Locke's Theory of Knowledge and Its Historical Relations

By James Gibson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
LOCKE AND CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH PHILOSOPHY

§ 1. In an enquiry into the influence upon Locke's philosophy of the thought of his own countrymen, the names of the two greatest of his English predecessors naturally occur to us first. Of the work of Bacon there is not the slightest trace in the Essay. The undoubted references to Hobbes are invariably hostile, and are not of such a character as to imply a close study of his writings. In one passage, the answer which 'an Hobbist' would give to the question as to why men should keep their contracts is contrasted with those of a Christian and of the 'old heathen philosophers1.' Nor can it be doubted that Locke's insistence upon the demonstrability of morality is mainly directed against the theory of the dependence of the moral law upon the civil power, which was thought to be implied in the doctrine of the Leviathan. Again, in his defence of the idea of spiritual substance, and in his elaborate argumentation2 for the immateriality and mental nature of the Eternal Being, Locke has clearly in view the positions of Hobbes; while his reference, in the course of this argument, to 'people whose thoughts are immersed in matter3,' or to 'men devoted to matter4,' indicates his view as to the relation between the moral and intellectual aspects of Hobbism. His relative ethics and his materialism were, however, the two points in Hobbes' teaching which had been universally seized upon, and against which refutation after refutation teemed from the press.

____________________
1
1. 3. 5.
2
iv. 10. 9-19.
3
11. 23. 22.
4
iv. 10. 13.

-233-

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