Category: secondary


I’ve done a little summarising of the Locke we’ve done this week, but I’m going to save the primary & secondary ideas stuff until you’ve done the homework!

John Locke ‘Primary & Secondary Qualities
  • Explain Locke’s distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ qualities. 
  • Why does Locke feel it is necessary to distinguish between primary & secondary qualities?
  • Can you think of any problems or flaws in the idea of primary & secondary qualities?
  • Why does this distinction make Locke a realist? 
  • Could he justify or ground his ‘realism’ – if so how? if not why not?
  • What are the implications of Locke’s view in terms of constructing an epistemological theory?  
Have a good think about these things and say as much as you can. 
Due Wednesday 21st October
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This is a little out of order, but it occurred to me that we (I) hadn’t blogged anything about this and I should have done. (I’ve also pasted it into an earlier Locke note, but you might not notice it there. Or here probably.)

We saw how Locke’s views on ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ qualities emphasise his belief in the physical world as grounding the sense data that empiricism relies on.

Locke’s famous snowball has primary qualities of ‘solidity, extension, figure and mobility’, in other words it takes up a certain round space in the world, you can see it and if it hits you, you’ll feel it! These qualities are in the snowball itself and will not vary according to the circumstances of the person experiencing it: they are what we might call (although I don’t think Locke does) objective qualities.

On the other hand the secondary qualities such as colours sounds and tastes vary as the circumstances of the person experiencing the snowball vary: the first snowball to hit you feels colder that than the fifth, the colour and sound it presents to your senses varies according to when, where and how you experience it.

So, if Locke thinks that the objects in the real world have primary qualities that are independent of observers then he is a ‘realist’. He thinks the world is, and is in a particular way.