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“one of the epoch-making works in the history of philosophy”

LOCKE, JOHN. An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding

London: Printed by Eliz. Holt, for Thomas Basset, 1690

Folio. Contemporary paneled calf, red leather label. Rebacked preserving spine, old endpapers. Manuscript correction on A3v. A very good, fresh copy.

FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE (with the integral Eliz. Holt title-page). An excellent, fresh copy of this classic of philosophy, the first modern attempt to analyze knowledge. “Few books in the literature of philosophy have so widely represented the spirit of the age and country in which they have appeared, or have so influenced opinion afterwards” (Fraser).

The Essay has long been recognized as one of the great works of English literature of the 17th century, and one of the epoch-making works in the history of philosophy. It has been one of the most repeatedly reprinted, widely disseminated and read, and profoundly influential books of the past three centuries” (Nidditch).

“Locke is often classified as the first of the great English empiricists (ignoring the claims of Bacon and Hobbes). This reputation rests on Locke’s greatest work, the monumental An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Locke sold the copyright to the publisher Thomas Basset for thirty pounds plus six bound copies of every later edition and ten shillings for every sheet of additions to later printings. By 1800 twenty editions had appeared, indicating work’s great influence. Locke’s intellectual heirs include Berkeley, Hume, and Bentham and the Radicals.

“Locke was the first to take up the challenge of Bacon and to attempt to estimate critically the certainty and the adequacy of human knowledge when confronted with God and the universe. In the past, similar enquiries had been vitiated by the human propensity to extend them beyond the range of human understanding, and to invent causes for what it cannot explain. Therefore, Locke’s first task was to ascertain ‘the original certainty and extent of human knowledge’ and, excluding ‘the physical consideration of the mind, to show how far it can comprehend the universe.’ His conclusion is that though knowledge must necessarily fall short of complete comprehension, it can at least be ‘sufficient’; enough to convince us that we are not at the mercy of pure chance, and can to some extent control our own destiny” (Printing and the Mind of Man 164).