John Locke: Of
the Conduct of the Understanding
Edited by F. W. Garforth
INTRODUCTION by Francis W. Garforth
It is impossible in this brief introduction to give a detailed account of Locke's full and varied life. Those who want such an account must turn to the biographies of Fox Bourne and Cranston or to the brief summaries in the editions of Some Thoughts Concerning Education mentioned in the bibliography. However, some knowledge of Locke's main interests and activities is essential to understanding Of the Conduct of the Understanding.
Locke went to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1652, where he received the bachelor's degree in 1656 and the master's two years later. The way seemed open for an academic career, and he was in fact elected to a lectureship in Greek in 1660; but in the meantime other interests had claimed his attention. In the seventeenth century a great part of the student's training consisted of exercises in formal logic and disputation which were an inheritance from the scholastic disciplines of the Middle Ages. Locke was sickened by these, for they seemed to him futile and irrelevant, neither training the mind nor leading it in the path of knowledge (see, for instance, Essay Concerning Human Understanding IV, xvii and Of the Conduct of the Understanding, sections 7, 29, 30 etc.) Partly for this reason, and partly, no doubt, because of temperament and character, he was attracted to a very different approach to knowledge and learning which was then being developed by a group of men at Oxford. Chief of these seas Robert Boyle, best known now for his "law" on the volume and pressure of gases.
The aim of these men seas not to seek knowledge by arguing deductively from a priori principles to supposed fact, which was the method of the scholastic logic derived from Aristotle; instead they sought by patient observation and experiment to arise at a knowledge based on evidence, a knowledge which represented the world as it actually is, not as it is portrayed (often falsely) by human presupposition. They were laying the foundations of modern scientific method, which, though it employs deductive logic in exploring the consequences of its hypotheses, is founded on observation and the conclusions inferred induced from it. The activities and discussions of these men led to the foundation of the Royal Society, of which Locke himself became a Fellow some Shears later. He associated himself with them, became a friend of Boyle (who was five years older), and assisted him in some of his experiments. No doubt it was at a meeting with some of them that there was sown the seed which grew into his major philosophical work, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Locke describes it thus in the Epistle to the Reader which prefaces the book:
Were it fit to trouble thee with the history of thisEssay, I should tell thee that five or six friends, meeting at my chamber and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves quickly at a stand by the difficulties that rose on every side. After we had awhile puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon enquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with.
Within his wider interest in science Locke had developed a particular attachment to medicine and had devoted considerable time to its study. In 1666 he applied for the degree of Doctor of Medicine; the application was unsuccessful, but he was eventually, in 1674, awarded both the bachelor's degree and a faculty to practice. His medical studies led to another important friendship, with the eminent physician Thomas Sydenham, whose experimental approach to medicine was entirely in accord with his own outlook. Thus Locke's interest in science was far from merely theoretical; in the practice of medicine he had the opportunity to apply and to elaborate the principles and methods he had learnt from Boyle and his Oxford associates.
Locke developed another major interest during his years at Oxford, namely in politics and civil affairs. This, like his interest in science, remained with him for the rest of his life and indeed came to occupy more of his time than any other. In 1665 he was appointed secretary to a brief diplomatic mission; shortly after his return he was introduced to Lord Ashley (later the Earl of Shaftesbury) and w as appointed his personal physician. In fact his responsibilities were far wider than this; he also acted as Ashley's secretary and adviser and as tutor to his son and grandson. Through Lord Ashley, Locke became involved in the political intrigues of his time, which resulted eventually in the revolution of 16S8, the overthrow of James II, and the accession of William. For a time it seems that he may have been in danger of his life; at any rate he fled to Holland and remained there for six years in a kind of voluntary exile. From his return in 1689 almost to the end of his life in 1704 he held various official posts which kept him in close touch with the government; such, for instance, leas his membership of the Council of Trade.
It can be seen from this sketch of Locke's interests and activities that he was no cloistered academic but a man of wide and varied experience who wrote, not as a spectator, but as one deeply involved in the political and intellectual movements of his time. The range of his experience is reflected in his writings. Of these the most important is his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which was begun about 1670, finished during his sojourn in Holland, and finally published in 1690. More will be said of this later. His political works include the Epistola de Tolerantia (1689), a Second and Third Letter Concerning Toleration (1690 and 1692), Two Treatises of Government (1689), and various papers on financial policy. He also wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) and various notes and an essay (these posthumously published) on the letters of St. Paul. His educational writings include Some Thoughts Concerning Education, about which more will be said later, and (if one chooses so to regard it) Of the Conduct of the Understanding. Locke's qualifications for writing on education were by no means as strong as those in philosophy and politics, but apart from his tutorships within the Ashler family he had also taken charge for two years of the son of a wealthy merchant, Sir John Banks, during a period of residence in France. Moreover, it is obvious from Chat he writes that he had had close contact with children (he was never married himself) and opportunity for observing them.
Of the Conduct of the Understanding was intended by Locke to be an additional chapter to his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. He sprites of his intention in a letter to William Molyneux, dated April 10, 1697:
I have lately got a little leisure to think of some additions to my book, against the next edition, and within these few days have fallen upon a subject that I know not how far it will lead me. I have written several pages on it, but the matter, the further I go, opens the more upon me, and I cannot yet get any sight of the end of it. The title of the chapter will be "Of the Conduct of the Understanding," which if I pursue as far as I imagine it will reach, and as it deserves, will, I conclude, make the largest chapter in myEssay.
However,Conduct did not appear in the next edition of the Essay; it was published posthumously and without final revision in 1706, together with other hitherto unpublished writings (see the "Advertisement to the Reader," which precedes the text ofConduct). The work is thus related in its conception to the Essay, but in its content, though the kinship with the Essay is obvious, it is more closely linked with Some Thoughts Concerning Education. It can be read either as an extension of the Essay, indicating the practical implications of the doctrines there set forth, or it can be read as an addition to Locke's educational writings, extending and in some measure complementing the account of education given in Thoughts. It can also be read for itself, as a practical manual on "clear thinking," a statement of the pitfalls that lie in the road to truth and the means by which the mind can be trained to avoid them. Before proceeding to an examination of the content of Conduct, we shall first look at some of the leading doctrines of these two other uncorks.
The Essay is a very big book, both in the obvious sense (for it runs to over four hundred pages even in the abridged edition of Professor Woozley) and in its impact on British philosophy. In it Locke asked and attempted to answer certain fundamental questions about the sources and nature of knowledge and about the powers and limitations of the human mind. He was not the first, of course, to raise epistemological problems, for philosophers had been doing this from before the time of Plato; but he was the first, in Professor O'Connor's words, "to insist that the nature and capacities of the human mind should be the starting-point for philosophy."  The origin of the Work in the meeting with his friends is described in the quotation above; its purpose, Locke states, is
to enquire into the original, certainty and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion and assent.
The central thesis of the Essay is that all our knowledge derives ultimately from experience. At birth the mind is like an empty cabinet or a blank sheet of paper, "void of all characters, without any ideas";it has no innate ideas or principles "which the soul receives in its very first being and brings into the world with it ."  Whence, then, Locke asks, does it acquire
that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? 
To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE; in that all our knowledge is founded and from that it ultimately derives itself .
This is not to deny that the mind has innate potentialities or that heredity is a determining factor in human attainment -- "Amongst men of equal education there is great inequality of parts," he tells us in Conduct . Locke was too keen an observer to overlook the obvious fact of the inequality of human endowment. What he does deny is that the mind brings with it into the world any epistemological content, or that knowledge is a reminiscence, as Plato suggested, of something learnt in a previous existence.
What, then, are the materials of knowledge? We are all aware, Locke says, that we think, and that what the "mind is applied about whilst thinking" is "the ideas that are there." "Ideas" come from two sources within experience, namely, sensation and reflection:
Our observation employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on be ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas lee have, or can naturally have, do spring. First, our senses, conversant about particular sensible objects, do convey into the mind several distinct perceptions of things, according to those various ways wherein those objects do affect them. And thus we come by those ideas we have of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, and all those which we call sensible qualities. . . . Secondly, the other fountain from which experience furnisheth the understanding with ideas is the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got.... And such are perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing, and all the different actings of our own minds.
From these two sources comes "our whole stock of ideas; . . . we have nothing in our minds which did not come in one of these two ways."  "Ideas" are either simple or complex. Simple "ideas" are given; that is to say, they are offered to us ready-made, and so long as sense and thought are active we can neither reject nor alter them; they are the basic raw material of knowledge and must be accepted as they are. Yet, although in the initial receiving of them the mind is passive, it has the power to combine them to form complex "ideas"; this it does, thereby adding to the range and content of its own reflection. (It can also Elate "ideas," both simple and complex, and abstract them to form general truths.) Locke says a great deal more about "ideas" -- they are the subject of Book II of the Essay -- but the brief account given here is sufficient for the understanding of Conduct.
In Book IV (after an extremely interesting discussion of language in Book III) Locke proceeds to examine the nature of knowledge:
Since the mind, in all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other immediate object but its own ideas . . . it is evident that our knowledge is only conversant about them. 
In what, then, does it consist? It is, he says, "the perception of the connection and agreement or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our ideas." When we have the assurance that certain "ideas" "agree" or "disagree," then we have knowledge. He instances the perception that white is not black and that the sum of the internal angles of a triangle is equal to that of two right angles. He elaborates this by indicating four kinds of agreement and disagreement, but it is unnecessary to follow him into the details of his explanation. More important is his division of knowledge into three kinds or, as he calls them, "degrees"; these are intuitive, demonstrative, and "sensitive."
Intuitive knowledge is apprehended immediately without any process of reasoning:
In this the mind is at no pains of proving or examining, but perceives the truth as the eye doth light, only by being directed towards it. Thus the mind perceives that white is not black, that a circle is not a triangle.... 
Demonstrative knowledge, which Locke for various reasons regards as inferior to intuitive, is reached by inference through one or more "intermediate ideas" from premise to conclusion; an obvious example is the deductive reasoning of mathematics. Both of these degrees of knowledge offer certainty; one can be sure of their validity. The third and lowest degree is what Locke calls "sensitive" knowledge, by which he means an apprehension of the objects of the external world by means of our senses. This is not properly knowledge (by Locke's definition), since it does not offer certainty, but
going beyond bare probability, and yet not reaching perfectly to either of the foregoing degrees of certainty, passes under the name of knowledge.
In demonstrative knowledge a single train of valid reasoning is sufficient to provide certainty in the conclusion; sensitive knowledge, however, requires numerous trains to establish the conclusion with sufficient probability to command assent. Locke is here pointing to the distinction between deductive reasoning, whose conclusions are certainly true if the inference is valid, and inductive reasoning, whose conclusions can never be more than probable. He is also pointing to the importance of probability as a criterion of knowledge and to its place in the procedures of science.
It is not difficult to find weaknesses in Locke's epistemology. Despite his claim to establish knowledge exclusively on experience, there remain in his thought strong traces of the traditional rationalism which still dominated the schools and universities. Such, for instance, are his demand that knowledge must be certain and his use of terms like "substance" and "essence" which were part of the stock-in-trade of scholastic thought but had little to contribute to the new empiricism. Yet Locke should not be too severely criticized; no innovator can extricate himself completely from the modes of thought he is trying to displace; and Locke deserves the fullest credit for his reorientation of epistemological enquiry. It may also be objected that Locke confused philosophy and psychology, that he attempted by reason alone to answer questions about the operation of the mind which only the fullest and most patient investigation was capable of resolving, and that he was thus untrue to his professed empiricism. But in the seventeenth century philosophy and psychology were not yet differentiated (nor were they for another two hundred years), and the idea that the mind itself can be subjected, like other natural phenomena, to observation and experiment was still in the process of gestation. It can be further argued that, partly as a result of this, Locke's account of mind is too mechanical -- as though it were indeed an "empty cabinet" to be stored with contents or a "blank sheet" waiting for the pen, instead of (in the more appropriate imagery of William James) a "stream of consciousness." The criticism is just but should not be over stressed; no man can think two centuries ahead of his time or anticipate conclusions which are the fruit of long processes of investigation and intellectual growth.
Perhaps the most serious charge, however, is that of unclarity in the use of his central concept, "idea." Sense perception, we are told, gives us "ideas," and so does reflection; but "yellow," "white," "heat," etc. are totally unlike "perception," "thinking," etc., and to call them by the same name is at best confusing, at worst incompetent. Indeed the range of "ideas" is so wide -- "space," "motion," "solidity," "pain," "existence," "unity," etc. -- that their inclusion within a single category under the name of "idea" is evidently hazardous unless preceded by a careful analysis of each "idea" -- and after this it might well seem impossible. Nor is it by any means obvious that the "ideas" which he instances as "simple" are possessed of that "uncompounded...uniform appearance''  which he attributes to them. Certainly Locke should have given more thought to his "ideas"; the brief account in Book I is altogether too hasty and facile. Moreover, by leaving so much unclear he opens the way to further criticism; for if "ideas" of sensation are representations of an original sense impression, and if the mind knolls only its own "ideas," not the originals which they represent, how can we be sure either that there is a world external to us or that "ideas" faithfully represent it  It can be said in mitigation, however, that as Locke was blazing a trail, it was impossible for him to smooth out every tangle in his path, and that, since his aim was to present in general terms an empirical account of knowledge, he was more concerned, as Professor Woozley says,  to use the notion of "idea" than to talk about it.
We turn now to Some Thoughts Concerning Education. While Locke was in Holland, he was asked by a Mr. Edward Clarke, a gentleman friend who lived in Somerset, for advice on the upbringing of his son, then a child of eight. The letters which Locke wrote back from time to time constituted the first draft of the book, which was published in 1693 and considerably enlarged in later editions. In its immediate purpose, therefore, the book is restricted to the education of upper-class boys, but in effect a great deal of it is of quite general application. Thoughts is, in fact, one of the wisest books on education ever written, anticipating again and again the best of modern educational thought and practice. The purpose of the book does, however, impose on Locke the expression of a view of academic learning which is liable to misinterpretation:
Reading and writing and learning I allow to be necessary, but yet not the chief business.... Learning must be had, but in the second place, as subservient only to greater qualities.
All that he is saying is that in a gentleman, character, good breeding, and the successful management of his affairs are more important than scholarship -- a sentiment with which few would disagree. Taken with numerous similar statements, this may lead the reader to suppose that Locke was prejudiced against books and learning generally; and this is not the case. It is for this reason that Conduct is a valuable complement to Thoughts balancing the view there expressed with a forthright demand for a vigorous training of the intellect.
Despite their difference in purpose, there is a broad similarity of approach between the two books, as well as agreement in numerous points of detail. The most obvious example is the empiricism which underlies them both; in Conduct the expression of this is closer to the Essay, whose contents and terminology it constantly echoes; in Thoughts it appears more often, but no less persistently in educational terms. "Truth" we read in Thoughts, "is to be found and supported by a mature and due consideration of things themselves";  and it is in "things that fall under the senses" that "our knowledge should begin and in those things be laid the foundation."  It can be seen also. in Locke's insistence on the need to observe children in order that their abilities may be known and teaching methods may be accommodated to them;  in his emphasis on practice and habit as instruments of learning in preference to precept and wholesale memorization;  and in his remarks on the origin of fear in children. 
There are many other similarities between the two books. In both Locke appeals to the criterion of utility:
Most time and application is to be bestowed on that which is like to be of greatest consequence and frequentest use in the ordinary course and occurrences of that life the young man is designed for.
In both, while granting the fact of native endowment, he insists on the power of education and training to raise the level of attainment:
Of all the men we meet with nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education. 'Tis that which makes the great difference in mankind.
And in Conduct:
We are born with faculties and powers capable almost of anything . . . but it is only the exercise of those powers which gives us ability and skill in anything and leads us towards perfection. 
We find, too, the same liberal view of education as aimed not so much at specific knowledge as at imbuing children with the skills and habits which will enable them to explore unaided any field of enquiry that attracts them. For instance, compare pages 63 and 71-72 with the following from Thoughts:
[In that] which concerns a young gentleman's studies his tutor should remember that his business is not so much to teach him all that is knowable as to raise in him a love and esteem of knowledge and to put him in the right way of knowing and improving himself when he has a mind to it.
There is much else that Thoughts and Conduct have in common -- Locke's firm good sense, his understanding of young people  his robust and manly attitude to life, his intellectual integrity; but it would be tedious to add further examples. The student of Conduct can get by without reading the Essay (though he would lose by the omission); but Thoughts is a classic of both education and literature, and to read it is both a duty and a delight.
It is the purpose of this edition to encourage students to read Conduct for themselves. It may be helpful, however, to indicate some of its major themes and to add some general observations about it. Its basic empiricism has already been pointed out; Locke's viewpoint is dominated by the epistemological assumptions of the Essay. "We are born ignorant of everything," he says; the structure of knowledge comes of our own building as we train ourselves to observe and reflect on the world around us and to use critically the observations of others. As far as possible knowledge should be firsthand:
Knowing is seeing, and, if it be so, it is madness to persuade ourselves that we do so by another man's eyes.... Till we ourselves see it with our own eyes and perceive it by our own understandings, we are as much in the dark and as void of knowledge as before, let us believe any learned author as much as we will.
Facts and things as they present themselves to our observation are the test of truth, not preconceived notions accepted secondhand from others or suggested by our own prejudices. Coupled with this is Locke's aversion from the scholastic logic and from the minute and irrelevant disputations which were its practical manifestation in education. He attacks its specious terminology, its false picture of knowledge, the narrowness and superficiality of its arguments. He speaks slightingly of "logical chicaners" compared with the "man of reason," and distinguishes those who are serious in the pursuit of learning from those who "deceive and swell themselves with a a little articulated air." The scholastic methods were so incompatible with his empiricism, so alien to his whole approach to knowledge (indeed to life), that criticism of them overflows from his pen as a by-product of the presentation of his own case.
The subject of the book is the training of the mind so that it may more readily attain to the truth. Locke's approach is both negative and positive, warning against the obstacles to intellectual fitness as well as suggesting methods of securing it. He cautions against lack of conceptual clarity, against the indiscriminate use of analogy, against prejudice and hasty judgment, against one-sidedness in argument and the facile acceptance of views which are merely popular or hallowed by antiquity. On the positive side he points to the importance of practice in establishing mental discipline, of carefully examining the premises of argument, of impartiality in judgment and of the need to seek evidence and to obey it. Especially interesting, both for its sound advice and its insight into human weakness is his discussion of prejudice. He is aware of its many sources -- in party allegiance, emotional bias, conservatism, antipathy to the new, blindness to one's own deficiencies, and even sheer laziness ("few men care to be instructed but at an easy rate"). He knows how easy is self-deception, how firmly we adhere to our earliest conclusions, how reluctant we are to accept the discipline of careful investigation, how readily content with a partial or superficial view.
There is much other excellent advice in Conduct, both general and particular. Locke urges his readers to persevere in the pursuit of knowledge, neither underestimating the difficulties nor underrating their own powers:
Nature commonly lodges her treasure and jewels in rocky ground. If the matter be knotty and the sense lies deep, the mind must stop and buckle to it and stick upon it with labour and thought and close contemplation, and not leave it till it has mastered the difficulty and got possession of truth.
And to the diffident he says (quoting a proverb): "'Use legs and have legs.' Nobody knows what strength of parts he has till he has tried them." More can be done by steady application and practice than seems possible:
When the mind by insensible degrees has brought itself to attention and close thinking, it will be able to cope with difficulties and master them without any prejudice to itself, and then it may go on roundly.
Time is short and must be used with due care and economy: "Nobody is under an obligation to know everything," but even the one day's rest in seven, "had they no other idle hours," would enable men to advance in knowledge,
if they would but make use of these vacancies from their daily labour and apply themselves to an improvement of knowledge with as much diligence as they often do to a great many other things that are useless.
Especially noteworthy are Locke's comments on the proper use of books. He distinguishes reading from understanding, the mere passage through a printed text from the careful examination of its content:
We are of the ruminating kind and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections; unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength and nourishment.
Notable too are his observations on procedure in the solution of intellectual problems: it is essential to "state the question right and see whereon it turns." Then:
In every question the nature and manner of the proof it is capable of should first be considered to make our enquiry such as it should be.
Moreover, it should not be assumed that a method found suitable in one field of knowledge can be usefully applied to another, where, in fact, "it serves only to perplex and confound the understanding." Here Locke is thoroughly modern; so he is too in his comments on language. This subject occupies the whole of Essay Book III (note especially Chapters ix through xi), and he has no need to repeat himself in Conduct; but he reminds his readers that the basic function of language is to communicate, that the meaning of words is in their use, not in themselves, and that, however well established in academic tradition, they are nevertheless "empty sounds without a meaning" unless they correspond to some clearly conceived idea in the mind.
Its other qualities apart, Conduct is valuable for the whole outlook on life and learning that it embodies. Here we find a healthy scorn of narrow-mindedness and bigotry, of intellectual sloth and sham; we find a persistent encouragement to initiative and effort in the pursuit of knowledge, a refusal to accept as final the limitations of natural endowment. Here there is confidence in human reason and an optimistic assessment of the power of truth -- "truth is always the same; time alters it not"; its claim is stronger than that of personal interest, and factual evidence is its sufficient support. The character of Locke himself shines through the book -- his patent integrity of character and motive, the subordination of self to fact and principle, the courteous good humour, the wisdom born of a life of varied service to the causes to which he felt committed. To read it carefully and reflectively -- ruminating, as Locke himself recommends -- is an experience of great educational value: it serves as a mirror to oneself in its disclosure of intellectual impediment; it is a guide to mental discipline and clarity of thought; at the same time it invigorates by its contact with the man whose personality is written into it.
It remains now to say a little on the sources of Locke's ideas and to comment on the style of Conduct. The main source of his empiricism lay in his association with the Oxford scientists who were forging new methods of enquiry based on observation and experiment. Especially important was the influence of Robert Boyle, for not only were the two men close friends, but Locke had an intimate knowledge of Boyle's work and shared some of it with him. This influence was reinforced by his own growing interest in medicine and his friendship with the physician Thomas Sydenham. Another source of influence was the French philosopher Gassendi, with whose writings Locke was well acquainted and many of whose views are echoed in the Essay.  It is evident that his empiricism, in Conduct and less noticeably in the Essay, is also indebted to Francis Bacon. Locke quotes from the Magna Instauratio in the first section of Conduct, and there are numerous instances elsewhere of a thoroughly Baconian approach to enquiry; for example in section 24, where Locke makes the same complaint as Bacon against those who indulge in excessive partiality either to the ancients or to the moderns.  For further instances the reader should consult the notes in Fowler's edition of Conduct. Another major influence, but from a quite different angle, was that of Descartes. This may seem strange, for the spirit of the Essay and Conduct is far removed from the outlook and methods of Cartesian rationalism. Nevertheless, Locke was obviously impressed by the precision and certainty of mathematics (which supplied Descartes' ideal of philosophical method), by its systematic procedure, and by its clear definition of concepts.  In fact Locke's conception of knowledge as perception of tile agreement or disagreement of ideas is nearer to mathematics than it is to empirical science, and this partly explains his rather grudging inclusion of "sensitive knowledge" within the same epistemological category as intuition and demonstration.
Locke's prose is forthright and vigorous; he states his meaning clearly and directly, rarely wasting words or indulging in needless digression. Perhaps the best adjective to describe his style is "nervous" -- in the older meaning, still current in the seventeenth century, of "sinewy," "muscular." This is not to say that his writing lacks interest or is devoid of colour. He expresses himself sometimes with arresting simplicity: "Men see a little, presume a great deal, and so jump to the conclusion." Or again: "We should contend earnestly for the truth, but we should first be sure that it is truth." And: "He that has a mind to believe has half assented already." Sometimes it is the terse, pregnant brevity of his phrasing that compels attention: "Learners must first be believers"; "We are born ignorant of everything." There are also racy passages where his sentences run on with fluent ease from thought to thought, as, for instance, in section 3, where he deplores the narrow vision of those who "canton out to themselves a little Goshen in the intellectual world," or in section 24, where he attacks the prejudice which attributes truth wholly to the ancients or to the moderns. It is true that Locke's sentences are some times overlong, occasionally ungrammatical; but his meaning is rarely obscure, and the reader has little difficulty in following the train of his argument. A striking feature of his style is his use of imagery. There is perhaps less of it in Conduct than in Thoughts, but despite his strictures in section 33. he constantly and often delightfully expresses himself in figurative terms. He writes of men "mewed up within their own contracted territories," of "coffee-house cleaners," of "this courtdresser the fancy," and of making the mind "the warehouse of other men's lumber." He condemns those echo read without reflection as merely loading their minds "with a rhapsody of tales fit in winter nights for the entertainment of others." Here and there the imagery is prolonged into a broad sweep of extended figures; examples of this can be found in the sections on Haste and Reasoning.
Locke has managed in Conduct, as in his other writings, to combine seriousness of purpose with distinction in style. In brief, it is a readable book, though admittedly it requires effort of the reader; in Locke's own words: "It is seldom that men discover the rich mines without some digging."