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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690

An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding
John Locke (1632-1704)
London: Printed by Elizabeth Holt for Thomas Basset, 1690
First edition, first issue
B1290 1690

The foundation work of English political theory, this work is also fundamental in the history of psychology. Between 1763 and 1776, John Locke’s work was especially popular reading among English colonists in North America. Locke’s Essay was the first “modern” attempt to analyze the whole range of human knowledge. He applied an Anglo-Saxon penchant for facts to the study of philosophy (a field long-dominated by speculative enquiry) and concluded that most knowledge emanated from experience. Locke’s Essay was twenty years in the making. He completed the initial draft in 1671, but was unable to work on it further until his escape to Holland in 1683. Final revisions were completed by the time he returned to England in 1689. Although Locke was uncertain about the book’s reception, it quickly ran to several editions. Locke’s theories were continued by David Hume and Immanuel Kant. A busy man, philosopher Locke was also a physician and practiced medicine, although to a limited extent. Printer Elizabeth Holt carried on her husband’s business after his death in 1671. In 1688, she was ordered to “lay down the trade of printing,” part of growing strict control of the printing trade. To continue printing risked having her shop closed down. This may have been one of her last printing jobs. University of Utah copy bound in contemporary paneled calf.

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