An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Why this book?
I have just checked the index to my OUP 2006 book and I found that the number of references to John Locke (mostly, to his Essay) comes to 36. Apart from references to A.W., this beats everyone else; the next much quoted author being Shakespeare (27), and then, Cliff Goddard (18). As these figures illustrate, Locke’s Essay is in my view foundational for the study of meaning. One enormously important idea is developed in the following stunning passage:
“A moderate skill in different languages will easily satisfy one of the truth of this, it being so obvious to observe great store of words in one language which have not any that answer them in another. Which plainly show that those of one country, by their customs and manner of life, have found occasion to make several complex ideas, and given names to them which others never collected into specific ideas… Nay, if we look a little more closely into the matter, and exactly compare different languages, we shall find that, though they may have words which in translation and dictionaries are supposed to answer one another, yet there is scarce one in ten amongst the names of complex ideas.. that stands for the same precise idea which the word doesn’t that in dictionaries it is rendered by.”
As discussed in my 2014 OUP book, in the globalised world of the 21st century, dominated by English, this lack of correspondence between words of different languages leads, inter alia, to catastrophic Anglocentrism in the social sciences, with English concepts being routinely taken for granted as the voice of reason itself.