AN ESSAY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
John Locke and his works – particularly An Essay Concerning Human Understanding – are regularly and rightly presented as foundations for the Age of Enlightenment. His primary epistemological message – that the mind at birth is a blank sheet waiting to be filled by the experiences of the senses – complemented his primary political message: that human beings are free and equal and have the right to envision, create and direct the governments that rule them and the societies within which they live. In these respects, one might think of Locke (1632-1704) as preparing the way for the eighteenth century though An Essay Concerning Human Understanding dates from 1690. In the Essay he remarks that he was ‘employed as an under-labourer in clearing the ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge’. Everywhere, Locke’s eighteenth-century readers included learned philosophers, educators, historians and political thinkers, but also local community and political leaders, students, and many others eager to take advantage of the expanding world of print culture that was a central part of the Enlightenment. Today, Locke remains an accessible author whose Essay can still be read with pleasure by an engaged public around the world. Some will read him to know more about the beginnings of the modern era; others will seek arguments to be used in present-day debates. This recording presents An Essay unabridged. It is prefaced by an informative introduction (written for the Wordsworth Edition) by Mark G. Spencer who explains: ‘The starting point for much of Locke’s philosophy was his keenness to explore how it was that humans arrived at their knowledge of the world. What do humans know? How do they know what they know?’ Or as Locke himself puts it in his opening section ‘Epistle to the Reader’, his purpose was to ‘‘examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with.’ And it remains an approachable text for, as Spencer points out, Locke’s ‘intended reading audience was not one of scholars and philosophers shut up in their closets’ but the ordinary man.’ The Essay is divided into four books: Part1: Of Innate Notions, Of Ideas, Of Words; and Part 2: Of Knowledge and Probability. Leighton Pugh reads with clarity and vigour. Introduction © Mark G Spencer.
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