Locke's Theory of Knowledge and Its Historical Relations

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CHAPTER I
THE PROBLEM OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE 'NEW WAY OF IDEAS'

§ 1. In the popular tradition as to the contents of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, which for so long satisfied even the most conscientious of our historians of Philosophy, its main purport was found in a theory of the genesis of ideas which, denying to the mind both activity and the possession of any definite character of its own, derived all the contents of our knowledge from particular data of immediate experience. In virtue of this theory its author was proclaimed the founder of modern Empiricism, and if any features of his work inconsistent with the rôle thus assigned to him received any notice at all, they were treated as unintentional departures from his fundamental position. The account which Locke gives of the origin of ideas, and his view of the nature of mind and its relation to experience, will occupy us later on, when it will be found that a good many mythical elements have become embedded in the popular tradition as to his views on these subjects. For the present we are only concerned to point out that any account of Locke's work which finds its main significance in an account of the genesis of our ideas fails entirely to represent either the aim or the outcome of the Essay, as these were conceived by its author. Great as was the importance which he attached to his theory upon this subject, it played only a subordinate part in the scheme of

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