Locke’s Idea of an Idea

  • Glenn Langford


I. As Professor O’Connor points out in his John Locke, ‘idea’ is undoubtedly the key-word in Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Nevertheless Locke himself says very little about the idea of an idea itself, at least directly. That perhaps is not surprising in view of his remark that ‘whoever reflects on what passes in his own mind cannot miss it. And if he does not reflect, all the words in the world cannot make him have any notion of it’.1 This suggests that the idea of an idea is a simple idea of reflection, in which case a formal definition is neither necessary nor possible. However, Locke does provide a definition of a kind, saying that the idea of an idea is the idea of ‘whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks’;2 and, later, of ‘whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of thought, perception, or understanding’.3 Notwithstanding, therefore, I will refer to this as his official definition of an idea.


Simple Idea External Object Complex Idea Brain Process Phenomenal Property 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 4.
    D.J. O’Connor, John Locke (New York: Dover, 1967) p. 34.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    J. L. Mackie, Problems from Locke (Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 27.
    J. R. Searle, lntentionality (Cambridge University Press, 1983), vi.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 31.
    L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961), 3.11.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1991

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  • Glenn Langford

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