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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding - Book II Chapter III: Of Simple Ideas of Sense

1. Division of simple ideas. The better to conceive the ideas we receive from sensation, it may not be amiss for us to consider them, in reference to the different ways whereby they make their approaches to our minds, and make themselves perceivable by us.

First, then, There are some which come into our minds by one sense only.

Secondly, There are others that convey themselves into the mind by more senses than one.

Thirdly, Others that are had from reflection only.

Fourthly, There are some that make themselves way, and are suggested to the mind by all the ways of sensation and reflection.

We shall consider them apart under these several heads.

Ideas of one sense. There are some ideas which have admittance only through one sense, which is peculiarly adapted to receive them. Thus light and colours, as white, red, yellow, blue ; with their several degrees or shades and mixtures, as green, scarlet, purple, sea-green, and the rest, come in only by the eyes. All kinds of noises, sounds, and tones, only by the ears. The several tastes and smells, by the nose and palate. And if these organs, or the nerves which are the conduits to convey them from without to their audience in the brain, – the mind’s presence-room (as I may so call it) – are any of them so disordered as not to perform their functions, they have no postern to be admitted by ; no other way to bring themselves into view, and be perceived by the understanding.

The most considerable of those belonging to the touch, are heat and cold, and solidity : all the rest, consisting almost wholly in the sensible configuration, as smooth and rough ; or else, more or less firm adhesion of the parts, as hard and soft, tough and brittle, are obvious enough.

2. Few simple ideas have names. I think it will be needless to enumerate all the particular simple ideas belonging to each sense. Nor indeed is it possible if we would ; there being a great many more of them belonging to most of the senses than we have names for. The variety of smells, which are as many almost, if not more, than species of bodies in the world, do most of them want names. Sweet and stinking commonly serve our turn for these ideas, which in effect is little more than to call them pleasing or displeasing ; though the smell of a rose and violet, both sweet, are certainly very distinct ideas. Nor are the different tastes, that by our palates we receive ideas of, much better provided with names. Sweet, bitter, sour, harsh, and salt are almost all the epithets we have to denominate that numberless variety of relishes, which are to be found distinct, not only in almost every sort of creatures, but in the different parts of the same plant, fruit, or animal. The same may be said of colours and sounds. I shall, therefore, in the account of simple ideas I am here giving, content myself to set down only such as are most material to our present purpose, or are in themselves less apt to be taken notice of though they are very frequently the ingredients of our complex ideas ; amongst which, I think, I may well account solidity, which therefore I shall treat of in the next chapter.

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke Introduction Dedication Epistle to the Reader Introduction Book I: Neither Principles nor Ideas Are Innate Chapter I: No Innate Speculative Principles Chapter II: No Innate Practical Principles Chapter III: Other considerations concerning Innate Principles, both Speculative and Practical Book II: Of Ideas Chapter I: Of Ideas in general, and their Original Chapter II: Of Simple Ideas Chapter III: Of Simple Ideas of Sense Chapter IV: Idea of Solidity Chapter V: Of Simple Ideas of Divers Senses Chapter VI: Of Simple Ideas of Reflection Chapter VII: Of Simple Ideas of both Sensation and Reflection Chapter VIII: Some further considerations concerning our Simple Ideas of Sensation Chapter IX: Of Perception Chapter X: Of Retention Chapter XI: Of Discerning, and other operations of the Mind Chapter XII: Of Complex Ideas Chapter XIII: Complex Ideas of Simple Modes : – and first, of the Simple Modes of the Idea of Space Chapter XIV: Idea of D