5: Plan of An Essay concerning Human Understanding

The Essay is divided into four books; the first is a polemic against the doctrine of innate ideas; the others deal with ideas, with words, and with knowledge respectively. The first book is remarkable for the way in which the author brings to bear upon the question all the facts that could then be ascertained regarding the ideas and beliefs of primitive and savage races. He points to the variety of human experience, and to the difficulty of forming general and abstract ideas, and he ridicules the view that any such ideas can be antecedent to experience. It is in its most extreme form that the doctrine of innate ideas is attacked; but he cannot see any alternative between that form and his own view that all ideas have their origin in experience.