Born 1632, during Charles I. Sent to Westminster school by father,
stern Puritan parliamentarian. 1652 goes to Oxford where in 1658 gets the
post of senior student tenurable for life. His interest in medicine.
1666, enters the service of Lord Ashley, later Earl of Shaftesbury,
on whom he performs an operation successfully.
1675 goes to France for 4 years, comes back and follows ups and
downs of Shaftesbury's anti-Catholic politics, who finally (1683) escapes
to Holland, where he dies. Charles II revokes Lk's studentship and
Lk., now in Holland, fearing extradition changes name to Dr. van der Linden.
1689, comes back after Glorious Revolution (James II deposed and William
of Orange king). Refuses post of ambassador. In 1691 goes to live
in Lady Masham's house where he stays till he dies 1704.
Letters Concerning Toleration (1689-92). Very important liberal
document which, however, denies toleration to atheists and Catholics.
Two Treatises (1690): importance for founding fathers. Chapter
An Essay concerning human understanding (1690). Leibniz' New
The reasonableness of Christianity (1695).
The aim of the Essay is to investigate the origin, extent and
certainty of human knowledge.
His self-depiction in the Epistle to the reader as an underlaborer whose
task is getting rid of the rubbish which impedes the development of the
new science. Newton's Principia (1687); Boyle; Huyghens. The Royal
Society of which Lk was a fellow.
His desire to show that we know that the metaphysical prerequisites for
morality (e.g., personal identity and free will) are satisfied, and that
our weak epistemological capacities should make us tolerant of different
views and therefore in favor of an open society.
Idea: Locke uses the term 'idea' to refer at least
to three different things:
Still, perhaps overall he accepts (3) as the primary notion of idea.
An idea is "whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate
object of perception, thought, or understanding" (II,8,8). If so,
Lk. adopts the representative theory of perception: we directly perceive
our ideas, which in turn represent objects which we 'perceive' indirectly.
the act of perceiving (e.g., II, 1, 3; II 10, 2)
the mental state (Descartes' subjective idea)
NOTE: to what extent this can be distinguished from (1) is a matter
of debate. Still, Lk is not averse to talking of perception as a
passion (as for Berkeley) rather than as an act (II, 1, 25; II, 9, 1)
the intentional content of the mental state (Descartes' objective idea)
(II, 8, 8)
NOTE: Three main alternatives:
A. The origin of ideas
Problems: bent stick; time light takes to get to us (Lz &
Problems: the veil of perception.
The origin of ideas is in experience, which has two aspects,
and reflection of which the former is prior.
Sensation conveys the ideas of sensible qualities; it provides the starting
material on which the mind works.
NOTE: Standard empiricist account (e.g., Aquinas)
Reflection conveys the ideas of both the actions and the passions of the
mind, e.g., willing (action) and pain (passion).
Innate ideas don't' exist because innatism is either empirically false
(in its strong version), or preposterous and trivial (in its weak version):
Strong version: we are born with actual knowledge of (some)
speculative principles, e.g., Law of non-contradiction; transitivity of
identity etc. But this must be false because:
Weak version: we are born with the capacity to assent to
(or know) speculative principles. But this is preposterous and trivial
there is no universal consent
children and savages (!), in whom these principles should not be obscured
by prejudice, do not know them.
NOTE: An analogous argument applies to the alleged innateness of non-propositional
ideas, e.g., that of God, which not all civilizations have (I,4,8)
all a priori propositions (millions!) would be innate (preposterous)
any knowable proposition would be innate, (trivial).
NOTE: An analogous argument applies to the alleged innateness of non-propositional
ideas, e.g., that of God, which, were present in everyone, would not need
to be innate (I,4,9).
Descartes' and Leibniz's dispositional analysis of innate ideas.
Note how the dispositional defense works better with ideas (we do have
a tendency to carve up the world in a certain way) than with principles
which, even the innatists agree, are not universally accepted.
Lk viewed innatism as refuge of philosophical ignorance and prejudice (link
to clearing of the rubbish) and as an attack against epistemological individualism
(if I know that P, then I can show P to be true without appeal to authority).
Instead of innatism Lk proposes experience and abstraction, of which
he gives two accounts:
NOTE: since animals don't use general signs, they have no general ideas,
and hence, they do not abstract (II,11,10).
However, Lk allows for some innate practical principles (e.g., the tendency
to avoid perceived evil). But instincts are not represented.
B. Simple ideas:
selective attention: I have a particular idea of white snow and
I attend to it just with respect to those features by which it resembles
my ideas of white chalk and white milk (II, 11, 9)
NOTE: here the idea seems to be a determinate idea used in a
certain way. The account is similar to Berkeley's, in that what makes
the idea abstract is how we use it, i.e., as a general idea.
elimination: I consider ideas of Peter, Paul, and Mary and eliminate
what they don't share. What I'm left with is the abstract idea of
human being (III, 3, 7)
NOTE: here the idea seems to be indeterminate.
C. The attack on the Cartesian notion of matter.
characterized by uniform appearance e.g., yellow; taste of melon.
have undefinable names (E 3,4,4)
the mind cannot make new ones or destroy those that are in the mind (Reason:
try if you can).
In perceiving them, the mind is for the most part passive (The dark room
However, sensation is at times changed by judgment (shadowed circle
perceived as a sphere).
The mind has the power to compound different simple ideas and produce
complex ideas. So, Lk's model of the mind is analogous to corpuscularianism:
one starts with simple entities and obtains the variety of mental life
from their composition.
A simple idea: the idea of solidity:
the idea of solidity, or impenetrability (that which hinders the approach
of two bodies, e.g. our hands, when moved towards each other) rests on
the sense of touch;
solidity applies to what fills space, i.e. bodies, and is insurmountable;
hence it's different from hardness, which is mere cohesion of the parts.
A drop of water is not hard because its parts slide with relation to each
other, and yet it is impenetrable because if all the bodies in the universe
were to press on it equally on each side, it would not give.
For Descartes, the essence of matter is three-dimensional extension.
In effect, then, space is reduced to matter, and therefore there cannot
be any empty space. For Locke, the notion of matter must also include
that of solidity. To show Descartes wrong, he has two arguments:
Hand stretching beyond the edge of the universe. Then, either matter
infinite, or essence of matter more than three-dimensional extension (II,
NOTE: argument is old.
God can stop all motion. Then, certainly he can annihilate this book.
Since there's no motion, no matter can fill the vacuum. So, a vacuum
is possible, and the essence of matter is not merely extension .
D. Primary/secondary/tertiary qualities.
a) the distinction:
Primary qualities (e.g., solidity, extension, figure, texture, motion/rest)
properties of bodies which are utterly inseparable from them
and would exist even if no perceiving being existed
produce simple ideas in us which resemble their causes: the representational
content of the idea of a circular disk is similar to the circularity of
the actual disk.
Secondary qualities (e.g., heat, colors, smells).
Does the resemblance claim make any sense at all?
Does Lk have an imagistic view of ideas?
Tertiary qualities: powers in bodies to produce alterations in other bodies
by their primary qualities (e.g., capacity of the sun to melt wax).
b) the origin of the distinction and its goals:
powers in bodies to produce ideas in us by their primary qualities,
and would not exists if no perceiving beings existed
NOTE: powers exist only if they can be activated: Boyle's example of
the lock and the key.
NOTE: Berkeley's reading of secondary qualities as "in the mind."
arise from the texture of bodies, the arrangement of particles on
their surfaces, and ultimately from their real essences (micro-structures);
the causal link between these textures and the ideas they produce is
unknowable by us: textures do not resemble the ideas (and the qualia)
they cause, e.g. heat & its cause (IV, 3, 13)
c) philosophical grounds for the distinction:
long tradition (Democritus; Galileo, Descartes, Boyle).
its scientific role (primary qualities subject to geometrization)
attack Scholasticism which held that secondary qualities are as basic
as primary ones and that our ideas of them resemble them
d) Problems and issues:
while water can feel cold to one hand and hot to another, a cube never
feels square to one hand and round to another
Problem: cases of error in primary qualities? Square towers
which look round from far away?
economy: no need to postulate the existence of secondary qualities in bodies.
new physiology of perception (vs. Aristotelian): corpuscles impinge on
our senses. This explains cases of illusion (e.g. hot water and two hands)
under a microscope colors often disappear: blood is not red but pellucid
with a few red globules.
Problem: but some color is always retained.
analogy between color and pain (Galileo's Il Saggiatore).
Problem: this shows there may be secondary qualities, but not
that the line between them and the primary ones is drawn where Lk says
things have no color in the dark and it is implausible to think that light
causes changes in them. All that happens is that the surface texture of
objects causes light to bounce off in particular ways.
Why and how do primary qualities resemble their representations?
One might argue that primary qualities are more entrenched (being color-blind
vs being size-blind. Bennett's point). This would make the distinction
merely one of degree and not of type, as Lk seems to have it.
a) power, what:
b) the will & freedom:
It is an idea of sensation & reflection.
Active vs. passive power (power to melt and power to be melted)
How the idea of active power gotten from operations of the mind (active
power to move body or make complex ideas) and not from body, since the
idea of active power involves that of being an original source of
In contrast to other discussions, that of freedom is not tinged with
pessimism or agnosticism, presumably because freedom is necessary for morality,
to which the Essay tries to provide the preconditions.
1. Some definitions:
2. Freedom is the power a person has to act (successfully) on the basis
of what he actually wills or could will. By and large, Lk
adopts a compatibilist approach.
the will is the power to order the consideration or dismissal
of ideas or to prefer rest or some bodily motion to another.
volition is the actual exercise of that power, i.e. the actual
ordering or preferring. It can be successful or not.
Criticism of Scholastic faculties, which Locke considers reifications of
powers (II, 21, 20)
Traditionally, volition is distinguished from desire: the former cannot
have what the subject considers impossible (presumably, no one wills to
fly like Superman); the latter, however, can.
the execution of an action one wills is voluntary; otherwise, it is involuntary.
Freedom is the actual power a person has to act (successfully) on
the basis of actual or hypothetical volitions, that is, of what
he wills or could will. If the person is not free, then his action is necessary.
NOTE: hence, freedom is absence of external impediments to one's actual
or possible volitions
only what has will and understanding can be called free (vs. Hobbes)
a person who's falling or has a spasm has no freedom with relation to his
fall or spastic movement.
cases of the locked (or paralyzed), but willing to stay, man who is not
free to go (or move) if he willed to. Hence:
the counterfactual (could will).
Problem: should one say that the issue of freedom arises only
in relation to actual volitions? Do counterfactual volitions open
too wide a framework?
free different from voluntary (man locked in room). In particular,
voluntariness not a sufficient condition for freedom.
NOTE: this is against Descartes (Third reply, obj. 12). However,
voluntariness is a necessary condition for freedom.
necessary different from involuntary (paralytic who wants to stay).
asking whether the will is free is a category mistake, since freedom
is a power, and cannot be predicated of another power (the will).
So, traditional issue of freedom of the will is a category mistake.
A power can be predicated only of an agent, e.g., the man.
Still, Locke holds that freedom presupposes the capacity to do otherwise,
itself presupposed by moral responsibility (IV, 17, 4). Presumably,
he would give the usual compatibilist analysis of "could have done otherwise"
as "would have done otherwise had one so willed."
3. Locke holds that we have the power to suspend our volitions,
and that this is the source of what is "improperly called free will." (II,
21, 47). This can be red as an endorsement of contracausal freedom
and therefore to open problems of consistency, since he seems to adopt
both libertarianism and compatibilism. Perhaps, however, the passage
can be read merely as stating an obvious capacity compatible with determinism.
4. Theory of motivation: what determines the will?
There are two main views on the subject: internalism (evaluation
motivates: the apparent good determines the will), and externalism
(the apparent good is at best one of the factors determining the will)
Lk starts as internalist, but finally chooses externalism because of weakness
of will (the drunkard case)
uneasiness determines the will (changes direction of the will, as it were).
The perceived but absent apparent good may (or may not) generate enough
uneasiness to determine the will. So:
action cannot be caused simply by belief but requires uneasiness, a different
NOTE: This is similar to Hume's point that volition, requires desire
The uneasiness need not be about the perceived absent good.