The distinction between the primary and secondary qualities of objects was an important theme within British empiricist philosophy, the three key proponents being John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume.
Locke sets out the distinction in his 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding'. The distinction applies to the "simple" ideas we receive from sensation.
...Secondary qualities of bodies. Secondly, such qualities which in truth are nothing in the objects themselves but power to produce various sensations in us by their primary qualities, i.e. by the bulk, figure, texture, and motion of their insensible parts, as colours, sounds, tastes, &c. These I call secondary qualities. To these might be added a third sort, which are allowed to be barely powers; though they are as much real qualities in the subject as those which I, to comply with the common way of speaking, call qualities, but for distinction, secondary qualities. For the power in fire to produce a new colour, or consistency, in wax or clay,- by its primary qualities, is as much a quality in fire, as the power it has to produce in me a new idea or sensation of warmth or burning, which I felt not before,- by the same primary qualities, viz. the bulk, texture, and motion of its insensible parts."
Locke's theory of perception is a 'mediated theory of perception'. Accordingly, we do not have direct access to the world around us, but rather this access is mediated through our ideas.