Primary Source: Locke. Some Thoughts Concerning Education. p. 94 Bottom.
I first chanced this at: Thomas Morris PhD (Yale). Philosophy For Dummies (1999 1 ed). p. 87.

  When any new thing comes in their way, children usually ask the com- mon question of a stranger: What is it? Whereby they ordinarily mean noth-ing but the name; and therefore to tell them how it is called is usually the proper answer to that demand. The next question usually is: What is it for? And to this it should be answered truly and directly: the use of the thing should be told, and the way explained how it serves to such a purpose, as far as their capacities can comprehend it. And so of any other circum-stances they shall ask about it; not turning them going till you have given them all the satisfaction they are capable of, and so leading them by your answers into farther questions. And perhaps to a grown man such conver-sation will not be altogether so idle and insignificant as we are apt to imag-ine. The native and untaught suggestions of inquisitive children do often offer things that may set a considering man's thoughts on work. And I think there is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected ques-tions of a child than the discourses of men, who talk in a road, according to the notions they have borrowed and the prejudices of their education.

I understand the last sentence's meaning: Locke is spurning rote learning and received wisdom.

But what does the emboldened verb phrase intend to say? It feels like a metaphor.

1 Answer 1


I doubt if 'who walk in a road' has special significance. Locke's idea appears to be that children have a capacity and tendency to ask deep and basic or just awkwardly demanding questions, through sheer naivety and lack of education, which the sophisticated grown-ups who talk easily among themselves, 'in the road' or elsewhere, have long since ceased to ask or even think about : and which can set them thinking. In Locke's day, talking in the road for ordinary folk was probably more common than it is among ourselves; we can chat in so many more convenient places.

'What does the moon do during daytime ?', 'Why does the moon get bigger every day and then smaller?', 'Why is it colder on a mountain than down below?' 'Why don't we have daylight all the time?' 'Where does gas come from ?' These are typical children's questions. And this adult was set to think about more than one of them.


Michelle M. Chouinard, P. L. Harris and Michael P. Maratsos, 'Children's Questions: A Mechanism for Cognitive Development', Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Vol. 72, No. 1, Children's Questions: A Mechanism for Cognitive Development (2007), pp. i, v, vii-ix, 1-129.

Lou H. Thompson, 'Children's Questions', Educational Research Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 16 (Nov. 26, 1924), pp. 347+350-352. (Old but fascinating.)

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