John Locke.

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

. (page 27 of 34)
Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 27 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ascribe existence, power, wisdom, and all other perfections (which we
can have any ideas of) to that sovereign Being, which we call G-d, being
all boundless and infinite, we frame the best idea of him our minds are
capable of: all which is done, I say, by enlarging those simple ideas we
have taken from the operations of our own minds, by reflection; or by
our senses, from exterior things, to that vastness to which infinity can
extend them.

35. God in his own essence incognisable.

For it is infinity, which, joined to our ideas of existence, power,
knowledge, &c., makes that complex idea, whereby we represent to
ourselves, the best we can, the Supreme Being. For, though in his own
essence (which certainly we do not know, know, not knowing the real
essence of a pebble, or a fly, or of our own selves) God be simple and
uncompounded; yet I think I may say we have no other idea of him, but a
complex one of existence, knowledge, power, happiness, &c., infinite and
eternal: which are all distinct ideas, and some of them, being relative,
are again compounded of others: all which being, as has been shown,
originally got from sensation and reflection, go to make up the idea or
notion we have of God.

36. No Ideas in our complex ideas of Spirits, but those got from
Sensation or Reflection.

This further is to be observed, that there is no idea we attribute to
God, bating infinity, which is not also a part of our complex idea
of other spirits. Because, being capable of no other simple ideas,
belonging to anything but body, but those which by reflection we receive
from the operation of our own minds, we can attribute to spirits no
other but what we receive from thence: and all the difference we can put
between them, in our contemplation of spirits, is only in the several
extents and degrees of their knowledge, power, duration, happiness, &c.
For that in our ideas, as well of spirits as of other things, we are
from hence, - That, in our ideas of spirits, how much soever advanced in
perfection beyond those of bodies, even to that of infinite, we cannot
yet have any idea of the manner wherein they discover their thoughts one
to another: though we must necessarily conclude that separate spirits,
which are beings that have perfecter knowledge and greater happiness
than we, must needs have also a perfecter way of communicating their
thoughts than we have, who are fain to make use of corporeal signs, and
particular sounds; which are therefore of most general use, as being
the best and quickest we are capable of. But of immediate communication
having no experiment in ourselves, and consequently no notion of it
at all, we have no idea how spirits, which use not words, can with
quickness; or much less how spirits that have no bodies can be masters
of their own thoughts, and communicate or conceal them at pleasure,
though we cannot but necessarily suppose they have such a power.

37. Recapitulation.

And thus we have seen what kind of ideas we have of SUBSTANCES OF ALL
KINDS, wherein they consist, and how we came by them. From whence, I
think, it is very evident,

First, That all our ideas of the several SORTS of substances are nothing
but collections of simple ideas: with a supposition of SOMETHING to
which they belong, and in which they subsist; though of this supposed
something we have no clear distinct idea at all.

Secondly, That all the simple ideas, that thus united in one common
SUBSTRATUM, make up our complex ideas of several SORTS of substances,
are no other but such as we have received from sensation or reflection.
So that even in those which we think we are most intimately acquainted
with, and that come nearest the comprehension of our most enlarged
conceptions, we cannot go beyond those simple ideas. And even in those
which seem most remote from all we have to do with, and do infinitely
surpass anything we can perceive in ourselves by reflection; or discover
by sensation in other things, we can attain to nothing but those simple
ideas, which we originally received from sensation or reflection; as is
evident in the complex ideas we have of angels, and particularly of God

Thirdly, That most of the simple ideas that make up our complex ideas of
substances, when truly considered, are only POWERS, however we are apt
to take them for positive qualities; v.g. the greatest part of the
ideas that make our complex idea of GOLD are yellowness, great weight,
ductility, fusibility, and solubility in AQUA REGIA, &c., all united
together in an unknown SUBSTRATUM: all which ideas are nothing else but
so many relations to other substances; and are not really in the gold,
considered barely in itself, though they depend on those real and
primary qualities of its internal constitution, whereby it has a fitness
differently to operate, and be operated on by several other substances.



1. A collective idea is one Idea.

Besides these complex ideas of several SINGLE substances, as of man,
horse, gold, violet, apple, &c., the mind hath also complex COLLECTIVE
ideas of substances; which I so call, because such ideas are made up of
many particular substances considered together, as united into one idea,
and which so joined; are looked on as one; v. g. the idea of such a
collection of men as make an ARMY, though consisting of a great number
of distinct substances, is as much one idea as the idea of a man: and
the great collective idea of all bodies whatsoever, signified by the
name WORLD, is as much one idea as the idea of any the least particle
of matter in it; it sufficing to the unity of any idea, that it be
considered as one representation or picture, though made up of ever so
many particulars.

2. Made by the Power of composing in the Mind.

These collective ideas of substances the mind makes, by its power of
composition, and uniting severally either simple or complex ideas
into one, as it does, by the same faculty, make the complex ideas of
particular substances, consisting of an aggregate of divers simple
ideas, united in one substance. And as the mind, by putting together the
repeated ideas of unity, makes the collective mode, or complex idea,
of any number, as a score, or a gross, &c., - so, by putting together
several particular substances, it makes collective ideas of substances,
as a troop, an army, a swarm, a city, a fleet; each of which every one
finds that he represents to his own mind by one idea, in one view; and
so under that notion considers those several things as perfectly one, as
one ship, or one atom. Nor is it harder to conceive how an army of ten
thousand men should make one idea than how a man should make one idea it
being as easy to the mind to unite into one the idea of a great number
of men, and consider it as one as it is to unite into one particular
all the distinct ideas that make up the composition of a man, and
consider them all together as one.

3. Artificial things that are made up of distinct substances are our
collective Ideas.

Amongst such kind of collective ideas are to be counted most part of
artificial things, at least such of them as are made up of distinct
substances: and, in truth, if we consider all these collective ideas
aright, as ARMY, CONSTELLATION, UNIVERSE, as they are united into so
many single ideas, they are but the artificial draughts of the mind;
bringing things very remote, and independent on one another, into one
view, the better to contemplate and discourse on them, united into
one conception, and signified by one name. For there are no things
so remote, nor so contrary, which the mind cannot, by this art of
composition, bring into one idea; as is visible in that signified by the



1. Relation, what.

BESIDES the ideas, whether simple or complex, that the mind has of
things as they are in themselves, there are others it gets from their
comparison one with another. The understanding, in the consideration of
anything, is not confined to that precise object: it can carry any idea
as it were beyond itself, or at least look beyond it, to see how it
stands in conformity to any other. When the mind so considers one thing,
that it does as it were bring it to, and set it by another, and carries
its view from one to the other - this is, as the words import, RELATION
and RESPECT; and the denominations given to positive things, intimating
that respect, and serving as marks to lead the thoughts beyond the
subject itself denominated, to something distinct from it, are what we
call RELATIVES; and the things so brought together, RELATED. Thus, when
the mind considers Caius as such a positive being, it takes nothing into
that idea but what really exists in Caius; v.g. when I consider him as a
man, I have nothing in my mind but the complex idea of the species, man.
So likewise, when I say Caius is a white man, I have nothing but the
bare consideration of a man who hath that white colour. But when I give
Caius the name HUSBAND, I intimate some other person; and when I give
him the name WHITER, I intimate some other thing: in both cases my
thought is led to something beyond Caius, and there are two things
brought into consideration. And since any idea, whether simple or
complex, may be the occasion why the mind thus brings two things
together, and as it were takes a view of them at once, though still
considered as distinct: therefore any of our ideas may be the foundation
of relation. As in the above-mentioned instance, the contract and
ceremony of marriage with Sempronia is the occasion of the denomination
and relation of husband; and the colour white the occasion why he is
said to be whiter than free-stone.

2. Ideas of relations without correlative Terms, not easily apprehended.

These and the like relations, expressed by relative terms that have
others answering them, with a reciprocal intimation, as father and son,
bigger and less, cause and effect, are very obvious to every one, and
everybody at first sight perceives the relation. For father and son,
husband and wife, and such other correlative terms, seem so nearly to
belong one to another, and, through custom, do so readily chime and
answer one another in people's memories, that, upon the naming of either
of them, the thoughts are presently carried beyond the thing so named;
and nobody overlooks or doubts of a relation, where it is so plainly
intimated. But where languages have failed to give correlative names,
there the relation is not always so easily taken notice of. CONCUBINE
is, no doubt, a relative name, as well as wife: but in languages where
this and the like words have not a correlative term, there people are
not so apt to take them to be so, as wanting that evident mark of
relation which is between correlatives, which seem to explain one
another, and not to be able to exist, but together. Hence it is,
that many of those names, which, duly considered, do include evident
relations, have been called EXTERNAL DENOMINATIONS. But all names that
are more than empty sounds must signify some idea, which is either in
the thing to which the name is applied, and then it is positive, and
is looked on as united to and existing in the thing to which the
denomination is given; or else it arises from the respect the mind finds
in it to something distinct from it, with which it considers it, and
then it includes a relation.

3. Some seemingly absolute Terms contain Relations.

Another sort of relative terms there is, which are not looked on to be
either relative, or so much as external denominations: which yet, under
the form and appearance of signifying something absolute in the subject,
do conceal a tacit, though less observable, relation. Such are the
seemingly positive terms of OLD, GREAT, IMPERFECT, &c., whereof I shall
have occasion to speak more at large in the following chapters.

4. Relation different from the Things related.

This further may be observed, That the ideas of relations may be the
same in men who have far different ideas of the things that are related,
or that are thus compared: v. g. those who have far different ideas of
a man, may yet agree in the notion of a father; which is a notion
superinduced to the substance, or man, and refers only to an act of that
think called man whereby he contributed to the generation of one of his
own kind, let man be what it will.

5. Change of Relation may be without any Change in the things related.

The nature therefore of relation consists in the referring or comparing
two things one to another; from which comparison one of both comes to be
denominated. And if either of those things be removed, or cease to be,
the relation ceases, and the denomination consequent to it, though
the other receive in itself no alteration at all; v.g. Caius, whom I
consider to-day as a father, ceases to be so to-morrow, only by the
death of his son, without any alteration made in himself. Nay, barely by
the mind's changing the object to which it compares anything, the same
thing is capable of having contrary denominations at the same time: v.g.
Caius, compared to several persons, may truly be said to be older and
younger, stronger and weaker, &c.

6. Relation only betwixt two things.

Whatsoever doth or can exist, or be considered as one thing is positive:
and so not only simple ideas and substances, but modes also, are
positive beings: though the parts of which they consist are very often
relative one to another: but the whole together considered as one thing,
and producing in us the complex idea of one thing, which idea is in our
minds, as one picture, though an aggregate of divers parts, and under
one name, it is a positive or absolute thing, or idea. Thus a triangle,
though the parts thereof compared one to another be relative, yet the
idea of the whole is a positive absolute idea. The same may be said of a
family, a tune, &c.; for there can be no relation but betwixt two things
considered as two things. There must always be in relation two ideas or
things, either in themselves really separate, or considered as distinct,
and then a ground or occasion for their comparison.

7. All Things capable of Relation.

Concerning relation in general, these things may be considered:

First, That there is no one thing, whether simple idea, substance, mode,
or relation, or name of either of them, which is not capable of almost
an infinite number of considerations in reference to other things: and
therefore this makes no small part of men's thoughts and words: v.g. one
single man may at once be concerned in, and sustain all these following
relations, and many more, viz. father, brother, son, grandfather,
grandson, father-in-law, son-in-law, husband, friend, enemy, subject,
general, judge, patron, client, professor, European, Englishman,
islander, servant, master, possessor, captain, superior, inferior,
bigger, less, older, younger, contemporary, like, unlike, &c., to an
almost infinite number: he being capable of as many relations as there
can be occasions of comparing him to other things, in any manner of
agreement, disagreement, or respect whatsoever. For, as I said, relation
is a way of comparing or considering two things [*dropped line] from
that comparison; and sometimes giving even the relation itself a name.

8. Our Ideas of Relations often clearer than of the Subjects related.

Secondly, This further may be considered concerning relation, that
though it be not contained in the real existence of things, but
something extraneous and superinduced, yet the ideas which relative
words stand for are often clearer and more distinct than of those
substances to which they do belong. The notion we have of a father or
brother is a great deal clearer and more distinct than that we have of a
man; or, if you will, PATERNITY is a thing whereof it is easier to have
a clear idea, than of HUMANITY; and I can much easier conceive what a
friend is, than what God; because the knowledge of one action, or
one simple idea, is oftentimes sufficient to give me the notion of a
relation; but to the knowing of any substantial being, an accurate
collection of sundry ideas is necessary. A man, if he compares two
things together, can hardly be supposed not to know what it is wherein
he compares them: so that when he compares any things together, he
cannot but have a very clear idea of that relation. THE IDEAS, THEN, OF
OUR MINDS THAN THOSE OF SUBSTANCES. Because it is commonly hard to know
all the simple ideas which are really in any substance, but for the most
part easy enough to know the simple ideas that make up any relation I
think on, or have a name for: v.g. comparing two men in reference to one
common parent, it is very easy to frame the ideas of brothers, without
having yet the perfect idea of a man. For significant relative words,
as well as others, standing only for ideas; and those being all either
simple, or made up of simple ones, it suffices for the knowing the
precise idea the relative term stands for, to have a clear conception of
that which is the foundation of the relation; which may be done without
having a perfect and clear idea of the thing it is attributed to. Thus,
having the notion that one laid the egg out of which the other was
hatched, I have a clear idea of the relation of DAM and CHICK between
the two cassiowaries in St. James's Park; though perhaps I have but a
very obscure and imperfect idea of those birds themselves.

9. Relations all terminate in simple Ideas.

Thirdly, Though there be a great number of considerations wherein things
may be compared one with another, and so a multitude of relations, yet
they all terminate in, and are concerned about those simple ideas,
either of sensation or reflection, which I think to be the whole
materials of all our knowledge. To clear this, I shall show it in the
most considerable relations that we have any notion of; and in some that
seem to be the most remote from sense or reflection: which yet will
appear to have their ideas from thence, and leave it past doubt that the
notions we have of them are but certain simple ideas, and so originally
derived from sense or reflection.

10. Terms leading the Mind beyond the Subject denominated, are relative.

Fourthly, That relation being the considering of one thing with
another which is extrinsical to it, it is evident that all words that
necessarily lead the mind to any other ideas than are supposed really to
exist in that thing to which the words are applied are relative words:
the like are all absolute, because they neither signify nor intimate
anything but what does or is supposed really to exist in the man thus
are words which, together with the thing they denominate, imply also
something else separate and exterior to the existence of that thing.

11. All relatives made up of simple ideas.

Having laid down these premises concerning relation in general, I shall
now proceed to show, in some instances, how all the ideas we have of
relation are made up, as the others are, only of simple ideas; and that
they all, how refined or remote from sense soever they seem, terminate
at last in simple ideas. I shall begin with the most comprehensive
relation, wherein all things that do, or can exist, are concerned, and
that is the relation of CAUSE and EFFECT: the idea whereof, how derived
from the two fountains of all our knowledge, sensation and reflection, I
shall in the next place consider.



1. Whence the Ideas of cause and effect got.

In the notice that our senses take of the constant vicissitude of
things, we cannot but observe that several particular, both qualities
and substances, begin to exist; and that they receive this their
existence from the due application and operation of some other being.
From this observation we get our ideas of CAUSE and EFFECT. THAT WHICH
PRODUCES ANY SIMPLE OR COMPLEX IDEA we denote by the general name,
CAUSE, and THAT WHICH IS PRODUCED, EFFECT. Thus, finding that in that
substance which we call wax, fluidity, which is a simple idea that was
not in it before, is constantly produced by the application of a certain
degree of heat we call the simple idea of heat, in relation to fluidity
in wax, the cause of it, and fluidity the effect. So also, finding that
the substance, wood, which is a certain collection of simple ideas so
called, by the application of fire, is turned into another substance,
called ashes; i. e., another complex idea, consisting of a collection of
simple ideas, quite different from that complex idea which we call wood;
we consider fire, in relation to ashes, as cause, and the ashes, as
effect. So that whatever is considered by us to conduce or operate to
the producing any particular simple idea, or collection of simple ideas,
whether substance or mode, which did not before exist, hath thereby in
our minds the relation of a cause, and so is denominated by us.

2. Creation Generation, making Alteration.

Having thus, from what our senses are able to discover in the operations
of bodies on one another, got the notion of cause and effect, viz.
that a cause is that which makes any other thing, either simple idea,
substance, or mode, begin to be; and an effect is that which had its
beginning from some other thing; the mind finds no great difficulty to
distinguish the several originals of things into two sorts: -

First, When the thing is wholly made new, so that no part thereof did
ever exist before; as when a new particle of matter doth begin to exist,
IN RERUM NATURA, which had before no being, and this we call CREATION.

Secondly, When a thing is made up of particles, which did all of them
before exist; but that very thing, so constituted of pre-existing
particles, which, considered all together, make up such a collection of
simple ideas, had not any existence before, as this man, this egg, rose,
or cherry, &c. And this, when referred to a substance, produced in the
ordinary course of nature by internal principle, but set on work by, and
received from, some external agent, or cause, and working by insensible
ways which we perceive not, we call GENERATION. When the cause is
extrinsical, and the effect produced by a sensible separation, or
juxta-position of discernible parts, we call it MAKING; and such are all
artificial things. When any simple idea is produced, which was not in
that subject before, we call it ALTERATION. Thus a man is generated, a
picture made; and either of them altered, when any new sensible quality
or simple idea is produced in either of them, which was not there
before: and the things thus made to exist, which were not there before,
are effects; and those things which operated to the existence, causes.
In which, and all other cases, we may observe, that the notion of cause
and effect has its rise from ideas received by sensation or reflection;
and that this relation, how comprehensive soever, terminates at last in
them. For to have the idea of cause and effect, it suffices to consider
any simple idea or substance, as beginning to exist, by the operation of
some other, without knowing the manner of that operation.

3. Relations of Time.

Time and place are also the foundations of very large relations; and all
finite beings at least are concerned in them. But having already
shown in another place how we get those ideas, it may suffice here to
intimate, that most of the denominations of things received from TIME
are only relations. Thus, when any one says that Queen Elizabeth lived
sixty-nine, and reigned forty-five years, these words import only the
relation of that duration to some other, and mean no more but this, That
the duration of her existence was equal to sixty-nine, and the duration
of her government to forty-five annual revolutions of the sun; and so
are all words, answering, HOW LONG? Again, William the Conqueror invaded
England about the year 1066; which means this, That, taking the duration
from our Saviour's time till now for one entire great length of time, it
shows at what distance this invasion was from the two extremes; and so
do all words of time answering to the question, WHEN, which show only
the distance of any point of time from the period of a longer duration,

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 27 of 34)