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Term used in scholastic philosophy for a determination, a focusing of being in the abstract into some specific form. In the modern era the term is made prominent by Locke (Essay, ii. 12). Modes are introduced as one kind of complex idea, and are distinguished into simple modes, which are ‘different combinations of the same simple idea’ (Locke cites numbers, such as a dozen or a score), and mixed modes, which are ‘compounded of simple ideas of several kinds, put together to make one complex one’ (Locke cites beauty and theft). Later, fundamental qualities of space, time, and sense are described as simple modes, and mixed modes become ‘scattered and independent ideas, put together by the mind’: again, the central examples remain the ideas connected with action, and moral and legal categories. The idea is that in these areas we can mix ideas to make definitions according to our purposes, whereas in science finding the right words is a matter of tracking the kinds of substances, with their different essences, that independently exist. In Berkeley and Hume there is no distinction between modes and qualities. For Spinoza there is a fundamental distinction between substance and its modes, and ordinary objects are in fact modes of the one real substance, identified equally as the universe, or God.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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