The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 29, 2012

August 29, 1632

John Locke (August 29, 1632 to October 28, 1704) is an English philosopher widely credited for ideas that shaped the American declaration of independence. Locke suggested that the consent of the governed was a legitimate requirement. This led to Locke's going into exile, afraid that he would be arrested for plotting against Charles II though now historians do not give his guilt any credence. He returned to England with the family of William of Orange, (the new Protestant king) and published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
When Locke was composing his philosophical ideas he tried to communicate to a general audience, so his writing is lovely and clear. Nowadays philosophers are only concerned to communicate with other philosophers and so contemporary philosophy now is as hard to follow as religious arguments were in the 17th century.

One of the things Locke sought to demonstrate is that people are born without preconceived ideas, and then our subsequent thoughts are formed by experience.  At the time this was revolutionary indeed, and in our excerpt we see Locke arguing from his experience of children.

If we will attentively consider new born children, we shall have little reason to think that they bring many ideas into the world with them....

...But that I may not be accused to argue from the thoughts of infants, which are unknown to us, and to conclude from what passes in their understandings before they express it, ..
[When] children begin to think, and their words and actions do assure us that they do so. .... can it rationally be supposed they can be ignorant of those notions that nature has imprinted, were there any such? ....[The absence of these ideas in children,] when ..., the undoubted knowledge of several other things may be had...[argues against the existence of prior ideas that were extant before the child was born.] The child certainly knows that the nurse that feeds it, is neither the cat it plays with, nor the blackmoor it is afraid of; that the wormseed or mustard it refuses, is not the apple or sugar it cries for; ... [Why should we assume the] child has any notion or apprehension of ...[some innate] proposition [that it does not express,] at an age,...[when] yet it is plain it knows a great many other truths? ...

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