Of the Abuse of Words by John Locke

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Background: I am a fan of the Penguin – Great Ideas series of books, so when I saw this book for sale I thought it would be a great opportunity to further my knowledge of philosophy, since I knew John Locke and his writings only on a very general level.

Review: As you can probably tell by the title, this is mainly a book about epistemology and etymology. He starts by exploring the way ideas are formed by the human mind, and explains how some types of ideas are more liable to error than others. He explains what it means for an idea to be “adequate” or not, on the basis that words will always be liable to mistakes if the ideas they are trying to convey aren’t clear. He goes on to explore language itself, and how it is prone to mistakes (and, eventually, to “disputes”) because men usually believe words to be the thing that they supposedly stand for. Since we mostly learn words before learning about ideas, most of the definitions we have will not be exactly the same everyone else has, and we will be using the same words to signify different things.

The book is interesting but, I must admit, I found it a bit hard to get into, mainly because of the language – some words, specially prepositions, seem to have changed somewhat, which confused me a bit. Also, the sentences are unusually long. I suspect this might not be as big a problem for English native speakers as it was for me (I’m fluent in English and quite used to reading in this language, but it’s still not my primary language). If I had read this in Portuguese it would probably have been an easier read.

If you’re interested in philosophy and language than this is definitely an important book to read. Just keep in mind it’s not an easy one.

What’s Next: I have a few others from this collection, though not from a philosopher. It’s a really good-looking collection too (the covers are gorgeous) so I will most definitely keep getting them when I have the chance.

Next on my reading list is On Writing by Stephen King. I’ll probably have to read some easy fiction too to counter the effects of reading this one for a month…


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