Locke: His Philosophical Thought

Locke: His Philosophical Thought

Locke: His Philosophical Thought

Locke: His Philosophical Thought

Synopsis

This book is a general introduction to the philosophy of John Locke, one of the most influential thinkers in modern times. Nicholas Jolley aims to show the fundamental unity of Locke's thought in his masterpiece, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In this work Locke advances a coherent theory of knowledge; as against Descartes he argues that knowledge is possible to the extent that it concerns essences which are constructions of the human mind.

Excerpt

Since it was first published in 1690 Locke's famous masterpiece, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, has been many things to many people. To Locke's contemporary readers it was chiefly perhaps a subversive work which seemed to undermine such orthodoxies as the doctrines of innate ideas and the immateriality of the soul. During the age of Voltaire and the Enlightenment the Essay came to be seen as a liberating force; Locke's theory of knowledge not only sought to free people's minds from bondage to dogma and superstition, but it also provided the philosophical basis for religious toleration. With the advent of German idealism and the philosophical historiography which it inspired, the Essay began to assume what is still perhaps its most familiar aspect; it was the first major work in the tradition of British Empiricism, a school which was understood to lay the foundations for knowledge in sensory experience. Unlike his supposedly more innovative successors, however, Locke failed to draw the radical sceptical conclusions to which his empiricist premisses entitled him.

These perspectives on Locke are not necessarily incompatible and none of them is wholly lacking in textual justification. But at best they are one-sided and at worst seriously misleading. The tradition which sees Locke as the first member of the school of British Empiricism has been especially unfortunate for a proper understanding of his philosophy; for it tends to offer a distorted account of his fundamental purposes. On this approach the concerns of the later 'Empiricists' such as Berkeley and Hume are read back into the Essay; by virtue of their supposed membership in a common school the three philosophers are taken to have a common agenda . . .

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