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Locke An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Notes

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John Locke - An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book Three - Chapter One: Of Words of Language in General

1. God gave man language, with organs 'fit to frame articulate Sounds'

2. We are able to use these sounds as signs of internal conceptions/ideas, and to communicate with other people

3. We are also able to use and comprehend general terms, so that we can communicate more than just particular ideas

4. We also have words to signify the absence of ideas - e.g. ignorance, barrenness

5. Our words depend on common sensible ideas, and words that correspond to complex ideas are 'taken from the Operations of sensible things, and applied to certain Modes of Thinking.' a. ideas consist of nothing but sensory perceptions or inward operations of the mind

6. We now consider to what names are applied, and 'what the Species and Genera of Things are, wherein they consist; and how they come to be made a. without language it is impossible to talk about knowledge. Knowledge is also tied up in language Chapter Two: Of the Signification of Words

1. Man is essentially a thinking being, and for the sake of society it was necessary that he have some way of communicating his Ideas, hence language a. the connection between name and named is not natural, or else there would be only one natural language b. words signify ideas

2. Words signify the ideas of the man who uses them. They cannot signify the ideas of somebody else, or anything not contained within the user's ideas

3. People can use the same words but have different (say, more or less complex) understanding of the ideas they signify

4. Men think that their words also: a. mark ideas in other peoples' minds i. the do not necessarily think they hold the same idea, but that they hold the commonly understood idea in the language

5. Men suppose that their words stand for actual objects (wrongly). This leads to obscurity and confusion in the use of language

6. Words are used so much that often a word is as good at evoking an idea as an actual object affects the senses

7. Because we sometimes learn words before ideas, many people use words wrongly

8. The connection between words and ideas is not natural, it is arbitrary. We can make any word stand for what idea we please. a. 'unless a Man's Words excite the same Ideas in the Hearer, which he makes them stand for in speaking, he does not speak intelligibly.' Chapter Three: Of General Terms

1. All existent objects are particulars, so we might think that all words would be too. They aren't; most are general, and this is no accident.

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