Rene Descartes Vs John Locke

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In his Essay of Concerning Human Understanding, Locke attempts to show how people can use their minds and to give them the knowledge to learn and know what they need to know and to believe only what they ought to believe because human beings have a free mindset, so they must think and judge for themselves. His essay is divided into four parts, which are designated into four books. Book I argue that we have no innate knowledge meaning that at birth, the human mind is blank. Book II, Locke claims that ideas are the materials of knowledge and all of our ideas come from experience. Book III deals with the nature of language and its connection with ideas and its role in knowledge. Book IV, explains the nature and limits of knowledge, probability, and the relation of reasoning and faith.

In Book I, “Of Innate Ideas,” Locke begins his exploration of human knowledge. He argues that there are no innate ideas in the human mind- nothing that people bring into this world at birth. Instead, Locke says that the mind is at a blank state, and ideas are imprinted on our minds only through experience. He wanted to transform society and organize it in a rational matter.

In Book II, “Of Ideas,” Locke argues that everything in our mind is an idea, and that all ideas take one of two processes to arrive in our mind. The processes is that ideas come in through our senses or else they come in through the mind’s reflection on it’s own operation. Sensation tells us about things and processes in the external works. The other is reflection which tells us about the operations of our own minds. It is also makes us conscious of mental processes we are engaged in. To sum up, some ideas ideas we get are only from sensation, some only from reflection and some from both types of experiences. He also categorizes our ideas into two basic types, simple ideas and complex ideas. Locke divides complex ideas into three categories which he describes as ideas of modes, substances, and relations. Modes are things that rely on us for their existence, including diverse as the ideas of gratitude, murder, religion, and politics. Substances are things in the world that exist on its own, such as water, but also includes beings such as God, humans, animals, and plants. Relations are ideas that consists of taking into consideration and comparing an idea with another.

In Book III, “Of words,” Locke starts to observe the language and explore the connection between the names we give to things and ideas. He emphasizes that when we use words they always represent the ideas the person speaking has in his or her mind. They are not necessarily the same as the ideas that are associated with the words in the mind of the person listening.

In Book IV, “Of Knowledge and Probability,” Locke is much more optimistic about our capacity to know the existence of things then he is about our capacity to know of their nature. He argues that at both the mind is a blank stare and that humans fill with ideas as they experience the world through the five senses. There are building blocks to ideas they either come to us through our senses, and in turn we can reflect from them to form complex ideas. Locke distinguished four types of agreement or disagreement that may be recognized in human knowledge. According to Locke, we can achieve knowledge only when we have clear ideas and can trace the connection between them enough to recognize their agreement or disagreement. He also believes that human knowledge is well suited for the conduct of human life. We all have the knowledge that we need to secure good in our lives and to attain a better life.

Throughout the century, John Locke was an influential philosopher and political theorist who drafted various political philosophy theories. Even though people criticized his theories, there are many people who followed his steps. John Locke has helped shape the world we live in with his ideas. He inspired the constitution which has affected parts of the world outside of the United States and his ideas of individual rights, government, and equality have shown the world something new. showed Locke’s work is certainly appreciated because of his influence on governance, mortality, and social justice.


Before criticizing Descartes, I want to explain his philosophical thoughts from my perspective. All of his ideas start from the Universal Methodic Doubt. It is an idea that you have doubt about everything around you. When we were a child, each child could have created judgments, ideas and perceptions around the things around them, thus a man should doubt about everything around him at least once in their life in order to reach the truth. Plus, we have doubt about them because our senses might be deceptive and wrong, hence it makes hard for a man to differentiate the real truth. Before doubting, he states that we have to consider that as false all that is doubtful. After going from this idea, he created his famous statement “Cogito Ergo Sum”.

My first criticism about his ideas is he states that we have to think that everything is absolutely false before starting to doubt. According to Oxford Dictionaries, the definition of word doubt is “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction”. By looking the definition of word doubt, we can say that Descartes using the word doubt in a wrong way because when you doubt about something you have to uncertain but if you assume that everything is false, there is no any uncertainty there is only a certainty that everything is false.

Secondly, I want to explain the logical fallacy of his explanation that God exists. His explanation according to his meditations: (Adler’s Archive)

  • We have in our mind the idea of God as an infinite perfect Being.
  • But an initially perfect Being must have existed otherwise, it would not be infinitely perfect.
  • Ergo, God exists.

The first criticism is that he explains in his meditations that human senses might be deceived so how he can be sure that he wasn’t deceived while proving the existence of God. In his meditations, he states that (Descartes,1641) “The senses sometimes deceive us concerning things which are hardly perceptible or very far away”. If we look at two expressions “hardly perceptible” and “very far away” these statements can be related to God the idea that he is sure to exist. Even if he can argue that God is so perfect and good that he wouldn’t deceive but didn’t he say that we have to doubt everything. As a result, he should have doubted the perfection and goodness of God. The second criticism is that before creating his line of thought, he assumed that in our mind there is an idea of God without doubting or rejecting it. Basically, he puts all his line of thought on an assumption that is doubtful. Therefore, the doubtfully valid assumption can only bring out a doubtfully valid conclusion which is God exists. As a result, he cannot accept God's existence according to his own idea of Universal Methodic Doubt and this creates a conflict between his own ideas.

Finally, I want to talk explain my thoughts about his known statement: “ I think, therefore, I exist”. The problem starts with “I”. What am I? Who am I? As we know, he doubts about everything but in this statement, he does not doubt “I”. Plus, this statement comes from the idea that I cannot doubt my existence and even if I doubt my existence, therefore, I should be existing. The problematic part of this logical explanation is that he needs to doubt the relation between doubting and thinking because if we doubt about everything why shouldn’t doubt their relationship.

To conclude, as he says “We have to doubt about everything” even the ideas of a philosopher such as Rene Descartes.

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Rene Descartes vs John Locke. (2021, Jan 05). Retrieved April 23, 2024 , from

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