"THE FIRST MODERN ATTEMPT TO ANALYSE HUMAN KNOWLEDGE": LOCKE'S ESSAY CONCERNING HUMANE UNDERSTANDING, AN EXCELLENT AND RARE FIRST-ISSUE COPY OF HIS MOST FAMOUS WORK, 1690
LOCKE, John. An Essay concerning Humane Understanding. In Four Books. London: Printed by Eliz. Holt, for Thomas Basset, 1690. Folio (8 by 13 inches), period-style full dark brown calf, morocco spine label, raised bands. $65,000.
Rare first edition, first issue, of Locke's remarkable study of the nature of knowledge, a fundamental work in the history of Western thought. Locke's investigation was continued by David Hume and Immanuel Kant; John Stuart Mill considered Locke to be the founder of the analytic philosophy of mind. An excellent, wide-margined copy of Locke's most famous work, a touchstone of the Age of Enlightenment, with extensive marginalia in a neat early hand indicating that this copy was well-read.
"Locke was the first to take up the challenge of Bacon and to attempt to estimate critically the certainty and the adequacy of human knowledge when confronted with God and the universe" (PMM 164). Locke's conclusion—that while man can never attain a perfect and universal understanding of the world, he can gain sufficient knowledge to secure his own well being—became a touchstone for the Age of Enlightenment. With the Essay Locke initiated the criticism of human knowledge and further opened the discourse on free inquiry. "The Essay Concerning Humane Understanding… was the first attempt on a great scale, and in the Baconian spirit, to estimate critically the certainty and the adequacy of human knowledge" (Fraser). "Locke's philosophy has not only had a profound effect upon philosophical and political thought, but also laid the foundations of modern psychology, dominating the field until well into the 19th century" (Norman). "The importance of few philosophical books have been so quickly recognized as was the case with the present [Essay Concerning Humane Understanding]. It passed through many editions in English and has several times been translated" (Pforzheimer). First issue, with "printed by Eliz. Holt" in the imprint on the title page (rather than "sold by Edw. Mory"). "Peter Nidditch has estimated about 900 copies were published, chiefly of the Holt issue. But it is possible there were as few as 500" (Yolton, 69-70). PMM 164. Yolton 61A. Norman 1380. Wing L2738. Pforzheimer 599. Wither to Prior 527. Early owner signatures of R. Styleman on title page and Robert Dixon on front and rear free endpapers. Marginal ink notes in an early, neat, and legible hand on virtually every page of the first three (of four) books, indicating that this copy was very carefully read and studied.
Text generally quite clean, period-style calf near-fine. An excellent wide-margined copy of this rarity.