Both Aristotle and Locke are commonly viewed as empiricists. Indeed, both state roughly that "there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses" and that "the mind is a blank slate".

This left me wondering:

a) Are there any relevant differences in their epistemological views?

b) Was Locke's empiricism inspired by that of Aristotle?

1 Answer 1


There are significant differences betweens the epistemologies of Locke and Aristotle.

For one thing, they differ as to what the objects of knowledge are. For Aristotle, what we know are essences; how we know them are that we abstract the form of a substance. For Locke, we know secondary qualities and infer primary qualities. To invoke a different vocabulary, Aristotle is thus a realist about essences and Locke is not.

To summarize, they share the idea that knowledge begins in the senses. But they define knowledge very differently, because they have divergent metaphysics and different ideas of the role of perception in knowledge.

I do not think Locke's empiricism is directly inspired by Aristotle though it might be mediated by Locke having learned some scholastic philosophy (though on that point I am speculating).

  • As I said, "realist" is used in many ways. Realist in my above answer relates to essences about which Locke is not a realist. Cf. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essentialism
    – virmaior
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 7:15
  • Aristotle is the first major empiricist?
    – Starckman
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 9:20

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