The Political Writings of John Locke

Locke's Philosophy on the Concepts of 'Substance', 'Nominal essence' and 'Real essence' College

Within his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke picks up where his predecessors in epistemological theorizing left off and proceeds to shift the study towards a more empiricist approach. Amongst the complexities of his theory, the notions of 'substance', 'nominal essence' and 'real essence' are fundamental and relate, in Locke's view, to explain the nature of the things that we perceive. In this essay, I will aim to explain the theory which binds these three concepts together and, in turn, examine their role in the overall framework. As is often the case with early philosophical works, however, we find opposing interpretations of his meaning amongst commentators; I shall endeavor to examine the points of contention and, ultimately, give an account of what seems to be the natural reading.

To begin with, I would like to consider Locke's conception of 'substance.' Locke provides us with two levels at which we can talk of substance; at the general level ( the 'notion of pure substance in general (Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II. XXIII, 2)) and at the level of particulars or individual things (‘ideas of particular sorts of substance.' (ibid, II, XXIII, 3)) Aside from this simply asserted distinction within...

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