An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Published 22 Aug 2016

In this paragraph, John Locke explains his rationale for having written such a long and seemingly tedious essay. The paragraph also contains a sort of apology and disclaimer for the apparent faults of the essay.

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Locke writes with an exaggerated humility, first explaining that he knows it may be a blemish on his reputation for having published such a “flawed” essay. He asks forgiveness for his “laziness,” for which, however, he thinks he has a good reason. He says that the essay is not intended for those who have given thorough thought to the issues he discusses; it is only for those who have not given them much consideration because the ideas presented are merely from “my own coarse thoughts.”

He also gives a rationale for having written such a long discourse that contains many repeating ideas being said in different ways. He explains that for a certain idea, one explanation may be confusing to a specific person, while another explanation for the same idea may be easily understood. He uses food as the analogy: different people may prefer different ways of dressing the same meat. He then explains that he was encouraged to publish the essay for this reason. He concludes the paragraph saying that he would prefer that people who are “speculative and quick-sighted” should find the essay tedious, then that less knowledgeable readers fail to understand his ideas.

Locke’s ideas are obviously quite profound, which makes the humility he expresses suspect. However, whether the humility that he expresses is false or not is not exactly clear from this one paragraph alone. The paragraph does give some insight into the mode of thinking during Locke’s time. Reputation was an important thing for philosophers such as Locke, and his apology and disclaimers serve to prevent any potential accusations of redundancy and immodesty.


  1. Kemerling, G. (2001). A guide to Locke’s essay–Introduction. Philosophy Pages. Retrieved January 29, 2007, from
  2. Locke, J. (1689). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Retrieved January 29, 2007
  3. Uzgalis, W. (2005). John Locke. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2005 Edition). Retrieved January 29, 2007, from locke/
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