John Locke Archives



More Generally: Historical Thinkers (226)

November 19, 2013

Some Historical Context to Locke on Faith and Reason

Most debates about faith and reason in the Western tradition carry the background assumption that 'faith' is or involves believing the teachings of the Bible. This gives rise to a rather obvious strategy for resolving any apparent conflicts between faith and reason: reinterpret the Bible. Much of what Locke says in "Of Faith and Reason, and their distinct Provinces" (EHU 4.18) depends crucially on this assumption, and this is why, in the 4th edition, Locke saw fit to add a chapter "Of Enthusiasm" (4.19) against those who claimed a direct revelation from God not mediated by language. In this post,...
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July 7, 2012

"Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" in JHI

My paper, "Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" has been accepted to Journal of the History of Ideas. This is a direct descendent of the paper I presented at the International Berkeley Conference in Zurich last summer. The paper examines Berkeley's relationship to Locke's conservative religious critics, with focus on Edward Stillingfleet, John Sergeant, and Peter Browne, and argues that, on the questions about faith and reason which exercised these critics, Berkeley self-consciously and intentionally sides with Locke. In accordance with the journal's self-archiving policy, I have made my final draft of the paper available here.
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July 3, 2012

The Port-Royalists on Judgment and Other Mental Operations

Locke famously defines judgment, knowledge, etc., in terms of the joining or separating of ideas. It is quite probable that Locke's source for this is the Port-Royal Logic. There are two well-known problems with this view. First, according to this view in order to think that Peter is not living I must mentally separate the idea of Peter from the idea of living, but if I do that then its not clear how this judgment, that Peter is not living, can be a unit which can be, for instance, embedded in complex sentences. Locke makes matters worse by talking about...
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February 15, 2012

Dropping My Tagline

For several years, this blog has been labeled with the tagline "The Evangelical libertarian philosopher." For some time now, I've been dissatisfied with this label, both as a description of my views and as a description of what this blog is about. I've hesitated to drop it primarily because I think that blogs of non-famous people, such as myself, should have some kind of descriptive name or tagline rather than just the author's name, and I couldn't think of another short, catchy, descriptive phrase that would nicely fill that bit of screen space. (I toyed with: "Berkeley's metaphysics, Nozick's politics,...
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October 14, 2011

Berkeley on Miracles and Transubstantiation

It was the custom among 17th and 18th century English philosophers to take as many potshots at the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as possible. Sometimes it almost seems that a desideratum for a theory of metaphysics is that it should be inconsistent with that doctrine. This desideratum is, of course, easily satisfied: most theories of metaphysics are inconsistent with transubstantiation. All versions of the doctrine require that it be metaphysically possible for flesh to exist under the 'species' of bread, and a conservative interpretation of the doctrine popular in the early modern period further required that numerically the same...
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October 12, 2011

Locke and Berkeley on Cartesian Skepticism

Descartes's First Meditation is one of the most striking texts in the history of philosophy. As anyone who has taught the text can attest, students are immediately gripped by the problem, and often despair of a way out. John Locke was evidently not such a student, for he responds to these doubts primarily with ridicule: If any one say, a Dream may do the same thing [as sense perception], and all these Ideas may be produced in us, without any external Objects, he may please to dream that I make him this Answer, 1. That 'tis no great matter, whether...
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June 10, 2011

What Version of Locke's Essay Did Berkeley Read?

Locke's Essay went through several revisions in the author's lifetime, some of them quite substantive philosophically. The first edition was 1689, Locke died in 1704 and the posthumous fifth edition appeared in 1706. Locke seems to have had at least some hand in the revisions made between editions 4 and 5. Because some of the changes are substantive, I've sometimes wondered what version of the Essay Berkeley was working from. We know that it was required reading when Berkeley was studying for his BA at Trinity between 1700 and 1704. Today I was reading Berman's George Berkeley: Idealism and the...
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May 9, 2011

Berkeley and Stillingfleet

I'm increasingly convinced that the debate between Locke and Stillingfleet is important background to Berkeley. Berkeley, like Stillingfleet, thinks that Locke's philosophy leads to 'Socinian scruples' (PHK 95). Furthermore, even in the early works, Berkeley seems to be attacking the 'free-thinkers' (DHP, Pref.), but the only writer he quotes is Locke. This was the behavior Locke complained about in Stillingfleet. Stillingfleet was attacking 'the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning', who, according to Stillingfleet, denied the Trinity (the main target was John Toland), but only Locke is ever quoted. In addition to the fact that the Locke-Stillingfleet correspondence was...
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November 29, 2010

Leibniz and Frankfurt on Freedom

The history of the debate on free will is sometimes narrated as follows: first, we have the 'classic compatibilists', starting from Hobbes, through Locke, Hume, and the positivists. At first these fellows square off against libertarians like Bramhall and Reid, who are (so the story goes) deservedly obscure. The debate is terribly unsophisticated: the compatibilists hold that freedom just is the ability to do what you want to do, the absence of any sort of external constraints. The libertarians require some kind of magic 'contra-causal' agent causation they can't explain. They slowly die out as English language philosophy is purified...
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November 23, 2010

John Locke, Ron Paul, and Airport Security

It has been rather a long time since I wrote on politics. As you can probably imagine, I'm pretty worked up about this whole body scanner business. As recently announced in a post on Homeland Stupidity, Ron Paul and two co-sponsors have introduced a bill in the House which would remove immunity from airport screeners and other federal employees who engage in certain sorts of behavior associated with airport screening. That is, it ensures that the screeners at airports are subject to the same laws regarding battery, sexual assault, child pornography, etc., as everyone else. I think there is something...
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August 6, 2010

The Lockean Proviso and Federally Managed Lands

On my recent vacation, I visited a number of national parks (specifically: Crater Lake, Redwood, and Yosemite). This got me thinking about the moral and political aspects of federal land management, including the National Park System. Libertarians are often skeptical of government ownership of anything. However, in this post I want to argue that the Lockean Proviso actually demands such a system of government land management, and so such a system should be supported by libertarians of the Nozickian/Neo-Lockean sort, such as myself. Let's start at the beginning. Locke holds that initially all of earth's natural resources were held in...
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June 14, 2010

Locke on the Arbitrariness of Ideas of Mixed Modes and Substances

In Locke's discussion of names of mixed modes and names of substances in EHU 3.5-6, he seems to suggest that the ideas of mixed modes are in some way more arbitrary than the ideas of substances. Some commentators, such as Nicholas Jolley (Locke: His Philosophical Thought, 155-161), have found this claim problematic for, according to Locke, ideas of substances are 'the workmanship of the understanding'; they are not given to us by nature. I think, however, that considerations from book two are sufficient to answer this worry. Locke defines mixed modes as "such Combinations of simple Ideas, as are not...
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March 19, 2010

Locke and Leibniz on Armchair Teleology

[I]f we may conclude that God hath done for men all that men shall judge is best for them, because it is suitable to his goodness so to do, it will prove not only that God has imprinted on the minds of men an idea of himself, but that he hath plainly stamped there, in fair characters, all that men ought to know or believe of him, all that they ought to do in obedience to his will, and that he hath given them a will and affections conformable to it. This, no doubt, everyone will think it better for...
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January 20, 2010

A Berkeley-Centric Narrative

Continuing the discussion of the historiography of modern philosophy, I want to consider an alternative narrative. The standard narrative is Kant-centric: the rationalists and empiricists spend a century squabbling, then Kant comes along and figures out what's right and what's wrong with each view, resulting in the Critical Philosophy. The key figures, apart from Kant, are Descartes, the great founder of the rationalists; Locke, the great founder of the empiricists; and Hume who called attention to the severe failings of both schools. (When I took intro to modern at Penn, this is exactly the way it went: these were the...
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January 12, 2010

Alternative Groupings of Early Modern Philosophers

Last month, there was some blog discussion about historiography and teaching methods in early modern philosophy. The standard story is evidently due to Hegel, and continues to be standard despite being unpopular among specialists in history of modern. It groups modern philosophers before Kant as follows:
Rationalists
Descartes
Spinoza
Leibniz
Empiricists
Locke
Berkeley
Hume
Dana McCourt, blogging at The Edge of the American West...
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May 13, 2009

Quote of the Day: Stillingfleet on the Natural Immortality of the Soul

You [Locke] say, That all the ends of Religion and Morality are secured barely by the Immortality of the Soul without a necessary Supposition that the Soul is Immaterial. I am of the opinion that the great ends of Religion and Morality are best secured by the Proofs of the Immortality of the Soul from its Nature and Properties; and which I think can prove it Immaterial. I do not question whether God can give Immortality to a Material Substance; but I say it takes off very much from the evidence of Immortality, if it depend wholly on God's giving...
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April 29, 2009

Locke, Berkeley, and 'Common Sense'

John Locke is often portrayed as a 'philosopher of common sense' (or, 'tempered common sense', some say), and George Berkeley as a proponent of a bizarre and novel metaphysics which is radically discontinuous with common sense. However, it is Berkeley, much more than Locke, who is constantly appealing to 'common sense' in support of his views. Why is this? And how is it that Berkeley, with his radical metaphysical claims, purports to be a defender of common sense? The answer, I believe, is that the philosophies of Locke and Berkeley are related to our ordinary beliefs in radically different ways...
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March 19, 2009

(Self-)Quote of the Day: A Controversial Claim for Your Consideration

Hobbes's normative theory implicitly commits him to the belief that a constitutionally limited government of the sort that would later be described by John Locke would be a paradise if only it could be achieved and maintained.
    - Kenneth L. Pearce, "Deposing Leviathan: Hobbes and Locke on Grievances Against the State" (working draft)
This is the last sentence of a paper that I just finished my first draft of. (I'm running a little late - it's due tomorrow evening!) As I'm editing, I'll be taking a closer look to try to see whether I've really established a claim this strong...
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March 18, 2009

Hobbes, Locke, and Grievances Against the State

It is a fact of life that people frequently come into conflict in various ways: conflicts both about whether a certain action took place, and about whether that sort of action is acceptable. Thomas Hobbes calls the first of these "a question Of Fact" and the second "a question Of Right" (Leviathan ch. 15). Both Hobbes, the notorious proponent of absolute sovereignty, and John Locke, the great proponent of limited government (can you tell whose side I'm on?), agree that one of the chief reasons for forming governments is to prevent these disputes from leading to violence...
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January 21, 2009

The Limits of Religious Toleration

In a very sad case out of Wisconsin, the parents of 11 year old Kara Neumann are being prosecuted for reckless endangerment after their daughter died of diabetes. They refused medical care for their daughter on account of their religious beliefs. (They do not belong to the Church of Christ, Scientist, which I believe is the largest religious organization which forbids its adherents from seeking medical care; rather, it appears that they are followers of some internet group by the name of "Unleavened Bread Ministries".) The Neumanns originally entered a constitutional challenge to their prosecution. The judge ruled that...
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January 20, 2009

Topics of Thought for This Quarter

Although I only very rarely post life updates to this blog, it is my custom here to list the subjects I am studying each term because it generally has some bearing on what interesting philosophy I will be blogging about. This quarter I am taking courses on the following topics: Early Modern Social Contract Theory. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. I am already considering a paper topic: grievances against the state. (A timely subject.) Hobbes seems to say that you can't sue a sovereign (whether sovereignty is held by an individual or a group) unless he/she/they intentionally set up a process...
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March 15, 2008

Berkeley's Theory of Reference and the Critique of Matter

George Berkeley is well known for his critique of matter. By "matter" he means Locke's "material substratum." At the end of the Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous he actually does acknowledge that one might use the word "matter" simply to mean "the stuff of the physical world" (that's not a direct quote) and he doesn't object to this, so he actually isn't opposed to the way the word was used in your physics or chemistry classes, but only to the way it was used in early modern metaphysics. The critique of matter is tied up in the critique of...
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December 22, 2006

My Five Favorite Philosophers

Recently, while I was busy with finals, Clarke at Mormon Metaphysics and Johnny-Dee at Fides Quarens Intellectum posted lists of their favorite philosophers. I thought that today I would do the same. I won't get fancy with pictures and stuff, because that's not my style (as you can plainly see if you are looking at this page), but I do have a list, roughly in order...
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January 27, 2006

Persons as Events

Over the semester break, I took some time to look at Peter van Inwagen's paper "Materialism and the Psychological-Continuity Account of Personal Identity" (Philosophical Perspectives 11 (1997): 305-319) and, as I realized that I don't have a good candidate for submission to Monday's Philosopher's Carnival, I thought this would be a good time to write down some thoughts that I had in connection with this paper and (very) broadly Lockean "psychological continuity" accounts of personal identity in general. The aim of van Inwagen's paper is to show that these kind of psychological continuity accounts require the existence of immaterial substances,...
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