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Comparison of John Locke’s and George Berkeley’s Epistemologies Essay

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2021

Philosophy is one of the most interesting and challenging sciences, which confuses many young sharp minds. There are many well-known brilliant philosophers that have their own ideas, systems, and epistemologies that usually do not relate to each other. Everyone who is interested in philosophy should choose some philosophical doctrines that suit their personality best. For example, John Locke had his own idea that an object has primary and secondary qualities.

Also, he wrote a book about education and tabula rasa – a blank slate. George Berkeley, however, believed that no object has primary qualities, only secondary ones. The purpose of this paper is to study the epistemologies of Locke and Berkeley, compare them to each other, and then conclude which one of the epistemologies is most comparable to my own belief system.

John Locke was an English thinker, physician, and one of the most influential philosophers of the Enlightenment period. He is still considered to be the “father of liberalism,” and his philosophical ideas are very popular with new philosophers. Locke was born in 1632 and lived in times of global changes in Britain. One of his best-known theories connected with children’s education is about tabula rasa.

This idea states that all people are born without any built-in mental content; hence, all knowledge they acquire later comes from experience and perception. This idea was presented in Locke’s book Some thoughts concerning education, where he states that children are born neither inherently good nor inherently evil, and they begin their lives morally neutral. Their minds are pure, and the adults surrounding a child usually have a very lasting effect on his or her personality and character.

One more Locke’s philosophical doctrine states that there is a huge difference between two kinds of ideas people receive from sensation. According to Locke’s beliefs, every object has primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities produce ideas in the person’s mind; then, these ideas resemble the relevant qualities of those objects that made the person come up with the ideas. The ideas which resemble the objects that caused them are of primary qualities: number, texture, size, motion, and shape.

As for the secondary qualities of objects, they also produce ideas in the person’s mind, but these ideas do not resemble the relevant qualities in those objects that produced them. The ideas which do not resemble the objects that caused them are the ones of secondary qualities: sound, color, odor, and taste.

As for George Berkeley, he was an Irish philosopher, one of the greatest philosophers of the early modern period. He was a rather talented metaphysician famous for defending idealism and developing his ideas of immaterialism. Also, he was a brilliant thinker interested in religion, mathematics, economics, the psychology of vision, morals, physics, and medicine. Berkeley did not agree with Locke’s idea of objects having both primary and secondary qualities and stated that all the qualities essentially are secondary.

His first argument is that one cannot abstract a primary quality from a secondary quality. It means that a person cannot understand whether a sound, or a color, or a number is a primary or secondary quality. Hence, if one cannot see the difference, the difference does not exist. Another argument is that secondary qualities are merely the ideas in the person’s mind, just like primary qualities.

It is obvious that Locke’s and Berkeley’s ideas are totally different from each other. Even though both of them are famous philosophers, who had and have now hundreds of students and followers all over the world, they used to see the world differently and think differently. Berkeley believed that people could know for sure only the ideas created by sensations. So, everything that is considered to be real consists only of ideas in the person’s mind. Berkeley’s main argument is that as soon as the object is deprived of all its secondary qualities, it gets impossible to an acceptable value to the idea that there is an object.

Locke, however, claimed that all objects have primary qualities that are the properties of objects that are independent of the observer, such as strength, tension, movement, number, and figure. These qualities are not based on people’s judgments and exist in the thing itself. For instance, if the object is triangular, no one can prove that it is spherical. Locke believed that primary qualities are inherent in the object and always remain the same.

To draw a conclusion, one may say that sometimes it is not easy to find a philosopher whose beliefs and ideas would be totally similar to the people. As for me, I agree with Locke’s ideas about tabula rasa and the objects having both primary and secondary qualities. I think that it is pretty logical that a child is born with a pure mind, and all the knowledge he or she acquires later comes from perception and experience. Also, I believe that the objects have primary qualities that remain the same, even if the object is modified. All the ideas a person comes up with are from the objects he or she sees, and it is possible to understand whether an idea is from the primary quality or the secondary one.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Comparison of John Locke’s and George Berkeley’s Epistemologies." June 23, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-of-john-lockes-and-george-berkeleys-epistemologies/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Comparison of John Locke’s and George Berkeley’s Epistemologies'. 23 June.

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