First, his work serves as an authoritative statement of the distinction. Second, his work serves as the basis for those whom deny the validity of the distinction. Therefore, the work of Locke is quite suitable as a starting point for an analysis of the validity of the distinction between primary qualities and secondary qualities.
One of Locke's main points is that what we do know about the world is a matter of perception. In this way he sets out to distinguish, by virtue of his primary versus secondary qualities analysis, actuality from our sensory interpretations.
The viability of this distinction has been questioned. George Berkeley and A.J. Ayers have pointed out what they claim to be contradictory assertions by Locke. They deny the logical cohesion and therefore the viability of his distinction. They point out epistemological problems which, they assert, render his distinction nothing more than speculation. Locke, in their view, is hardly an empiricist. Some have argued that Berkeley and his philosophical progeny have either misunderstood or mischaracterized Locke's work. What is the truth of the matter This essay will present Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities, criticisms of this distinction, and a personal statement regarding the validity of the distinction between primary qualities and secondary qualities.
As a preliminary, it is necessary to define what Locke means by...
From this initial definition of a quality, Locke proceeds to divide a quality into two specific types. He attempts to draw a distinction between what he terms primary qualities and secondary qualities.
Locke characterizes primary qualities as being inseparable from the object being observed. Everything has fundamental properties. These fundamental properties are constant and cannot be ignored. As an example, Locke presents the following,
Take a grain of wheat, divide it into two parts; each part has still solidity, extension, figure, and mobility: divide it again, and it retains still the same qualities; and so divide it on, till the parts become insensible; they must retain still each of them all those qualities. For division (which is all that a mill, or pestle, or any other body, does upon another, in reducing it to insensible parts) can never take away either solidity, extension, figure, or mobility from any body, but only makes two or more distinct separate masses of matter... These I call original or primary qualities of body, which I think we may observe to produce simple ideas in us, viz. solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, and number (2:8:9).
Locke therefore views solids, extensions, figures, motion or rest, and number as primary qualities. These qualities produce in us ideas about the object being observed. A justified knowledge of the primary qualities is inherent not in our ideas, which are the effects, but in the object. These primary qualities, being primary, survive arbitrary division. These primary qualities do produce ideas in us and, significantly, these ideas resemble the primary qualities which