Who did it better?

An Essay concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke is an interesting piece. In chapter 27, he uses an analogy of atoms in order to explain his theory that no two things can exist in the same place.

“let us suppose an atom…if two or more atoms be joined together in the same mass, every one of those atoms will be the same…But if one of these atoms be taken away, or one new one added, it is no longer the same mass, or the same body”(Ch.27;3).

Locke uses scientific concepts in order to reinforce his theory of composition. However, this seems to relate with Plato’s Meno in which Socrates uses mathematics in order to drive his theory.

While different in theory(Socrates trying to prove education, Locke with understanding), they both employ some sort of quantitative medium in which to explain their points.  In regards to who I feel had a stronger analogy, let us analyze the examples. In Meno, Socrates uses a geometric shape with quantitative measurements in the form of numbers. Locke uses atomic theory in its infancy in order to push his point.

I am not saying that Plato’s argument is stronger or better than Locke’s, however in An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke employs concepts that were fairly new at the time of his writing, and therefore was not readily understood by everyone. Geometry and measurement has a longer history, with a much more far-reaching audience, explaining how the Slave knew some of what Socrates’ was explaining.

2 responses to “Who did it better?

  1. Now that I think of it, these guys do seem to like using scientific, objective, examples to explain their theories. This makes sense to me, though, because their theories are intangible, therefore it’s a good idea to use concrete examples when trying to introduce it to other people.

    For me, it’s hard to understand something that is very conceptual by using other conceptual examples. For example, that’s like trying to teach someone who is blind from birth what color is. If you tried to explain that red is similar to orange or yellow, they would probably still not have any clue what you were saying. But if you were to explain it in ways that they do have a good understanding of, such as explaining sight by touch, for example by saying red is like the way the sun feels on your face on a clear day, that would probably give them a better idea of red. So I think that is why both these philosophers use these means to explain their theories. People know science and measurement, but they don’t yet understand their theories. Because even if they’re not exactly related, it’ll help people start to form some comprehension.

    But if I had to choose which of the two did a better job in explaining their theory, I would say that Plato’s argument is stronger. Locke’s argument is a little ramble-y, while I think Plato’s is clearer.

  2. I think you bring up an interesting point. Both Socrates and Locke turn to quantitative examples in order to further substantiate their ideas, but choose different methods in which to present the information. However, I disagree with both of you in your opinions concerning the presentation of the examples of both philosophers. In my opinion, Locke has the better explanation. While, at first glance, his discussions appear much more long-winded than those of Socrates, I find them to be more informative and explanatory. His reinforcement of theories includes great metaphors and similes that truly emphasize his points through visualization and comparison. His discussions are long because he is writing rather than speaking, and is presenting somewhat subjective information, as it is influenced by his own opinion, in the scientific format of hypothesis substantiated by evidence and discussion in order to prove his theory through an objective approach. Therefore, Locke builds arguments in a more scholarly, analytical, and comprehensive approach than Socrates. Furthermore, although his discussion is very much influenced by Enlightenment thought, I do not think that this influence detracts from his argument. I think it actually adds to it because his ideas are presented in a very organized and rational manner. In conclusion, when looking at this comparison, I felt a greater resonance with Locke’s description of atoms rather than the geometric example of Socrates.

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