Philosophy 202
Great Traditions of Western Thought
The Modern Period

Discussion Questions on John Locke, #1

Reading Locke is very different than reading Descartes. (This is a good example of how different philosophical theories are presented by very different types of philosophic texts.) First, we are not reading a translation, but the actual words that Locke wrote in 1690. Second, Locke does not present a tight argument, but a more loosely connected set of discussions. What unifies Locke's discussion is his attempt to provide an empiricist account of our knowledge. So, in your reading, you should be focusing on what characterizes Locke's method as empiricist, as opposed to the rationalism of Descartes.

1.  In Book I, Locke criticizes the concept of innate ideas. He presents a number of arguments for his view. What are they? Do you agree with them? How might a Cartesian respond?

2. The central concept of Locke's philosophy is idea. What does he mean by this term? What types of ideas does Locke claim there are?

3. How does Locke distinguish simple ideas from complex ones? How are complex ideas formed?

4. Locke distinguishes our ideas of the primary qualities of bodies from our ideas of secondary qualities. What is the basis of this distinction? How does it function in his philosophy?

5. What does Locke mean by abstraction? How are ideas formed by this mental process?

6. What is the problem posed by Mr. Molineux? How does Locke resolve it?

7. What makes Locke an empiricist? How does his empiricism differ from Descartes' rationalism?

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