Problems from Locke

Problems from Locke

Problems from Locke

Problems from Locke


J. L. Mackie selects for critical discussion six related topics which are prominent in John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: the distinction between primary and secondary qualities; representative theories of perception; substance, real essence, and nominal essence; abstractideas, universals, and the meaning of general terms; identity, especially personal identity; and the conflict between empiricism and the doctrine of innate ideas. He examines Locke's arguments carefully, but his chief interest is in the problems themselves, which are important for our attempt todecide what sort of world we live in and how we can defend our claim to know about it. The book shows that on most of these topics, views close to Locke's are more defensible than has commonly been supposed, but that there is nonetheless a tension in Locke's thought between extreme empiricism and common-sense or scientific realism. Whereas Locke's immediate successors, Berkeley andHume, and many later thinkers, have stressed the empiricism at the expense of the realism, this book argues against the more extreme empiricist doctrines but supports the more moderate ones, especially the claims that innate ideas cannot be a source of necessary truth and that authoritative,autonomous knowledge of synthetic truths requires empirical support. The position J. L. Mackie advocates thus reconciles realism with moderate empiricism.


Several parts of this book are based on work already published, and I have to thank the editors and publishers in question for permission to use this material. Chapter 2 includes echoes of my lecture 'What's Really Wrong with Phenomenalism?', published in the Proceedings of the British Academy, lv (1969), 113-27, and also of my article 'Self-Refutation—a Formal Analysis', published in the Philosophical Quarterly, xiv (1964), 193-203. Chapter 3 incorporates my article 'Locke's Anticipation of Kripke', published in Analysis, xxxiv (1974), 177-80, and Chapter 4 incorporates a related article, 'De what Re is De Re Modality?' published in the Journal of Philosophy, lxxi (1974), 551-61. Chapter 7 uses part of my paper 'The Possibility of Innate Knowledge', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, lxx (1970), 245-57.

Chapter 6 is a successor to several previous attempts to deal with the problem of personal identity which, though not published, were read at different times and places (first in New Zealand about 1957) and discussed with many people. In many parts of the book I have been greatly helped by criticisms of an earlier draft. I am particularly grateful to Michael Ayers, Gareth Evans, Julie Jack, Derek Parfit, and Oscar Wood for such criticisms. In some places I have gladly adopted their corrections or improved formulations, in others I have reinforced my arguments against their objections, in others again I have simply stood by what I said at first. But I am confident that this process of testing has left the book more defensible than it was before.

I would also like to thank Mrs E. Hinkes for typing this book, as well as its predecessors, Truth, Probability, and Paradox and The Cement of the Universe.


April 1975 . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.