Locke's Distinction between Primary Primary Qualities and Secondary Primary Qualities

Edwin McCann

in Primary and Secondary Qualities

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199556151
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725548 | DOI:
Locke's Distinction between Primary Primary Qualities and Secondary Primary Qualities

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  • History of Western Philosophy


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Besides distinguishing between primary and secondary qualities, Locke implicitly draws a distinction between two types of primary quality, those of macroscopic objects and those of what he calls the insensible parts of matter. This chapter explores three main interpretive results that come from attending to the distinction as it figures in the Essay. First, it helps to reconcile several seemingly conflicting statements that Locke makes about primary qualities. Second, it makes better sense of Locke's claims that ideas of primary qualities are resemblances of bodies and that such qualities are ‘really in’ them, whereas (ideas of) secondary qualities are not. Third, it enables us to uncover the structure of Locke's argument for the primary–secondary quality distinction itself, which puts us in a better position to appreciate the limits on the justificatory force and ontological import that Locke can claim for this argument.

Keywords: body; Boyle; Locke; mechanism; motion; powers; primary qualities; real qualities; resemblance; secondary qualities

Chapter.  18248 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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