Esser, Frederick: John Locke‘s Investigation into our Knowledge of Bodies

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Kapitel 9. Knowledge and its Degrees

Locke‘s characterization of knowledge and its degrees is fundamental for his latter account of the scope and nature of human knowledge. From Locke‘s perspective, his general portrayal, or notion, of knowledge is innocuous and fits to all degrees of knowledge, namely to intuitive, demonstrative and sensitive knowledge. He does not really argue for his concept of knowledge, but simply asserts it after having pointed out that the mind discourses on entities solely via ideas.<484> Apparently, Locke assumes everyone will agree with this general definition of what knowledge is, once one becomes aware that entities and their properties have always to be represented in thought to be known. From his standpoint, the prominent and, perhaps, controversial claims are still to come in the subsequent chapters. However, Locke‘s official definition of knowledge is usually taken to be highly problematic since it is conceived to be tailor-made only for intuitive and demonstrative knowledge, but not to cohere with his account of sensitive knowledge. There is supposingly a gap between the generic conception and the more specific accounts of knowledge what I will call the “orthodox view“. Locke however consciously reasserts in the face of such criticism that there really is no deviation from his notion of knowledge in the case of sensitive knowledge.<485> Given this and the prevailing view that there truly is a contradiction, Locke simply seems not to understand. This is probably one reason why commentators less favorable to Locke enjoy bashing him in this context.<486>


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Opposing the orthodox view, I will argue that a careful analysis of Locke‘s definition in connection with his further comments shows what he thought to be conspicuous for everyone, namely that his general notion applies to sensitive knowledge as well. On the contrary to what is usually maintained, it becomes evident in Locke‘s explanations on truth that his definition naturally evolves from his contentions on ideas and words which form the backdrop of his argument. In addition, further clarification is needed of what the three degrees of knowledge consist in. By assessing what Locke means by “degrees“ of knowledge, it will become plain what kind of feature distinguishes the three types of knowledge. This account will further deepen our understanding of Locke‘s general conception of knowledge in terms of its certainty and why sensitive knowledge does not differ in kind from intuitive and demonstrative knowledge.

A careful reconstruction of Locke‘s comments shows both that on the face of it the proposed understanding of his definition of ’knowledge‘ is here manifest and that a decisive flaw of comprehending Locke is the source of the orthodox view. I will therefore develop first a straight forward reading of the relevant passages and subsequently reject the three most prominent lines of interpretation by debating the crucial passages on which the controversy hinges. I will then turn to Locke‘s account of the three degrees of knowledge. Since both issues are interconnected, the discussion of the second topic effectively provides the interpretation of passages which are the final bits to establish the advanced reading of Locke‘s concept of knowledge.

a. Locke‘s Definition of Knowledge and the Orthodox View

According to Locke, knowledge is “nothing but the perception of the connexion and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our Ideas“.<487> The key to understand aright this assertion is to highlight properly what the (dis-) agreement of ideas consists in. To come to grips with this, one first has to become aware that for Locke the objects of knowledge are states of affairs which obtain, namely facts. This manifests in the exemplifications immediately following the definition which display that the perception


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of the agreement or disagreement of ideas implies knowledge of the holding of a state of affairs. Importantly, Locke‘s examples also indicate that the states of affairs do not concern ideas and whether they agree or disagree, but the entities which are represented by ideas whose agreement or disagreement is perceived:


“For when we know that White is not Black, what do we else but perceive, that these two Ideas do not agree? When we possess our selves with the utmost security of the Demonstration, that the three Angles of a Triangle are equal to two right ones, What do we more but perceive, that Equality to two right ones, does not necessarily agree to, and is inseparable from the three Angles of a Triangle?“<488>

Thus, two ideas evidently serve here to represent a state of affairs which is known when one perceives the (dis-) agreement between the ideas. Ideas are the constituents of thought, i. e. of cognitive content. And ideas are not conceived as the elements of a particular kind of intentional or cognitive state, as Locke‘s explanations suggest, since there is, for instance, no special reference to sense perceptions. Correspondingly, in this context one should understand ’perception‘ in a very general sense, namely to denote the awareness or recognition that ideas (dis-) agree. More precisely, for Locke the perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas is the correct recognition of a (dis-) agreement which is really there. This becomes plain when Locke insists that knowledge is not merely the supposition, but the perception of the (dis-) agreement of ideas: “Where this Perception is, there is Knowledge, and where it is not, there, though we may fancy, guess or believe, yet we always come short of Knowledge“<489> This difference is crucial for Locke, since it underlies his distinction between knowledge and probability. Knowledge is the recognition of a fact, probability is only the belief that a state of affairs obtains.<490> ’Perception‘ thus is a success concept in the sense that it implies that one truly perceives what one believes to perceive. This makes plain that the objects of knowledge are not just states of affairs, but facts, i. e. states of affairs which truly obtain and which one does not only believe to hold.

On this backdrop, one can fully apprehend Locke‘s contention that knowledge has to be


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conversant about ideas, since ideas are the only objects about which the mind immediately discourses:


“§1. Since the Mind, in all its Thoughts and Reasonings, hath no other immediate Object but its own Ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate, it is evident, that our Knowledge is only conversant about them.“<491>

On the face of it, Locke reasserts his well-known claim that thought is not directly concerned with entities but only indirectly via representations of them. This is the whole point of ideas as contra distinguished from the entities they represent: if one wants to grasp entities, one has to mentally represent them, i. e. one has to conceive them in terms of ideas.<492> Thus, given what has been reconstructed so far, Locke‘s contention apparently means that knowledge (of facts) is possible only in so far as facts are represented in thought. One should therefore not misunderstand Locke‘s remark that one can think of facts only by representing them via ideas as the claim that knowledge has to be about facts concerning ideas.<493>

Generally speaking, advocats of the orthodox view take this into account and maintain that ideas, whose (dis-) agreement is perceived, represent a fact and that this fact is therefore the object of knowledge. Moreover, they likewise understand Lockean perception as awareness of facts. However, commentators conceive Locke‘s definition of knowledge as highlighting the reasons in which knowledge is grounded and whose perception leads to knowledge of facts.<494> Locke‘s portrayal of knowledge is reconstructed as delineating a necessary and sufficient condition for knowing facts: one knows a fact if and only if one recognizes conclusive reasons showing that the fact obtains. Knowledge of a fact consists in the recognition of why the state of affairs obtains. In this sense, Locke‘s portrayal of knowledge is understood to elucidate knowledge as being grounded in the awareness that the two ideas (dis-) agree which represent the fact. More precisely, ideas are regarded as adding up to concepts and the (dis-) agreement of two ideas as the relationship that one concept does (not) include or, more generally, entail the other. Correspondingly,


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one usually understands Locke to define knowledge as the awareness of the holding of a conceptual (-like) relationship between two ideas.<495> For instance, to perceive that the idea of gold agrees with the idea of yellow, is to be aware that ’gold‘ entails ’yellow‘. To perceive that the idea of black does not agree with the idea of white, is to recognize that ’black‘ does not entail ’white‘. In linguistic terms, Lockean knowledge is taken to consist in the awareness that the subject term does (not) entail the predicate.

The orthodox line of interpretation thus takes the (dis-) agreement relationship as a “relation between ideas“, i. e. as a relationship holding between the two ideas representing the fact which is known.<496> This however implies obviously that Lockean sensitive knowledge cannot fulfill this definition of knowledge, since perceptual knowledge does not consist in the awareness of conceptual-like relationships. To be precise, one can distinguish between two aspects of the criticism. First, there is the logical problem that every account of perceptual knowledge cannot intelligibly claim that such knowledge consists in the recognition of relations between ideas, since it is grounded in sensations and not in conceptual relationships. Second, Locke‘s own account of sensitive knowledge as being achieved by veridical sensations does not tie in with his official definition of knowledge because of this logical contradiction.<497> Both aspects make up the orthodox view. On the contrary, I will argue that Locke highlights knowledge of a fact as being nothing else but the genuine recognition of the holding of a state of affairs which is represented in our minds by ideas. This means, the perception of the (dis-) agreement of ideas is the cognition of a fact, namely that the state of affairs holds which is represented by the ideas. We can already see that the difference of the two readings hinges on what for Locke the (dis-) agreement of ideas consists in. Is the (dis-) agreement of ideas, the reason which a fact is grounded in and whose cognition leads to knowledge that the state of affairs truly holds? Or does the (dis-) agreement of ideas mean that the state of affairs obtains, which is mentally represented by the ideas, so that the recognition of the (dis-)


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agreement of ideas is the cognition of a fact?

b. Knowledge and Truth

The account of Locke‘s conception of knowledge given so far can be deepened by his account of propositions and their truth. This theory sheds light on both how ideas represent facts and the relationship of two ideas agreeing or disagreeing. As already indicated in chapter six,<498> words and ideas have both in common to be signs and to refer as such to entities. But whereas ideas refer directly to entities by representing them, words stand only indirectly for these entities by signifying directly only ideas and thus denoting only indirectly the entities which are represented by these ideas. In this sense, words possess, if taken by themselves, no cognitive or semantic content. Locke‘s passages on the truth of mental and verbal propositions display that there is a corresponding relationship between language and thought as to states of affairs.<499> Locke calls a proposition the joining or separating of signs, which are either ideas or words. Mental propositions concern ideas, verbal propositions words. For example, the separating of the idea of iron with the idea of green is a mental proposition, whereas ’Peaches are round‘ is a verbal proposition joining ’peaches‘ and ’round‘. And being in line with his theory of meaning as to linguistic signs like general terms, the content of a verbal proposition is understood as being determined by the content of the mental proposition which corresponds to the former. Thought is again the carrier of content, language can only refer to it. Furthermore, in the light of Locke‘s examples<500> and on the background that an abstract idea represents merely a class of entities, the point as to propositions evidently is that they express states of affairs. And since for Locke propositions are the bearers of truth, a true proposition is evidently conceived as expressing a state of affairs which obtains. In connection with his notion of truth, the analogies between words and ideas as well as between verbal and mental propositions will now help to understand how the joining


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and separating of ideas represent states of affairs.

For Locke a proposition is true only if its signs are joined or separated as the signified entities agree or disagree whereas a proposition is false if the joining or separation of its signs does not correspond to the agreement or disagreement of the signified entities. This becomes plain when Locke defines truth:


“§2. Truth then seems to me, in the proper import of the Word, to signify nothing but the joining or separating of Signs, as the Things signified by them, do agree or disagree one with another. The joining or separating of signs here meant is what by another name, we call Proposition. So that Truth properly belongs only to Propositions: whereof there are two sorts, viz. Mental and Verbal; as there are sorts of Signs commonly made use of, viz. Ideas and Words.“<501>

On the face of it, Locke first expounds a general formula which he spells subesequently out in two ways, namely in terms of ideas and in terms of words. This implies, in this context ’things‘ denotes entities in a very general sense: on the one hand, entities being signified by ideas, and, on the other hand, ideas being signified by words.<502> Accordingly, with respect to ideas, a mental proposition is true only if two ideas are joined or separated as the entities represented by them agree or respectively disagree. And the truth value of verbal propositions, by contrast, involves two levels, namely the relationship of words to ideas and of ideas to the entities they represent. The first level implies that a verbal proposition stands for a corresponding mental proposition, e. g. ’Iron is not green‘ refers to the separating of the idea of iron and the idea of green. The second relationship implies that the mental proposition corresponding to the verbal proposition stands for the state of affairs which is expressed by the joining or separating of the ideas of the mental proposition. Importantly, irrespective of whether propositions are mental or verbal, the analysis of their truth boils down to the claim that the signs constituting them are separated or joined in accordance to the (dis-) agreement of the entities being represented by ideas.

Moreover, the correspondence between the joining or separating of ideas and the joining


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or separating of words means that an affirmation refers to the joining of ideas whereas a negation refers to the separating of ideas: “[...] Verbal Propositions, which are Words the signs of our Ideas put together or separated in affirmative or negative Sentences“.<503> An affirmation therefore is true only if the joining of two ideas, which are signified by the words of the affirmation, corresponds to an agreement of the entities which are represented by these ideas; and a negation is true only if the separation of two ideas, which are signified by the words of the negation, corresponds to a disagreement of the entities which are represented by these ideas. Otherwise, verbal propositions are false.

Crucially, this notion of truth and falsehood implies that the separating and joining of signs express a state of affairs which does not necessarily hold. Whether a represented state of affairs obtains or not, depends on whether the joining and separating corresponds to the disgreement respectively agreement of the represented entities. In this sense, Locke introduces his notion of proposition in his definition of truth: “The joining or separating of signs here meant is what by another name, we call Proposition.“ A proposition is the joining or separating of signs, and this proposition stands for a state of affairs which can hold, because for Locke propositions can be both true or false.

This account of the truth of propositions is helpful to highlight what Locke means by the joining or separating of ideas. His examples show that his paradigm are simple predications or subject-predicate assertions expressing a state of affairs.<504> The match between the joining or separating of words and the joining or separating of ideas thus indicates that the latter relationship is comparable to the grammatical relationship of predications which holds between subject term and predicate. This means, two ideas and their relationship of being joined or separated represent a state of affairs analogous to the way a state of affairs is expressed by an affirmation respectively negation.

This is confirmed by the relationship between ideas, being joined or separated, and entities, agreeing or disagreeing. This relationship indicates that the joining or separating of ideas corresponds to two ways in which two entities can be conceived as being interrelated to make up a state of affairs. For example, the relationship of joining the idea


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of gold and the idea of yellow represents the relationship between gold and yellow, that holds, if gold agrees to yellow, namely if gold is yellow. Similarly, the relationship of separating the idea of black and the idea of white represents the relationship between black and white, that holds, if black disagrees with white, namely if black is not white. That is, the relationships of agreement and disgreement between two entities are represented on the linguistic level by the grammatical relationship between subject term and predicate as it is expressed in a true affirmation respectively negation. In turn, one has to understand correspondingly the relationship of two ideas being joined or separated as a “mental predication“, namely to represent two entities as being related to each other in the same way as the predication of an affirmation or negation represents these entities as being interrelated.<505> Given Locke‘s way of ideas, it is natural for him to say that states of affairs are represented in the mind by the joining or separating of ideas.

As we have just seen, two ideas and their relationship of being joined or separated represent a state of affairs analogous to the way a state of affairs is expressed by an affirmation respectively negation. To be more precise, as Locke‘s theory of the so-called particles indicates, the joining and separating of two ideas is linguistically expressed by the coppula ’to be‘ or respectively by the coppula plus the negation sign in the case of simple predications, e. g. ’Gold is (not) yellow‘.<506> This clearly shows that a mental proposition represents a state of affairs not only by its ideas, but also by the joining or separating of these signs. An idea or word stands solely for an aspect of a state of affairs, namely for an entity. Without being joined or separated, ideas cannot represent a state of affairs. For Locke, only the joining or separating of ideas relate ideas so to each other that they express a state of affairs. In this sense, one has to understand the joining or separating of ideas as a constitutive element of the mental representation of a state of affairs. This becomes obvious by the fact that the joining or separating of two ideas determines which state of affairs is represented by two ideas; for example, whether the idea of horses and the idea of animals express that horses are animals, horses are not animals, animals are horses, or that animals are not horses. Again, to speak of the joining and separating of ideas is a


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natural and innocuous way for Locke to express in terms of ideas how states of affairs are mentally represented.

On this background, the (dis-) agreement of two ideas becomes evident. As we have seen, the punchline of Locke‘s formula for truth is that a proposition is true only if the signs making up the propositions are joined or separated in accordance to the agreement or disagreement of the entities to which the signs refer. This means: the joining and separating of signs represent states of affairs which can hold, and the (dis-) agreement of the signified entities is a state of affairs which does obtain, namely a fact. Thus, when Locke says that the ideas of a mental proposition (dis-) agree as the entities they represent (dis-) agree, i. e. as the ’things‘ (dis-) agree, the (dis-) agreement of the ideas manifests a fact. This usage of Locke‘s notion of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas in the context of truth strongly suggests an analoguous use in connection with his definition of knowledge. Locke‘s conception of knowledge as the perception of the (dis-) agreement of ideas means: knowledge is the cognition of the holding of a fact, namely the holding of a state of affairs which is represented by the joining or separating of ideas.

Crucially, this notion of the (dis-) agreement of ideas is present in Locke‘s comments on truth at several places. First, as we have seen above, this understanding of the (dis-) agreement of ideas is part and parcel of his general definition of truth at the opening of his discussion: “§2. Truth then seems to me, in the proper import of the Word, to signify nothing but the joining or separating of Signs, as the Things signified by them, do agree or disagree one with another.“<507> This means as to verbal propositions: in true affirmations and negations words are joined respectively separated as the ’things‘ agree respectively disagree which these words signify, i. e. as the ideas agree respectively disagree which are signified by the words. And since true mental propositions are here explained as joining or separating two ideas as the ’things‘ they signify agree or disagree, the (dis-) agreement of ideas manifests the obtaining of the state of affairs which is represented by the ideas. Therefore, in connection with verbal propositions, the point of saying that ideas (dis-) agree is to assert that the state of affairs truly holds which is merely represented by the joining or separating of the ideas. Second, the same depiction of truth is apparently


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present in another passage where Locke comes back to his portrayal of truth after a short excursion into a related matter:


Ҥ5. But to return to the consideration of Truth. We must, I say, observe two sorts of Propositions, that we are capable of making.
First, Mental, wherein the Ideas in our Understandings are without the use of Words put together, or separated by the Mind, perceiving, or judging of their Agreement, or Disagreement.
Secondly, Verbal Propositions, which are Words the signs of our Ideas put together or separated in affirmative or negative Sentences“.<508> By which way of affirming or denying, these Signs, made by Sounds, are as it were put together or separated one from another. So that Proposition consists in joining, or separating Signs, and Truth consists in the putting together, or separating these Signs, according as the Things, which they stand for, agree or disgree.“<509>

Evidently, Locke discusses truth by first distinguishing mental and verbal porpositions to advance then a characterization of truth which concerns both types of propositions. Accordingly, one has to read ’Things‘ as denoting ideas in the first case and entities being represented by ideas in the second case.<510> Locke therefore re-states his definition of truth given at the begining of the chapter. This means as to verbal propositions: in true affirmations and negations words are joined respectively separated as the ’things‘ agree respectively disagree which these words signify, i. e. as the ideas agree respectively disagree which are signified by the words. Again, the (dis-) agreement of two ideas manifests a fact.

Third, this conception of the (dis-) agreement of ideas is likewise present when Locke highlights only verbal propositions as being true: “But Truth of Words is something more, and that is the affirming or denying of Words one of another, as the Ideas they stand for agree or disagree: [...]“.<511> That is, in true affirmations and negations words are joined respectively separated as the ideas they signify agree respectively disagree. Or even


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shorter, fourth: “Truth is the marking down in Words, the agreement or disagreement of Ideas as it is.“<512> This way of putting it is for Locke more handy than the more elaborate version which highlights the truth of verbal propositions in connection with the truth of mental propositions, namely as consisting in: the joining or separating of words which signify ideas that agree or respectively disagree in accordance to the agreement or respectively disagreement of the entities they represent. In turn: defining the truth of verbal propositions simply as the (dis-) agreement of ideas implies that the (dis-) agreement of ideas expresses the holding of the state of affairs which the proposition means.

True, the definition of knowledge relates to mental, not to verbal propositions. But since, as we have just seen, the notion of the (dis-) agreement of ideas is used by Locke to indicate that a state of affairs obtains, it is, conceptually speaking, only a short step for Locke to talk simply of the (dis-) agreement of ideas to express the holding of states of affairs which are represented by mental propositions. To speak of the (dis-) agreements of ideas in this sense just abbreviates again the longer formula which is employed in the definition of truth to express the obtaining of a state of affairs being represented by a mental proposition: in the case of true mental propositions, ideas are joined or separated in correspondence to the agreement or disagreement of the entities which they represent. To sum up, in the light of Locke‘s usage of the notion of (dis-) agreement in connection with verbal propositions, it is most natural to understand him likewise as to mental propositions in the context of knowledge.

Having established that, one passage is naturally understood as Locke treating the the (dis-) agreement of ideas as aquivalent to the (dis-) agreement of the entities they represent: “When Ideas are so put together, or separated in the Mind, as they [scil. as the ideas], or the Things they stand for do agree, or not, that is, as I may call it, mental Truth.“<513> I will come back to this quote, since Lorenz Krüger reads it differently to underpin his interpretation. But given what has been said before, the (dis-) agreement of ideas is here understood to be aquivalent with the (dis-) agreement of the signified entities, namely to


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express that the state of affairs holds (that is represented by the ideas). Thus, in the quote, the truth of a mental proposition is described in two ways: to consist in the joining or separating of ideas in accordance to their (dis-) agreement, or respectively in the joining or separating of ideas in accordance to the (dis-) agreement of the entities represented by the ideas.

To conclude, in the light of Locke‘s definition of truth and of his usage of the notion of (dis-) agreement in the context of verbal propositions, the agreement or disagreement of ideas means on the face of it that the state of affairs obtains which is represented by the joining or separating of the ideas. The (dis-) agreement of ideas means the holding of a state of affairs that is represented by the joining or separating of ideas. By contrast, the joining or separating of ideas leaves open whether the expressed state of affairs truly obtains or not. Consequently, when Locke maintains that one joins or separates ideas and then judges, perceives, supposes or believes the (dis-) agreement of ideas, he asserts that one judges, perceives, supposes or believes that the state of affairs holds which is represented by the joining or separating of the ideas.<514> It seems to me, Locke‘s explanations clearly establish that in the context of knowledge the (dis-) agreement of ideas expresses the holding of the state of affairs represented by the ideas.

We can now easily assess what Locke means when asserting that knowledge is the perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas. Locke elucidates knowledge as the awareness that ideas are joined or separated as the signified entities agree or disagree. In other words, knowledge is the cognition of the obtaining of a state of affairs which is represented by the joining or separating of two ideas. As we have seen above, one might perceive or only consider the (dis-) agreement of ideas, i. e. one can merely suppose the holding of the state of affairs being represented by the joining or separating of these ideas. The (dis-) agreement of two ideas itself therefore means that the joined or separated ideas represent a fact, but it does not entail that one knows the fact, i. e. that one is aware that the represented state of affairs obtains. Only the perception of the (dis-) agreement is knowledge of the fact. To sum up: in Locke‘s knowledge formula the (dis-) agreement of ideas expresses the holding of a represented state of affairs, whereas the perception of the


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(dis-) agreement is the cognition of the obtaining of the state of affairs.

If one moreover takes Locke‘s point into account that knowledge of facts can only be via ideas, Locke assesses knowledge as the awareness that our mental representation of a state of affairs is the mental representation of a fact: one is aware that ideas are truly joined or separated in accordance to the agreement or disagreement of the entities represented by these ideas. If one knows that a state of affairs obtains, one recognizes that one‘s mental representation of this state of affairs stands for a fact. One cannot grasp a fact without mentally representing it, but one can recognize that one‘s mental representation of a state of affairs is the representation of a state of affairs that holds.

Having said that, a question naturally emerges. If knowledge is the cognition of a fact, how do we become aware of the fact? That is, how do we come to recognize that in the case of knowledge our representation of a state of affairs is a representation of a fact? I will come back to this issue below in connection with the three degrees of knowledge which will deepen the so far given account of Lockean knowledge. Alternative readings of the (dis-) agreement of ideas will however be discussed first.

c. Rival Interpretations

Setting aside the here developed reading, the common ground of virtually all proposed interpretations of Locke‘s conception of knowledge is the view that the (dis-) agreement of two ideas is a conceptual, or at least conceptual-like, relationship holding between the ideas. Importantly, to get this reading off the ground, one cannot take Locke‘s definition of knowledge - as I do - as an explanation that re-states in terms of ideas what it means that one knows a fact. For, given the “conceptual reading“ of the (dis-) agreement relationship, namely of concepts (not) entailing one another, Lockean knowledge would be knowledge of conceptual relationships, if the (dis-) agreement of two ideas were conceived as the object of knowledge. And one cannot interpret (dis-) agreements of ideas as the objects of knowledge in this sense because this would openly contradict Locke‘s exemplifications: Locke does not discuss our knowledge of facts expressed by, for example, ’’Gold‘ entails ’yellow‘‘, but facts expressed by sentences like ’Gold is yellow‘.


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Thus, to spell out the common approach of interpreting Locke coherently, Locke‘s analysis of knowledge as the perception of the (dis-) agreement of ideas has to be understood as elucidating as in what knowledge is grounded: to know that a state of affairs obtains, is grounded in the perception that the concepts expressing this state of affairs stand in the relationship of entailment.<515> Knowledge of facts, Locke is effectively understood to claim, is based on or involves the recognition of the holding of conceptual (-like) relationhips. This condition for knowledge does not directly relate to the fact being the object of knowledge, but to the reasons which one has to be aware of for knowing that the fact obtains.

This reading is usually justified by Locke‘s understanding of intuitive and demonstrative knowledge where knowledge is depicted as being based on conceptual or conceptual-like relationships, what will be discussed below.<516> This interpretation implies however that perceptual knowledge would obviously not fit with his definition, since it is not grounded in conceptual relationships. Even worse, since Locke‘s own account of perceptual knowledge clearly suggests that for him perceptual knowledge is achieved by and grounded in veridical sensations, Locke would be hopelessly confused.<517> And since he rejects criticism along these lines, he moreover appears to be stubborn or does simply not understand. I therefore believe that, in the light of the above reconstruction of an alternative interpretation, the orthodox view is simply not tenable. But to see this more clear, it might be helpful to discuss how proponents of the common line of interpretation have reacted to the prima facie unpleasant result of their reading that sensitive


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knowledge is in fact no knowledge on Locke‘s own, official account. Three ways will be discussed in the following.

First. One possible move is to emphasize utterances where, on first thought, Locke appears to raise doubts whether sensitive knowledge should and can be truly called knowledge.<518> Thus, if Locke consciously declined the knowledge status of sensitive knowledge, he could be viewed to exclude doubtful, sensitive knowledge as a true realm of knowledge, since it is not based on the recognition of conceptual relationships but on potentially erroneous sensations. However, if Locke really declined the epistemological status of sensitive knowledge as knowledge in connection with skepticism, he would be deeply confused since he also insists towards Stillingfleet that sensitive knowledge is decent knowledge that lives up to his official notion of knowledge.<519> Generally speaking, I do not go into detail to refute this view since other commentators, e. g. Ayers, have already done so convincingly.<520> An outline of the rejection seems therefore appropiate. We will see that Locke does not decline the epistemic status of sensitive knowledge, for which reason there is no basis to read him as confining his general analysis only to knowledge being grounded in the perception of conceptual relationships.

Take for example the most prominent passage.<521> In his discussion whether so-called sensitive knowledge is knowledge Locke concedes at the beginning that sensitive knowledge does not have the same degree of certainty as intuitive and demonstrative knowledge. But at the end of the same sentence Locke restricts his contention as to general truths; and he then moves on to discuss whether there is knowledge of “particular truths“ about entities existing in the outer world which can be known by the senses. Decisively, these claims do not contradict for him his subsequent anti-skeptical argument. For he concludes at the end of the argument that there are three realms, namely intuitive, demonstrative and sensitive knowledge. Whether Locke‘s anti-skeptical reasoning convinces us or not, he unequivocally contends that his refutation of


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skepticism establishes sensitive knowledge as true knowledge.<522> Thus, whatever Locke‘s theory of the different degrees of knowledge asserts about the difference between sensitive knowledge and intuitive and demonstrative knowledge, he does not believe that it opposes his anti-skeptical analysis of sensitive knowledge and his conclusion that sensitive knowledge really is decent knowledge. And we will see below that the doctrine of the three degrees of knowledge does indeed not imply that Locke is deeply confused as to sensitive knowledge, i. e. not virtually contradicting himself in the very same sentence in connection with skepticism.<523>

Second. Most advocats of the orthodox line of interpretation concede that sensitive knowledge is true knowledge for Locke, but insist that sensitive knowledge does not fulfill the official definition. Locke is understood to claim that sensations show the perception of a (conceptual-like) relationship between an idea given in sensation and the idea of existence. Commentators therefore critizise Locke for grounding unintelligibly sensitive knowledge in relations between ideas.<524> However, as just pointed out, in the face of such criticism Locke clearly re-asserts to have expounded a coherent view. One should therefore, if possible, attempt to read him differently, namely without ascribing to him persistent injudiciousness.

Third. Having said that, a third variation of the orthodox view becomes attractive, namely one which ascribes to Locke a coherent position while still contending that the account of sensitive knowledge does not fit with his definition of knowledge. According to Lorenz Krüger, Locke has two notions of truth, an idea-theoretic and a correspondence-theoretic one. Given this approach, as will be delineated, the former notion naturally applies to intuitive and demonstrative knowledge and the latter one to sensitive knowledge.<525> Thus, in the light of these two notions of truth, one can explain why,


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allegedly, sensitive knowledge does not fit the official notion of knowledge. This line of interpretation is also the most challenging one with respect to the one here proposed, since it is build on a different reading of passages crucial for both reconstructions.

Pace Krüger I do however not understand Locke‘s explanations to entail two notions of truth, an idea-theoretic and a correspondence-theoretic one. A closer analysis of Krüger‘s main textual evidence reveals that it does not suggest his interpretation if read in context. Krüger maintains<526> that Locke defines truth as a correspondence-theoretic notion when he declares:


“§2. Truth then seems to me, in the proper import of the Word, to signify nothing but the joining or separating of Signs, as the Things signified by them, do agree or disagree one with another.“<527>

What does Krüger mean by ’correspondence-theoretic‘? He does not want to go into detail,<528> but for him a naive conception of a correspondence theory of truth includes at least that a proposition somehow corresponds to real, existent entities, i. e. to entities existing in the outer world.<529> This implies for his interpretation of Locke‘s definition that he must read ’things‘ to refer to entities existing in the outer world when Locke speaks of the things being denoted by signs. And indeed Krüger does so.<530> He likewise interprets Locke as asserting a correspondence-theoretic notion of truth in connection with verbal propositions when Locke maintains: “So that Proposition consists in joining, or separating Signs, and Truth consists in the putting together, or separating these Signs, according as the Things, which they stand for, agree or disgree.“<531> However, I argued above that the context of both passages discloses that ’things‘ denotes not only entities represented by ideas, but also ideas, since this depiction of truth concerns not only verbal, but also mental propositions.

There is another passage cited by Krüger which seems more promising. Here he


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understands again ’things‘ to denote entities existing in the outer world, and consequently reads this passage in the sense of Locke asserting two notions of truth: “When Ideas are so put together, or separated in the Mind, as they, or the Things they stand for do agree, or not, that is, as I may call it, mental Truth.“<532> According to Krüger,<533> Locke maintains: two ideas agree or disagree either if they agree or disagree (as in the case of intuitive and demonstrative knowledge) or if the signified existent entities agree or disagree (as in the case of sensitive knowledge). This means, ’things‘ and ’ideas‘ are understood to stand for two alternative ways to conceive the (dis-) agreement of ideas. More precisely, for Krüger, the correspondence-theoretic conception of truth asserts that the truth of (some) propositions is grounded in the outer world, namely when ideas (dis-) agree in accordance to existent entities; whereas the idea-theoretic notion depicts the truth of (other) propositions as being grounded in relations holding amongst ideas, namely when ideas (dis-) agree with respect to themselves.<534> As Krüger rightly sees, one import of this reading is that Locke first officially introduces a general, correspondence-theoretic notion of truth and then smuggles in a second, idea-theoretic one.<535>

Krüger therefore follows the usual path in the sense that he highlights Locke‘s explanations as specifying the reasons in which truth (and knowledge) is grounded.<536> If this approach is presumed, Krüger‘s interpretation of the last quotation is not unreasonable, since Locke often uses ’things‘ to denote entities existing in the world. And, if this second step is granted, he correctly concludes that Locke has two notions of truth: some propositions are grounded in the world, whereas the other ones are grounded in relations between ideas.<537>

Two objections. First, in the light of the suggested interpretation of Locke‘s foregoing definitions of truth, one naturally understands this passage as has been explained above: the (dis-) agreement of ideas is here conceived as being aquivalent to the (dis-) agreement of the signified entities, namely to express that the state of affairs holds (that is


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represented by the ideas). That is, in the quote, the truth of a mental proposition is described in two ways: to consist in the joining or separating of ideas in accordance with their (dis-) agreement, or respectively to consist in the joining or separating of ideas in accordance with the (dis-) agreement of the entities represented by the ideas. The (dis-) agreement of two ideas is taken to express the (dis-) agreement of the entities they signify.

Second, Locke uses ’things‘ also to refer to entities which can exist in the world, e. g. triangles. According to him, triangles exist in the world only if they are perfectly instantiated. And since he does not believe that this is actually possible, he refers to triangles as ’things‘ which can exist.<538> In this sense, Locke also refers to the members of sorts as ’things‘ irrespective of whether they actually exist or not, e. g. of circles.<539> In fact, this is a very natural way of speaking of entities and their properties. Triangles are entities which have certain features irrespective of whether they truly exist. Similarly, to say that a proposition about triangles (not) possessing the property X is true only if the two ideas are joined or separated as the things they stand for (dis-) agree, simply means that the proposition is true only if triangles have (not) the feature X. That is, one naturally talks of triangles as being entities having properties, even if one is convinced that, strictly speaking, there are no triangles instantiated in the world. In short, Locke‘s usage of ’things‘ establishes neither reading, since it sometimes denotes existing entities and sometimes entities which can exist. But in the light of the above interpretation ’things‘ should be understood to refer to entities for which it is semantically possible to exist.<540>

Moreover, it seems to me that the wider context of the quoted passages supports the here developed interpretation as well.<541> To see this, one has to recognize that, on Krüger‘s reading, Lockean sensitive knowledge naturally fits to the correspondence-theoretic


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notion whereas intuitive and demonstrative knowledge is tailor-made for an idea-theoretic conception because it is about existent entities. The correspondence-theoretic notion applies to sensitive knowledge because sensitive knowledge is grounded in the world. Likewise, the idea-theoretic notion relates to intuitive and demonstrative knowledge, since they are grounded in relations between ideas. Given Krüger‘s approach, one is almost forced to accept these correlations. But these correlations show that, if Krüger were right, Locke would discuss truth in a way very untypical for his approach elsewhere in the Essay. If Locke introduced the general topic of truth with a correspondence-theoretic notion, that were specific for propositions being grounded in sensitive knowledge, as Krüger maintains, Locke would have in mind propositions of only a finite number of entities that exist in the outer world, e. g. ’This piece of gold is yellow‘, since perceptual knowledge concerns for Locke only a finite number of entities.<542> However, when discussing truth, Locke‘s paradigms are not propositions about particulars, but intuitively or demonstratively known universal propositions, e. g. ’White is not black‘ or ’All men are animals‘. This indicates that Locke does not introduce a general definition of truth which effectively applies only to truths known by the senses. Furthermore, since Locke consciously distinguishes between intuitively and demonstratively known universal propositions and perceptually known propositions about particulars existing in the world, it would be unusual for him if he opened the discussion with the latter propositions and then moved on to the former ones without loosing a word.<543>

Furthermore, if Krüger were right, Locke would present a deeply incoherent account. As Krüger concedes, the idea-theoretic notion is present in Locke‘s definition of knowledge.<544> But since Locke insists that this definition also pertains to sensitive knowledge of existence, Locke‘s fundamental conception that known propositions are true would imply that his definition of knowledge entails an idea-theoretic notion of truth also for propositions being knowable by sensations. This sort of implication holds correspondingly for Locke‘s alleged official correspondence-theoretic conception of truth


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as well. That is, Locke‘s supposingly official definition of truth implies a correspondence-theoretic notion of knowledge as to inuitive and demonstrative knowledge. Thus, if Krüger‘s reading were correct, Locke would give two official portrayals of knowledge and truth which oppose each other. In the chapter on truth, Locke would introduce a notion of truth (and knowledge) that contradicts and competes with the previously advanced notion of knowledge (and truth) in the chapter on knowledge. The official notion of truth would not work with universal knowledge, whereas the official notion of knowledge would not work with sensitive knowledge. This however contradicts Locke‘s obvious intention to propose (official) notions of truth and knowledge that apply to all kinds of propositions. Locke did not believe to operate with two different and divergent notions of knowledge and truth.

By comparison, according to the here developed interpretation, in the last quoted sentence Locke does not maintain two different ways in which the (dis-) agreement of ideas has to be highlighted. Rather, he re-asserts his formula in two different ways, one time in terms of the (dis-) agreement of ideas and the other time in terms of the (dis-) agreement of the entities which are represented by ideas: “When Ideas are so put together, or separated in the Mind, as they, or the Things they stand for do agree, or not, that is, as I may call it, mental Truth.“<545> In my words: a mental proposition is true only if ideas are joined or separated in accordance with these ideas, i. e. in accordance with the (dis-) agreement of the entities being represented by these ideas. Like in Locke‘s general definition of truth, ’things‘ is here read as denoting entities which could, but need not exist. Locke‘s example immediately preceding the citation illustrates this well:


“When a Man has in his Mind the Idea of two Lines, viz. the Side and Diagonal of a Square, whereof the Diagonal is an Inch long, he may have the Idea also of the division of that Line, into certain number of equal parts, v.g. into Five, Ten, an Hundred, a Thousand, or any other Number, and may have the Idea of that Inch Line, being divisible or not divisible, into such equal parts, as a certain number of them will be equal to the Side-line. Now whenever he perceives, believes, or supposes such a kind of Divisibility to agree or disagree to his Idea of that Line, he, as it were, joins or separates those two Ideas, viz. the Idea of that Line, and the Idea of that kind of Divisibility, and so makes a mental Proposition, which is true or false, according as such a kind of Divisibility, a Divisibility into such aliquot parts,

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does really agree to that Line, or no.“<546>

The (dis-) agreement of two ideas corresponds to a fact that is represented by the (joining or separating of) ideas, e. g. certain mathematical objects (do not) have a certain mathematical feature. Thus, for Locke there is no need to have two notions of truth, since his notion does neither apply exclusively to ideas nor exclusively to existing things. His notion relates only to states of affairs represented by ideas which are joined or separated. It is left open whether these states of affairs are manifest in the world, i. e. relate to existing entities, or not. For instance, a true proposition about triangles relates to all possibly existing triangles. This is the reason why for Locke the question arises whether truth and knowledge is about reality.<547> His conception of knowledge and truth alone does not guarantee that knowledge and truth are about real entities existing in the outer world. Locke‘s way of speaking that the truth of a mental proposition consists in the (dis-) agreement of ideas or respectively in the (dis-) agreement of entities simply means that the state of affairs holds which is expressed by the joining or separating of the ideas making up the proposition.

d. The Three Degrees of Knowledge

I will now turn to Locke‘s theory of the three degrees of knowledge which will deepen the so far developed reading. By distinguishing different “degrees of knowledge“, Locke classifies knowledge in three types, namely in intuitive, demonstrative and sensitive knowledge. I will first shed light on these types of knowledge and subsequently come back to what Locke means by different “degrees“, i. e. as to which feature the three sorts of knowledge vary.

Locke‘s defining characterizations of intuitive and demonstrative knowledge are interconnected. Demonstrative knowledge is the perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas by intervening ideas.<548> As Locke puts it in other passages, in the case of


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demonstrative knowledge, there is a connection or dependence between the two ideas whose (dis-) agreement is perceived.<549> This nexus of two ideas is also depicted as a chain of ideas. The recognition of the holding of a chain of ideas leads to demonstrative knowledge, namely to the perception that the two ideas (dis-) agree which are connected by this chain. In this sense, the perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas is understood to be achieved by the cognition of a chain of ideas that shows the (dis-) agreement of the two ideas:


“Those intervening Ideas, which serve to shew their Agreement of anytwo others, are called Proofs; and where the Agreement or Disagreement is by this means plainly and clearly perceived, it is called Demonstration, it being shewn to the Understanding, and the Mind made see that it is so.“<550>

Locke exemplifies a demonstration by the chain of ideas that makes up a proof in Eucledeian mathematics, e. g. a succession of comparisons of angles and lines of geometrical figures.<551> Moreover, the perception or recognition of this chain of ideas consists in a series of immediate perceptions of which each represents a link. Each immediate perception is of the (dis-) agreement of two neighbouring ideas making up the chain. Immediate perceptions of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas therefore serve as the basic or elementary components of a demonstration. And since intuitive knowledge consists in the immediate perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas, a demonstration, i. e. the grasp of a chain of ideas, is a series of steps which are intuitively known.<552>

Importantly, Locke differentiates, as just quoted, between the perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas and the perception of a chain of ideas leading to the former perception. A proof is said to show the (dis-) agreement of two ideas. Similarly, a proof makes the mind “to perceive the Agreement or Repugnancy between two Ideas that need Proofs and the Use of Reason to shew it“.<553> “Perception“ is depicted as to be “produced by


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Demonstration“.<554> Crucially, this means, a demonstration is depicted as a truth yielding, cognitive process. For Locke, the recognition of the holding of a connection, or chain, between two ideas leads to the perception of their (dis-) agreement, i. e. to demonstrative knowledge. He does not identify the perception of the (dis-) agreement of ideas which represents demonstrative knowledge with the demonstration itself, i. e. with the succession of immediate perceptions. This implies, intuitive and demonstrative knowledge are distinguished by the kind of cognitive process by which one achieves these types of knowledge. Intuitive knowledge is immediate perception, demonstrative knowledge is mediated perception. The difference lies in the way of attaining knowledge, i. e. of obtaining perceptions of the (dis-) agreement of ideas.

Having said that, the question arises what an immediate and what an mediated perception is. As we have seen, demonstrative knowledge is highlighted is terms of intuitive knowledge. Demonstrative knowledge is achieved by the perception of a chain of ideas, namely by a series of immediate perceptions of the (dis-) agreement between ideas of a chain. Inquiring into mediated perceptions passes on the question as to immediate perceptions.

Locke‘s characterization of mediated perceptions implies moreover for intuitive knowledge that an immediate perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas does not involve the perception of the (dis-) agreement of these ideas in relation to other ideas. An immediate perception concerns only the two ideas whose (dis-) agreement is perceived. This manifests in Locke‘s depiction of intuitive knowledge as knowledge not affording proofs.<555> There are no further perceptions of (dis-) agreements of ideas needed. And since the (dis-) agreement of two ideas stands for a fact, immediate perception does not involve the recognition of other facts (besides the one which is immediately perceived.) Thus, given our previous interpretation of Locke‘s notion of knowledge, intuitive knowledge is the cognition of the holding of a state of affairs that does not require to become aware of other facts. In turn, mediated perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas is mediated by the recognition of other facts, namely facts which correspond to each step of the


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demonstration.

The question is however still unanswered what an immediate perception of a fact consists in. Locke‘s position can be highlighted by the types of propositions which can intuitively be known, and by his explanations why one can intuitively know them. By and large, Locke distinguishes intuitively known propositions into propositions which relate: to the identity of two ideas, to the diversity of two ideas, and to the inclusion of two ideas. For instance, ’Black is not white‘ corresponds to the diversity of the idea of black and the idea of white, ’Red is red‘ corresponds to the identity of the idea of red, and ’Gold is yellow‘ or ’Horses are animals‘ correspond to the inclusion of the idea of yellow by the idea of gold or respectively to the inclusion of the idea of horses by the idea of animals. But why do we know these kinds of propositions immediately? Locke advances an answer in connection with his argument on maxims, for instance, as to propositions on identity:


“§4. For, First, the immediate perception of the agreement or disagreement of Identity, being founded in the Mind‘s having distinct Ideas, this affords us as many self-evident Propositions, as we have distinct Ideas. Every one that has any Knowledge at all, has, as the Foundation of it, various and distinct Ideas: And it is the first act of the Mind, (without which it can never be capable of any Knowledge,) to know every one of its Ideas by it self, and distinguish it from others. Every one finds in himself, that he knows the Ideas he has; And that when more than one are there, he knows them distinctly and unconfusedly one from another. Which always being so, (it being impossible but that he should perceive what he perceives,) he can never be in doubt when any Idea is in his Mind, that it is there, and is that Idea it is; and that two distinct Ideas, when they are in his Mind, are there, and are not one and the same Idea.“<556>

Locke‘s issue is that “the immediate perception of the agreement or disagreement of Identity [is] founded in the Mind‘s having distinct Ideas“. Part of his explanation is that a necessary condition for knowledge is one‘s grasp of the content of ideas and to distinguish ideas as being different ideas.<557> The backdrop is of course that propositions are the objects of knowledge and that ideas are their constituents. In this context, the insistance on ideas being distinct simply means that they have a definite or determined content. Locke justifies this claim by referring to common experience: “Every one finds in himself, that


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he knows the Ideas he has; And that when more than one are there, he knows them distinctly and unconfusedly one from another.“ Having established the claim, he then concludes that one therefore cannot doubt which ideas one has and what their content is. Importantly, Locke does not assert that one is always aware of the ideas one has. He rather says that one fully grasps one‘s ideas, if one indeed fully recognizes them. This is indicated by his remark that “it being impossible but that he should perceive what he perceives“ and, as quoted below, by his reference to propositions being considered by the mind with attention. Thus, Locke‘s fundamental contention is that thought is perspicuous in principle, namely when one is appropriately aware of the content of one‘s consciousness. This means, as the cited passage continues, in the case of intuitive knowledge to understand a proposition entails or leads to the immediate awareness of the holding of the state of affairs that is represented by (the joining or separating of) the ideas:


“So that all such Affirmations, and Negations, are made without any possibility of doubt, uncertainty, or hestitation, and must necessarily assented to, as soon as understood; that is, as soon we have, in our Minds, determined Ideas, which the Terms in the Proposition stand for. And therefore where-ever the mind with attention considers any proposition, so as to perceive the two Ideas, signified by the terms and affirmed or denyed one of the other, to be the same or different; it is presently and infallibly certain of the truth of such a proposition [...]“.<558>

Locke proposes the same account also in connection with other types of intuitively known propositions, e. g. relating to the diversity of two ideas. To know intuitively that blue is not red, is to become aware that blue is not red in the light of our understanding of both the idea of blue and the idea of red.<559> To be more precisely, since two ideas have to be joined or separated to represent a state of affairs: the considering or conceiving of black not being white leads in the light of our comprehension of black and white to our recognition that the separating of the two ideas represents a fact, i. e. that the represented state of affairs obtains. And, obviously, this analysis applies to the inclusion of ideas as well.

Summing up, to know intuitively the holding of a state of affairs, is to become aware that


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the state of affairs holds simply by grasping or comprehending the state of affairs. That is, the truth of a maxim, or of any other intuitively knowledgable proposition, is known when one understands it. This is the reason for Locke why one immediately perceives the (dis-) agreement of two ideas in the case of intuitive knowledge. In the case of intuitive knowledge, one immediately perceives the holding of a state of affairs because it is one cognitive act to grasp what the state of affairs consists in and that it holds, and because this grasp is “the first act of the Mind“,<560> i. e. no other cognitive act is prerequisite to perform one‘s grasping.

Locke‘s reference to the identity, diversity and inclusion of ideas can easily be misunderstood in two different ways as portraying intuitive knowledge as consisting in the grasp of conceptual (-like) relationships. First, as has already been pointed out above, one should not confuse intuitive knowledge of ’Gold is yellow‘ with knowledge of ’’Gold‘ entails ’yellow‘‘. Locke has the former states of affairs in mind, not the latter ones. Intuitive knowledge is not knowledge of conceptual relationships. Second and more important, to elucidate intuitive knowledge of a fact as consisting in a grasp of a conceptual-like relationship holding between two ideas, would exclude intuitive knowledge of facts which are not represented by ideas between which a conceptual-like relationship holds. For example, according to Locke the immediate recognition of one‘s own existence does not consist in the perception that ’I‘ includes ’exist‘; what would indeed be a very daring claim. Instead, one is simply aware of one‘s own existence. This self-awareness is entailed or accompanied by (our consciousness of) mental states: “In every Act of Sensation, Reasoning, or Thinking, we are conscious to our selves of our Being; and, in this Matter, come not short of the highest degree of Certainty.“<561>

The point about intuitive knowledge therefore is that one immediately perceives a fact when considering or conceiving a state of affairs. And one should consequently read Locke‘s explanations about the identity, diversity or inclusion of ideas as highlighting why intuitive knowledge of certain kinds of facts is possible, namely of the identity or diversity of entities, of the ascription of properties, or of kind membership: if facts are


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represented by propositions that join or separate two ideas which are identical, diverse or partly identical, one comes to know the facts simply by comprehending them. In the same light, one has to interpret Locke‘s justification of why one intuitively knows one‘s own existence. He highlights the reason why one perceives this fact immediately, i. e. why one recognizes this fact solely by considering this state of affairs and without referring to other facts: the “omnipresence“ of the self-awareness of our own existence is the reason why one immediately knows that one exists when envisaging it.

As we have seen, no further consideration is needed for intuitive knowledge besides understanding (the content of) a proposition. Accordingly, Locke proposes an analoguous understanding of demonstrative knowledge. Demonstrative knowledge is achieved by a proof, i. e. by a succession of cognitions of facts that makes perspicuous the holding of the state of affairs in question. In other words, a demonstration establishes the truth of a proposition by providing a list of propositions whose truth are known by understanding them and which show, when considered all together, that the state of affairs holds being expressed by the proposition in question. Correspondingly, demonstrative knowledge is not the cognition of a conceptual-like relationship as explained above. First, demonstrative knowledge is concerned with sentences like ’The angles of triangles are equal to two right angles‘, but not with ’’Angles of triangle‘ entails ’being equal to two right angles‘‘. Second, demonstrative knowledge is also not (necessarily) achieved by insights in the holding of conceptual-like relationships, since Locke‘s demonstration of the existence of God involves the claim that oneself exists. Thus, in general, a demonstration is not a proof consisting of various premisses which correspond to conceptual-like relationships obtaining between two ideas making up the chain. By contrast, when Locke refers to the (dis-) agreement of ideas as being grounded or as corresponding to conceptual-like relationships, he speaks of “relations“ holding between ideas. And this is the reason why knowledge of existence is opposed to other realms of knowledge relating to relations between ideas.<562> (One should not however conflate this distinction with the opposition between sensitive knowledge and non-sensitive knowledge. For knowledge of existence comprises intuitive knowledge of one‘s own


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existence and demonstrative knowledge of God‘s existence as well.) But many commentators highlight the definition of knowledge as perception of the (not) obtaining of a relation between two ideas; that is, the (dis-) agreement relationship is understood as a relation between two ideas.<563> Locke, however, clearly distinguishes between knowledge of relations between ideas and knowledge of existence!

In the light of the deep connections between intuitive and demonstrative knowledge, sensitive knowledge seems a little bit out of place - at first sight. Sensitive knowledge is said to be the perception of the (dis-) agreement of ideas which is achieved by the senses. Sensitive knowledge therefore is neither an immediate perception nor a perception being the outcome of a mathematical-type demonstration. Moreover, sensitive knowledge is not about general propositions, but about particular truths concerning the existence of entities in the world (which are neither oneself nor God). Of course, sensations yield for Locke not only knowledge that entities exists, but also that they have properties, e. g. that my golden ring is malleable.

The aim of Locke‘s reasoning on sensitive knowledge is to establish that one can indeed attain it. This becomes manifest in the chapters on the degrees of knowledge and on knowledge of the existence of entities (which are neither oneself nor God), namely in his argument that one has knowledge of existence when one receives an idea by the senses. In the latter chapter, he concedes that, if taken by itself, an idea does not entail that the represented entities truly exist. The reason is that ideas can be generated in a way which does not warrant the existence of the depicted entities, e. g. when representations are memories or part of a dream. Locke however insists that one does have knowledge of existence when ideas are delivered by the senses. According to Locke, one is aware in sensation that the object of the sensation is the true cause of the sensation, namely that an entity existing in the outer world causes the sensation.<564> For Locke, this awareness is not established by reason, but is naturally given in sensation if we appropriately become aware of our perceptions and can thus exclude that they are not, for instance, part of a dream. Locke does concede that philosophical skepticism is coherent and possible as to the


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outer world. One can doubt whether sensations, which we commonly regard to acquire in ideal circumstances, really yield the truth of their content. But Locke contends that one can become aware in proper perceptions that one indeed is in causal interaction with the object of sensation. This awareness of the causal interaction guarantees for him the truth of sensations. And since he maintains a causal theory of perception, namely that in proper sensations the object of perception is its cause.

In addition, Locke mentions four “concurrent reasons“ which in the case of proper sensations can show as well that we do have proper sensations yielding truth and that they are not part of a dream.<565> They all aim at demonstrating that, when we are awake, dreams are for us distinguishable from decent sensations so that we know that we are not dreaming when we are not dreaming. The icing of the account is Locke‘s claim that to doubt the epistemic status of proper sensations is to undermine our notion or understanding of knowledge on which basis one can query only in the first place what knowledge is.<566> The reason is that for Locke proper sensations are the paradigm for knowledge and the successful exhibition of our faculty of knowledge; this can be seen from the fact that intuitive knowledge is compared to visual perception in best, i. e. truth conveying, circumstances.<567> Thus, according to him, to question whether sensations under ideal conditions are cases of knowledge is to dissolve what we mean by knowledge. Yet, for him, these further considerations seem to serve only to hammer additional nails in the skeptic‘s coffin. The core argument is his analysis of proper sensations as entailing our awareness that they really are decent sensations.

On this complex backdrop, Locke refutes the skeptic who raises doubts whether one has sensitive knowledge by the appeal to the possibility that all our ideas are part of a dream. One does know that sensations are not part of a dream, Locke rejoins, since an idea of an entity that is given in sensation is distinguishable from an idea of the entity that is part of a dream. And since Locke regards the skeptic to challenge sensitive knowledge only in this way, he concludes that sensitive knowledge is decent knowledge despite the noise of


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the skeptic.<568> Thus, for him, sensations show the (dis-) agreement of two ideas, i. e. the holding of a state of affairs which is represented by two ideas being joined or separated. For instance, under ideal conditions the sensation of a tree proves that there is a tree, namely that the idea of that tree agrees to the idea of existence.

In the light of Locke‘s conception of intuitive, demonstrative and sensitive knowledge, one can assess which feature distinguishes them in three degrees of knowledge. Locke speaks of different degrees in various ways, namely as to: the evidence of knowledge, the clearness of knowledge and the certainty of knowledge.<569> Locke apparently intends to raise the same, or at least roughly aquivalent, claim(s) when using these different expressions. But what do they mean?

The answer lies in Locke‘s explanations on the three sorts of knowledge which are couched in similar terms. For Locke, the evidence of demonstrative knowledge is less bright and clear than the one of intuitive knowledge because one does not immediately perceive the (dis-) agreement of ideas, i. e. the obtaining of a fact. As we have seen, the reason for the perception being non-instantly is that one first has to comprehend a proof, namely to grasp a chain of ideas. Moreover, the comprehension of a proof requires skill according to Locke, since, for instance, long deductions can easily cause mistakes.<570> On this background, I read Locke‘s assertions that in demonstrative knowledge evidence is not that bright and clear and that the truth of propositions is doubtful before one has comprehended a proof:<571> in demonstrative knowledge it is rather difficult to grasp facts which support a fact and to achieve thus certainty that the fact holds. In Locke‘s own words:


“§4. This Knowledge by intervening Proofs, though it be certain, yet the evidence of it is not altogether so clear and bright, nor the assent so ready, as in intuitive Knowledge. For though in Demonstration, the Mind does at last perceive the Agreement or Disagreement of the Ideas it considers; yet ‘tis not without pains and attention: There must be more than one transient view to find it. A steddy application and pursuit is required to this Discovery: And there must be a Progression by steps and degrees, before the Mind can in this arrive at Certainty,

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and come to perceive the Agreement or Repugnancy between two Ideas that need Proofs and the Use of Reason to shew it.
§5. Another difference between intuitive and demonstrative Knowledge, is, that though in the latter all doubt be removed, when by the Intervention of the intermediate Ideas, the Agreement or Disagreement is perceived; Yet before the Demonstration there was a doubt, [...]“.<572>

Correspondingly, I interpret Locke‘s contention that in intuitive knowledge the assent to propositions is irresistable and that there are no doubts as to the truth of such propositions:<573> in the case of intuitive knowledge one cannot do but recognize with certainty the truth of propositions, since one instantly grasps the (dis-) agreement of ideas when one considers the proposition because one‘s understanding of the proposition entails knowledge of its truth. Similarly, the uncertainty or doubtfulness of sensitive knowledge relates to the difficulty to identify sensations as being proper perceptions:<574> the refutation of the skeptic leads to the recognition or, perhaps better, to the self-assurance that one‘s sensations truly convey sensitive knowledge.

In short, knowledge differs in degree as to the difficulty of grasping the evidence showing that a state of affairs holds<575> and not, for instance, as to the “degrees of assurance with which a knowledge claim is made“.<576> These distinctions in difficulty are due to differences in the type of cognitive process producing knowledge. As Locke puts it: “The different clearness of our Knowledge seems to me to lie in the different way of Perception, the Mind has of the Agreement, or Disagreement of any of its Ideas.“<577> And, similarly, Locke says: “in each of which [scil. in each of the three degrees], there are different degrees and ways of Evidence and Certainty.“<578> Our difficulty to grasp the evidence conveying knowledge implies a corresponding difficulty to attain knowledge since the grasp of the


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evidence leads to the recognition of facts. There is no obstacle to grasp a proposition which can be known intuitively: intuitive knowledge is the brightest, clearest, and undoubtful as well as irresistable.<579> There are some difficulties to understand a proof showing the (dis-) agreement of ideas: demonstrative knowledge is less clear and certain, and is doubtful.<580> To become aware that one‘s sensation is a decent sensation is even a higher hurdle, since one might have to remove the philosophical doubt whether a given mental representation is truly attained by the senses and is not part of a dream: sensitive knowledge is the most doubtful one, its evidence is less clear and certain.<581> The three degrees of knowledge can be expressed in two or respectively four ways: as degrees of the certainty or doubtfulness of knowledge in the sense of the questionability of whether the proposition is true before one has knowledge of its truth; and as the degree of the clearness or evidence of knowledge in the sense of the difficulty to grasp the evidence conveying knowledge. Obviously, the certainty, or doubtfulness, of whether a proposition is true and the evidence, or clearness, of the facts grounding a truth correspond each other.<582>

It thus becomes plain that Locke uses two different notions of certainty. When contrasting knowledge and probability, knowledge is unequivocally called certain whereas probability is not.<583> This is a clear-cut, all-or-nothing distinction. By comparison, in the context of the three sorts of knowledge certainty is a question of degree, spanning from intuitive to sensitive knowledge. Yet, in both contexts, certainty relates to one‘s grasp of reasons conveying the cognition of a fact. To have simply a probable opinion, is not to have certainty that the presumed fact truly obtains, since one has not grasped reasons


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conveying knowledge; whereas to have knowledge, is to have certainty that the fact truly obtains. And the attainment of this certainty differs in degrees as to its difficulty, since the difficulty varies of grasping reasons conveying knowledge.

One should therefore not mistake Locke‘s use of ’certainty‘ and ’degrees‘ and conclude that there is a range of knowledge and probability for him which spans from intuitive knowledge to mere, unfounded conjectures. For even though Locke speaks of “degrees“, he does not mean that some knowledge is more genuine knowledge than other knowledge. This is indicated when he calls the three degrees also three sorts of knowledge.<584>

e. Knowledge and its Degrees

The account of the three degrees of knowledge thus deepens our understanding of Locke‘s general conception of knowledge. As argued before, knowledge is the cognition of the holding of a state of affairs that is mentally represented by ideas being joined or separated. ’Perception‘, is here understood as a success concept. To perceive the (dis-) agreement of ideas is the awareness of a state of affairs that truly obtains. We have now seen in addition that this perception is conceived as the outcome of a truth yielding cognitive process. Knowledge, the perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas, is achieved by either intuition, or demonstration, or sensation. Locke actually delineates this innocuously when maintaining:


“[...] That we can have no Knowledge farther, than we can have Perception of that Agreement, or Disagreement: Which Perception being, 1. Either by Intuition, or the immediate comparing any two Ideas; or, 2. By Reason, examining the Agreement, or Disagreement of two Ideas, by the Intervention of some others: Or, 3. By Sensation, perceiving the Existence of particular Things.“<585>

In addition, this reconstruction coheres with Locke‘s account of habitual knowledge. Contrary to so-called actual knowledge, which we have discussed so far only, habitual


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knowledge does not consist in the actual perception of the (dis-) agreement of two ideas.<586> Habitual knowledge is rather the result of becoming aware of reasons which show that once one recognized reasons which showed the (dis-) agreement of ideas, i. e. the holding of a fact. In this sense, habitual knowledge is knowledge being grounded in reasons which only indirectly show that ideas (dis-) agree. Roughly speaking, for example, if one (truly) remembers that in the past one knew the proof for a particular proposition, one habitually knows the proposition.<587> In this case, veridical remembering is the truth yielding process which leads to knowledge. In fact, veridical remembrance is involved in demonstrations as well, since one can know only one step at a time and thus has to consider all steps at once at the end of a proof, as Locke indicates.<588> Similarly, Locke concedes, one likewise speaks of propositions which can be intuitively known as being habitually known. To know habitually in this sense, is to have the disposition of immediate actual knowledge, namely to perceive immediately the (dis-) agreement of ideas as soon as one considers or reflects on the proposition.<589>

Locke justifies this comprehension of knowledge as comprising habitual knowledge by pointing out that otherwise an absurd or uncommon understanding of knowledge would be the consequence. A person would know at most only one fact, since subjects can actually perceive only one (dis-) agreement of ideas at the same time.<590> The account of habitual knowledge thus confirms that Locke‘s conception of knowledge distinguishes between the perception of the reasons showing that a fact obtains and the perception of the holding of the fact. Locke however focuses on actual knowledge, on intuitive, demonstrative, sensitive knowledge.

One should finally note that according to Locke knowledge of a fact does not include or entail knowledge that one truly knows the fact. This is manifest in his claim that we can mistakingly believe to have grasped a proof and to have achieved demonstrative knowledge.<591> For, if one can mistake an alleged proof for a correct one, Locke can hardly


264

maintain as well that one knows to have knowledge, if one has knowledge. The reason is simple. If one could somehow distinguish between knowing and mistakingly knowing, one would not wrongly believe anymore to know something, since one could easily check whether one really knows it. But if one cannot distinguish between genuinely and allegedly knowing, one cannot know in the case of knowledge that one really knows something. Given Locke‘s contention that one can be mistaken, he can hardly believe that in the case of knowledge one knows unmistakingly that one knows a fact. This makes plain, Locke claims only that knowledge of a fact implies grasping of reasons showing the holding of the fact. Given Locke‘s way of ideas, his definition of knowledge turns rather out to be as innocuous as Locke thinks it is: knowledge consists in the recognition that a state of affairs obtains; and this recognition is the outcome of a cognitive process which is either an intuition, or demonstration, or sensation that consists in the awareness of reasons showing the holding of that state of affairs.

Fußnoten:

<484>

525, IV.i.1f.

<485>

Works IV, 360. In corresponding to Stillingfleet and his objection that sensitive knowledge does not live up to Locke‘s official notion of knowledge, Locke insists on his position of the Essay declaring that in the case of sensitive knowledge an idea of an entity, which is attained by the senses, (dis-) agrees with the idea of existence. Thus, in this light one has to read similar passages in the Essay, namely as consciously elucidating sensitive knowledge as the perception of the (dis-) agreement between an idea shown by the senses and the idea of existence: “The fourth and last sort [of knowledge] is, that of actual existence agreeing to any Idea“ (527; IV.i.7). Yolton, however, takes Locke to talk confusingly in his letter to Stillingfleet and therefore conceives the agreement relationship as holding between an idea and an entity. Yolton, (1970), 110ff. On the face of it, this seems to me not plausible. Given the here developed reading, it is also not necessary to regard Locke as being confused.

<486>

Jenkins (1983), 196f.

<487>

525, IV.i.2.

<488>

525, IV.i.2.

<489>

525, IV.i.2.

<490>

654, IV.xv.1.

<491>

525, IV.i.1.

<492>

Cp. 530f, IV.ii.1, and 720f, IV.xxi.

<493>

Klemmt mistakes Locke in this way. Cp. Klemmt (1952), 114-17.

<494>

Cp. 9c.

<495>

Cp. Alexander (1985), 282f; Ayers (1991), I, 103 and 126; Jenkins (1983), 196ff; Krüger (1973), 144f; Lowe (1995), 171-74; Osler (1970), 11f; Specht (1989), 121; Woolhouse (1983), 57ff, and (1994) 152f and 154f.

<496>

Cp. Ayers (1991), I, 103 and 126; Jenkins (1983), 196; Krüger (1973), 144f; Lowe (1995), 174; Osler (1970), 11f; Specht (1989), 121; Woolhouse (1983), 57ff, and (1994) 152f and 154f.

<497>

Cp. Gibson (1931), 166f and 176; Mabbott (1973), 90.

<498>

Cp. 6a.

<499>

574-79, IV.v.

<500>

For instance, ’All centaurs are animals‘. Cp. 576f, IV.v.6f.

<501>

575, IV.v.2.

<502>

This claim to read ’things‘ in this way is not unimportant because Krüger reads the quote differently as implying a correspondence-theoretic notion of truth which relates to ’things‘ in the sense of entities existent in the world. Cp. Krüger (1973), 139f. Below, I will discuss the plausibility of Krüger‘s interpretation. Cp. 9c.

<503>

576, IV.v.5.

<504>

576f, IV.v.6f.

<505>

Cp. Puster (1999), 95.

<506>

471, IV.vii.1.

<507>

575, IV.v.2.

<508>

576, IV.v.5.

<509>

575f, IV.v.5.

<510>

By contrast, Krüger reads again the quote as implying a correspondence-theoretic notion of truth which relates to ’things‘ in the sense of entities existent in the world. This implies, Krüger takes the last sentence of IV.v.5 as relating only to verbal propositions. However, as argued, the sentence refers to both mental and verbal propositions. Cp. Krüger (1973), 140. Below, I will discuss the plausibility of Krüger‘s interpretation. Cp. 9c.

<511>

576, IV.v.6.

<512>

578, IV.v.9.

<513>

576, IV.v.6.

<514>

575f; IV.v.5f.

<515>

This view of Locke‘s notion of knowledge is not always that explicitly expressed by interpretors, as just reconstructed, but it is entailed in their comments. This becomes often manifest by their ascription of two claims to Locke: knowledge of a fact is defined as the perception of a conceptual (-like) relationship between two ideas; and this knowledge is of the fact being represented by the two ideas. Knowledge of a fact is thus effectively conceived as consisting in the perception of the reasons why a fact holds, namely in the recognition of a conceptual relationship between the ideas which represent the fact. Cp. Alexander (1985), 282f; Ayers (1991), I, 103 and 126; Jenkins (1983), 196ff; Krüger (1973), 144 and 146; Lowe (1995), 171-74; Specht (1989), 121f; Woolhouse (1983), 57ff, and (1994) 152f and 154f.

<516>

This view is often expressed by saying that Lockean knowledge is the perception of a relation between two ideas. Cp. Alexander (1985), 282f; Ayers (1991), I, 103 and 126; Jenkins (1983), 196ff; Krüger (1973), 144 and 146; Lowe (1995), 174; Osler (1970), 11f; Specht (1989), 121f; Woolhouse (1983), 57ff, and (1994) 152f and 154f. Cp. also Aaron (1937), 238; Gibson (1931), 166f and 176; Mabbott (1973), 90.

<517>

Cp. 9d.

<518>

Cp. Osler (1970), 14.

<519>

Works IV, 360.

<520>

Ayers (1991), I, 154-59.

<521>

536ff, IV.ii.14.

<522>

This reading is confirmed by other passages where sensitive knowledge is likewise called knowledge in connection with skepticism. Cp. 630-34, IV.xi1-7.

<523>

Cp. 9d.

<524>

Cp. Alexander (1985), 282f; Ayers (1991), I, 103 and 126; Jenkins (1983), 196ff; Lowe (1995), 174; Specht (1989), 129f.

<525>

Cp. Krüger (1973), 144f. Krüger acknowledges that Locke‘s definition of knowledge corresponds to the assumed idea-theoretic notion of truth. Mattern, by contrast, accepts Krüger‘s interpretation of two different notions of truth, but argues on this basis that one has to distinguish between two corresponding notions of the (dis-) agreement of ideas, i. e. between two distinct notions of knowledge. Cp. Mattern (1978).

<526>

Krüger (1973), 139f.

<527>

575, IV.v.2.

<528>

Krüger (1973), 140.

<529>

Krüger (1973), 141-45.

<530>

Krüger (1973), 140f.

<531>

576, IV.v.5. Cp. Krüger (1973), 140.

<532>

576, IV.v.6.

<533>

Krüger (1973), 143.

<534>

Krüger (1973), 144.

<535>

Krüger (1973), 143f.

<536>

Krüger (1973), 146.

<537>

Krüger (1973), 144.

<538>

565, IV.iv.6.

<539>

416, III.iii.14.

<540>

As has been delineated in the chapter on archetypes, except for contradictory ideas, e. g. ideas of bodies being uniformerly yellow and blue, only ideas of substances can be fantastical, e. g. ideas of centaurs. Cp. 1b. But even fictional beings like centaurs are considered as being capable of existing in nature, since they are said to be animals. Cp. 577, IV.v.7. In other words, unicorns are animals in a full blooded sense.

<541>

This objection could however be rebutted by a reading similar to Krüger‘s interpretation. Mattern accepts Krüger‘s interpretation of two different notions of truth, but argues on this basis that one has to distinguish between two corresponding notions of the (dis-) agreement of ideas, i. e. between two distinct notions of knowledge. Cp. Mattern (1978).

<542>

536f, IV.ii.14.

<543>

536f, IV.ii.14.

<544>

Krüger (1973), 144.

<545>

576, IV.v.6.

<546>

576, IV.v.6.

<547>

577f, IV.v.7f. Cp. 10b.

<548>

531-4, IV.2.2-7.

<549>

546, IV.iii.14; 582ff, IV.vi.5-10.

<550>

532, IV.ii.3.

<551>

531f, IV.ii.2.

<552>

533, IV.ii.7.

<553>

532, IV.ii.4.

<554>

533, IV.ii.6.

<555>

533f, IV.ii.7.

<556>

592, IV.viii.4.

<557>

Cp. 597, IV.vii.10.

<558>

592, IV.viii.4. Cp. 56-59, I.ii.17-21.

<559>

594, IV.viii.4. Cp. 597, IV.vii.10.

<560>

592, IV.viii.4.

<561>

619, IV.ix.3.

<562>

527, IV.i.7.

<563>

Cp. Alexander (1985), 282f; Ayers (1991), I, 103 and 126; Jenkins (1983), 196ff; Lowe (1995), 171-74; Osler (1970), 11f; Specht (1989), 121; Woolhouse (1983), 57ff, and (1994) 152f and 154f.

<564>

Cp. Ayers (1991), I, 155-60.

<565>

632ff, IV.xi.4-7.

<566>

Cp. Ayers (1991), I, 155-59.

<567>

531, IV.ii.1.

<568>

537f, IV.ii.14. Cp. 631-34, IV.xi.3-7.

<569>

530, IV.ii.1, and 538, IV.ii.14.

<570>

534, IV.ii.7. Cp. 551, IV.iii.19.

<571>

532f, IV.ii.4f.

<572>

532f, IV.ii.4f.

<573>

531, IV.ii.1; 532f, IV.ii.4f.

<574>

537, IV.ii.14.

<575>

Specht highlights Lockean degrees of knowledge in this sense as well. Cp. Specht (1989), 123f. But since, he maintains the orthodox view of Locke‘s definition of knowledge, Specht‘s account does not connect Locke‘s definition with his conception of the three degrees in the way proposed here.

<576>

Jenkins (1983), 201. Jenkins differentiates between knowledge and knowledge claims. Thus, for him, Locke‘s notion of the degrees of knowledge does not apply to knowledge of propositions, but to knowledge claims which might be true or not.

<577>

530, IV.ii.1.

<578>

538, IV.ii.14.

<579>

531, IV.ii.1; 532f, IV.ii.4f.

<580>

532f, IV.ii.4f.

<581>

537, IV.ii.14.

<582>

Ayers elucidates the three degrees of knowledge in terms of its certainty as well. His interpretation differs from the here expounded one, but both explications obviously imply one another. According to Ayers, knowledge differs as to the possibility to be mistaken to know facts, i. e. to raise false knowledge claims. Cp. Ayers (1991), I, 95.

<583>

654ff, IV.xv.1-4. Cp. 652f, IV.xiv.1-4, and 44, I.i.3. In his correspondence to Stillingfleet, Locke‘s identification of knowledge with certainty is obvious: “[...] With me, to know to be certain, is the same thing; what I know, that I am certain of; and what I am certain of, that I know. What reaches to knowledge, I think may be called certainty; and what comes short of certainty, I think cannot be called knowledge.“ Cp. Works, IV, 145.

<584>

537f, IV.ii14.

<585>

539, IV.iii.2.

<586>

527f, IV.i.8.

<587>

528ff, IV.i.9.

<588>

534, IV.ii.7.

<589>

528, IV.i.9.

<590>

528, IV.i.8.

<591>

534, IV.ii.7.


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