John Locke.

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

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scales, one against another. Another perhaps added to these the ideas of
fusibility and fixedness, two other passive powers, in relation to the
operation of fire upon it; another, its ductility and solubility in aqua
regia, two other powers, relating to the operation of other bodies, in
changing its outward figure, or separation of it into insensible parts.
These, or parts of these, put together, usually make the complex idea in
men's minds of that sort of body we call GOLD.

10. Substances have innumerable powers not contained in our complex
ideas of them.

But no one who hath considered the properties of bodies in general, or
this sort in particular, can doubt that this, called GOLD, has infinite
other properties not contained in that complex idea. Some who have
examined this species more accurately could, I believe, enumerate ten
times as many properties in gold, all of them as inseparable from its
internal constitution, as its colour or weight: and it is probable, if
any one knew all the properties that are by divers men known of this
metal, there would be an hundred times as many ideas go to the complex
idea of gold as any one man yet has in his; and yet perhaps that not be
the thousandth part of what is to be discovered in it. The changes that
that one body is apt to receive, and make in other bodies, upon a due
application, exceeding far not only what we know, but what we are apt to
imagine. Which will not appear so much a paradox to any one who will but
consider how far men are yet from knowing all the properties of that
one, no very compound figure, a triangle; though it be no small number
that are already by mathematicians discovered of it.

11. Ideas of Substances, being got only by collecting their qualities,
are all inadequate.

So that all our complex ideas of substances are imperfect and
inadequate. Which would be so also in mathematical figures, if we were
to have our complex ideas of them, only by collecting their properties
in reference to other figures. How uncertain and imperfect would our
ideas be of an ellipsis, if we had no other idea of it, but some few of
its properties? Whereas, having in our plain idea the WHOLE essence
of that figure, we from thence discover those properties, and
demonstratively see how they flow, and are inseparable from it.

12. Simple Ideas, [word in Greek], and adequate.

Thus the mind has three sorts of abstract ideas or nominal essences:

First, SIMPLE ideas, which are [word in Greek] or copies; but yet
certainly adequate. Because, being intended to express nothing but the
power in things to produce in the mind such a sensation, that sensation,
when it is produced, cannot but be the effect of that power. So the
paper I write on, having the power in the light (I speak according to
the common notion of light) to produce in men the sensation which I call
white, it cannot but be the effect of such a power in something without
the mind; since the mind has not the power to produce any such idea in
itself: and being meant for nothing else but the effect of such a power
that simple idea is [* words missing] the sensation of white, in my
mind, being the effect of that power which is in the paper to produce
it, is perfectly adequate to that power; or else that power would
produce a different idea.

13. Ideas of Substances are Echthypa, and inadequate.

Secondly, the COMPLEX ideas of SUBSTANCES are ectypes, copies too; but
not perfect ones, not adequate: which is very evident to the mind, in
that it plainly perceives, that whatever collection of simple ideas it
makes of any substance that exists, it cannot be sure that it exactly
answers all that are in that substance. Since, not having tried all
the operations of all other substances upon it, and found all the
alterations it would receive from, or cause in, other substances, it
cannot have an exact adequate collection of all its active and passive
capacities; and so not have an adequate complex idea of the powers of
any substance existing, and its relations; which is that sort of complex
idea of substances we have. And, after all, if we would have, and
actually had, in our complex idea, an exact collection of all the
secondary qualities or powers of any substance, we should not yet
thereby have an idea of the ESSENCE of that thing. For, since the powers
or qualities that are observable by us are not the real essence of that
substance, but depend on it, and flow from it, any collection whatsoever
of these qualities cannot be the real essence of that thing. Whereby it
is plain, that our ideas of substances are not adequate; are not what
the mind intends them to be. Besides, a man has no idea of substance in
general, nor knows what substance is in itself.

14. Ideas of Modes and Relations are Archetypes, and cannot be adequate.

Thirdly, COMPLEX ideas of MODES AND RELATIONS are originals, and
archetypes; are not copies, nor made after the pattern of any real
existence, to which the mind intends them to be conformable, and exactly
to answer. These being such collections of simple ideas that the mind
itself puts together, and such collections that each of them contains
in it precisely all that the mind intends that it should, they are
archetypes and essences of modes that may exist; and so are designed
only for, and beling only to such modes as, when they do exist, have an
exact conformity with those complex ideas The ideas, therefore, of modes
and relations cannot but be adequate.



1. Truth and Falsehood properly belong to Propositions, not to Ideas.

Though truth and falsehood belong, in propriety of speech, only to
PROPOSITIONS: yet IDEAS are oftentimes termed true or false (as what
words are there that are not used with great latitude, and with some
deviation from their strict and proper significations?) Though I think
that when ideas themselves are termed true or false, there is still
some secret or tacit proposition, which is the foundation of that
denomination: as we shall see, if we examine the particular occasions
wherein they come to be called true or false. In all which we shall
find some kind of affirmation or negation, which is the reason of that
denomination. For our ideas, being nothing but bare APPEARANCES, or
perceptions in our minds, cannot properly and simply in themselves be
said to be true or false, no more than a single name of anything can be
said to be true or false.

2. Ideas and words may be said to be true, inasmuch as they really are
ideas and words.

Indeed both ideas and words may be said to be true, in a metaphysical
sense of the word truth; as all other things that any way exist are
said to be true, i.e. really to be such as they exist. Though in things
called true, even in that sense, there is perhaps a secret reference to
our ideas, looked upon as the standards of that truth; which amounts to
a mental proposition, though it be usually not taken notice of.

3. No Idea, as an Appearance in the Mind, either true or false.

But it is not in that metaphysical sense of truth which we inquire here,
when we examine, whether our ideas are capable of being true or false,
but in the more ordinary acceptation of those words: and so I say that
the ideas in our minds, being only so many perceptions or appearances
there, none of them are false; the idea of a centaur having no more
falsehood in it when it appears in our minds, than the name centaur has
falsehood in it, when it is pronounced by our mouths, or written on
paper. For truth or falsehood lying always in some affirmation or
negation, mental or verbal, our ideas are not capable, any of them,
of being false, till the mind passes some judgment on them; that is,
affirms or denies something of them.

4. Ideas referred to anything extraneous to them may be true or false.

Whenever the mind refers any of its ideas to anything extraneous to
them, they are then capable to be called true or false. Because the
mind, in such a reference, makes a tacit supposition of their conformity
to that thing; which supposition, as it happens to be true or false,
so the ideas themselves come to be denominated. The most usual cases
wherein this happens, are these following:

5. Other Men's Ideas; real Existence; and supposed real Essences, are
what Men usually refer their Ideas to.

First, when the mind supposes any idea it has CONFORMABLE to that in
OTHER MEN'S MINDS, called by the same common name; v.g. when the mind
intends or judges its ideas of justice, temperance, religion, to be the
same with what other men give those names to.

Secondly, when the mind supposes any idea it has in itself to be
CONFORMABLE to some REAL EXISTENCE. Thus the two ideas of a man and a
centaur, supposed to be the ideas of real substances, are the one true
and the other false; the one having a conformity to what has really
existed, the other not. Thirdly, when the mind REFERS any of its ideas
to that REAL constitution and ESSENCE of anything, whereon all its
properties depend: and thus the greatest part, if not all our ideas of
substances, are false.

6. The cause of such Reference.

These suppositions the mind is very apt tacitly to make concerning its
own ideas. But yet, if we will examine it, we shall find it is chiefly,
if not only, concerning its ABSTRACT complex ideas. For the natural
tendency of the mind being towards knowledge; and finding that, if it
should proceed by and dwell upon only particular things, its progress
would be very slow, and its work endless; therefore, to shorten its way
to knowledge, and make each perception more comprehensive, the first
thing it does, as the foundation of the easier enlarging its knowledge,
either by contemplation of the things themselves that it would know, or
conference with others about them, is to bind them into bundles, and
rank them so into sorts, that what knowledge it gets of any of them it
may thereby with assurance extend to all of that sort; and so advance by
larger steps in that which is its great business, knowledge. This, as
I have elsewhere shown, is the reason why we collect things under
comprehensive ideas, with names annexed to them, into genera and
species; i.e. into kinds and sorts.

7. Names of things supposed to carry in them knowledge of their

If therefore we will warily attend to the motions of the mind, and
observe what course it usually takes in its way to knowledge, we shall I
think find, that the mind having got an idea which it thinks it may have
use of either in contemplation or discourse, the first thing it does
is to abstract it, and then get a name to it; ans so lay it up in its
storehouse, the memory, as containing the essence of a sort of things,
of which that name is always to be the mark. Hence it is, that we may
often observe that, when any one sees a new thing of a kind that he
knows not, he presently asks, what it is; meaning by that inquiry
nothing but the name. As if the name carried with it the knowledge of
the species, or the essence of it; whereof it is indeed used as the
mark, and is generally supposed annexed to it.

8. How men suppose that their ideas must correspond to things, and to
the customary meanings of names.

But this ABSTRACT IDEA, being something in the mind, between the thing
that exists, and the name that is given to it; it is in our ideas
that both the rightness of our knowledge, and the propriety and
intelligibleness of our speaking, consists. And hence it is that men are
so forward to suppose, that the abstract ideas they have in their minds
are such as agree to the things existing without them, to which they are
referred; and are the same also to which the names they give them do by
the use and propriety of that language belong. For without this double
conformity of their ideas, they find they should both think amiss of
things in themselves, and talk of them unintelligibly to others.

9. Simple Ideas may be false, in reference to others of the same Name,
but are least liable to be so.

First, then, I say, that when the truth of our ideas is judged of by the
conformity they have to the ideas which other men have, and commonly
signify by the same name, they may be any of them false. But yet SIMPLE
IDEAS are least of all liable to be so mistaken. Because a man, by his
senses and every day's observation, may easily satisfy himself what the
simple ideas are which their several names that are in common use stand
for; they being but few in number, and such as, if he doubts or mistakes
in, he may easily rectify by the objects they are to be found in.
Therefore it is seldom that any one mistakes in his names of simple
ideas, or applies the name red to the idea green, or the name sweet to
the idea bitter: much less are men apt to confound the names of ideas
belonging to different senses, and call a colour by the name of a taste,
&c. Whereby it is evident that the simple ideas they call by any name
are commonly the same that others have and mean when they use the same

10. Ideas of mixed Modes most liable to be false in this Sense.

Complex ideas are much more liable to be false in this respect; and
the complex ideas of MIXED MODES, much more than those of substances;
because in substances (especially those which the common and unborrowed
names of any language are applied to) some remarkable sensible
qualities, serving ordinarily to distinguish one sort from another,
easily preserve those who take any care in the use of their words, from
applying them to sorts of substances to which they do not at all belong.
But in mixed modes we are much more uncertain; it being not so easy to
determine of several actions, whether they are to be called JUSTICE or
CRUELTY, LIBERALITY or PRODIGALITY. And so in referring our ideas to
those of other men, called by the same names, ours may be false; and the
idea in our minds, which we express by the word JUSTICE, may perhaps be
that which ought to have another name.

11. Or at least to be thought false.

But whether or no our ideas of mixed modes are more liable than any sort
to be different from those of other men, which are marked by the same
names, this at least is certain. That this sort of falsehood is much
more familiarly attributed to our ideas of mixed modes than to any
other. When a man is thought to have a false idea of JUSTICE, or
GRATITUDE, or GLORY, it is for no other reason, but that his agrees not
with the ideas which each of those names are the signs of in other men.

12. And why.

The reason whereof seems to me to be this: That the abstract ideas
of mixed modes, being men's voluntary combinations of such a precise
collection of simple ideas, and so the essence of each species being
made by men alone, whereof we have no other sensible standard existing
anywhere but the name itself, or the definition of that name; we having
nothing else to refer these our ideas of mixed modes to, as a standard
to which we would conform them, but the ideas of those who are thought
to use those names in their most proper significations; and, so as our
ideas conform or differ from THEM, they pass for true or false. And thus
much concerning the truth and falsehood of our ideas, in reference to
their names.

13. As referred to Real Existence, none of our Ideas can be false but
those of Substances.

Secondly, as to the truth and falsehood of our ideas, in reference to
the real existence of things. When that is made the standard of their
truth, none of them can be termed false but only our complex ideas of

14. First, Simple Ideas in this Sense not false and why.

First, our simple ideas, being barely such perceptions as God has fitted
us to receive, and given power to external objects to produce in us by
established laws and ways, suitable to his wisdom and goodness, though
incomprehensible to us, their truth consists in nothing else but in such
appearances as are produced in us, and must be suitable to those powers
he has placed in external objects or else they could not be produced in
us: and thus answering those powers, they are what they should be, true
ideas. Nor do they become liable to any imputation of falsehood, if the
mind (as in most men I believe it does) judges these ideas to be in the
things themselves. For God in his wisdom having set them as marks of
distinction in things, whereby we may be able to discern one thing from
another, and so choose any of them for our uses as we have occasion; it
alters not the nature of our simple idea, whether we think that the idea
of blue be in the violet itself, or in our mind only; and only the power
of producing it by the texture of its parts, reflecting the particles
of light after a certain manner, to be in the violet itself. For that
texture in the object, by a regular and constant operation producing the
same idea of blue in us, it serves us to distinguish, by our eyes, that
from any other thing; whether that distinguishing mark, as it is really
in the violet, be only a peculiar texture of parts, or else that very
colour, the idea whereof (which is in us) is the exact resemblance. And
it is equally from that appearance to be denominated blue, whether it be
that real colour, or only a peculiar texture in it, that causes in us
that idea: since the name, BLUE, notes properly nothing but that mark of
distinction that is in a violet, discernible only by our eyes, whatever
it consists in; that being beyond our capacities distinctly to know, and
perhaps would be of less use to us, if we had faculties to discern.

15. Though one Man's Idea of Blue should be different from another's.

Neither would it carry any imputation of falsehood to our simple ideas,
if by the different structure of our organs it were so ordered, that THE
same time; v.g. if the idea that a violet produced in one man's mind by
his eyes were the same that a marigold produced in another man's, and
vice versa. For, since this could never be known, because one man's mind
could not pass into another man's body, to perceive what appearances
were produced by those organs; neither the ideas hereby, nor the names,
would be at all confounded, or any falsehood be in either. For all
things that had the texture of a violet, producing constantly the idea
that he called blue, and those which had the texture of a marigold,
producing constantly the idea which he as constantly called yellow,
whatever those appearances were in his mind; he would be able as
regularly to distinguish things for his use by those appearances, and
understand and signify those distinctions marked by the name blue and
yellow, as if the appearances or ideas in his mind received from those
two flowers were exactly the same with the ideas in other men's minds.
I am nevertheless very apt to think that the sensible ideas produced by
any object in different men's minds, are most commonly very near and
undiscernibly alike. For which opinion, I think, there might be many
reasons offered: but that being besides my present business, I shall
not trouble my reader with them; but only mind him, that the contrary
supposition, if it could be proved, is of little use, either for the
improvement of our knowledge, or conveniency of life, and so we need not
trouble ourselves to examine it.

16. Simple Ideas can none of them be false in respect of real existence.

From what has been said concerning our simple ideas, I think it evident
that our simple ideas can none of them be false in respect of things
existing without us. For the truth of these appearances or perceptions
in our minds consisting, as has been said, only in their being
answerable to the powers in external objects to produce by our senses
such appearances in us, and each of them being in the mind such as
it is, suitable to the power that produced it, and which alone it
represents, it cannot upon that account, or as referred to such a
pattern, be false. Blue and yellow, bitter or sweet, can never be false
ideas: these perceptions in the mind are just such as they are there,
answering the powers appointed by God to produce them; and so are
truly what they are, and are intended to be. Indeed the names may be
misapplied, but that in this respect makes no falsehood in the ideas; as
if a man ignorant in the English tongue should call purple scarlet.

17. Secondly, Modes not false cannot be false in reference to essences
of things.

Secondly, neither can our complex ideas of modes, in reference to the
essence of anything really existing, be false; because whatever complex
ideas I have of any mode, it hath no reference to any pattern existing,
and made by nature; it is not supposed to contain in it any other ideas
than what it hath; nor to represent anything but such a complication of
ideas as it does. Thus, when I have the idea of such an action of a man
who forbears to afford himself such meat, drink, and clothing, and other
conveniences of life, as his riches and estate will be sufficient to
supply and his station requires, I have no false idea; but such an one
as represents an action, either as I find or imagine it, and so is
capable of neither truth nor falsehood. But when I give the name
FRUGALITY or VIRTUE to this action, then it may be called a false idea,
if thereby it be supposed to agree with that idea to which, in propriety
of speech, the name of frugality doth belong, or to be conformable to
that law which is the standard of virtue and vice.

18. Thirdly, Ideas of Substances may be false in reference to existing

Thirdly, our complex ideas of substances, being all referred to patterns
in things themselves, may be false. That they are all false, when looked
upon as the representations of the unknown essences of things, is so
evident that there needs nothing to be said of it. I shall therefore
pass over that chimerical supposition, and consider them as collections
of simple ideas in the mind, taken from combinations of simple ideas
existing together constantly in things, of which patterns they are the
supposed copies; and in this reference of them to the existence of
things, they are false ideas: - (1) When they put together simple ideas,
which in the real existence of things have no union; as when to the
shape and size that exist together in a horse, is joined in the same
complex idea the power of barking like a dog: which three ideas, however
put together into one in the mind, were never united in nature; and
this, therefore, may be called a false idea of a horse. (2) Ideas of
substances are, in this respect, also false, when, from any collection
of simple ideas that do always exist together, there is separated, by a
direct negation, any other simple idea which is constantly joined
with them. Thus, if to extension, solidity, fusibility, the peculiar
weightiness, and yellow colour of gold, any one join in his thoughts the
negation of a greater degree of fixedness than is in lead or copper, he
may be said to have a false complex idea, as well as when he joins to
those other simple ones the idea of perfect absolute fixedness. For
either way, the complex idea of gold being made up of such simple ones
as have no union in nature, may be termed false. But, if he leaves
out of this his complex idea that of fixedness quite, without either
actually joining to or separating it from the rest in his mind, it is, I
think, to be looked on as an inadequate and imperfect idea, rather than
a false one; since, though it contains not all the simple ideas that are
united in nature, yet it puts none together but what do really exist

19. Truth or Falsehood always supposes Affirmation or Negation.

Though, in compliance with the ordinary way of speaking, I have shown in
what sense and upon what ground our ideas may be sometimes called true
or false; yet if we will look a little nearer into the matter, in all
cases where any idea is called true or false, it is from some JUDGMENT
that the mind makes, or is supposed to make, that is true or false. For
truth or falsehood, being never without some affirmation or negation,
express or tacit, it is not to be found but where signs are joined or
separated, according to the agreement or disagreement of the things they
stand for. The signs we chiefly use are either ideas or words; wherewith
we make either mental or verbal propositions. Truth lies in so joining
or separating these representatives, as the things they stand for do in
themselves agree or disagree; and falsehood in the contrary, as shall be
more fully shown hereafter.

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 33 of 34)