John Locke.

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

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proportion to the end of addition or number than 4. For he that adds
only 4 to 4, and so proceeds, shall as soon come to the end of all
addition, as he that adds 400,000,000 to 400,000,000. And so likewise in
eternity; he that has an idea of but four years, has as much a positive
complete idea of eternity, as he that has one of 400,000,000 of years:
for what remains of eternity beyond either of these two numbers of
years, is as clear to the one as the other; i.e. neither of them has any
clear positive idea of it at all. For he that adds only 4 years to 4,
and so on, shall as soon reach eternity as he that adds 400,000,000 of
years, and so on; or, if he please, doubles the increase as often as he
will: the remaining abyss being still as far beyond the end of all these
progressions as it is from the length of a day or an hour. For nothing
finite bears any proportion to infinite; and therefore our ideas,
which are all finite, cannot bear any. Thus it is also in our idea of
extension, when we increase it by addition, as well as when we diminish
it by division, and would enlarge our thoughts to infinite space. After
a few doublings of those ideas of extension, which are the largest we
are accustomed to have, we lose the clear distinct idea of that space:
it becomes a confusedly great one, with a surplus of still greater;
about which, when we would argue or reason, we shall always find
ourselves at a loss; confused ideas, in our arguings and deductions from
that part of them which is confused, always leading us into confusion.



1. Ideas considered in reference to their Archetypes.

Besides what we have already mentioned concerning ideas, other
considerations belong to them, in reference to THINGS FROM WHENCE THEY
think, they may come under a threefold distinction, and are: - First,
either real or fantastical; Secondly, adequate or inadequate; Thirdly,
true or false.

First, by REAL IDEAS, I mean such as have a foundation in nature; such
as have a conformity with the real being and existence of things, or
with their archetypes. FANTASTICAL or CHIMERICAL, I call such as have no
foundation in nature, nor have any conformity with that reality of
being to which they are tacitly referred, as to their archetypes. If we
examine the several sorts of ideas before mentioned, we shall find that,

2. Simple Ideas are all real appearances of things.

First, Our SIMPLE IDEAS are all real, all agree to the reality of
things: not that they are all of them the images or representations of
what does exist; the contrary whereof, in all but the primary qualities
of bodies, hath been already shown. But, though whiteness and coldness
are no more in snow than pain is; yet those ideas of whiteness and
coldness, pain, &c., being in us the effects of powers in things without
us, ordained by our Maker to produce in us such sensations; they are
real ideas in us, whereby we distinguish the qualities that are really
in things themselves. For, these several appearances being designed to
be the mark whereby we are to know and distinguish things which we have
to do with, our ideas do as well serve us to that purpose, and are as
real distinguishing characters, whether they be only CONSTANT EFFECTS,
or else EXACT RESEMBLANCES of something in the things themselves: the
reality lying in that steady correspondence they have with the distinct
constitutions of real beings. But whether they answer to those
constitutions, as to causes or patterns, it matters not; it suffices
that they are constantly produced by them. And thus our simple ideas
are all real and true, because they answer and agree to those powers of
things which produce them on our minds; that being all that is requisite
to make them real, and not fictions at pleasure. For in simple ideas (as
has been shown) the mind is wholly confined to the operation of things
upon it, and can make to itself no simple idea, more than what it was

3. Complex Ideas are voluntary Combinations.

Though the mind be wholly passive in respect of its simple ideas; yet,
I think, we may say it is not so in respect of its complex ideas. For
those being combinations of simple ideas put together, and united under
one general name, it is plain that the mind of man uses some kind of
liberty in forming those complex ideas: how else comes it to pass that
one man's idea of gold, or justice, is different from another's, but
because he has put in, or left out of his, some simple idea which the
other has not? The question then is, Which of these are real, and which
barely imaginary combinations? What collections agree to the reality of
things, and what not? And to this I say that,

4. Mixed Modes and Relations, made of consistent Ideas, are real.

Secondly, MIXED MODES and RELATIONS, having no other reality but what
they have in the minds of men, there is nothing more required to this
kind of ideas to make them real, but that they be so framed, that
there be a possibility of existing conformable to them. These ideas
themselves, being archetypes, cannot differ from their archetypes, and
so cannot be chimerical, unless any one will jumble together in them
inconsistent ideas. Indeed, as any of them have the names of a known
language assigned to them, by which he that has them in his mind would
signify them to others, so bare possibility of existing is not enough;
they must have a conformity to the ordinary signification of the name
that is given them, that they may not be thought fantastical: as if a
man would give the name of justice to that idea which common use calls
liberality. But this fantasticalness relates more to propriety of
speech, than reality of ideas. For a man to be undisturbed in danger,
sedately to consider what is fittest to be done, and to execute it
steadily, is a mixed mode, or a complex idea of an action which may
exist. But to be undisturbed in danger, without using one's reason or
industry, is what is also possible to be; and so is as real an idea as
the other. Though the first of these, having the name COURAGE given to
it, may, in respect of that name, be a right or wrong idea; but the
other, whilst it has not a common received name of any known language
assigned to it, is not capable of any deformity, being made with no
reference to anything but itself.

5. Complex Ideas of Substances are real, when they agree with the
existence of Things.

Thirdly, Our complex ideas of SUBSTANCES, being made all of them
in reference to things existing without us, and intended to be
representations of substances as they really are, are no further real
than as they are such combinations of simple ideas as are really
united, and co-exist in things without us. On the contrary, those are
fantastical which are made up of such collections of simple ideas as
were really never united, never were found together in any substance: v.
g. a rational creature, consisting of a horse's head, joined to a body
of human shape, or such as the CENTAURS are described: or, a body
yellow, very malleable, fusible, and fixed, but lighter than common
water: or an uniform, unorganized body, consisting, as to sense, all
of similar parts, with perception and voluntary motion joined to it.
Whether such substances as these can possibly exist or no, it is
probable we do not know: but be that as it will, these ideas of
substances, being made conformable to no pattern existing that we know;
and consisting of such collections of ideas as no substance ever showed
us united together, they ought to pass with us for barely imaginary:
but much more are those complex ideas so, which contain in them any
inconsistency or contradiction of their parts.



1. Adequate Ideas are such as perfectly represent their Archetypes.

Of our real ideas, some are adequate, and some are inadequate. Those I
call ADEQUATE, which perfectly represent those archetypes which the mind
supposes them taken from: which it intends them to stand for, and to
which it refers them. INADEQUATE IDEAS are such, which are but a partial
or incomplete representation of those archetypes to which they are
referred. Upon which account it is plain,

2. Adequate Ideas are such as perfectly represent their Archetypes.
Simple Ideas all adequate.

First, that ALL OUR SIMPLE IDEAS ARE ADEQUATE. Because, being nothing
but the effects of certain powers in things, fitted and ordained by God
to produce such sensations in us, they cannot but be correspondent and
adequate to those powers: and we are sure they agree to the reality of
things. For, if sugar produce in us the ideas which we call whiteness
and sweetness, we are sure there is a power in sugar to produce those
ideas in our minds, or else they could not have been produced by it.
And so each sensation answering the power that operates on any of our
senses, the idea so produced is a real idea, (and not a fiction of the
mind, which has no power to produce any simple idea); and cannot but be
adequate, since it ought only to answer that power: and so all simple
ideas are adequate. It is true, the things producing in us these simple
ideas are but few of them denominated by us, as if they were only the
CAUSES of them; but as if those ideas were real beings IN them. For,
though fire be called painful to the touch, whereby is signified the
power of producing in us the idea of pain, yet it is denominated also
light and hot; as if light and heat were really something in the fire,
more than a power to excite these ideas in us; and therefore are called
qualities in or of the fire. But these being nothing, in truth, but
powers to excite such ideas in us, I must in that sense be understood,
when I speak of secondary qualities as being in things; or of their
ideas as being the objects that excite them in us. Such ways of
speaking, though accommodated to the vulgar notions, without which one
cannot be well understood, yet truly signify nothing but those powers
which are in things to excite certain sensations or ideas in us. Since
were there no fit organs to receive the impressions fire makes on the
sight and touch, nor a mind joined to those organs to receive the ideas
of light and heat by those impressions from the fire or sun, there would
yet be no more light or heat in the world than there would be pain
if there were no sensible creature to feel it, though the sun should
continue just as it is now, and Mount AEtna flame higher than ever it
did. Solidity and extension, and the termination of it, figure, with
motion and rest, whereof we have the ideas, would be really in the world
as they are, whether there were any sensible being to perceive them
or no: and therefore we have reason to look on those as the real
modifications of matter, and such as are the exciting causes of all our
various sensations from bodies. But this being an inquiry not belonging
to this place, I shall enter no further into it, but proceed to show
what complex ideas are adequate, and what not.

3. Modes are all adequate.

Secondly, OUR COMPLEX IDEAS OF MODES, being voluntary collections of
simple ideas, which the mind puts together, without reference to any
real archetypes, or standing patterns, existing anywhere, are and cannot
but be ADEQUATE IDEAS. Because they, not being intended for copies of
things really existing, but for archetypes made by the mind, to rank and
denominate things by, cannot want anything; they having each of them
that combination of ideas, and thereby that perfection, which the mind
intended they should: so that the mind acquiesces in them, and can find
nothing wanting. Thus, by having the idea of a figure with three sides
meeting at three angles, I have a complete idea, wherein I require
nothing else to make it perfect. That the mind is satisfied with the
perfection of this its idea is plain, in that it does not conceive that
any understanding hath, or can have, a more complete or perfect idea of
that thing it signifies by the word triangle, supposing it to exist,
than itself has, in that complex idea of three sides and three angles,
in which is contained all that is or can be essential to it, or
necessary to complete it, wherever or however it exists. But in our
IDEAS OF SUBSTANCES it is otherwise. For there, desiring to copy things
as they really do exist, and to represent to ourselves that constitution
on which all their properties depend, we perceive our ideas attain not
that perfection we intend: we find they still want something we should
be glad were in them; and so are all inadequate. But MIXED MODES and
RELATIONS, being archetypes without patterns, and so having nothing to
represent but themselves, cannot but be adequate, everything being so
to itself. He that at first put together the idea of danger perceived,
absence of disorder from fear, sedate consideration of what was justly
to be done, and executing that without disturbance, or being deterred by
the danger of it, had certainly in his mind that complex idea made up of
that combination: and intending it to be nothing else but what is, nor
to have in it any other simple ideas but what it hath, it could not also
but be an adequate idea: and laying this up in his memory, with the name
COURAGE annexed to it, to signify to others, and denominate from thence
any action he should observe to agree with it, had thereby a standard to
measure and denominate actions by, as they agreed to it. This idea, thus
made and laid up for a pattern, must necessarily be adequate, being
referred to nothing else but itself, nor made by any other original but
the good liking and will of him that first made this combination.

4. Modes, in reference to settled Names, may be inadequate.

Indeed another coming after, and in conversation learning from him the
word COURAGE, may make an idea, to which he gives the name courage,
different from what the first author applied it to, and has in his
mind when he uses it. And in this case, if he designs that his idea in
thinking should be conformable to the other's idea, as the name he uses
in speaking is conformable in sound to his from whom he learned it, his
idea may be very wrong and inadequate: because in this case, making the
other man's idea the pattern of his idea in thinking, as the other man's
word or sound is the pattern of his in speaking, his idea is so far
defective and inadequate, as it is distant from the archetype and
pattern he refers it to, and intends to express and signify by the name
he uses for it; which name he would have to be a sign of the other man's
idea, (to which, in its proper use, it is primarily annexed,) and of his
own, as agreeing to it: to which if his own does not exactly correspond,
it is faulty and inadequate.

5. Because then means, in propriety of speech, to correspond to the
ideas in some other mind.

Therefore these complex ideas of MODES, which they are referred by the
mind, and intended to correspond to the ideas in the mind of some other
intelligent being, expressed by the names we apply to them, they may be
very deficient, wrong, and inadequate; because they agree not to that
which the mind designs to be their archetype and pattern: in which
respect only any idea of modes can be wrong, imperfect, or inadequate.
And on this account our ideas of mixed modes are the most liable to
be faulty of any other; but this refers more to proper speaking than
knowing right.

6. Ideas of Substances, as referred to real Essences, not adequate.

Thirdly, what IDEAS WE HAVE OF SUBSTANCES, I have above shown. Now,
those ideas have in the mind a double reference: 1. Sometimes they
are referred to a supposed real essence of each species of things. 2.
Sometimes they are only designed to be pictures and representations in
the mind of things that do exist, by ideas of those qualities that are
discoverable in them. In both which ways these copies of those originals
and archetypes are imperfect and inadequate.

First, it is usual for men to make the names of substances stand for
things as supposed to have certain real essences, whereby they are of
this or that species: and names standing for nothing but the ideas that
are in men's minds, they must constantly refer their ideas to such real
essences, as to their archetypes. That men (especially such as have been
bred up in the learning taught in this part of the world) do suppose
certain specific essences of substances, which each individual in its
several kinds is made conformable to and partakes of, is so far from
needing proof that it will be thought strange if any one should do
otherwise. And thus they ordinarily apply the specific names they rank
particular substances under, to things as distinguished by such specific
real essences. Who is there almost, who would not take it amiss if
it should be doubted whether he called himself a man, with any other
meaning than as having the real essence of a man? And yet if you demand
what those real essences are, it is plain men are ignorant, and know
them not. From whence it follows, that the ideas they have in their
minds, being referred to real essences, as to archetypes which are
unknown, must be so far from being adequate that they cannot be supposed
to be any representation of them at all. The complex ideas we have of
substances are, as it has been shown, certain collections of simple
ideas that have been observed or supposed constantly to exist together.
But such a complex idea cannot be the real essence of any substance;
for then the properties we discover in that body would depend on that
complex idea, and be deducible from it, and their necessary connexion
with it be known; as all properties of a triangle depend on, and, as far
as they are discoverable, are deducible from the complex idea of three
lines including a space. But it is plain that in our complex ideas
of substances are not contained such ideas, on which all the other
qualities that are to be found in them do depend. The common idea men
have of iron is, a body of a certain colour, weight, and hardness; and a
property that they look on as belonging to it, is malleableness. But yet
this property has no necessary connexion with that complex idea, or any
part of it: and there is no more reason to think that malleableness
depends on that colour, weight, and hardness, than that colour or that
weight depends on its malleableness. And yet, though we know nothing of
these real essences, there is nothing more ordinary than that men should
attribute the sorts of things to such essences. The particular parcel of
matter which makes the ring I have on my finger is forwardly by most men
supposed to have a real essence, whereby it is gold; and from whence
those qualities flow which I find in it, viz. its peculiar colour,
weight, hardness, fusibility, fixedness, and change of colour upon
a slight touch of mercury, &c. This essence, from which all these
properties flow, when I inquire into it and search after it, I plainly
perceive I cannot discover: the furthest I can go is, only to presume
that, it being nothing but body, its real essence or internal
constitution, on which these qualities depend, can be nothing but the
figure, size, and connexion of its solid parts; of neither of which
having any distinct perception at all can I have any idea of its
essence: which is the cause that it has that particular shining
yellowness; a greater weight than anything I know of the same bulk; and
a fitness to have its colour changed by the touch of quicksilver. If any
one will say, that the real essence and internal constitution, on which
these properties depend, is not the figure, size, and arrangement or
connexion of its solid parts, but something else, called its particular
FORM, I am further from having any idea of its real essence than I was
before. For I have an idea of figure, size, and situation of solid
parts in general, though I have none of the particular figure, size, or
putting together of parts, whereby the qualities above mentioned are
produced; which qualities I find in that particular parcel of matter
that is on my finger, and not in another parcel of matter, with which I
cut the pen I write with. But, when I am told that something besides
the figure, size, and posture of the solid parts of that body in its
essence, something called SUBSTANTIAL FORM, of that I confess I have no
idea at all, but only of the sound form; which is far enough from an
idea of its real essence or constitution. The like ignorance as I have
of the real essence of this particular substance, I have also of the
real essence of all other natural ones: of which essences I confess I
have no distinct ideas at all; and, I am apt to suppose, others, when
they examine their own knowledge, will find in themselves, in this one
point, the same sort of ignorance.

7. Because men know not the real essence of substances.

Now, then, when men apply to this particular parcel of matter on my
finger a general name already in use, and denominate it GOLD, do they
not ordinarily, or are they not understood to give it that name, as
belonging to a particular species of bodies, having a real internal
essence; by having of which essence this particular substance comes to
be of that species, and to be called by that name? If it be so, as it is
plain it is, the name by which things are marked as having that essence
must be referred primarily to that essence; and consequently the idea to
which that name is given must be referred also to that essence, and be
intended to represent it. Which essence, since they who so use the names
know not, their ideas of substances must be all inadequate in that
respect, as not containing in them that real essence which the mind
intends they should.

8. Ideas of Substances, when regarded as Collections of their Qualities,
are all inadequate.

Secondly, those who, neglecting that useless supposition of unknown
real essences, whereby they are distinguished, endeavour to copy the
substances that exist in the world, by putting together the ideas of
those sensible qualities which are found co-existing in them, though
they come much nearer a likeness of them than those who imagine they
know not what real specific essences: yet they arrive not at perfectly
adequate ideas of those substances they would thus copy into their
minds: nor do those copies exactly and fully contain all that is to
be found in their archetypes. Because those qualities and powers of
substances, whereof we make their complex ideas, are so many and
various, that no man's complex idea contains them all. That our complex
ideas of substances do not contain in them ALL the simple ideas that are
united in the things themselves is evident, in that men do rarely put
into their complex idea of any substance all the simple ideas they do
know to exist in it. Because, endeavouring to make the signification of
their names as clear and as little cumbersome as they can, they make
their specific ideas of the sorts of substance, for the most part, of
a few of those simple ideas which are to be found in them: but these
having no original precedency, or right to be put in, and make the
specific idea, more than others that are left out, it is plain that both
these ways our ideas of substances are deficient and inadequate. The
simple ideas whereof we make our complex ones of substances are all of
them (bating only the figure and bulk of some sorts) powers; which being
relations to other substances, we can never be sure that we know ALL the
powers that are in any one body, till we have tried what changes it is
fitted to give to or receive from other substances in their several ways
of application: which being impossible to be tried upon any one body,
much less upon all, it is impossible we should have adequate ideas of
any substance made up of a collection of all its properties.

9. Their powers usually make up our complex ideas of substances.

Whosoever first lighted on a parcel of that sort of substance we denote
by the word GOLD, could not rationally take the bulk and figure he
observed in that lump to depend on its real essence, or internal
constitution. Therefore those never went into his idea of that species
of body; but its peculiar colour, perhaps, and weight, were the first he
abstracted from it, to make the complex idea of that species. Which both
are but powers; the one to affect our eyes after such a manner, and to
produce in us that idea we call yellow; and the other to force upwards
any other body of equal bulk, they being put into a pair of equal

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 32 of 34)