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In anticipating a counter-argument, namely the use of reason to comprehend already existent innate ideas, Locke states, "by this means there will be no Difference between the Maxims of the Mathematicians, and Theorems they deduce from them: All must equally allow’d innate, they being all Discoveries made by the use of reason." Whereas Book I is intended to reject the doctrine of innate ideas proposed by Descartes and the rationalists, Book II explains that every idea is derived from experience either by sensation – direct sensory information – or reflection – "the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got".In Book II, Locke focuses on the ideas of “substances” and “qualities”, in which substances are “an unknown support of qualities” and qualities have the “power to produce ideas in our mind”.
Locke writes at the beginning of the fourth chapter, Of the Reality of Knowledge): "I doubt not my Reader by this Time may be apt to think that I have been all this while only building a Castle in the Air; and be ready to say to me, To what purpose all of this stir?
Knowledge, say you, is only the Perception of the Agreement or Disagreement of our own Ideas: but who knows what those Ideas may be? But of what use is all this fine Knowledge of Man's own Imaginations, to a Man that enquires after the reality of things?
Book III is concerned with language, and Book IV with knowledge, including intuition, mathematics, moral philosophy, natural philosophy ("science"), faith, and opinion.
Book I of the Essay is devoted to an attack on nativism or the doctrine of innate ideas; Locke indeed sought to rebut a prevalent view, of innate ideas, that was vehemently held by philosophers of his time.
In terms of qualities, Locke divides them into primary and secondary, in which primary give our minds ideas based on sensation and actual experience.
On the other hand, secondary qualities allow our minds to understand something based on reflection, in which we associate what we perceive with other ideas of our own.Locke allowed that some ideas are in the mind from an early age, but argued that such ideas are furnished by the senses starting in the womb: for instance, differences between colours or tastes.If we have a universal understanding of a concept like sweetness, it is not because this is an innate idea, but because we are all exposed to sweet tastes at an early age.Locke followed the Port-Royal Logique (1662) in numbering among the abuses of language those that he calls "affected obscurity" in chapter 10.Locke complains that such obscurity is caused by, for example, philosophers who, to confuse their readers, invoke old terms and give them unexpected meanings or who construct new terms without clearly defining their intent.Writers may also invent such obfuscation to make themselves appear more educated or their ideas more complicated and nuanced or erudite than they actually are.This book focuses on knowledge in general – that it can be thought of as the sum of ideas and perceptions.One of Locke's fundamental arguments against innate ideas is the very fact that there is no truth to which all people attest.He took the time to argue against a number of propositions that rationalists offer as universally accepted truth, for instance the principle of identity, pointing out that at the very least children and idiots are often unaware of these propositions.He describes the mind at birth as a blank slate (tabula rasa, although he did not use those actual words) filled later through experience.The essay was one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern philosophy, and influenced many enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley.