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John Locke's Empiricism - Summary

In this lesson from a TEACHER we offer you a brief summary of Jo's empiricismhn Locke, father of the movement that defends that there is no more knowledge than that which comes from experience and thanks to which the scientific revolution. Another of his great contributions was his enormous work for the establishment of the political liberalism, which defends popular sovereignty and the separation of powers.

He was also the first to speak of Rightshumans, recognizing as fundamental the right to life, liberty and private property. As Hobbes and later Rousseau would have done, he develops a theory of the social contract influenced by Francis Bacon. In opposition to Descartes, he denies the existence of innate ideas, assuring that at the moment of birth the mind is a clean slate, a blank paper and that all knowledge is that which comes from senses.

If you want to know more about John Locke and empiricism, keep reading this lesson offered by a TEACHER.

You may also like: John Locke's main ideas
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  1. John Loke's empiricism
  2. Treatise on Human Understanding by Jonh Locke
  3. Simple and complex ideas
  4. Knowledge and perception

The empiricism of John Loke.

First of all, it is advisable to review the basic characteristics of empiricism and from the opposite current, rationalism:

Characteristics of rationalism

  • All knowledge comes from reason
  • Ideas are the only foundation of knowledge
  • There are innate ideas
  • Trust in the power of reason
  • Deductive knowledge method like that of mathematics
  • Obvious knowledge of reality is possible

Characteristics of empiricism

  • The only source of knowledge is experience
  • Perception is the basis of knowledge
  • The mind is a clean sweep, there are no innate ideas
  • Trust in the power of the senses
  • Inductive knowledge method, such as physics
  • A sure knowledge of reality is impossible

Treatise on human understanding by Jonh Locke.

This treaty constitutes a criticism of Descartes' rationalism, defending a epistemological empiricism, according to which, is going to deny the existence of innate ideas, affirming that all knowledge comes from the senses. Therefore, for Locke, there are no absolute truths, but only probabilities.

But at the same time, certain ideas of Cartesian mechanism and rationalism can be observed in the philosopher at the same time. affirm that a harmony exists in the universe and when comparing God with a kind of watchmaker, starting from the belief that being cannot come from nothing, as Descartes assures in the third part of the method's discourse. From God, he says, it is only possible to know their accidents, their paths are inscrutable, and they can only be perceived from natural laws.

Refering to religion, he thinks it's a private and personal matter. The relationship that the human being wants to have with God is an individual matter, so he does not have the obligation to render accounts to the church for his beliefs. Thus he defends the Liberty confessional without the condition intervene in this decision.

For Locke, natural laws are divine and maintain harmony in the universe through love or fear of God, or what is the same, to the neighbor, preventing human beings from committing others contrary to the nature human, which is social and forces the coexistence peaceful.

Simple and complex ideas.

All content of thought is, for John Locke, an idea and these can be divided into simple ideas and complex ideas.

  • Simple ideas: are those ideas that come from experience, understanding in this process being passive. These, in turn, are classified into three categories, according to their origin, and may come from the sensation, of the reflection or both. For example, color, heat, cold, etc.
  • Compound ideas: they are made by the mind from simple ideas and are classified into four categories: Substance, modes, relations Y universal. Examples of these ideas are the idea of ​​space (mode), of causality (relationship) or the idea of ​​being human (universal).

The understanding tends to bring together a set of simple ideas, forming a whole that identifies with the substance, but that cannot be perceived. The substance is necessary, he affirms, but it cannot be known. Included in the idea of ​​substance are God, the animalshumans Y not human, the plants and the angels, among other things created.

The modes, unlike (independent) substances, are dependent and from them all social conventions arise: religion, politics, morals ...

John Locke's Empiricism - Summary - Simple and Complex Ideas

Knowledge and perception.

Locke ensures that things are the indirect objects of the perception, classifying perceptions into two types according to primary or secondary qualities:

  • Qualities primary: they are the most basic and among them are mass, movement or solidity.
  • Qualities high schools: among them are the color, the smell or the taste.

The knowledge is for Locke, the perception that the individual has about the convenience or notconvenience between the different ideas. That is, knowledge is making a comparison between ideas and making judgments from the relationships between them.

And what would these conveniences or non-conveniences be? Well, Locke is going to distinguish four types that are associated with four areas of knowledge:

  1. The identity or diversity: logic. Certain knowledge is obtained from these.
  2. The relationship. Math. As in the previous one, a certain knowledge is obtained.
  3. The coexistence necessary: ​​physical. Opinion and probability follow from this.
  4. The existencereal: metaphysics. Where does faith come from?

Jonh Locke raises the bases of human knowledge from a empiricism who opposes the rationalism Cartesian. His ideas were questioned by philosophers such as Leibniz, but despite this, his influence was undoubted on the thought illustrated.

If you want to read more articles similar to John Locke's Empiricism - Summary, we recommend that you enter our category of Philosophy.


Locke, J. Essay on human understanding. Ed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2017

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