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The Philosophy of John Locke

5. Primary and Secondary Qualities

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about what Locke means when he talks about material objects as possessing ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ qualities, focusing in particular on how he was motivated by contemporary theories of physics to draw this distinction.


In this course, Dr Barnaby Walker (University of Warwick) explores the work of the seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke, particularly his writings on epistemology. We begin with a general overview of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and its key themes, before moving on in the second and third module to Locke’s radical rejection of the concept of innate knowledge. We then think about the relationship in Locke’s theory between sense perception and the ideas created in the human mind in module four. The fifth module focuses on Locke’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities in material objects, while the sixth module explores in more detail how Locke thought human beings can acquire knowledge of the world through their senses. The seventh and final module concludes with a discussion of the problem of personal identity and Locke’s solution to this problem.


Dr Barney Walker is a Teaching Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Warwick. His research focuses on epistemology and philosophy of mind, especially with issues about enquiry, the value of knowledge, and the nature of belief.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Walker, B. (2018, November 22). The Philosophy of John Locke - Primary and Secondary Qualities [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Walker, B. "The Philosophy of John Locke – Primary and Secondary Qualities." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Nov 2018,