Megan Brosnihan

Prof. Kim

Term Paper :John Locke

June 29, 2008

A Critical Examination of Locke

John Locke was an extremely famous British philosopher. Locke's ideas of innate human knowledge opposed the excepted views of Plato and Descartes. Plato and Descartes claimed that knowledge was something that could only be accessed by reason while Locke said that knowledge was gained by the senses and rational. Descartes has an argument but Locke has a better philosophical argument. Locke claims in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding that knowledge is gained through the senses and rational; he says no knowledge is inherent.

John Locke begins his argument that knowledge is gained thought the senses and rational by defying Plato's Idea of Forms and Descartes' Idea of A Priori. Both these ideas claim that humans have innate knowledge before they are born of the way the world works. Locke defies these theories stating that if a priori knowledge exists then every single human would except the same principals. However, not every human accepts the same fundamental principals therefore a priori knowledge and the idea of forms can not exist. Locke continues his argument against Plato and Descartes saying that even if a universal idea among all humans did exist this idea could have come about in another manner besides a priori or the idea of forms. John Locke's first argument about the ideas of a priori and the idea of forms is successful.

Subsequently, Locke proves that there is no such thing as innate human knowledge with his point that people can not have ideas in their heads of which they are not aware. In other words people know only what they have experienced through rational and senses. They can not 

learn about it any other way. An excellent example of this would be trying to explain to a person who has lived in the Arctic his entire life what a pineapple tastes like. This simply can not be done. The same principal applies to a person who has spent his entire life in the tropics trying to understand what snow feels like. These things simply can not be done. The person from the tropics has to learn what snow feels like for himself and the person from the arctic has to learn what pineapple tastes like for himself. Once again Locke shows that people can only have an idea of what they have experienced through their senses or rational. Hence, John Locke has an extremely valid point when he again defies Plato's Idea of Forms and Descartes' Idea of A Priori.

Lastly, John Locke challenges the theory of innate ideas. Locke claims that innate ideas are extremely complex. He says that lots of schooling and learning is needed to understand their meaning. In this last argument is where John Locke defies the idea that God is an innate idea. Understand that at Locke's time most of the educated Western World accepted that God was an universally accepted principal. This made the principal of God an innate idea. This idea had existed since Plato's time and was widely accepted. It was difficult to defy that God did not exist and was not an innate idea but Locke managed to prove his point. John Locke theorized that God is not a universally accepted idea. There are atheists in this world. These are people have no visualization of any type of God whether it is Allah, God or Vishnu. They do not believe that God in any form exists. Locke says because these atheists exist even God (in any form) is not an innate principal. Henceforth the idea of God is not an innate idea. With that argument John Locke disproved Plato's Theory of Forms and Descartes' Idea of A Priori.

Consequently, John Locke's argument makes sense when compared to Plato's Theory of Forms and Descartes' Idea of A Priori. These state that there are universal ideas for instance all 

persons understand what the sun. Locke proves both Plato and Descartes wrong saying that the sun is experienced through the senses and rational. Even if a blind person can not see the sun they still feel it's warmth. A seemingly universal principal that would not be universal is that of suicide. Western society condemns suicide believing it to be against God's will. But, Japanese samurai believe that suicide is acceptable if captured. Therefore, Locke is right in stating that there are no such things as universal principals.

Subsequently, John Locke's argument makes sense when compared to those of Plato and Descartes. Both Plato and Descartes claim that a person can know something before it is experienced. However, this is simply not possible. No matter how vividly a pineapple is described to a person from the arctic they will not know what it tastes like until it has been tasted. No matter how graphically snow is descried to a person from the tropics they will not know what it feels like until they have touched snow. Therefore, Plato and Descartes are mistaken in their arguments.

Finally, John Locke's theory is rational when he states that innate ideas are complex and require studying. Again suicide is an excellent example. Western Christians believes that suicide is against God however the Japanese samurai could be painfully executed if they did not take their own life. Hence, Locke is correct in saying that seeming innate ideas are complex and require studying. Also, Locke is correct when he says God is not an innate idea. Many people around the world do not believe in God. Therefore Locke is correct when he states that God is not an innate idea. Locke's theory is rational when applied to innate ideas and to God.

John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding rebelled against centuries of philosophical teachings. With a simple essay John Locke started a new way of thinking in 

philosophy. Locke was not afraid to challenge what had been held as truth for centuries. His ideas have been taught ever since as an alternative to Descartes and Plato's theory on innate ideas.


Pojman, Louis P.. Classics Of Philosophy. 2nd. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Uzgalis, William. "John Locke." Standford Ecyclopedia of Philosophy. 2007. Standford Press. 5 Jul 2008 plato./entries/locke/.

Hewett, Caspar. "John Locke's Theory of Knowledge." The Great Debate. 2006. 5 Jul 2008