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Complex Ideas

25 September, 2015 - 10:43

So far, we’ve dealt only with simple ideas. But our experience doesn’t seem to come to us packaged in simple, discrete elements. So Locke needs to deal with how we generate experiences (and thoughts) of ordinary objects—what he calls ‘substances’– out of simple ideas.

(From II.xii.1—Made by the Mind out of simple Ones) We have hitherto considered those ideas, in the reception whereof the mind is only passive, which are those simple ones received from sensation and reflection before mentioned, whereof the mind cannot make one to itself, nor have any idea which does not wholly consist of them. … Ideas thus made up of several simple ones put together, I call complex.

(From II.xii.2—Made voluntarily) In this faculty of repeating and joining together its ideas, the mind has great power in varying and multiplying the objects of its thoughts, infinitely beyond what sensation or reflection furnished it with: but all this still confined to those simple ideas which it received from those two sources, and which are the ultimate materials of all its compositions.

(From II.xii.3—Complex ideas are either of Modes, Substances, or Relations)

(From II.xxiii.1—Ideas of substances, how made) The mind being, as I have declared, furnished with a great number of the simple ideas, conveyed in by the senses as they are found in exterior things, or by reflection on its own operations, takes notice also that a certain number of these simple ideas go constantly together; which being presumed to belong to one thing, and words being suited to common apprehensions, and made use of for quick dispatch are called, so united in one subject, by one name; which, by inadvertency, we are apt afterward to talk of and consider as one simple idea, which indeed is a complication of many ideas together: because, as I have said, not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist, and from which they do result, which therefore we call substance.

  1. List the ideas necessary to construct an idea of a substance like Helga (a dog).