History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions

(contents)


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy
 

Medieval philosophy
 

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


 

Western Philosophy
 

 

 




 

 
 

 

 


Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 
 


Western philosophy


History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.

 




Modern philosophy




Modern philosophy » The Enlightenment

Although they both lived and worked in the late 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke (1632–1704) were the true fathers of the Enlightenment. Newton was the last of the scientific geniuses of the age, and his great Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687; Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) was the culmination of the movement that had begun with Copernicus and Galileo—the first scientific synthesis based on the application of mathematics to nature in every detail. The basic idea of the authority and autonomy of reason, which dominated all philosophizing in the 18th century, was, at bottom, the consequence of Newton’s work.

Copernicus, Kepler, Bacon, Galileo, and Descartes—scientists and methodologists of science—performed like people urgently attempting to persuade nature to reveal its secrets. Newton’s comprehensive mechanistic system made it seem as if at last nature had done so. It is impossible to exaggerate the enormous enthusiasm that this assumption kindled in all of the major thinkers of the late 17th and 18th centuries, from Locke to Kant. The new enthusiasm for reason that they all instinctively shared was based not upon the mere advocacy of philosophers such as Descartes and Leibniz but upon their conviction that, in the spectacular achievement of Newton, reason had succeeded in conquering the natural world.



John Locke
English philosopher

born Aug. 29, 1632, Wrington, Somerset, Eng.
died Oct. 28, 1704, High Laver, Essex, Eng.

Main
English philosopher whose works lie at the foundation of modern philosophical empiricism and political liberalism. He was an inspirer of both the European Enlightenment and the Constitution of the United States. His philosophical thinking was close to that of the founders of modern science, especially Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, and other members of the Royal Society. His political thought was grounded in the notion of a social contract between citizens and in the importance of toleration, especially in matters of religion. Much of what he advocated in the realm of politics was accepted in England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 and in the United States after the country’s declaration of independence in 1776.

Early years
Locke’s family was sympathetic to Puritanism but remained within the Church of England, a situation that coloured Locke’s later life and thinking. Raised in Pensford, near Bristol, Locke was 10 years old at the start of the English Civil Wars between the monarchy of Charles I and parliamentary forces under the eventual leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Locke’s father, a lawyer, served as a captain in the cavalry of the parliamentarians and saw some limited action. From an early age, one may thus assume, Locke rejected any claim by the king to have a divine right to rule.

After the first Civil War ended in 1646, Locke’s father was able to obtain for his son, who had evidently shown academic ability, a place at Westminster School in distant London. It was to this already famous institution that Locke went in 1647, at age 14. Although the school had been taken over by the new republican government, its headmaster, Richard Busby (himself a distinguished scholar), was a royalist. For four years Locke remained under Busby’s instruction and control (Busby was a strong disciplinarian who much favoured the birch). In January 1649, just half a mile away from Westminster School, Charles was beheaded on the order of Cromwell. The boys were not allowed to attend the execution, though they were undoubtedly well aware of the events taking place nearby.

The curriculum of Westminster centred on Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, mathematics, and geography. In 1650 Locke was elected a King’s Scholar, an academic honour and financial benefit that enabled him to buy several books, primarily classic texts in Greek and Latin. Although Locke was evidently a good student, he did not enjoy his schooling; in later life he attacked boarding schools for their overemphasis on corporal punishment and for the uncivil behaviour of pupils. In his enormously influential work Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), he would argue for the superiority of private tutoring for the education of young gentlemen (see below Other works).


Oxford
In the autumn of 1652 Locke, at the comparatively late age of 20, entered Christ Church, the largest of the colleges of the University of Oxford and the seat of the court of Charles I during the Civil Wars. But the royalist days of Oxford were now behind it, and Cromwell’s Puritan followers filled most of the positions. Cromwell himself was chancellor, and John Owen, Cromwell’s former chaplain, was vice-chancellor and dean. Owen and Cromwell were, however, concerned to restore the university to normality as soon as possible, and this they largely succeeded in doing.

Locke later reported that he found the undergraduate curriculum at Oxford dull and unstimulating. It was still largely that of the medieval university, focusing on Aristotle (especially his logic) and largely ignoring important new ideas about the nature and origins of knowledge that had been developed in writings by Francis Bacon (1561–1626), René Descartes (1596–1650), and other natural philosophers. Although their works were not on the official syllabus, Locke was soon reading them. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1656 and a master’s two years later, about which time he was elected a student (the equivalent of fellow) of Christ Church. At Oxford Locke made contact with some advocates of the new science, including Bishop John Wilkins, the astronomer and architect Christopher Wren, the physicians Thomas Willis and Richard Lower, the physicist Robert Hooke, and, most important of all, the eminent natural philosopher and theologian Robert Boyle. Locke attended classes in iatrochemistry (the early application of chemistry to medicine), and before long he was collaborating with Boyle on important medical research on human blood. Medicine from now on was to play a central role in his life.

The restoration of the English monarchy in 1660 was a mixed blessing for Locke. It led many of his scientific collaborators to return to London, where they soon founded the Royal Society, which provided the stimulus for much scientific research. But in Oxford the new freedom from Puritan control encouraged unruly behaviour and religious enthusiasms among the undergraduates. These excesses led Locke to be wary of rapid social change, an attitude that no doubt partly reflected his own childhood during the Civil Wars.

In his first substantial political work, Two Tracts on Government (composed in 1660 but not published until 1967), Locke defended a very conservative position: in the interest of political stability, a government is justified in legislating on any matter of religion that is not directly relevant to the essential beliefs of Christianity. This view, a response to the perceived threat of anarchy posed by sectarian differences, was diametrically opposed to the doctrine that he would later expound in Two Treatises of Government (1690).

In 1663 Locke was appointed senior censor in Christ Church, a post that required him to supervise the studies and discipline of undergraduates and to give a series of lectures. The resulting Essays on the Law of Nature (first published in 1954) constitutes an early statement of his philosophical views, many of which he retained more or less unchanged for the rest of his life. Of these probably the two most important were, first, his commitment to a law of nature, a natural moral law that underpins the rightness or wrongness of all human conduct, and, second, his subscription to the empiricist principle that all knowledge, including moral knowledge, is derived from experience and therefore not innate. These claims were to be central to his mature philosophy, both with regard to political theory and epistemology.


Association with Shaftesbury
In 1666 Locke was introduced to Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, later 1st earl of Shaftesbury, by a mutual acquaintance. As a member and eventually the leader of a group of opposition politicians known as the Whigs, Ashley was one of the most powerful figures in England in the first two decades after the Restoration. Ashley was so impressed with Locke at their first meeting that in the following year he asked him to join his London household in Exeter House in the Strand as his aide and personal physician, though Locke did not then have a degree in medicine. Politically, Ashley stood for constitutional monarchy, a Protestant succession, civil liberty, toleration in religion, the rule of Parliament, and the economic expansion of England. Locke either shared or soon came to share all these objectives with him, and it was not long before a deep—and for each an important—mutual understanding existed between them. Locke drafted papers on toleration, possibly for Ashley to use in parliamentary speeches. In his capacity as a physician, Locke was involved in a remarkable operation to insert a silver tube into a tumour on Ashley’s liver, which allowed it to be drained on a regular basis and relieved him of much pain. It remained in place for the remainder of Ashley’s life. Locke also found a suitable bride for Ashley’s son.

By 1668 Locke had become a fellow of the Royal Society and was conducting medical research with his friend Thomas Sydenham, the most distinguished physician of the period. Although Locke was undoubtedly the junior partner in their collaboration, they worked together to produce important research based on careful observation and a minimum of speculation. The method that Locke acquired and helped to develop in this work reinforced his commitment to philosophical empiricism. But it was not only medicine that kept Locke busy, for he was appointed by Ashley as secretary to the lords proprietors of Carolina, whose function was to promote the establishment of the North American colony. In that role Locke helped to draft The Fundamental Constitutions for the Government of Carolina (1669), which, among other provisions, guaranteed freedom of religion for all save atheists.

Throughout his time in Exeter House, Locke kept in close contact with his friends. Indeed, the long gestation of his most important philosophical work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), began at a meeting with friends in his rooms, probably in February 1671. The group had gathered to consider questions of morality and revealed religion (knowledge of God derived through revelation). Locke pointed out that, before they could make progress, they would need to consider the prior question of what the human mind is (and is not) capable of comprehending. It was agreed that Locke should prepare a paper on the topic for their next meeting, and it was this paper that became the first draft of his great work.


Exile in France
In 1672 Ashley was raised to the peerage as the 1st earl of Shaftesbury, and at the end of that year he was appointed lord chancellor of England. He was soon dismissed, however, having lost favour with Charles II. For a time Shaftesbury and Locke were in real danger, and it was partly for this reason that Locke traveled to France in 1675. By this time he had received his degree of bachelor of medicine from Oxford and been appointed to a medical studentship at Christ Church.

Locke remained in France for nearly four years (1675–79), spending much time in Paris and Montpelier; the latter possessed a large Protestant minority and the most important medical school in Europe, both of which were strong attractions for Locke. He made many friends in the Protestant community, including some leading intellectuals. His reading, on the other hand, was dominated by the works of French Catholic philosophers. But it was his medical interests that were the major theme of the journals he kept from this period. He was struck by the poverty of the local population and contrasted this unfavourably with conditions in England and with the vast amounts that the French king (Louis XIV) was spending on the Palace of Versailles. From time to time Locke turned to philosophical questions and added notes to his journal, some of which eventually found a place in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Back in England, Shaftesbury had been imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London but was released in February 1678. By the time Locke returned to England in 1679, Shaftesbury had been restored to favour as lord president of the Privy Council. The country, however, was torn by dissension over the exclusion controversy—the debate over whether a law could be passed to forbid (exclude) the succession of Charles II’s brother James, a Roman Catholic, to the English throne. Shaftesbury and Locke strongly supported exclusion. The controversy reached its apex in the hysteria of the so-called Popish Plot, a supposed Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles and replace him with James. The existence of the plot was widely accepted and resulted in the execution of many innocent people before its fabricator, the Anglican priest Titus Oates, was discredited.


Two Treatises of Government
When Shaftesbury failed to reconcile the interests of the king and Parliament, he was dismissed; in 1681 he was arrested, tried, and finally acquitted of treason by a London jury. A year later he fled to Holland, where in 1683 he died. None of Shaftesbury’s known friends was now safe in England. Locke himself, who was being closely watched, crossed to Holland in September 1683.

Out of this context emerged Locke’s major work in political philosophy, Two Treatises of Government (1690). Although scholars disagree over the exact date of its composition, it is certain that it was substantially composed before Locke fled to Holland. In this respect the Two Treatises was a response to the political situation as it existed in England at the time of the exclusion controversy, though its message was of much more lasting significance. In the preface to the work, composed at a later date, Locke makes clear that the arguments of the two treatises are continuous and that the whole constitutes a justification of the Glorious Revolution, which brought the Protestant William III and Mary II to the throne following the flight of James II to France.

It should be noted that Locke’s political philosophy was guided by his deeply held religious commitments. Throughout his life he accepted the existence of a creating God and the notion that all humans are God’s servants in virtue of that relationship. God created humans for a certain purpose, namely to live a life according to his laws and thus to inherit eternal salvation; most importantly for Locke’s philosophy, God gave humans just those intellectual and other abilities necessary to achieve this end. Thus, humans, using the capacity of reason, are able to discover that God exists, to identify his laws and the duties they entail, and to acquire sufficient knowledge to perform their duties and thereby to lead a happy and successful life. They can come to recognize that some actions, such as failing to care for one’s offspring or to keep one’s contracts, are morally reprehensible and contrary to natural law, which is identical to the law of God. Other specific moral laws can be discovered or known only through revelation—e.g., by reading the Bible or the Qurʾān.

The essentially Protestant Christian framework of Locke’s philosophy meant that his attitude toward Roman Catholicism would always be hostile. He rejected the claim of papal infallibility (how could it ever be proved?), and he feared the political dimensions of Catholicism as a threat to English autonomy, especially after Louis XIV in 1685 revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted religious liberty to the Protestant Huguenots.


Two Treatises of Government » The first treatise
The first treatise was aimed squarely at the work of another 17th-century political theorist, Sir Robert Filmer, whose Patriarcha (1680, though probably written in the 1630s) defended the theory of divine right of kings: the authority of every king is divinely sanctioned by his descent from Adam—according to the Bible, the first king and the father of humanity. Locke claims that Filmer’s doctrine defies “common sense.” The right to rule by descent from Adam’s first grant could not be supported by any historical record or any other evidence, and any contract that God and Adam entered into would not be binding on remote descendants thousands of years later, even if a line of descent could be identified. His refutation was widely accepted as decisive, and in any event the theory of the divine right of kings ceased to be taken seriously in England after 1688.


Two Treatises of Government » The second treatise
Locke’s importance as a political philosopher lies in the argument of the second treatise. He begins by defining political power as a

right of making Laws with Penalties of Death, and consequently all less Penalties, for the Regulating and Preserving of Property, and of employing the force of the Community, in the Execution of such Laws and in defence of the Common-wealth from Foreign Injury, and all this only for the Publick Good.

Much of the remainder of the Treatise is a commentary on this paragraph.


Two Treatises of Government » The second treatise » The state of nature and the social contract
Locke’s definition of political power has an immediate moral dimension. It is a “right” of making laws and enforcing them for “the public good.” Power for Locke never simply means “capacity” but always “morally sanctioned capacity.” Morality pervades the whole arrangement of society, and it is this fact, tautologically, that makes society legitimate.

Locke’s account of political society is based on a hypothetical consideration of the human condition before the beginning of communal life. In this “state of nature,” humans are entirely free. But this freedom is not a state of complete license, because it is set within the bounds of the law of nature. It is a state of equality, which is itself a central element of Locke’s account. In marked contrast to Filmer’s world, there is no natural hierarchy among humans. Each person is naturally free and equal under the law of nature, subject only to the will of “the infinitely wise Maker.” Each person, moreover, is required to enforce as well as to obey this law. It is this duty that gives to humans the right to punish offenders. But in such a state of nature, it is obvious that placing the right to punish in each person’s hands may lead to injustice and violence. This can be remedied if humans enter into a contract with each other to recognize by common consent a civil government with the power to enforce the law of nature among the citizens of that state. Although any contract is legitimate as long as it does not infringe upon the law of nature, it often happens that a contract can be enforced only if there is some higher human authority to require compliance with it. It is a primary function of society to set up the framework in which legitimate contracts, freely entered into, may be enforced, a state of affairs much more difficult to guarantee in the state of nature and outside civil society.


Two Treatises of Government » The second treatise » Property
Before discussing the creation of political society in greater detail, Locke provides a lengthy account of his notion of property, which is of central importance to his political theory. Each person, according to Locke, has property in his own person—that is, each person literally owns his own body. Other people may not use a person’s body for any purpose without his permission. But one can acquire property beyond one’s own body through labour. By mixing one’s labour with objects in the world, one acquires a right to the fruits of that work. If one’s labour turns a barren field into crops or a pile of wood into a house, then the valuable product of that labour, the crops or the house, becomes one’s property. Locke’s view was a forerunner of the labour theory of value, which was expounded in different forms by the 19th-century economists David Ricardo and Karl Marx (see also classical economics).

Clearly, each person is entitled to as much of the product of his labour as he needs to survive. But, according to Locke, in the state of nature one is not entitled to hoard surplus produce—one must share it with those less fortunate. God has “given the World to Men in common…to make use of to the best advantage of Life, and convenience.” The introduction of money, while radically changing the economic base of society, was itself a contingent development, for money has no intrinsic value but depends for its utility only on convention.

Locke’s account of property and how it comes to be owned faces difficult problems. For example, it is far from clear how much labour is required to turn any given unowned object into a piece of private property. In the case of a piece of land, for example, is it sufficient merely to put a fence around it? Or must it be plowed as well? There is, nevertheless, something intuitively powerful in the notion that it is activity, or work, that grants one a property right in something.


Two Treatises of Government » The second treatise » Organization of government
Locke returns to political society in Chapter VIII of the second treatise. In the community created by the social contract, the will of the majority should prevail, subject to the law of nature. The legislative body is central, but it cannot create laws that violate the law of nature, because the enforcement of the natural law regarding life, liberty, and property is the rationale of the whole system. Laws must apply equitably to all citizens and not favour particular sectional interests, and there should be a division of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The legislature may, with the agreement of the majority, impose such taxes as are required to fulfill the ends of the state—including, of course, its defense. If the executive power fails to provide the conditions under which the people can enjoy their rights under natural law, then the people are entitled to remove him, by force if necessary. Thus, revolution, in extremis, is permissible—as Locke obviously thought it was in 1688.

The significance of Locke’s vision of political society can scarcely be exaggerated. His integration of individualism within the framework of the law of nature and his account of the origins and limits of legitimate government authority inspired the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) and the broad outlines of the system of government adopted in the U.S. Constitution. George Washington, the first president of the United States, once described Locke as “the greatest man who had ever lived.” In France too, Lockean principles found clear expression in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and other justifications of the French Revolution of 1789.


An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Locke remained in Holland for more than five years (1683–89). While there he made new and important friends and associated with other exiles from England. He also wrote his first Letter on Toleration, published anonymously in Latin in 1689, and completed An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.


An Essay Concerning Human Understanding » Theory of ideas
A dominant theme of the Essay is the question with which the original discussion in Exeter House began: What is the capacity of the human mind for understanding and knowledge? In his prefatory chapter, Locke explains that the Essay is not offered as a contribution to knowledge itself but as a means of clearing away some of the intellectual rubbish that stands in the way of knowledge. He had in mind not only the medieval Scholastics and their followers but also some of his older contemporaries. The Scholastics—those who took Aristotle and his commentators to be the source of all philosophical knowledge and who still dominated teaching in universities throughout Europe—were guilty of introducing technical terms into philosophy (such as substantial form, vegetative soul, abhorrence of a vacuum, and intentional species) that upon examination had no clear sense—or, more often, no sense at all. Locke saw the Scholastics as an enemy that had to be defeated before his own account of knowledge could be widely accepted, something about which he was entirely right.

Locke begins the Essay by repudiating the view that certain kinds of knowledge—knowledge of the existence of God, of certain moral truths, or of the laws of logic or mathematics—are innate, imprinted on the human mind at its creation. (The doctrine of innate ideas, which was widely held to justify religious and moral claims, had its origins in the philosophy of Plato [428/427–348/347bce], who was still a powerful force in 17th-century English philosophy.) Locke argues to the contrary that an idea cannot be said to be “in the mind” until one is conscious of it. But human infants have no conception of God or of moral, logical, or mathematical truths, and to suppose that they do, despite obvious evidence to the contrary, is merely an unwarranted assumption to save a position. Furthermore, travelers to distant lands have reported encounters with people who have no conception of God and who think it morally justified to eat their enemies. Such diversity of religious and moral opinion cannot not be explained by the doctrine of innate ideas but can be explained, Locke held, on his own account of the origins of ideas.

In Book II he turns to that positive account. He begins by claiming that the sources of all knowledge are, first, sense experience (the red colour of a rose, the ringing sound of a bell, the taste of salt, and so on) and, second, “reflection” (one’s awareness that one is thinking, that one is happy or sad, that one is having a certain sensation, and so on). These are not themselves, however, instances of knowledge in the strict sense, but they provide the mind with the materials of knowledge. Locke calls the materials so provided “ideas.” Ideas are objects “before the mind,” not in the sense that they are physical objects but in the sense that they represent physical objects to consciousness.

All ideas are either simple or complex. All simple ideas are derived from sense experience, and all complex ideas are derived from the combination (“compounding”) of simple and complex ideas by the mind. Whereas complex ideas can be analyzed, or broken down, into the simple or complex ideas of which they are composed, simple ideas cannot be. The complex idea of a snowball, for example, can be analyzed into the simple ideas of whiteness, roundness, and solidity (among possibly others), but none of the latter ideas can be analyzed into anything simpler. In Locke’s view, therefore, a major function of philosophical inquiry is the analysis of the meanings of terms through the identification of the ideas that give rise to them. The project of analyzing supposedly complex ideas (or concepts) subsequently became an important theme in philosophy, especially within the analytic tradition, which began at the turn of the 20th century and became dominant at Cambridge, Oxford, and many other universities, especially in the English-speaking world.


An Essay Concerning Human Understanding » Primary and secondary qualities
In the course of his account, Locke raises a host of related issues, many of which have since been the source of much debate. One of them is his illuminating distinction between the “primary” and “secondary” qualities of physical objects. Primary qualities include size, shape, weight, and solidity, among others, and secondary qualities include colour, taste, and smell. Ideas of primary qualities resemble the qualities as they are in the object—as one’s idea of the roundness of a snowball resembles the roundness of the snowball itself. However, ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble any property in the object; they are instead a product of the power that the object has to cause certain kinds of ideas in the mind of the perceiver. Thus, the whiteness of the snowball is merely an idea produced in the mind by the interaction between light, the primary qualities of the snowball, and the perceiver’s sense organs.


An Essay Concerning Human Understanding » Personal identity
Locke discussed another problem that had not before received sustained attention: that of personal identity. Assuming one is the same person as the person who existed last week or the person who was born many years ago, what fact makes this so? Locke was careful to distinguish the notion of sameness of person from the related notions of sameness of body and sameness of man, or human being. Sameness of body requires identity of matter, and sameness of human being depends on continuity of life (as would the sameness of a certain oak tree from acorn to sapling to maturity); but sameness of person requires something else. Locke’s proposal was that personal identity consists of continuity of consciousness. One is the same person as the person who existed last week or many years ago if one has memories of the earlier person’s conscious experiences. Locke’s account of personal identity became a standard (and highly contested) position in subsequent discussions.


An Essay Concerning Human Understanding » Association of ideas
A further influential section of Book II is Locke’s treatment of the association of ideas. Ideas, Locke observes, can become linked in the mind in such a way that having one idea immediately leads one to form another idea, even though the two ideas are not necessarily connected with each other. Instead, they are linked through their having been experienced together on numerous occasions in the past. The psychological tendency to associate ideas through experience, Locke says, has important implications for the education of children. In order to learn to adopt good habits and to avoid bad ones, children must be made to associate rewards with good behaviour and punishments with bad behaviour. Investigations into the associations that people make between ideas can reveal much about how human beings think. Through his influence on researchers such as the English physician David Hartley (1705–57), Locke contributed significantly to the development of the theory of associationism, or associationist psychology, in the 18th century. Association has remained a central topic of inquiry in psychology ever since.


An Essay Concerning Human Understanding » Language
Having shown to his satisfaction that no idea requires for its explanation the hypothesis of innate ideas, Locke proceeds in Book III to examine the role of language in human mental life. His discussion is the first sustained philosophical inquiry in modern times into the notion of linguistic meaning. As elsewhere, he begins with rather simple and obvious claims but quickly proceeds to complex and contentious ones. Words, Locke says, stand for ideas in the mind of the person who uses them. It is by the use of words that people convey their necessarily private thoughts to each other. In addition, Locke insists, nothing exists except particulars, or individual things. There are, for example, many triangular things and many red things, but there is no general quality or property, over and above these things, that may be called “triangle” (“triangularity”) or “red” (“redness”) (see universal). Nevertheless, a large number of words are general in their application, applying to many particular things at once. Thus, words must be labels for both ideas of particular things (particular ideas) and ideas of general things (general ideas). The problem is, if everything that exists is a particular, where do general ideas come from?

Locke’s answer is that ideas become general through the process of abstraction. The general idea of a triangle, for example, is the result of abstracting from the properties of specific triangles only the residue of qualities that all triangles have in common—that is, having three straight sides. Although there are enormous problems with this account, alternatives to it are also fraught with difficulties.


An Essay Concerning Human Understanding » Knowledge
In Book IV of the Essay, Locke reaches the putative heart of his inquiry, the nature and extent of human knowledge. His precise definition of knowledge entails that very few things actually count as such for him. In general, he excludes knowledge claims in which there is no evident connection or exclusion between the ideas of which the claim is composed. Thus, it is possible to know that white is not black whenever one has the ideas of white and black together (as when one looks at a printed page), and it is possible to know that the three angles of a triangle equal two right angles if one knows the relevant Euclidean proof. But it is not possible to know that the next stone one drops will fall downward or that the next glass of water one drinks will quench one’s thirst, even though psychologically one has every expectation, through the association of ideas, that it will. These are cases only of probability, not knowledge—as indeed is virtually the whole of scientific knowledge, excluding mathematics. Not that such probable claims are unimportant: humans would be incapable of dealing with the world except on the assumption that such claims are true. But for Locke they fall short of genuine knowledge.

There are, however, some very important things that can be known. For example, Locke agreed with Descartes that each person can know immediately and without appeal to any further evidence that he exists at the time that he considers it. One can also know immediately that the colour of the print on a page is different from the colour of the page itself—i.e., that black is not white—and that two is greater than one. It can also be proved from self-evident truths by valid argument (by an argument whose conclusion cannot be false if its premises are true) that a first cause, or God, must exist. Various moral claims also can be demonstrated—e.g., that parents have a duty to care for their children and that one should honour one’s contracts. People often make mistakes or poor judgments in their dealings with the world or each other because they are unclear about the concepts they use or because they fail to analyze the relevant ideas. Another great cause of confusion, however, is the human propensity to succumb to what Locke calls “Enthusiasm,” the adoption on logically inadequate grounds of claims that one is already disposed to accept.

One major problem that the Essay appeared to raise is that if ideas are indeed the immediate objects of experience, how is it possible to know that there is anything beyond them—e.g., ordinary physical objects? Locke’s answer to this problem, insofar as he recognized it as a problem, appears to have been that, because perception is a natural process and thus ordained by God, it cannot be generally misleading about the ontology of the universe. In the more skeptical age of the 18th century, this argument became less and less convincing. This issue dominated epistemology in the 18th century.

The Essay’s influence was enormous, perhaps as great as that of any other philosophical work apart from those of Plato and Aristotle. Its importance in the English-speaking world of the 18th century can scarcely be overstated. Along with the works of Descartes, it constitutes the foundation of modern Western philosophy.


Other works
Locke’s writings were not confined to political philosophy and epistemology. Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), for example, remains a standard source in the philosophy of education. It developed out of a series of letters that Locke had written from Holland to his friend Edward Clarke concerning the education of Clarke’s son, who was destined to be a gentleman but not necessarily a scholar. It emphasizes the importance of both physical and mental development—both exercise and study. The first requirement is to instill virtue, wisdom, and good manners. This is to be followed by book learning. For the latter, Locke gives a list of recommended texts on Latin, French, mathematics, geography, and history, as well as civil law, philosophy, and natural science. There should also be plenty of scope for recreation, including dancing and riding.

Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity(1695) is the most important of his many theological writings. Central to all of them is his belief that every individual has within him the abilities necessary to comprehend his duty and to achieve salvation with the aid of the Scriptures. Locke was constantly trying to steer a course that would allow individuals to accept the essential doctrines of Christianity while retaining a certain freedom of conscience. According to Locke, all Christians must accept Jesus as the Messiah and live in accordance with his teachings. Within this minimum framework, however, differences of worship could and should be tolerated. Locke was thus in many ways close to the Latitudinarian movement and other liberal theological trends. His influence on Protestant Christian thought for at least the next century was substantial.

Locke wrote no major work of moral philosophy. Although he sometimes claimed that it would be possible in principle to produce a deductive system of ethics comparable to Euclid’s geometry, he never actually produced one, and there is no evidence that he ever gave the matter more than minimal attention. He was quite sure, however, that through the use of reason human beings can gain access to and knowledge of basic moral truths, which ultimately arise from a moral order in “the soil of human nature.” As he expressed the point in Essays on the Law of Nature (1664), an early work expressing a position from which he never diverted,

since man has been made such as he is, equipped with reason and his other faculties and destined for this mode of life, there necessarily result from his inborn constitution some definite duties for him, which cannot be other than they are.

Just as one can discover from the nature of the triangle that its angles equal two right angles, so this moral order can be discovered by reason and is within the grasp of all human beings.


Last years and influence
Locke remained in Holland until James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution. Indeed, Locke himself in February 1689 crossed the English Channel in the party that accompanied the princess of Orange, who was soon crowned Queen Mary II of England. Upon his return he became actively involved in various political projects, including helping to draft the English Bill of Rights, though the version eventually adopted by Parliament did not go as far as he wanted in matters of religious toleration. He was offered a senior diplomatic post by William but declined. His health was rarely good, and he suffered especially in the smoky atmosphere of London. He was therefore very happy to accept the offer of his close friend Damaris Masham, herself a philosopher and the daughter of Ralph Cudworth, to make his home with her family at Oates in High Laver, Essex. There he spent his last years revising the Essay and other works, entertaining friends, including Newton, and responding at length to his critics. After a lengthy period of poor health, he died while Damaris read him the Bible. He was buried in High Laver church.

As a final comment on his achievement, it may be said that, in many ways, to read Locke’s works is the best available introduction to the intellectual environment of the modern Western world. His faith in the salutary, ennobling powers of knowledge justifies his reputation as the first philosopher of the Enlightenment. In a broader context, he founded a philosophical tradition, British empiricism, that would span three centuries. In developing the Whig ideology underlying the exclusion controversy and the Glorious Revolution, he formulated the classic expression of liberalism, which was instrumental in the great revolutions of 1776 and 1789. His influence remains strongly felt in the West, as the notions of mind, freedom, and authority continue to be challenged and explored.

Graham A.J. Rogers

 






Modern philosophy » The Enlightenment » Classical British empiricism

Two major philosophical problems remained: to provide an account of the origins of reason and to shift its application from the physical universe to human nature. Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) was devoted to the first, and Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), “being an attempt to apply the method of experimental reasoning to moral subjects,” was devoted to the second.

These two basic tasks represented a new direction for philosophy since the late Renaissance. The Renaissance preoccupation with the natural world had constituted a certain “realistic” bias. Hobbes and Spinoza had each produced a metaphysics. They had been interested in the real constitution of the physical world. Moreover, the Renaissance enthusiasm for mathematics had resulted in a profound interest in rational principles, necessary propositions, and innate ideas. As attention was turned from the realities of nature to the structure of the mind that knows it so successfully, philosophers of the Enlightenment focused on the sensory and experiential components of knowledge rather than on the merely mathematical. Thus, whereas the philosophy of the late Renaissance had been metaphysical and rationalistic, that of the Enlightenment was epistemological and empiricist. The school of British empiricism—John Locke, George Berkeley (1685–1753), and David Hume—dominated the perspective of Enlightenment philosophy until the time of Kant.


 

Modern philosophy » The Enlightenment » Classical British empiricism » Reason in Locke and Berkeley

Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding marked a decisively new direction for modern philosophizing because it proposed what amounts to a new criterion of truth. Locke’s aim in his essay—“to inquire into the origin, certainty, and extent of human knowledge”—involved three tasks:

1. To discover the origin of human ideas.
2. To determine their certainty and evidential value.
3. To examine the claims of all knowledge that is less than certain.

What was crucial for Locke, however, was that the second task is dependent upon the first. Following the general Renaissance custom, Locke defined an idea as a mental entity: “whatever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks.” But whereas for Descartes and the entire rationalist school the certainty of ideas had been a function of their self-evidence—i.e., of their clarity and distinctness—for Locke their validity depended expressly on the mode and manner of their origin. Thus, an intrinsic criterion of truth and validity was replaced with a genetic one.

Locke’s exhaustive survey of mental contents is useful, if elaborate. Although he distinguished between ideas of sensation and ideas of reflection, the thrust of his efforts and those of his empiricist followers was to reduce the latter to the former, to minimize the originative power of the mind in favour of its passive receptivity to the sensory impressions received from without. Locke’s classification of ideas into “simple” and “complex” was an attempt to distinguish mental contents that are derived directly from one or more of the senses (such as blueness or solidity, which come from a single sense such as sight or touch, and figure, space, extension, rest, and motion, which are the product of several senses combined) from complicated and compounded ideas of universals (such as triangle and gratitude), substances, and relations (such as identity, diversity, and cause and effect).

Locke’s Essay was a dogged attempt to produce the total world of human conceptual experience from a set of elementary sensory building blocks, moving always from sensation toward thought and from the simple to the complex. The basic outcome of his epistemology was therefore:

1. That the ultimate source of human ideas is sense experience.
2. That all mental operations are a combining and compounding of simple sensory materials into complex conceptual entities.

Locke’s theory of knowledge was based upon a kind of sensory atomism, in which the mind is an agent of discovery rather than of creation, and ideas are “like” the objects they represent, which in turn are the sources of the sensations the mind receives. Locke’s theory also made the important distinction between “primary qualities” (such as solidity, figure, extension, motion, and rest), which are real properties of physical objects, and “secondary qualities” (such as colour, taste, and smell), which are merely the effects of such real properties on the mind.

It was precisely this dualism of primary and secondary qualities that Locke’s successor, George Berkeley, sought to overcome. Although Berkeley was a bishop in the Anglican church who professed a desire to combat atheistic materialism, his importance for the theory of knowledge lies rather in the way in which he demonstrated that, in the end, primary qualities are reducible to secondary qualities. His empiricism led to a denial of abstract ideas because he believed that general notions are simply fictions of the mind. Science, he argued, can easily dispense with the concept of matter: nature is simply that which human beings perceive through their sense faculties. This means that sense experiences themselves can be considered “objects for the mind.” A physical object, therefore, is simply a recurrent group of sense qualities. With this important reduction of substance to quality, Berkeley became the father of the epistemological position known as phenomenalism, which has remained an important influence in British philosophy to the present day.
 



George Berkeley
Irish philosopher

born March 12, 1685, near Dysert Castle, near Thomastown?, County Kilkenny, Ire.
died Jan. 14, 1753, Oxford

Main
Anglo-Irish Anglican bishop, philosopher, and scientist, best known for his Empiricist philosophy, which holds that everything save the spiritual exists only insofar as it is perceived by the senses.

Early life and works.
Berkeley was the eldest son of William Berkeley, described as a “gentleman” in George’s matriculation entry, and as a commissioned officer, a cornet of dragoons, in the entry of a younger brother. Brought up at Dysert Castle, Berkeley entered Kilkenny College in 1696 and Trinity College, Dublin, in 1700, where he was graduated with a B.A. degree in 1704. While awaiting a fellowship vacancy, he made a critical study of time, vision, and the hypothesis that there is no material substance. The principal influences upon his thinking were Empiricism, represented by the English philosopher John Locke, and Continental Skepticism, represented by Nicolas Malebranche and Pierre Bayle. His first publication, Arithmetica and Miscellanea Mathematica (published together in 1707), was probably a fellowship thesis.

Elected fellow of Trinity College in 1707, Berkeley began to “examine and revise” his “first arguings” in his revision notebooks. The revision was drastic and its results revolutionary. His old principle was largely superseded by his new principle; i.e., his original line of argument for immaterialism, based on the subjectivity of colour, taste, and the other sensible qualities, was replaced by a simple, profound analysis of the meaning of “to be” or “to exist.” “To be,” said of the object, means to be perceived; “to be,” said of the subject, means to perceive.

Berkeley called attention to the whole situation that exists when a person perceives something, or imagines it. He argued that, when a person imagines trees or books “and no body by to perceive them,” he is failing to appreciate the whole situation: he is “omitting” the perceiver, for imagined trees or books are necessarily imagined as perceivable. The situation for him is a two-term relation of perceiver and perceived; there is no third term; there is no “idea of ” the object, coming between perceiver and perceived.

The revision was a gradual development. At the start Berkeley held that nothing exists but “conscious things.” “On second thoughts,” he was certain of the existence of bodies and knew intuitively “the existence of other things besides ourselves.” His expressions, “in the mind” and “without the mind,” must be understood accordingly. As he wrote in his notebook, heat and colour (which philosophers had classed as secondary qualities because of their supposed subjectivity) are “as much without the mind” as figure and motion (classed as primary qualities) or as time; for both primary and secondary qualities are so in the mind as to be in the thing, and are so in the thing as to be in the mind. The mind does not become red, blue, or extended when those qualities are in it; they are not modes or attributes of mind. Colour and extension are not mental qualities for Berkeley: colour can be seen, and extension can be touched; they are “sensible ideas,” or sense-data, the direct objects of percipient mind.

Berkeley accepted possible perception as well as actual perception; i.e., he accepted the existence of what a person is not actually perceiving but might perceive if he took the appropriate steps. The opposite view was held by some philosophers, including Materialists, who (in Berkeley’s words) “are by their own principles forced” to accept it. They are forced to accept that objects actually seen and touched have only an intermittent existence, that they come into existence when perceived and pass into nothingness when no longer perceived. Berkeley treated those views with respect; he denied that they are absurd; but he did not hold them, and he explicitly denied that they follow from his principles. In effect he said to his readers, “You may hold, if you will, that objects of sense have only an ‘in-and-out’ existence, that they are created and annihilated with every turn of man’s attention; but do not father those views on me. I do not hold them.” In his notebook he wrote, “Existence is percipi or percipere. The horse is in the stable, the Books are in the study as before.” Horse and books, when not being actually perceived by man, are still there, still perceivable “still with relation to perception.” To a nonphilosophical friend Berkeley wrote, “I question not the existence of anything that we perceive by our senses.”

Berkeley’s immaterialism is open to “gross misinterpretation,” as he said in his preface; rightly understood, it is common sense. Like most people, he accepted and built on “two heads,” “two kinds entirely distinct and heterogeneous”: (1) active mind or spirit, perceiving, thinking, and willing; and (2) passive objects of mind, viz., sensible ideas (sense-data) or imaginable ideas.


Period of his major works.
Berkeley’s golden period of authorship followed the revision. In An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), he examined visual distance, magnitude, position, and problems of sight and touch, and concluded that “the proper (or real) objects of sight” are not without the mind, though “the contrary be supposed true of tangible objects.” In his Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Part I (1710), he brought all objects of sense, including tangibles, within the mind; he rejected material substance, material causes, and abstract general ideas; he affirmed spiritual substance; and he answered many objections to his theory and drew the consequences, theological and epistemological. His Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713), by its attractive literary form and its avoidance of technicalities, reinforced the main argument of the Principles; the two books speak with one voice about immaterialism.

Berkeley was made a deacon in 1709 and ordained a priest in 1710. He held his fellowship for 17 years, acting as librarian (1709), junior dean (1710–11), and tutor and lecturer in divinity, Greek, and Hebrew.

In politics Berkeley was a Hanoverian Tory, and he defended the ethics of that position in three sermons, published as Passive Obedience (1712). Thus, with four major books in five years, the foundations of his fame were laid; and, when he first left Ireland in 1713 on a leave of absence, he was already a man of mark in the learned world; his books were reviewed on the Continent, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the wide-ranging author of the Monadology, knew of his immaterialism and commented upon it.

Among the London wits he was an immediate success. Jonathan Swift, dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, presented him at court. For Sir Richard Steele, an essayist, he wrote essays in The Guardian against the freethinkers. He was in the theatre with Joseph Addison, essayist and poet, on the first night of Cato and has left a spirited description of the experience. Alexander Pope credited him with “ev’ry virtue under heav’n.” In 1713–14 he went on an embassy to Sicily as chaplain with Charles Mordaunt, 3rd earl of Peterborough, whom Berkeley called an “ambassador extraordinary.” In 1715 during the Jacobite rebellion (on behalf of the exiled Stuarts) he proved his loyalty by publishing his Advice to the Tories Who Have Taken the Oaths. He was abroad again from 1716 to 1720 in Italy, acting as tutor to George Ashe, son of the Bishop of Clogher (later, of Derry); his four travel diaries give vivid pictures of sightseeing in Rome and of tours in southern Italy. On his return he published his De motu (1721), which rejected Sir Isaac Newton’s absolute space, time, and motion, gave a veiled hint of his immaterialism, and has recently earned him the title “precursor of Mach and Einstein.”

Resuming his work in Dublin, he took a full part in teaching and administration for more than three years. In 1724 he was appointed dean of Derry, and his 24 years’ connection with Trinity College ended.

His American venture and ensuing years. The deanery and legacy from Hester van Homrigh (Swift’s Vanessa) were seen by Berkeley as providences, furthering his “scheme of Bermuda,” in the New World. The frenzied speculation that preceded the bursting of the South Sea Bubble had shaken his faith in the Old World, and he looked in hope to the New. His Essay Towards preventing the Ruin of Great-Britain (1721) was soon succeeded by his prophetic verses on “Westward the course of empire takes its way.” Already by 1722 he had resolved to build a college in Bermuda for the education of young Americans (Indians), publishing the plan in A Proposal For the better Supplying of Churches . . . (1724). The scheme caught the public imagination; the King granted a charter; the Archbishop of Canterbury acted as trustee; subscriptions poured in; and Parliament passed a contingent grant of £20,000. But there was opposition; an alternative charity for Georgia was mooted; and the prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, hesitated.

In 1728 Berkeley married Anne, daughter of Chief Justice Forster, a talented and well-educated woman, who defended her husband’s philosophy after his death. Soon after the wedding, they sailed for America, settling at Newport, R.I., where Berkeley bought land, built a house (Whitehall), and waited. Berkeley preached often in Newport and its neighbourhood, and a philosophical study group met at Whitehall. Eventually, word came that the grant would not be paid, and Berkeley returned to London in October 1731. Several American universities, Yale in particular, benefitted by Berkeley’s visit; and his correspondence with Samuel Johnson, later president of King’s College (Columbia University), is of philosophical importance.

Alciphron; or, The Minute Philosopher (1732) was written at Newport, and the setting of the dialogues reflects local scenes and scenery. It is a massive defense of theism and Christianity with attacks on deists and freethinkers and discussions of visual language and analogical knowledge and of the functions of words in religious argument.

Upon his return to London in 1731, Berkeley’s pen, never idle for long, became active. A writer in the Daily Post-boy commended Alciphron but attacked the appended Essay on vision. Berkeley replied with The Theory of Vision, or Visual Language . . . Vindicated and Explained (1733). This fine work brought the metaphysics (theory of being) of the Essay into line with the Principles and added his doctrine of cause, admitting defects in the premises of the original Essay. Alciphron provoked replies from the satirist Bernard de Mandeville; John Hervey, Baron Hervey of Ickworth; the statesman Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke; and Peter Browne, Berkeley’s former teacher and provost. To Browne, Berkeley sent a long, private letter on analogy—first published in Mind (July 1969)—which constitutes an important supplement to his 4th dialogue.

In 1734 Berkeley published The Analyst; or, a Discourse Addressed to an Infidel Mathematician, which Florian Cajori, a historian of mathematics, has called “the most spectacular event of the century in the history of British mathematics.” Besides being a contribution to mathematics, it was an argument ad hominem for religion. “He who can digest a second or third fluxion,” wrote Berkeley, “need not, methinks, be squeamish about any point in divinity.” A long and fruitful controversy followed. James Jurin, a Cambridge physician and scientist, John Walton of Dublin, and Colin Maclaurin, a Scottish mathematician, took part. Berkeley answered Jurin in his lively satire A Defence of Free-Thinking in Mathematics (1735) and answered Walton in an appendix to that work and again in his Reasons For Not Replying (1735).


Years as bishop of Cloyne.
Berkeley was consecrated as bishop of Cloyne in Dublin in 1734. He found Trinity College flourishing: its new library was completed, and John Stearne’s Doric printing house was being built. To the latter, Berkeley contributed a font of Greek type and also founded the Berkeley gold medal for Greek. His episcopate, as such, was uneventful. He took a seat in the Irish House of Lords in 1737 and, while in Dublin, published A Discourse Addressed to Magistrates and Men in Authority (1738), condemning the Blasters whose Hell-Fire Club, now in ruins, still can be seen near Dublin.

The see-house at Cloyne was a cultured home and a social centre and, during epidemics, a dispensary. On arrival, the family consisted of his wife and two sons; and two more sons and two daughters were born at Cloyne.

In 1745 Berkeley addressed open letters to his clergy and to the Roman Catholics of his diocese about the Stuart uprising. In letters to the press over his own name or through a friend, he expressed himself on several public questions, political, social, and scientific. Two major works stand out, The Querist and Siris. The Querist, published in three parts from 1735 to 1737, deals with basic economics—credit, demand, industry, and “the true idea of money”—and with special problems, such as banking, currency, luxury, and the wool trade. The final query puts the central question, “Whose fault is it if poor Ireland still continues poor?”

Siris (1744) passed through some six editions in six months. It is at once a treatise on the medicinal virtues of tar-water, its making and dosage, and a philosopher’s vision of a chain of being, “a gradual evolution or ascent” from the world of sense to “the mind, her acts and faculties” and, thence, to the supernatural and God, the three in one.

In August 1752, Berkeley commissioned his brother, Dr. Robert Berkeley, as vicar-general and arranged with the bishop of Cork as to his episcopal duties and, with his wife and his children George and Julia, went to Oxford and took a house in Holywell Street, where he resided until his death. He was buried in Christ Church Chapel.

 


 

Modern philosophy » The Enlightenment » Classical British empiricism » Basic science of human nature in Hume

The third, and in many ways the most important, of the British empiricists was the skeptic David Hume. Hume’s philosophical intention was to reap, humanistically, the harvest sowed by Newtonian physics, to apply the method of natural science to human nature. The paradoxical result of this admirable goal, however, was a skeptical crisis even more devastating than that of the early French Renaissance.

Hume followed Locke and Berkeley in approaching the problem of knowledge from a psychological perspective. He too found the origin of knowledge in sense experience. But whereas Locke had found a certain trustworthy order in the compounding power of the mind, and Berkeley had found mentality itself expressive of a certain spiritual power, Hume’s relentless analysis discovered as much contingency in mind as in the external world. All uniformity in perceptual experience, he held, comes from “an associating quality of the mind.” The “association of ideas” is a fact, but the relations of resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect that it produces have no intrinsic validity because they are merely the product of “mental habit.” Thus, the causal principle upon which all knowledge rests represents no necessary connections between things but is simply the result of their constant conjunction in human minds. Moreover, the mind itself, far from being an independent power, is simply “a bundle of perceptions” without unity or cohesive quality. Hume’s denial of a necessary order of nature on the one hand and of a substantial or unified self on the other precipitated a philosophical crisis from which Enlightenment philosophy was not to be rescued until the work of Kant.
 

 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy