Locke on Cognitive Bias: "Of the Conduct of the Understanding" and diseases of the mind

Tom Stoneham, Elisabeth Maria Louise Thorsson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter proposes that Locke’s Of the Conduct of the Understanding (1706) can be read as a precursor to the recent psychological literature on cognitive biases. We begin by examining Locke’s intentions and methods, as well as his conception of human reason as universal. In the second section we briefly look at how Locke’s taxonomy fits with contemporary ones and then in the third look at some of the ways Locke thinks we may end up reasoning from false principles. In section four we concentrate on some phenomena Locke identifies which seem to be natural but arational psychological processes. These are forms of mind wandering and distraction, which have been a focus of some recent research in psychology. Finally, we briefly discuss Locke’s probable attitude to the contemporary thought that many cognitive biases might in fact be adaptive heuristics designed for efficient cognitive function in a range of normal conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Lockean Mind
EditorsJessica Gordon-Roth, Shelley Weinberg
Place of PublicationNew York
ISBN (Print)9781138296909
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2021

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