Locke's view on the 'idea' itself center on the fact that he makes no distinction between the intellect and the imagination. Therefore, Locke stood to believe that the idea was a sensory image which is why many researchers refer to him as an imagist. Locke explains an idea as "Whatever it is, which the mind can be employed about thinking" (p. 45). As a result, many have concluded that Locke meant to leave the definition ambiguous, perhaps to allow individuals to make their own decisions. Others believe that Locke was following the same philosophical lines as Gassendi, who used the word in a more fantastical theoretical framework. However, this conclusion is challenged, give the fact that Locke rarely used the words fantasy or fancy when discussing ideas.
Yet Locke strongly encouraged people to refrain from thinking that their interpretation of objects and ideas were exactly as they appeared outside of the mind. He draws on the idea of the memory as a place to save, in a way, ideas, though, again, they are not perfect representations. Ayers uses the analogy of a bird and a song to explain this point. If the bird hears a song and then produces it the next day, people may tend to say the bird memorized the song. Locke would say that the bird saved the song in its mind to use to compare the song he is singing. Likewise, children think when they have something to think about. They produce their own mental images, but these images are not exactly like those they see. Thus, Locke's idea is a sensation that is saved through retention in the mind.
Ayers claims that Locke was reluctant to apply any intellectual activity to these sensations. He did not separate the imagist mind from a higher, intellectual mind. He never saw a reason to do this, unlike other philosophers. Of course Locke recognized the existence of wit, judgment, wisdom, and madness but only in terms of what the person did with his existing ideas. Descartes and Locke debated the idea of separating conceiving an idea and imagining an idea as either the same or separate functions. Descartes argued that one can conceive of a particular shape but not image it since he does not know exactly what it looks like. Locke countered with the argument that if one can reason about the number of sides and lengths of the shape, we can imagine it from those existing ideas. Ayers concludes that this is an argument against not only Descartes but also the Cartesian views.
Ayers notes that in Locke's discussion of abstract ideas, he seems to contradict himself. He says that ideas such as jealousy and lies cannot be imagined by the mind. This seems to suggest that Locke did recognize other conceptions of the mind. Locke later explained that these abstract concepts were ideas "partially considered" (Ayers, p. 49).
Ayers final argument here in considering Locke an imagist lies within the idea of an intuition of universal truth or a priori knowledge. Ayers explains this idea using diagrams. He says that philosophers like Descartes say that understanding diagrams, charts, etc. occurs because of higher intellectual processes in the mind. Locke argues that these ideas on paper are representations or copies of what already exists in the mind. For example, a line or angle is something