Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Locke's Natural Philosophy in Draft A of the Essay

Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Locke's Natural Philosophy in Draft A of the Essay

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

This paper elucidates Draft A's natural philosophy in the context of Locke's prior medical and natural philosophical researches, his initial interest in aetiology, and later research with physician Thomas Sydenham. The Drafts often have the published Essay projected upon them-mechanism and the distinction between primary and secondary qualities dominate interpretations of the early manuscripts.1 This paper will show that there are significant differences between Draft A and the Essay on this and other scores, permitting a more accurate description of Locke's philosophical development.

II. The Context of Draft A

In May 1652 Locke was elected to a Studentship at Christ Church College Oxford.2 he likely studied logic, rhetoric, moral philosophy, Hebrew, Greek, and the Bible, with some geometry, metaphysics, and natural philosophy.3 The curriculum was Aristotelian in origin and medieval in presentation. Soon after he received his M.A. 29 June 1658,4 Locke began systematically examining contemporary medical theories, perhaps pursuing a "Faculty Studentship" in medicine that would allow him to retain his studentship without taking orders.5

Some of Locke's first Galenic notes, taken circa 1659, derive from Francis Glisson's De Rachitide (London, 1655).6 Locke assiduously studied the work of Daniel Sennert, taking scores of notes from Sennert's Opera Omnia (Lyon, 1656).7 Sennert proposed a largely traditional Galenism, with its humors, temperaments, natural, vital, and animal faculties.8 Locke also read Jean Fernel's Universa Medicina (Utrecht, 1656)9 and Moebius's Fundamenta medicinae physiologica (Jena, 1661).10 Locke studied Galenic medicine quite seriously.

By 1660 Locke was acquainted with Robert Boyle. A commonplace book begun on 25 February that year,11 started with entries drawn from Glisson and Moebius. References to Boyle's latest work, New Experiments Physico-Mechanical touching the Spring of the Air (Oxford, 1660), soon followed. Locke read Boyle's works as they were published, continuing with Certain Physiological Essays (London, 1661), The Style of the Scriptures (London, 1661), The Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy (Oxford, 1663), and The Origine of Formes and Qualities (Oxford, 1666). The Sceptical Chymist (London, 1661) was an exception; Locke did not read this until 1664-65.l2 Boyle moved permanently to Oxford in 1664, occasioning exchanges of information on respiration and the air,13 and numerous chemical recipes from Boyle in Locke's notebooks.14

Locke read Descartes's Opera Philosophica (Amsterdam, 1656) from 1660 to 1662, beginning with the Principles of Philosophy, the Discourse on Method, the Dioptrics and Meteors, the Meditations, the Objections and Replies, and finally the Passions of the Soul}5 Locke's interest in Descartes occasioned two natural philosophical observations from this period, "Vacuum"16 and "Elasticus Motus"; the former a critical analysis of Descartes's concept, the latter a quasi-Cartesian speculation about elastic force.17 In the "Essays on the Law of Nature," written during 1663-64, Locke alluded to a mechanical explanation for the sensible qualities of bodies. If nothing else, "there really exist solid bodies and their conditions, namely lightness and heaviness, warmth and coldness, colours and the rest of the qualities presented to the senses, which can all in some way be traced back to motion."18 But Locke did not completely convert to the mechanical philosophy after his acquaintance with Descartes and Boyle, for he continued to read a variety of writers, following notes from Boyle or Descartes with extracts from Sennert.19

Locke pursued a concurrent interest in the "chymical" school. Thomas Willis, a leading English "chymist," held that particles of spirit, sulphur, salt, water, and earth each had irreducible chemical properties.20 Some of Locke's earliest medical notes derive from Willis's Deffermentatione.2] Locke attended Willis's lectures at Oxford circa 166222 and later worked closely with Richard Lower, an associate and defender of Willis's views. …

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.