Locke and the Nature of Ideas

Abstract
According to Locke, what are ideas? I argue that Locke does not give an account of the nature of ideas. In the Essay, the question is simply set to one side, as recommended by the “Historical, plain Method” that Locke employs. This is exemplified by his characterization of ‘ideas’ in E I.i.8, and the discussion of the inverted spectrum hypothesis in E II.xxxii. In this respect, Locke’s attitude towards the nature of ideas in the Essay is reminiscent of Boyle’s diffident attitude the nature of matter. In posthumously published work, however, Locke suggests that the enquiry into the nature of ideas is one of the things that the enquiry into the extent of human knowledge undertaken in the Essay actually shows to lie beyond the “compass of human understanding”. In this respect, Locke’s attitude towards the nature of ideas is reminiscent of Sydenham’s attitude towards the nature of diseases.
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