What Is John Locke’s Epistemology?


Diego Sanchez

John Locke is a prominent philosopher known for his contributions to epistemology. Epistemology refers to the study of knowledge and beliefs and how they are acquired, justified, and validated. In this article, we will explore John Locke’s epistemology in depth.

The Basics of John Locke’s Epistemology

At the core of John Locke’s epistemology is the belief that knowledge comes from experience. This theory is known as empiricism. According to Locke, the human mind is a blank slate at birth, and all knowledge is gained through sensory experience.

Locke’s theory of knowledge has two important aspects: sensation and reflection. Sensation refers to the information we receive through our senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Reflection refers to our ability to think about and reason on this information.

Locke believed that all ideas come from either sensation or reflection. He argued that our minds are not capable of creating new ideas but only combining existing ones.

Primary and Secondary Qualities

One of the most significant contributions John Locke made to epistemology was his distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities refer to objective properties such as shape, size, motion, number, and texture. These qualities are inherent in objects themselves and can be measured objectively.

On the other hand, secondary qualities refer to subjective properties such as color, taste, smell, sound – properties that exist only in our perception of objects.

Locke argued that primary qualities are real because they exist independently of our perception while secondary qualities are simply products of our senses.

Tabula Rasa

John Locke’s theory of tabula rasa – Latin for blank slate – suggests that every person is born without innate ideas or preconceived notions about the world. Instead, we acquire knowledge through experience.

Locke believed that education was essential in shaping an individual’s beliefs and knowledge. He believed that education should focus on developing critical thinking skills and encouraging individuals to question authority and conventional wisdom.


In conclusion, John Locke’s epistemology is centered around empiricism – the idea that all knowledge comes from experience. He believed that we acquire knowledge through our senses and reflection, and that education plays a crucial role in shaping our beliefs and ideas.

Locke’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities remains a fundamental concept in philosophy, while his theory of tabula rasa has had a significant impact on modern education practices. Understanding John Locke’s epistemology is essential in comprehending the development of modern philosophy and the evolution of human thought.