoyment of a thing which is apt
to delight him.

10. Fear.

FEAR is an uneasiness of the mind, upon the thought of future evil
likely to befal us.

11. Despair.

DESPAIR is the thought of the unattainableness of any good, which works
differently in men's minds, sometimes producing uneasiness or pain,
sometimes rest and indolency.

12. Anger.

ANGER is uneasiness or discomposure of the mind, upon the receipt of any
injury, with a present purpose of revenge.

13. Envy.

ENVY is an uneasiness of the mind, caused by the consideration of a good
we desire obtained by one we think should not have had it before us.

14. What Passions all Men have.

These two last, ENVY and ANGER, not being caused by pain and pleasure
simply in themselves, but having in them some mixed considerations of
ourselves and others, are not therefore to be found in all men, because
those other parts, of valuing their merits, or intending revenge, is
wanting in them. But all the rest, terminating purely in pain and
pleasure, are, I think, to be found in all men. For we love, desire,
rejoice, and hope, only in respect of pleasure; we hate, fear, and
grieve, only in respect of pain ultimately. In fine, all these passions
are moved by things, only as they appear to be the causes of pleasure
and pain, or to have pleasure or pain some way or other annexed to
them. Thus we extend our hatred usually to the subject (at least, if a
sensible or voluntary agent) which has produced pain in us; because the
fear it leaves is a constant pain: but we do not so constantly love what

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 19 of 34)