John Locke pp 29-35 | Cite as


  • J. D. Mabbott
Part of the Philosophers in Perspective book series


Twice in the Essay when Locke introduces the problem of substance he starts from substances in the plural. ‘The ideas of substances are such combinations of simple ideas as are taken to represent distinct particular things subsisting by themselves, in which the supposed or confused idea of substance, such as it is, is always the first and chief. Thus if to substance be joined the simple idea of a certain dull whitish colour with certain degrees of weight, hardness, ductility and fusibility, we have the idea of lead.’1 Locke notices that if we describe a particular object we say that it is ‘something round, yellow, odorous etc.’ and that, while round, yellow and odorous are ideas given us by sensation, the idea ‘something’ is additional to these. In explaining how we ‘make’ our ideas of substances he says:

the mind … takes notice … that a … number of these simple ideas go constantly together, which being presumed to belong to one thing … are called, so united in one subject, by one name, … because … not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist and from which they do result, which therefore we call substance.2


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  1. 3.
    Stillingfleet, Vindication of the Trinity. Works 1720, Vol. III, p. 504Google Scholar

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© J. D. Mabbott 1973

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