Friday, August 27, 2021

Philosophy 101 - Week 4 - Metaphysics and Epistemology

Do you believe Locke's primary and secondary qualities adequately explain all of reality?

Locke explains primary qualities as the substance of the thing which "solidity, extension, figure, or mobility" could not be taken from it if it were divided.  The thing, thus retains a quality that can be perceived (Locke).

Secondary qualities due to their substance "produce various sensations in us" such as the ideas of color, taste, sounds and the like (Locke).

"Thus, for example, the primary qualities of this rose include all of its quantifiable features, its mass and momentum, its chemical composition and microscopic structure; these are the features of the thing itself. The secondary qualities of the rose, on the other hand, include the ideas it produces in me, its yellow color, its delicate fragrance; these are the merely the effects of the primary qualities of its corpuscles on my eyes and nose" (Kemerling).

While a useful framework for explaining most of our reality, I do not think it is adequate to explain all of reality.  While Steve might see a red rose on a green leafed plant, Michel, who is color-blind might see the entire plant as one single shade of color.  The two might argue over the primary qualities of the rose (which is the same), but not comprehend the secondary qualities are different due to their lack of knowledge of color-blindness.  The broader reality is that primary qualities may be stable, but secondary qualities may present differently to different people.


Locke, John. “An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 2 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 3 and 4.”, 4 Jan. 2004,

Kemerling G. Locke: Ideas. Published 2011.

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