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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

The construction of John Locke’s publishing persona is an interesting example of authorship. A Letter Concerning Toleration was published in 1686, in French, and then in English in 1690, without Locke’s name attached to it. Causing much heated debate, Locke then published three anonymous pamphlets in response to the criticism. In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, drafted in 1671 but not published until 1690, Locke is named as its author.

[2] "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding." Wikipedia. 28 Nov 2007

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Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689) outlined a theory of human knowledge, identity and selfhood. To Locke, knowledge was not the discovery of anything either innate or outside of the individual, but simply the accumulation of “facts” derived from sensory experience. To discover truths beyond the realm of basic experience, Locke suggested an approach modeled on the rigorous methods of experimental science.

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"Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was a live, bi-directional, interactive, telematic, interspecies sonic installation I created with Ikuo Nakamura between Lexington (Kentucky), and New York. In this work, a canary dialogues over a regular phone line with a plant (Philodendron) 600 miles away. The piece was exhibited in the context of my show Dialogues, realized in 1994 simultaneously on the Internet and in museums and galleries. "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was presented publicly from October 21 to November 11, 1994, simultaneously at the Center for Contemporary Art, University of Kentucky, Lexington, and the Science Hall, in New York.

John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Draft A of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: the Earliest Extant Autograph Version, edited by Peter H. Nidditch (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1980) Special Collections B 1289 NN12
"Essay Concerning Human Understanding", YLEM, Vol. 15, No.4, August, p. 4; also published on the Internet in Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Volume 3, No. 8, August 1995, MIT Press.Locke published three works that eventually became his claims to fame; in 1689 he wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration and Two Treatises of Government, and in 1690 he wrote An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. A Letter Concerning Toleration, originally published in Latin, was actually published by a friend of Locke’s without his knowledge. It expresses his opinions on religious tolerance; opposing the views of Thomas Hobbes, who claimed that religious uniformity was the key to peace, Locke saw religious uniformity as a road to civil unrest. He asserts that civil unrest occurs when leaders attempt to force one religion upon people who want to choose their own beliefs. According to Locke, if leaders would simply allow citizens to choose their own religions (with the exception of atheists and Roman Catholics) then peace could be achieved; violence, he claimed, was not the answer. His essay essentially breaks down into three central conclusions:John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Draft B of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: the Fullest Extant Autograph Version, edited by Peter H. Nidditch (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1982) Special Collections B 1289 NN13An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is sectioned into four books. Taken together, they comprise an extremely long and detailed theory of knowledge starting from the very basics and building up.An Essay Concerning Human Understanding concerns the foundation of human knowledge and understanding. Locke describes the mind at birth as a blank slate filled later through experience.The English philosopher and political theorist John Locke (1632-1704) laid much of the groundwork for the Enlightenment and made central contributions to the development of liberalism. Trained in medicine, he was a key advocate of the empirical approaches of the Scientific Revolution. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” he advanced a theory of the self as a blank page, with knowledge and identity arising only from accumulated experience. His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect “life, liberty and estate” deeply influenced the United States’ founding documents. His essays on religious tolerance provided an early model for the separation of church and state.