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Locke and Berkeley


            Examine the distinction which Locke draws (or attempts to draw) between primary' and secondary' qualities. On what grounds does Berkeley object to this distinction? Are his objections sound?.
             Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities forms a significant part of his theory of representative realism. This theory can be seen as a correction (rather than an analysis) of the general, unconsidered views of the average person which can be categorised as nave realism. In his work, An essay concerning human understanding, Locke discusses the theory that the ideas we have, in our minds, of the external world are merely representative of what is really out there. He considers how much we can really know about the objects we perceive and this analysis leads him to distinguish two types of quality present in the external world which our perception recognises in different ways. He calls these primary and secondary qualities.
             Primary qualities are those which are inseparable from the object of our perception in that the object would cease to be as it is if these qualities were not present in it. Our ideas of these qualities closely resemble the actual qualities themselves. An example of this, which reflects the Newtonian physical background from which Locke was working, is mass, particularly as opposed to weight which is relative to gravity etc.
             In contrast, secondary qualities are not essential to the essence of an object. We could easily imagine an object with, for example, a different colour - it would not change the essential nature of it. Locke says that this is because the secondary qualities are not present in the external world in the same way as primary qualities - they are merely powers in the object to produce certain sensations in us by means of their primary qualities. It is this idea which is most at odds with our nave realism - we tend to think of colour as being just as integral to objects as shape is (shape being one of Locke's primary qualities) - the redness of an object is just as apparent to us as its roundness.


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