September 24, 2012

Locke-luster Words

This week we read an excerpt from John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. This essay "searches for the truth in the physical world and attempts to understand knowledge as a psychological phenomenon" (814).  Unlike other rhetorical thinkers of the time, Locke understood direct knowledge only as our own ideas. By reflection, we create mental associations of simple ideas, constituting the source of all our knowledge. The main question Locke strives to answer is, is there a way to find the true essence of things, more specifically words. I think that in Locke's essay he is suggesting there isn't a way to find the true essence of things because each person perceives words and ideas in a different way. Words have universal meaning, but it is only arbitrary. There are two types of speech, words we create for ourself, and words we use to communicate ideas to another person. In creating words for our own understanding, language is perfect because the ideas represented in the words are always true and stand for the same thing. In communicating words to another person, either civically or philosophically, language is imperfect because its meaning may not have the same meaning as the mind of the speaker. (817)

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