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Today’s Lecture Preliminary comments on Locke John Locke

Jan 02, 2016



  • Todays LecturePreliminary comments on LockeJohn Locke

  • Cliffords maxim[I]t is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence (CP, p.4).This is a maxim with which Locke will have a great deal of sympathy. He certainly thinks that to accord a belief more epistemic value than the evidence on which it is based warrants is a misuse of our rational faculties.

  • Preliminary comments on LockeJohn Locke is often thought of as the father of British Empiricism. We need to take care here in how we understand Locke to be an empiricist. Locke shares many basic ideas and views with Descartes (who is supposed to contrast with Locke when considered a representative of [Continental] Rationalism).

  • Preliminary comments on LockeAs we will see, Locke agrees with Descartes on such things as the mechanistic nature of the universe, the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, and that primary qualities are attached to or inhere in the substance of individuals in the world, while secondary qualities are, or do, not per se.

  • Preliminary comments on LockeEmpiricism is primarily a theory in epistemology (though it has implications for psychology and metaphysics).A shared view among empiricists is that experience has primacy in human knowledge or in the acquisition of beliefs enjoying the other positive epistemic values.Empiricism can be divided into two general types: Concept Empiricism and Belief Empiricism.

  • Preliminary comments on LockeConcept Empiricists contrast themselves to those Rationalists who hold that we are born with certain innate ideas or concepts.Concept Empiricists would contend that no ideas are innate.Our simplest ideas, according to Concept Empiricists, arise form our experiences.Complex ideas arise as a result of abstracting from, combining and distinguishing our simple ideas.

  • Preliminary comments on LockeBelief Empiricists contrast themselves to those Rationalists who hold that reason is the primary source of human knowledge, and that the senses alone do not yield knowledge.For Belief Empiricists, a beliefs positive epistemic status (be it known, justified, warranted or rational) crucially depends upon its relation to experience. Empiricists of this type differ on what the relationship is, and what epistemic value is accorded to beliefs with the to-be-specified relation to experience.

  • Preliminary comments on LockeOne example of Belief Empiricism would be the view that only those beliefs that arise out of, or whose content is derived from, experience are properly regarded as known.This kind of empiricism is often associated with (at least) some of the philosophers belonging to the Twentieth Century philosophical school of analytic philosophy (or Anglo-American philosophy) known as the Logical Positivists.

  • John LockeLocke was born in 1632 in Somerset England, and died in 1704 (also in England).It is thought by some scholars that Locke is a Concept, but not a Belief, Empiricist (I think this view may be incorrect).Lockes epistemology is both foundationalist and internalist.

  • John LockeOn the origins of our ideas, Locke disagrees strongly with Descartes.Locke also disagreed strongly with Descartes view of how we acquire knowledge of substances. Locke does not share Descartes distrust of the senses or experience (though he concedes that there are limitations to what can be inferred from experience).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasSimple ideas, for Locke, are mental entities (FP, p.183).Consequently, simple ideas, and non-simple (or complex) ideas, are, for Locke, perceiver dependent. That is, without a perceiver there are, for Locke, no ideas, simple or complex.Whatsoever the mind perceives in itself, or is the immediate object of perception, thought, or understanding, that I call idea (FP, p.184 [verse 8]).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasThus the ideas of heat and cold, light and darkness, white and black, motion and rest, are equally clear and positive ideas in the mind, though, perhaps, some of the causes which produce them are barely privations in subjects, from whence our senses derive those ideas (FP, p.183 [emphasis mine]).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasNote from this quote that not only are ideas mental entities, or more particularly things that exist and only exist in minds, ideas need not be caused by what we might call positive states of affairs. Even a lack (what Locke calls a privation) in the world can cause a positive idea.

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasThis is an important point that Locke is considering here. What he is claiming is that the properties of our ideas, or the content of our minds (which are ideas), need not be caused by external objects that resemble them.

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasThese are two very different things, and carefully to be distinguished; it being one thing to perceive and know the idea of white and black, and quite another to examine what kind of particles they must be, and how ranged in the superficies, to make any object appear white or black (FP, p.183).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasLocke offers some reasons for holding this view about ideas and their causes, based upon observations available to us all.(1) We have positive ideas of such colors as black even when, as Locke suggests, we have reason to think this is a privation in the object out in the world, rather than some positive property they possess (FP, p.184).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple Ideas(2) We have had the experience of seeing a shadow. Yet even though we think of this shadow as, in part, caused by a privation of light into the relevant area (so that that area is darker than the surrounding area), our idea of the shadow is positive (i.e. content-full) (FP, p.184).(3) We have negative names that refer to the absence of positive states of affairs, and yet these negative terms pick out positive (or content-full) ideas (FP, p.184).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasLocke suggests that we need to distinguish then between ideas and those properties or qualities of objects that causally contribute to the ideas as the appear in our minds.This is not an innocent suggestion. If you grant Locke this point, you are granting that our knowledge (if we have any) of the external world cannot be defended by a mere appeal to how the world appears to us, as that would assume that our most clear and distinct ideas are caused by objects that resemble them.

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasLocke now offers you a taxonomy of his terms.An idea is a mental entity arising either directly from perception or from introspection (or what the mind perceives in itself (FP, p.184)).The power to produce an idea in our minds is a quality of that which is causally responsible for that idea (FP, p.184).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasQualities as they inhere in or attach to bodies in the external world cannot be separated from those bodies (FP, p.184).The thought behind this seems to be that if a perceived quality of an object disappears in a context where the body remains, it is best to see that quality as something that emerged from the interaction of that body with something or someone rather than having been a quality of the object itself.Think back to Descartes wax example.

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasIf we divide up, or otherwise manipulate, an object in the environment we notice that various qualities we thought to be in the object undergo change.Given what we have said, these should not be regarded as being in those objects in themselves.Locke thinks that there are certain properties that do remain in these bodies, however: solidity, extension, figure, and mobility (FP, p.184). Does this sound familiar?

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasWhats more, no matter what is done to bodies in the world, certain properties or qualities are associated with what remains of what we divide or manipulate, namely that they are solid, that they are extended in space, that they are a certain number and that they are at rest or in motion. Qualities that we can reasonably presume to be in external bodies are primary qualities (FP, pp.185, 187).These form simple corresponding ideas of themselves in our minds (FP, pp.185, 187).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasSecondary qualities are the powers that objects have by way of their primary qualities to produce ideas in our minds either by acting on our senses or by affecting how the primary qualities of another object act on our senses (FP, p.185).Secondary qualities are not literally in the objects out in the world (FP, pp.185, 187).These do not form simple corresponding ideas of themselves in our minds (FP, pp.185, 187).

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasNote that verses 12 and 13 suggest a corpuscular theory of how we perceive primary and secondary qualities in bodies in the outside world (FP, p.185).(He appeals to corpuscular theory in another area of our readings [see p.187].)Note he doesnt merely assume this theory, but tries to argue that it best explains how we come to have ideas of objects that are not directly attached to our minds.

  • Some farther considerations concerning our Simple IdeasNote that Lockes division of primary and secondary qualities resembles that which Descartes has already supplied in the Second Meditation (though Descartes didnt use these terms).Co