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By John Locke

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Extra info for An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Knowledge and Opinion

Sample text

5. As to co-existence, or a necessary connection between two ideas such that a subject in which one of them exists must have the other also: the mind almost never immediately perceives any agreement or disagreement of this sort. So we have very little intuitive knowledge of this kind; nor are there many propositions of this kind that are self-evident. There are some, however: if our idea of body includes the idea of filling a place equal to the contents of its outer surface then I think it is a self-evident proposition that two bodies can’t be in the same place ·at the same time·.

For the main part of our knowledge about substances is not, as with other things, merely Ÿknowledge of the relation between two ideas that could exist separately; rather, it is Ÿknowledge of the necessary connection and co-existence of several distinct ideas [here = ‘qualities’] in the same subject, or of the impossibility of their co-existing in that way. If we could begin at the other end, and discover what a given colour consists in, what makes a body lighter or heavier, what texture of parts makes it malleable, fusible, fixed, and soluble in this sort of liquid and not in that - if we had an idea like this of bodies, we might form abstract ideas of them that would be a basis for more general knowledge, and enable us to make universal propositions that carried truth and certainty with them.

When people are using words in that way ·as substitutes for ideas·, general maxims can be employed to prove contradictions! e. no space that has no body in it, by means of the maxim What is, is. ·Here is how·. The idea to which he attaches the name ‘body’ is merely the idea of extension, so he knows quite certainly that space cannot exist without body ·in his sense of ‘body’·. For he knows his own idea of extension clearly and distinctly, and knows that it is what it is and not another idea, though he calls it by the three names ‘extension’, ‘body’, and ‘space’.

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