Exploring John Locke's Concept of Human Understanding


The start of human brain is the beginning of full humanness. The brain does best by constructing complex knowledge, representations and skill patterns. It’s also designed for continuous growth and learns from direct observations, practices and experience. An essay concerning human understanding seeks to explore one of the most famous theory about human understanding and knowledge that was created by John Locke. 

Since early childhood, our brain shave constructed hundreds of unique skill patterns also referred to as “behavior episode schemata”. These corresponds to complex social, cultural and knowledge schema conceptual models our brains construct that represents and organize information about the world. Brains are far more creative and flexible than any computer or all programs that exists in the world today and they are also self-organizing adaptive system designed to self-integrated knowledge/skill pattern.


John Locke was an English philosopher who is famous for his contributions to the fields of epistemology and political philosophy. His theory of human understanding, presented in his seminal work 'An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,' is considered one of his most significant contributions to philosophy.

According to Locke, the human mind is a 'tabula rasa,' or blank slate, at birth, devoid of any innate knowledge or ideas. All knowledge, he argues, is derived from sensory experience, and the mind is like a 'white paper' upon which these experiences are imprinted. This concept is known as empiricism, which holds that knowledge comes from experience rather than innate ideas or concepts.

Locke’s proposed that, knowledge is built up from ideas, either simple or complex. Simple ideas combined in various ways to form complex ideas. Therefore, the most basic unit of knowledge is a simple idea which comes exclusively through experience. There are also few types of these experiences that allow the world outside the body through five senses and reflection or when the mind turns inward recognizing ideas about its own functions such as thinking, willing, believing and doubting. Words are also connected to the ideas they signify making man a unique creature by being able to frame sound into distinct and to signify ideas by those words and then that these words are built into language.

Locke’s suggests that, the reason why it takes a time for children to fully understand the working of their mind, or the ideas that dwell there, is because, children don’t experience anything which makes a lasting impression on them; they may experience things and be told things but do not register in their mind. Then it only later on in life when the child needs that information that they then reflect on the basic ideas in their mind, and only then do they fully start to comprehend and understands these ideas.


In other believes is that: the origin of all knowledge is impressions that are made on our senses by outward objects. We then gain experience of these outwards objects and can then gain further knowledge of them, or reflect on what we already know and form more opinions in our mind .This believes also stated that the mind is fitted to receive the impression made on it through sensation or reflecton. For example, our sense of taste will give our mind the idea on whether we like certain food or not.


  • Hume, D. (2016). An enquiry concerning human understanding. In Seven Masterpieces of Philosophy (pp. 191-284). Routledge.
  • Dekker, S. (2017). The field guide to understanding'human error'. CRC press
23 March 2023
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