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Autor: anton 24 August 2010
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Human beings are physical objects, according to
Hobbes, sophisticated machines all of whose functions
and activities can be described and explained in
purely mechanistic terms. Even thought itself,
therefore, must be understood as an instance of the
physical operation of the human body. Sensation, for
example, involves a series of mechanical processes
operating within the human nervous system, by means of
which the sensible features of material things produce
ideas in the brains of the human beings who perceive
them. (Leviathan I 1)
Human action is similarly to be explained on Hobbes's
view. Specific desires and appetites arise in the
human body and are experienced as discomforts or pains
which must be overcome. Thus, each of us is motivated
to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve
our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own
well-being. (Leviathan I 6) Everything we choose to do
is strictly determined by this natural inclination to
relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our
bodies. Human volition is nothing but the
determination of the will by the strongest present
Hobbes nevertheless supposed that human agents are
free in the sense that their activities are not under
constraint from anyone else. On this compatibilist
view, we have no reason to complain about the strict
determination of the will so long as we are not
subject to interference from outside ourselves.
(Leviathan II 21)
As Hobbes acknowledged, this account of human nature
emphasizes our animal nature, leaving each of us to
live independently of everyone else, acting only in
his or her own self-interest, without regard for
others. This produces what he called the "state of
war," a way of life that is certain to prove
"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
(Leviathan I 13) The only escape is by entering into
contracts with each otherÐ’â€”mutually beneficial
agreements to surrender our individual interests in
order to achieve the advantages of security that only
a social existence can provide. (Leviathan I 14)
Unable to rely indefinitely on their individual powers
in the effort to secure livelihood and contentment,
Hobbes supposed, human beings join together in the
formation of a commonwealth. Thus, the commonwealth as
a whole embodies a network of associated contracts and
provides for the highest form of social organization.
On Hobbes's view, the formation of the commonwealth
creates a new, artificial person (the Leviathan) to
whom all responsibility for social order and public
welfare is entrusted. (Leviathan II 17)
Of course, someone must make decisions on behalf of
this new whole, and that person will be the sovereign.
The commonwealth-creating covenant is not in essence a
relationship between subjects and their sovereign at
all. Rather, what counts is the relationship among
subjects, all of whom agree to divest themselves of
their native powers in order to secure the benefits of
orderly government by obeying the dictates of the
sovereign authority. (Leviathan II 18) That's why the
minority who might prefer a different sovereign
authority have no complaint, on Hobbes's view: even
though they have no respect for this particular
sovereign, they are still bound by their contract with
fellow-subjects to be governed by a single authority.
The sovereign is nothing more than the institutional
embodiment of orderly government.
Since the decisions of the sovereign are entirely
arbitrary, it hardly matters where they come from, so
long as they are understood and obeyed universally.
Thus, Hobbes's account explicitly leaves open the
possibility that the sovereign will itself be a
corporate personÐ’â€”a legislature or an assembly of all
citizensÐ’â€”as well as a single human being. Regarding
these three forms, however, Hobbes himself maintained
that the commonwealth operates most effectively when a
hereditary monarch assumes the sovereign role.
(Leviathan II 19) Investing power in a single natural
person who can choose advisors and rule consistently
without fear of internal conflicts is the best
fulfillment of our social needs. Thus, the radical
metaphysical positions defended by Hobbes lead to a
notably conservative political result, an endorsement
of the paternalistic view.
Hobbes argued that the commonwealth secures the
liberty of its citizens. Genuine human freedom, he
maintained, is just the ability to carry out one's
will without interference from others. This doesn't
entail an absence of law; indeed, our agreement to be
subject to a common authority helps each of us to
secure liberty with respect to others. (Leviathan II
21) Submission to the sovereign is absolutely
decisive, except where it is silent or where it claims
control over individual rights to life itself, which
cannot be transferred to anyone else. But the
structure provided by orderly government, according to
Hobbes, enhances rather than restricts individual
Whether or not the sovereign is a single heredetary
monarch, of course, its administration of social order
may require the cooperation and assistance of others.
Within the commonwealth as a whole, there may arise
smaller "bodies politic" with authority over portions
of the lives of those who enter into them. The
sovereign will appoint agents whose responsibility is
to act on its behalf in matters of less than highest
importance. Most important, the will of the sovereign
for its subjects will be expressed in the form of
civil laws that have either been decreed or tacitly
accepted. (Leviathan II 26) Criminal violations of
these laws by any subject will be appropriately
punished by the sovereign authority.
Despite his firm insistence on the vital role of the
sovereign as the embodiment of the commonwealth,
Hobbes acknowledged that there are particular
circumstances under which it may fail to accomplish
its purpose. (Leviathan II 29) If the sovereign has
too little power, is made subject to its own laws, or
allows its power to be divided, problems will arise.
Similarly, if individual subjects make private
judgments of right and wrong based on conscience,
succomb to religious enthisiasm, or acquire excessive
private property, the state will suffer. Even a
well-designed commonwealth may, over time, cease to
function and will be dissolved.
History of Philosophy Philosophical Ethics Political
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Ð’Â©1997, 1998, 1999 Garth Kemerling.
Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to:
firstname.lastname@example.org Lecture Notes
Now I wish to turn to the philosophy of Hobbes. He was
primarily a political, rather than ethical
philosopher. While ethics stresses the good for the
human being, political philosophy emphasizes the good
for society. We saw in Plato a functional notion of
the social good. Justice is the proper functioning of
a society, where each plays the appropriate role and
no one interferes with anyone else. This view was
based on the optimistic analogy with health: the good
state is the one functioning in a way that is best
Christian political philosophy was of two minds.
Augustine typifies the attitude that the community of
the church and state constitute two entirely separate
realms. A political philosophy of the "city of man" is
independent of that of the "city of God." The opposite
view is that the state should be a theocracy, in which
the laws of the state are the laws of God. There are
some theocratic states in existence now (e.g., Iran),
and in the medieval period most states in Europe were
closely tied to the Roman Catholic Church.
Theocracies can flourish only when there is a
considerable unity of religious thinking. With the
Reformation and the breakup of the Roman Catholic
Church, the close connection between church and state
began to be torn asunder. Deadly religious wars were
fought across the European continent. It was in this
climate the Thomas Hobbes proposed the first modern
Hobbes returned to human nature as the basis of the
state, but the nature he found was quite different
from that discussed by Plato, Aristotle and most of
the other Greek philosophers. Taking his cue from
modern natural science, which rejected the
Aristotelian world-view, Hobbes declared the human
being to be nothing more than matter in motion: he was
a materialist. Reason, formerly arbiter of the good,
now becomes a mere calculating device, no different in
principle from a computer.
Material man has as his end merely the preservation
and promotion of his own existence. The ethical view
here is known as egoism: the good is what is in my
interests alone. Egoism works against social
relations, Hobbes believed. It leads to competition,
creating enmity among persons; to distrust, which
leads us to master others for our own protection; to a
lust for recognition for others, leading to revenge
when it is not given. Further, each one of us is
capable of subjugating or even destroying anyone else,
through the use of technology, through collusion with
This, Hobbes proclaimed, is the natural condition of
the human race. It can only result in a war of all
against all, with the consequence that all normal
human endeavors (agriculture, industry, trade, etc. as
in Plato's Republic) are doomed to failure. Life in
the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish
and short. There is no right or wrong, justice or
injustice. These things come into being only with the
creation of the state.
We may contrast Hobbes' description of the state of
nature with that of Locke, whose work inspired the
founders of the United States. He claimed that the
natural state is one of peoples' liberty to do what
they please without requiring permission of anyone
else. This must be done in conformity with a law of
nature, according to which "no one ought to harm
another in his life, liberty, or possessions" (Second
Treatise of Government, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 308 of
our text). Locke emphasized the equality of all
persons in their creation by God. He implicitly
criticized Hobbes by claiming that the state of nature
is not one of war, for in a state of war, one inflicts
force on others without right, thus violating the law
Although in the state of nature, there is no right or
wrong, no justice or injustice, there are still a
"right of nature" and "laws of nature." The right of
nature is that of self-preservation, and the only road
to preserving one's self is through seeking peace and
following it. Corresponding to this right is a law of
nature, which enjoins us to defend ourselves. We can
defend ourselves best when we give up our liberty, our
"right to all things."
In Book II of Plato's Republic, Socrates' antagonists
had claimed that this kind of agreement is in the
interests of those who do not have the power to commit
injustice. Hobbes could reply by pointing out that in
the state of nature, everyone has the power to destroy
anyone else, either through contrivance or through
collusion with others. So the contract is in the
interest of the strong as well as the weak.
Locke held that what we give up to form civil
government is nothing more than inconvenience which
results from the extreme liberty in the state of
nature. In that state, each person must be the judge
of right and wrong, which leads inevitably to
conflicts. There is no recourse when there are
transgressions, so the state is erected to adjudicate
Once one lays down one's rights, then one incurs a
duty or obligation not to interfere with others who
wish to take that which has been renounced. One would
do this only for something in return. A contract is
only good so long as it can be enforced, which
requires that there be a "coercive power." Thus
justice requires both a contract and the power of
enforcement. Hobbes found many other conditions for
giving up one's rights, some of them sounding quite
modern. Punishment should be for the end of
rehabilitation, there should be no overt declarations
of hatred (compare the UCD "Principles of Community"),
one has a right to govern one's own body, etc.
As stated above, the social contract requires that
power be conferred on an individual or assembly, the
sovereign. Otherwise, there can be no confidence that
surrendered rights will yield security in return. This
security is needed for there to be any hope of
enjoying the fruits of one's labors. Hobbes listed
various rights of the sovereign, including censorship,
lawmaking, judging, and making war and peace. There is
never a right to revolution against the sovereign,
since this is a breaking of the contract. The
sovereign cannot break the contract, since the
contract itself gives him the right to do what he
In a discussion of the best form of the commonwealth,
Hobbes came down in favor of the monarch, where the
power is invested in one person. The chief advantage
is that the monarch's public and private interests
correspond exactly. (Compare the granting of stock
options to corporate executives, on the grounds that
if they have a personal stake in the company, they
will perform better.) Locke later argued against the
absolute monarch, on the grounds that there is no
appeal to his decision. Since government is
established to mediate disputes, if one cannot dispute
with the monarch, the purpose of instituting
government is underc
At this point, we turn to Plato's more sophisticated
treatment of the matter. In the Republic, Socrates was
challenged to "tell us how justice benefits a man
intrinsically, and in the same way how injustice harms
him" (p. 61). To do this, he had to show what justice
is. His model of the just state was that of a healthy
organism, where all the parts function for the benefit
of the whole, and the whole benefits the parts.
Socrates gave an elaborate account of the elements
which go into the making of a city (a small state).
Many different kinds of roles are undertaken by
different people. The survival of the whole depends on
each one performing their functions properly. Justice
is sticking to one's role, doing one's own work and
not interfering with others. It, along with the other
virtues of a state, temperance, courage and wisdom,
contributes to the excellence of that state. Indeed,
justice is necessary for the other three virtues.
In the case of the individual, Plato also appealed to
a model of harmonious functioning. The soul has its
divisions just as the state does. There is reason, the
passions and the "spirit" that enlivens them. The just
man is one who keeps these in harmony with one
another. "Justice, like health, depends upon the
persence of a natural order governing the soul in the
relation of its parts and in the conduct of the
whole." This is how justice benefits a man
intrisically, just as good health does.
In the discussion of Plato's theory of virtue, we
found that he considered virtue to be an excellence of
the soul. Insofar as the soul has several components,
there will be many components of its excellence. The
excellence of reason is wisdom, of the passions,
attributes such as courage, and of the spirit,
temperance. (Spirit is a kind of intensity of the
soul, for Plato.) Finally, justice is that excellence
which consists in a harmonious relation of the three
parts. In the state, justice is each individual
fulfilling his or her own function, without
interfering with the others. So it is for the soul.
Now the question arises what relation this account of
justice has to the theory of the forms. When I queried
Professor Malcolm, an expert on the Republic, he
replied that the account stands on its own, and so
requires no reference to the forms at all.
Nonetheless, there is this relation. The forms were
sometimes described by Plato as ideal objects, such as
triangle itself. The state and the soul that is really
just is also an ideal. No actual individual attains
the state of overall virtue adequate to Plato's
Plato's ultimate answer to the sort of question
Socrates asked, what makes a kind of thing the kind of
thing it is, was that the "form itself" does so, and
that the form is something different from the thing,
having an eternal existence on its own. Thus beautiful
things are beautiful because they partake of beauty
itself, and just acts are just insofar as they partake
of justice itself, and so forth. The highest form was
that of the good. In the Republic, Plato undertook to
describe this form through two famous analogies, that
of the line and that of the cave.
The analogy of the line has to do with the theory of
knowledge. Plato recognized that knowledge is better
than opinion. If Euthyphro was to know what piety is,
he must know it through the form, which can only be
thought and not sensed. Thus knowledge belongs to an
invisible, intangible, insensible world of the
intellect, while of the visible, tangible, sensible
world we have only opinion. The intelligible world is
more real and true than the sensible world, as well as
being more distinct.
Suppose we say in the abstract that there is some
proportion of reality, truth and distinctness between
the invisible and visible worlds. This can be
represented on a line. (You can suppose the ratio be
whatever you like, say 3:1).
Now Plato says that within each realm there is a
further division. In the realm of the visible, there
are real objects and their images (shadows, etc.). The
images give us the lowest grade of belief, mere
conjecture. If I see a shadow of an object, I get very
little information about what specific object it is.
Plato lays it down that the proportion of truth,
reality and distinctness holding between the object
and the image is the same as that holding between the
intelligible and sensible worlds (e.g., 3:1).
Similarly, there is a division within the intelligible
realm, between the forms themselves and images of the
forms. Knowledge of the forms themselves through
reason is the highest kind of knowledge, while
knowledge of the images of the forms through their
images through the understanding is a lower form.
(Again, the ratio would be 3:1).
This identification may perhaps be understood in this
way. Our opinions about the objects of the world are
formed through the use of the senses, by observation.
We can observe that things tend to go together all the
time, and thus form the opinion that those things
belong together. If Euthyphro had the right
information about the preferences of the gods, he
could observe that certain acts are pleasing to all of
them. But he has not explained anything. He is left
with mere opinion.
We might try to understand objects of the visible
world by using our understanding. We can make
assumptions and show what follows from them. The use
of these assumptions can enable us to generate laws
which explain why things go together the way they do.
For example, Newton assumed that bodies in motion tend
to stay in motion, and bodies at rest tend to stay at
rest, unless some outside agency acts on them. This
assumption about inertia helped him generate further
principles about motion, but it is not itself proved.
It is an unexamined assumption, in Plato's terms. This
method of proceeding is not the best way possible. One
must instead start with forms and use them in
explaining other things
. The cave analogy is in many respects similar to that
of the line. It distinguishes between the most true,
real, and most distinct (in this case, it is compared
to the world outside the cave) and the least (the
shadows in the cave and higher than them the objects
in the cave casting the shadows when illuminated by
fire within the cave).
The difference between the analogies is that the cave
analogy is more vivid in its depiction of the sensible
and intelligible realms, and that it illustrates the
problems of coming to know through the forms. Each
step in our progress, from conjecture, to opinion, to
knowledge, has its difficulties. The images on the
wall of the cave are easily mistaken for the real if
they are all one can experience. When one breaks free
and looks toward the fire, the objects casting the
shadow are now mistaken for the truly real, and the
light of the fire is painful and dazzling. This effect
of bewilderment is even more intense outside the cave.
Here, however, one has reached the real at last.
Finally, if a person trained by the state reaches this
higher form, he has the responsibility to govern. The
philosopher-king knows the good itself, and hence
knows what is good to do.
A last point about the forms. They are what gives us
knowledge, but they are also what gives things their
reality. The sun casts light upon the earth, allowing
us to see what is there, and it also supplies the
energy through which things grow and prosper. So the
form of the good gives to the sensible world the
reality it has. Later philosophers in the early days
of Christianity were to adapt this image of the sun
into a thought of God as the source of all reality and
Lectures on John Locke
Locke is generally considered the first in the line of
British empiricists, with Berkeley and Hume adopting
his starting point. The fundamental claim is that
human knowledge begins with sense experience and
primarily is derived from it. Locke begins his
philosophical examination of knowledge by trying to
refute the claim that some of our knowledge is
original, in the sense that it comes from ideas which
are innate or inborn. This view was held most
prominently by Descartes.
Locke's attempted refutation depends on a questionable
assumption: if an individual has an idea, then that
individual would understand it and assent to its
content. If, as Descartes claimed, I am born with the
idea of God, who implanted that idea in me at my
creation, then my understanding of what God is should
conform to that idea. But Locke points out that there
is widespread disagreement over the concept of God.
Furthermore, it does not seem to be present at all in
small children. In II,I,6, Locke states that we come
to our knowledge by degrees.
However, the proponents of innate ideas need not agree
to Locke' assumption. Descartes in one place wrote
that innate ideas are dispositions, which require the
proper circumstances to become fully clear to the
mind. Leibniz responded that we can have ideas of
which we are not conscious. Thus both disagreed with
the fundamental Lockean assumption that to have an
idea is to be aware of it.
Locke concluded from his attack on innate ideas that
the only way ideas could arise is as the result of
sense experience. We form ideas as the endpoint of the
action of physical bodies on our own bodies. Locke
points out in II,VIII,7 that sometimes he uses 'idea'
to refer to the end product, what exists in the mind,
and sometimes he uses it to refer to the quality in
the body which causes the idea.
The ideas of sense are the first ideas we have. Once
the mind begins to be populated with them, it can
operate upon them. This operation is the source of a
second kind of idea, the idea of reflection. Unlike
many ideas of sense, which force themselves upon us,
so that we cannot help but be aware of them, all ideas
of reflection require that attention be paid to the
workings of the mind. Thus Locke says that children
and even some adults fail to have ideas of reflection,
because they lack the requisite attentiveness to what
their mind is doing.
Locke classified ideas as simple and complex. All
complex ideas are said to be made up, ultimately of
simple ideas, and their complexity is the work of the
A simple idea is "one uncompounded appearance," said
Locke. But it should be noted that the relation of
simple to complex ideas is not the relation of part to
whole. (Berkeley and Hume both thought that there are
minimum sensible units, like the dots making up a
newspaper picture.) A simple idea is perhaps best
described as being of a certain sort or kind. Thus we
have a simple ideas of solidity. When I press a
football between my hands and feel its resistance to
their joining together, I have a simple idea of
In general, our simple ideas are the effects of the
operations of bodies on us (sensation) or the
observation of the workings of our own minds
(reflection). In a famous passage (II,XI,17), Locke
compares the mind to a "dark room" (in the Latin,
"camera obscura") with only a narrow inlet. Ideas are
analogous to the images projected onto the back of the
Locke classified the various simple ideas according to
the following scheme.
Those that come to the mind by one sense only, such as
color or odor.
Those that come in to the mind by more than one sense.
These include extension, figure, rest and motion.
(Note that these will later, for another reason, be
called "primary" qualities.)
These that come to the mind by reflection only.
Perception (in the broad sense of sensibly perceiving,
thinking, imagining, remembering) and willing are the
two simple ideas of this type.
Those which accompany all our other ideas: pleasure
and pain, unity, existence, power, succession.
Pleasure and pain will assume importance later because
of their role in the motivation of human action. Power
is a most fundamental idea, as will be seen. In
II,VII,8, Locke notes that we get this idea both from
our thinking and from the effects of bodies on one
Now let us consider the kinds of powers bodies have.
Locke sometimes identifies the qualities corresponding
to our ideas as powers. Thus the sun has the power to
melt wax, and heat is the quality which brings this
about. Call a bare power one by which a body can bring
about a change in another body, such as the heat of
the sun, which melts the wax. (The wax also has the
power to be melted by the heat of the sun.)
Other powers of bodies are such as can produce ideas
in our minds. There is are powers in the sun to
produce the idea of light as well as the idea of heat
and that of roundness and that of yellow. Locke
divided these powers (or as he puts it, the qualities
of the bodies) into two kinds, the primary and
The basis of the division is our ability to conceive
bodies in general. There are some qualities without
which we cannot conceive a body. Thus we must conceive
a body as being solid and extended, as having a
figure, as being in motion or at rest. These qualities
are primary. Other qualities are dispensable. Locke
said he can conceive a given body as being neither
warm nor cold, as having no color at all (as when it
is in the dark).
The distinction between primary and secondary
qualities is, at root, a conceptual distinction
concerning how we can represent bodies. A primary
quality is one which must represent a body as having
in every possible circumstance. No matter how small a
body is, it has some extension. No matter how fluid it
is, it has some solidity, no matter where it is at a
time, it must be moving or at rest at that time.
Secondary qualities come and go, depending on whether
they are in the right relation to a perceiver. An
object has color only insofar as it can be seen. If
there is no light, there is no color.
To be sure, a body always has a power to produce ideas
of colors under the right circumstances, but this
power is nothing more than a function of its primary
qualities. Thus a body always has a certain texture,
due to the arrangement and solidity of its component
parts. Locke subscribed to the "corpuscularian
hypothesis," according to which bodies are made of
indivisible particles. Each of them has all the
primary qualities, but they lack secondary qualities.
They do not even have the power to produce ideas which
we could call their color.
Locke made the further claim that our ideas of primary
qualities resemble the qualities, while those of the
secondary do not. Berkeley will raise the question how
Locke can make any claim of resemblance, given that he
has no data other than the ideas themselves, and hence
cannot compare them to their supposed originals. Locke
seems to have held the resemblance view because he
could not conceive of bodies any other way.
The claim of the non-resemblance of the ideas of
secondary qualities and their originals requires
further argument. Even if there are conditions under
which bodies lack the qualities, why say that when
they do produce the ideas, say of their color, what
produces them is not colored? Locke appeals to a
relativity shown by the ideas of secondary qualities,
not had by those of primary qualities. No matter what
the conditions under which I perceive a body, my idea
of it always includes extension. But the perception of
bodies can yield, under some conditions, an idea of
heat, and under others, an idea of cold. Worse, at a
distance from a fire, I have an idea of warmth, which
is replaced by an idea of pain when I mistakenly place
my hand in the fire.
I have skipped various peripheral material to turn to
the idea of power, one of the most important of all. I
have already noted that his idea includes that of the
ability to bring about change (active power) and to
suffer it (passive power).
Locke claimed that experience shows that the mind has
the active powers of beginning or ceasing its own
operations and of initiating or inhibiting motion in
the body. This power is activated by a preference. He
claims that if a mind can, merely on the occasion of a
preference, affect the operations of the mind or the
motion of the body, that mind is free to do so. If it
cannot, it is necessitated to do something else.
Suppose we call the preference for a state of affairs
the motive. My motive for typing these notes is my
preference for my students to suttee them. I need not
do so; I am free to go play golf instead. Locke says
that my preferences are determined by the pleasure or
pain I project as the result of the contemplated act.
But then it seems as if my actions are determined by
what is pleasurable for me and what is painful for me.
Locke' response is that the situation is more
complicated than it would seem. I am at liberty to
ignore, say, an intense, immediate pleasure because I
understand that it would in the long term produce more
pain. So ultimately, it is our ability to reason about
pleasures and pains which constitutes the foundation
of our freedom.
Locke' view of human liberty is directed forward in
time. It does not matter how one gets to the point of
choice, so long as the mind is able bring about the
desired event, the act is free. Many people find this
kind of freedom to be of small comfort. They think
that how one' preferences are determined is the key to
liberty. If my preferences are determined by pleasure
and pain alone, then I am no better than a robot with
no control over my destiny.
The next topic of interest is that of substance. Given
his starting point, Locke is able to pronounce that in
many cases we observe certain ideas to go together
constantly. A certain bulk, shape, array of colors,
speech patterns, etc., go together so constantly that
we give them one name, say Bill Clinton. Calling this
collection of ideas by a single name need not have any
significance beyond the mere co-existence of the
qualities, as Berkeley pointed out. But Locke made the
further claim that the co-existence can only be
understood if there is something which is the reason
for their co-existing in just that way. Call this the
"support" or "substratum." Then our idea of a
substance in general is that of co-existing qualities
supported by something.
Of course, it would help the explanation if Locke
could go beyond mere metaphor. The word 'support'
cannot be taken literally (again as pointed out by
Berkeley), since it then would be just another
observable thing, like the foundation of a building.
But there is nothing more to be said. Locke says that
we are in the position of children, who can only say
"something" when asked what is responsible for an
event. Or, we are like the philosophers of India who,
when asked about the support of the world, say that it
rests on an elephant, and when asked further what
supports the elephant, say that it rests on the broad
back of a turtle. Finally, when asked what supports
the turtle, he says, "something, I know not what."
Suffice it to say that Locke's doctrine of substance
was a weak point in his system.
The same story goes for mental substance. Our minds
contain ideas and operations upon them. But the spirit
which is responsible for these ideas and operations is
also an unknown something. Thus although we know what
spirit does, we do not know what it is. This leads to
skepticism about whether the spiritual substance is
absolutely immaterial. Bishop Stillingfleet, in
particular, attacked Locke for leaving open the
possibility that matter thinks.
The skepticism about mental substance spills over into
the issue of identity over time. Could the same spirit
be connected to different bodies or different
personalities? Locke claimed that the criterion of
identity over time is the same beginning. A rock is
formed out of molten lava. Its existence begins at
that time and it continues until the rock is broken.
So long as there is continuity from the beginning, it
is the same rock. The breaking constitutes a new
beginning for each of the fragments.
The most simple case of identity is that of identity
of mass. A mass is the same when all the particles
making it up are the same. Substitute one for another,
and it is a different mass. This notion of the same
mass is not very useful, however, since very few
masses in the universe are so stable that they are not
adding or losing parts, and hence becoming new masses.
A more complicated case of identity is that of a
vegetable. We acknowledge that vegetables need not
have exactly the same particles in order to be the
same. What is the same, rather, is the dispositions
and organization of the thing, which Locke seems to
identify with its life. A tree sheds its leaves and
grows new ones, all the while remaining the same tree.
By extension (and with an extended use of 'life') we
can say that a machine is re-identified by its
dispositions and organization. Animals are too, the
only difference being that they are self-moving.
Insofar as a man is an animal, a man is subject to the
same-life identity condition.
Given this condition, it seems that Locke can solve
the old problem of the identity of a ship which is
wholly rebuilt. In its original location, a part of
the ship is removed to another place, then replaced by
a new part. An adjoining part is removed and
transported, attached to the first removed part, and
replaced. Eventually, there is a ship in the original
place which has all new parts. It seems to be the same
ship as the original, by Locke' criterion. (Compare
the claim that all the cells in the human body are
replaced in ten years.)
We move now to Book IV of the Essay, wherein Locke
presents his theory of knowledge. The material
discussed in the lecture is tied to the handout
distributed in class. The handout provides a matrix.
The content of the cells is the extent of what is
known for fifteen classifications of knowledge ((4 x
4) - 1, due to a consolidation of two
One dimension of the matrix is the degree of
knowledge. Actually, the lowest degree of "knowledge"
is not knowledge at all, but mere opinion. The lowest
degree of knowledge proper is sensitive knowledge,
which is based on sense experience rather than merely
on ideas. Knowledge not based on sense experience is
intuitive (in which ideas are compared directly with
each other) and demonstrative (in which they are
compared indirectly, via intermediary ideas). The
presence of intermediaries in demonstrative knowledge
introduces an element of slight uncertainty not
present with intuitive knowledge.
The second dimension is the objects of knowledge and
opinion. Identity and diversity is the simplest sort:
two ideas are known to be (qualitatively) identical or
different from each other. Black is not white and
white is white, etc. All are known intuitively.
Relations among abstract ideas are all known either
intuitively or demonstratively, if they are known at
all (mathematical speculation is a matter of opinion).
Since they are abstract, knowledge about them is not
Co-existence and connection are relations that hold of
real objects, as opposed to abstract ideas. I have
combined the categories of the intuitive and
demonstrative here, since Locke has little to say
about them. Few relations of co-existence are known
through the examination of ideas alone. Of greater
importance are relations discovered to hold in sense
objects. Most of them are subjects of opinion, and
only those which are actually present in perception
are known sensitively. Thus I may know that my yellow
watch is gold.
Knowledge of existence is somewhat artificially
divided among the various degrees. I know myself
through the direct inspection of ideas. There is a
demonstration of God' existence, and there is
sensitive knowledge of objects actually present to my
senses. Thus I do not know that the classroom in which
the lectures are given exists at the very moment I am
typing these notes in my office. So in truth, we know
very little sensitively, since what we perceive at any
time is very limited.
Locke painted himself into a corner in his description
of knowledge as concerned only with ideas. Paradigm
examples of knowledge, on this view, are that white is
not black, and that the sum of the squares of the
sides of a right triangle is the square of the
hypotenuse. But both are independent of any facts
except those concerning ideas themselves. Locke,
rightly, asks why on his account of knowledge anything
which comes into anyone' head does not count as
He notes that we intend for some of our ideas to refer
beyond themselves to an external reality, and that the
title of knowledge must be reserved for those ideas
which correspond to it. But this raises the problem of
the criterion for distinguishing which ideas conform
to reality and which do not. Rather than giving a
general criterion of knowledge, Locke proceeds on a
The second case he considers is the least interesting.
We have seen already that mathematical knowledge is
supposed to be based on intuition and demonstration
concerning abstract ideas. Locke adds that they are
representative of themselves, and the question of
external reality touches them only indirectly. If
there are things that correspond to our abstract
ideas, then demonstrations about them apply to those
things. The same goes for other kinds of abstract
ideas, including moral ideas.
The first case of correspondence is that of simple
ideas to their originals. Locke assumed that these
ideas are not made up by ourselves (we can only
operate on given simple ideas), they correspond to
what causes them. Note, however, that Locke has not
yet shown that we have knowledge of the existence of
other things. It still remains open whether the source
of these ideas is an external reality, and the nature
of the correspondence has not been established.
The third case is the least ambitious. This concerns
complex ideas of substances. To what extent does my
idea of a raspberry correspond to the thing? Locke
provisionally answers that the correspondence is
Finally we turn to the question of our knowledge of
the existence of things. That we know our own
existence intuitively is based on appeal to the
argument of Augustine and Descartes, that doubting
one' own existence presupposes the existence of a
doubter, and hence is futile. This knowledge is
intuitive, it seems, because one can hold this thought
in its entirety at a single time.
The proof of the existence of God is problematic. As a
good empiricist, Locke gave a proof a posteriori, or
from experience. The starting point is the
already-demonstrated existence of himself. From this
narrow basis he moves outward using a version of the
principle of sufficient reason (itself never
justified), that nothing cannot produce anything. To
avoid a regress of producers, he claims that we must
acknowledge that from eternity there has been
something. (It is not clear why he could not appeal
instead to a first cause which was not produced,
rather than produced by nothing).
Next he claimed that this something is most powerful.
This conclusion is quite dubious on the grounds that
the only thing he need account for is the existence of
himself. But even if he did invoke this being as the
cause of the existence of the world, the being need
only be as powerful as it takes to produce the world
as its effect.
Finally, this eternal, most powerful, being is said to
be most knowing. Locke has noted that he himself is an
existing thinking thing, and now claims that thinking
cannot arise spontaneously from matter. Only a
thinking thing could give rise to a thinking thing.
Further, the being is most knowing. But the same
problem as before arises here: the being need only be
powerful enough to produce the level of thinking found
in the world. In general, proofs a posteriori have the
problem that the infinite properties of a God seem to
surpass what is required to explain the world around
Having given a flawed argument for the existence of
God, Locke moved to give a shaky account of our
knowledge of the existence of other things. This
knowledge is sensitive, and is very limited in its
scope. One can know of the existence only of those
things with which one is in sensory contact.
Locke' theory of sensitive knowledge is very much like
some contemporary theories of knowledge. It has two
components, one "external" and the other "internal."
The external component in knowledge is that a causal
relation between the knower and the object is a
necessary condition for knowledge. "It is therefore
the actual receiving of ideas from without that gives
us notice of the existence of other things, and makes
us know, that something doth exist at that time
without us, which causes that idea in us; though
perhaps we neither know nor consider how it does it"
(IV,XI,2). Although this external connection is
necessary for knowledge, however, it is not
The second ingredient is what is Ernest Sosa calls an
"epistemic perspective," or an assessment of the way
our faculties operate to produce the ideas in us. The
eyes are said to give "testimony" in which we have
confidence. "If we persuade ourselves that our
faculties act and inform us right concerning the
existence of those objects that affect them, it cannot
pass for an ill-grounded confidence" (IV,XI,3). One
thing he said in this connection caught the eye of
Berkeley, that we cannot doubt the existence of the
things we see and feel. But what, Berkeley asked, do
we see and feel other than the ideas themselves?
Locke says that he "has reason to rely" on the
testimony of the senses. He argues that has the
assurance of God. It appears from IV,XI,3, that he
thinks that since God has given him these faculties,
and they are correlated with the production of
pleasure and pain ("one great concernment of my
present state"), he can be confident in the testimony
of the senses. This is reminiscent of Descartes' claim
that God would be a deceiver had he been created with
faculties whose manifest testimony is erroneous.
Locke then gives four concurrent reasons to be
confident in the testimony of the senses (or
equivalently, to support his "epistemic perspective.")
The first is that we cannot invent specific kinds of
ideas, say the taste of a pineapple, so that they
require "exterior causes." Locke can cite only
empirical evidence for this conclusion, i.e., that
"nobody" gets the taste of a pineapple until they
actually bite into one. It is not clear that this
establishes the impossibility of so doing, however.
But even if the empirical evidence Locke cites is
sufficient for his purposes, note the weakness of the
conclusion. Locke cannot say what the exterior cause
is. As Berkeley noted, the exterior cause might be
The second reason is also vulnerable to the same
objections. Locke claims that the production of some
ideas seems to be forced on me. I have no control over
them (the come "willy-nilly" into the mind), and so
they are the product of an exterior cause. As with the
first case, Locke cites empirical evidence which may
or may not be sufficient for his conclusion. And he
again is vulnerable to Berkeley's criticism that the
specific exterior cause is not established by the
The fourth reason (which is more continuous with the
first two than is the third), is that the senses bear
testimony to one another. This is a sound principle
for evaluating testimony when there is some other
evidence, but it does not work well in the present
case. If a number of witnesses giving testimony are
systematically lying or systematically deluded, then
the coherence of their testimony is of no value. The
only conclusion Locke could draw is that whatever the
exterior cause of sensitive ideas may be, it is likely
to be the same for all the sense modalities. Coherence
may well be a criterion separating the dreamed or
imagined from some other ideas to be called "real,"
but the nature of the real is unknown, at least on the
basis of these three arguments.
The third reason is an apparent difference between
ideas, in that the pleasure or pain associated with
some is dramatically more intense than what is
associated with ideas of imagination, dreams, etc.
This argument is not very strong, since hallucinations
can bring on great pain, as with Delayed Stress
. Locke went on to delimit the extent of our knowledge
to objects actually affecting the senses, as is
implied by his externalist condition discussed above.
(I did not mention in lecture that this condition
allows knowledge on the basis of memory of actually
sensed objects, since the ideas were caused originally
in the appropriate way.) On the other hand, we cannot
know that other minds exist, though it is highly
probable that they do. The required external causation
falls short. We are not affected by the minds of
others, but only by physical phenomena: what we see,
hear, feel bodies to do.
This introduces the topic of the use of reason in
matters that fall short of knowledge. Locke's general
principle is that we ought to assent to a proposition
when the preponderance of evidence is on its side,
i.e., when it is highly probable. On the other hand,
it is not always the case that we ought to withhold
assent when there is not a preponderance of evidence.
This loophole exists because there are some matters
which are "above reason," in the sense that there is
no way to adduce empirical evidence for or against.
These cases allow for consent on the basis of faith.
On the other hand, there are cases in which there is
an absolute preponderance of evidence against a
proposition, when it is "contrary to reason." I may
not give my assent to what conflicts with what I know
to be true.
What is wrong with assenting to a proposition (e.g.,
that there is more than one God) that is contrary to
reason? It is an abuse of the faculty of reason which
God gave us. Thus, Locke held that the true God would
never give us faculties which we are supposed to
subvert in order to know God. If we may revert to
Descartes once again, God would be a deceiver if such
a condition holds.
Locke' religious convictions were rationalistic. That
is, he thought that religious belief has a rational
basis. We have already seen that he tried to
demonstrate from rational principles the existence of
God. He also held that revealed religion can be
considered testimony which has its own evidential
There are two sorts of revelation possible: direct
implantation of ideas in our minds by God, and public
signs such as the content of scripture. In both cases,
whether we should place confidence in these sources
depends on whether they have good credentials, i.e.,
whether we have good reason to think that they are
actually the word of God.
Here Locke began his attack on enthusiasm, which would
set up revelation without reason. Locke states that
this is impossible, so that anyone professing to do
this must be stating his own fancies. The mark of the
enthusiast is the justification of the belief by the
mere degree to which it is believed. Locke diagnosed
the syndrome as the product of an overheated brain.
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