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When Leibniz writes to Caroline to express his concern over the dangerous thinking in England he specifically names “Locke and his followers” and “Newton and his followers.” But who exactly were Locke’s “followers,” and why don’t we talk about them more in the context of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence?

First, some context. Sophie Charlotte and her husband, King Frederick I of Prussia, were (for a while) guardians to Princess Caroline of Ansbach. Sophie Charlotte frequently hosted Leibniz in Berlin and elsewhere (while Leibniz was supposed to be working on his history of the Brunswick family), and it is in her court that he met Caroline and eventually became her tutor. Caroline would become the central (but hidden) figure in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, passing the letters between them with her own observations stated in accompanying letters. In addition to the broader public and the official correspondent, Caroline is the unstated audience for both Leibniz and Clarke. (See Meli 1999 for more on Caroline’s role in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.)

Leibniz’s initial letter to Caroline (printed as the first letter in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence) is an attempt to keep Caroline from straying from his views and toward the (to Leibniz) dangerous views in England. He specifically mentions “Locke and his followers” and “Newton and his followers” in his opening salvo.

Because Clarke, who takes up the cause of English “natural religion,” is clearly a member of “Newton and his followers” and defends (half-heartedly) Newton’s use of sensorium and defends (very well) Newton’s “very odd opinion concerning God’s workmanship,” scholarship has focused on the letters as a debate between Leibniz on the one side and Newton-Clarke (with various weightings assigned to Newton and Clarke as author) on the other. Partly this is because Clarke is clearly opposed to the position ascribed to “Locke and his followers” that they “aren’t sure whether the soul is material and naturally perishable.” In asking who “Locke and his followers” are, we can look to those who think the soul is “material and naturally perishable.”

The debate about a “naturally perishable” soul focused in early eighteenth century Britain on Henry Dodwell, who had argued that the soul only became immortal at baptism. Clarke opposes this view in a typically public letter. Anthony Collins responds, and the two men’s subsequent correspondence (1707-1708) on the immateriality and natural immortality of the soul is a fascinating example of a substance dualist (who unlike Cartesian dualists is open to the soul being extended) and someone working towards an emergentist view long before such views became popular. Collins holds the sort of view that Leibniz sees as following from Locke’s openness to thinking matter in the later editions of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, while Clarke defends a thinking, immaterial soul. Leibniz is aware of Dodwell as early as 1706, due perhaps to his primary British correspondent Thomas Burnett. Dodwell, then, is the first candidate for “Locke and his followers,” with Collins worth consideration, as well.

The debate between Clarke and Leibniz quickly focuses on Leibniz’s objections to Newton and Clarke rather than on the thinking matter views entertained by Locke and Collins because Clarke is the clear opponent of both Dodwell and Collins. This is part of why, I think, we think today of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence as about Leibniz’s problems with Newtonian natural philosophy and Clarkean natural theology rather than with post-Lockean concerns about whether all souls are immortal. Because it was Clarke who, at Caroline’s request, answered Leibniz’s charge, the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence focuses on the immortality question only insofar as it is connected to questions like the nature of the sensorium and God’s relationship to space (e.g., as a world-soul).

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NB: I found this in my drafts folder for this site from October, 2014(!). I reiterate now my desire to see more discussion of Watts. I didn’t recheck the texts, but my complaints align with what I remember of my worries from the time. (A poor confirmation.) I generally find Watts to be interesting, although I find his writing on space to be especially obscure, as his style of writing, strongly shaped by reactions to other writers, does not always make clear when we are getting his glosses on others and when we are getting his own vies..

You cannot make Space think, or will, or act, as a Spirit does; for, join Thinking and Space, which are two distinct Ideas, as near as possible in your Mind, yet you cannot unite them into one Being, nor conceive of Space as having any Share in thinking, or as exerting a Thought. So you may join Iron and Joy together in your Mind as two neighbouring Ideas, but they will be two Ideas for ever distinct: No Force can squeeze, melt or weld them together, and make them unite in one; you can never make Iron become joyful: There is an utter Inconsistency in their Ideas, and they are eternally incompatible. Space can no more exert a Thought, than Iron can exert Joy. (Isaac Watts, Philosophical Essays, 2nd Ed., Essay 1.9, p. 31)

Having given reasons for thinking that space is a real being (either God or a property of God, as many British philosophers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries thought), Isaac Watts turns to arguing that space is not a real being. His argument often appeals to parallels with darkness, which serves as an example of how we could come to form an idea that is really a privation of something else (body or light). The passage excerpted above is part of a section in which he is giving his first set of arguments that space is not real because real beings either act or are acted upon and space neither acts nor is acted upon (that is, it has no active powers or passive capacities).

I find this particular passage perplexing. The argument perhaps owes some debt to Descartes’ conceivability argument, but it is not obviously identical to it. It also might remind readers of Locke’s thinking matter hypothesis, but since the topic is mere spatial extension and not appropriately disposed body, it is not quite the same point (although perhaps the discussion of iron suggests that Watts wants to extend the argument to body, but this still falls short of complex material systems).

What I find perplexing, though, is what it means for the two ideas to remain distinct. Watts seems to be denying that there is an unrestricted combinatorial ability in the mind (of the sort that Hume endorses for the imagination). I can’t just put any two ideas together and make a new complex idea. But why not? Does he think that if two ideas are capable of being joined it must be because they aren’t truly distinct? (E.g., I can weld my idea of the beer in the glass to the idea of the glass because they were never really distinct.) This seems oddly restrictive and at least not clear in the text. Does he think that only ideas of the same sort (e.g., regarding extension, regarding thought) can be combined? (E.g., I can combine my idea of the table and the beer into a complex idea of the beer on the table because they are not just consistent but I can “weld” them into a new idea.) This might be question-begging (or at least not an interesting argument). Does he think that there is some inconsistency in conceiving of thinking space? This wouldn’t be surprising for the time, especially for someone like Watts who wants to maintain certain orthodox religious positions. But I take this to be an argument for why they are inconsistent (if we can’t join two distinct ideas, then they are inconsistent), and I’m trying to understand the initial claim.

We can turn to his much-read logic textbook for some help. If we have two ideas, we can “join them by Affirmation, or disjoin them by Negation, according as we find them to agree or disagree” (Logick, 9th Ed., 1751, p. 142). He denies that this judgment is a “mere Perception of the Agreement or Disagreement of Ideas“; judgment also includes an act of the will. In some ways, this helps explain the earlier case, since we now see that he may be thinking of “space” and “thinking” in terms of our ability to form propositions (which always involve a judgment of two ideas for Watts) and thus while “This iron is joyful” or “Space is thinking” are presumably grammatically correct they do not form actual propositions. However, this also complicates the problem because (1) we now need to address Watts on judgment and on propositions to make sense of this passage about distinct ideas, (2) by adding in the will to these judgments it is clear that he is not only restricting our ability to form new ideas without an act of the will, we also cannot form them with an act of the will, and (3) saying that we can’t will them together is no clearer than saying we can’t join distinct ideas. Even more worryingly, he claims that mathematical parts (which includes physical parts like the limbs of a human body) are really distinct but can

I apologize for not being able to pose a nice solution to this problem, and perhaps it wasn’t the best introduction to his thought. (I do think he’s worth reading, and his influence in his lifetime has not been matched by discussion of him in ours.)

Addendum: If anyone knows of work on Watts’ philosophy, I’d appreciate being made aware. Watts appears occasionally in footnotes, but I don’t know of any article-length work on his philosophical thought (rather than his hymnody).

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As Elisabeth of Bohemia famously pointed out, Descartes appears to be committed to the following inconsistent triad:

  1. In every instance of causation, there is an a priori conceptual connection between cause and effect.
  2. There are no conceptual connections between mind and body.
  3. Mind and body interact causally.

The most common response to this problem among Descartes’s 17th century followers was occasionalism, the view that bodily phenomena do not genuinely cause mental phenomena but are merely reliably correlated with them, and vice versa, so that bodily phenomena may be called occasions of mental phenomena and mental phenomena may be called occasions of bodily phenomena.

The best-known advocate of this strategy (and, indeed, the best-known Cartesian after Descartes) was Nicolas Malebranche. Malebranche famously adopted full-strength occasionalism that had been popular among Medieval Islamic philosophers and theologians. On this view, there are no ‘secondary causes’ at all. God is the only true cause and created things can only serve as occasions for God to exercise God’s power. Malebranche has many arguments for this view, but one of them derives directly from the Cartesian doctrine of the a priori intelligibility of causation:

We have only two sorts of ideas, ideas of minds and ideas of bodies … since the idea we have of all bodies makes us aware that they cannot move themselves, it must be concluded that it is minds which move them. But when we examine our idea of all finite minds, we do not see any necessary connection between their will and the motion of any body whatsoever … But when one thinks about the idea of God, i.e., of an infinitely perfect and consequently all-powerful being, one knows that there is such a connection between His will and the motion of all bodies, that it is impossible to conceive that he wills a body to be moved and that this body not be moved. We must therefore say that only His will can move bodies (The Search After Truth, tr. Lennon and Olscamp, 448)

Malebranche’s view here is a much more substantive revision of Descartes than is required to escape the inconsistency above. There is a general tendency in Cartesian thought to contrast body as passive with mind as active, but Malebranche’s view appears to make created mind every bit as passive as body.

An alternative view would maintain divine occasionalism with respect to mind-body interaction, but attribute genuine activity to the mind in internal actions like imagining and willing. Indeed, Malebranche himself sometimes seems tempted by such a view, although his arguments for occasionalism appear to rule it out.

An even smaller tweak to respond to the problem of the causation of mental states by bodily states is possible, and is suggested by remarks Descartes makes in “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet”:

there is nothing in our ideas which is not innate to the mind or the faculty of thinking, with the sole exception of those circumstances which relate to experience, such as the fact that we judge that this or that idea which we now have immediately before our mind refers to a certain thing situated outside us. We make such a judgement not because these things transmit the ideas to our mind through the sense organs, but because they transmit something which, at exactly that moment, gives the mind occasion to form these ideas by means of the faculty innate to it (CSM 1:304, emphasis added).

This passage suggests, not divine occasionalism, but a sort of finite occasionalism, whereby the states of material systems give occasion for the (genuinely causal) activity of the finite mind in forming ideas of the things around it.

This hint is picked up by Arnauld and Nicole in the Port-Royal Logic:

It is thus false that all our ideas originate in the senses. On the contrary, one can say that no idea in the mind originates in the senses, although motions in the brain, which is all the senses can bring about, may provide the occasion for the soul to form various ideas that might not have been formed without this occasion (Logic, tr. Buroker, 30, emphasis added)

Here note again that it is the finite mind itself that forms the ideas and not God.

This line of response to the inconsistency with which we began makes good sense with basic Cartesian commitments, commitments which Arnauld emphasizes (against Malebranche) in On True and False Ideas. Cartesian metaphysics begins from two (alleged) clear and distinct ideas: the idea of body as extended substance and the idea of mind as thinking substance. Extension is the principal attribute of body and thought is the principal attribute of mind. Every property of a substance must be an intelligible modification of its principal attribute. A modification of an attribute is a way of possessing that attribute, i.e., a way of being extended or a way of thinking. Thus every property of a mind must be a way of thinking. But thinking is an activity, while being extended is a state. Hence every mode of mind is active and every mode of body is passive. Now from the fact that every mode of mind is active, it follows that the state of the mind in sensory perception is active, that is, when the mind perceives by means of the senses the mind acts. Insofar as the mind is in perception active and not passive, the mind’s act may be said to be occasioned by the state of the brain. (Note that this approach also would likely have seemed like the obvious one in the context due to its similarity to the Scholastic notion of the ‘agent intellect’ that ‘spiritualizes’ the material species.)

An additional reason why this looks good for Arnauld is that Arnauld is a primitivist about representation: in his view, just as it is the nature of the mind to think, so it is the nature of thought to have an object, and no account of this relation is needed. Hence for Arnauld, there is no problem about how the mind could respond to the state of the brain, since knowing about (perceiving) things like that is just what the mind does.

Arnauld does, however, have another, related problem (and concerns like this are pressed by Malebranche in various places). According to Arnauld, “our thought or perception is essentially reflective upon itself … For I do not think without knowing that I think” (On True and False Ideas, tr. Gaukroger, 71). However, we are not reflectively aware of knowing any state of the brain. It thus remains mysterious how any state of the brain could enter into the explanatory story of thought, whether as an occasional cause or a true one.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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I want to begin this post with a longer sequence of quotations than is usual. The reason is that simply juxtaposing the quotations goes a long way toward telling the story I want to tell. Here, then, is a sequence of comments on philosophy and trust in the senses, ranging in date from 1580 to 1713:

We want to find out by reason whether fire is hot, whether snow is white, whether anything within our knowledge is hard or soft. There are ancient stories of the replies made to the man who doubted whether heat exists—they told him to jump into the fire—or to the one who doubted whether ice is cold—they told him to slip some into his bosom: but a reply like this is quite unworthy of the professed aims of philosophy. Philosophers could have spoken in this way only if they had left us in a state of nature, simply accepting external appearances as they offer themselves to our senses, or if they had left us to follow our basic appetites, governed only by such modes of being as we are born with. But they themselves have taught us to make judgements about the universe; they themselves have fed us with the notion that human reason is the Comptroller-General of everything within and without the vault of heaven; they themselves say that it can embrace everything and is the means by which anything is known or understood. Such replies would be good among the Cannibals1 who live long and happy lives, in peace and tranquility, without the benefits of Aristotle’s precepts and without even knowing what the word ‘physics’ means. Perhaps such a reply could even be better and more firmly based than all the ones which philosophers owe to reason or discovery. Such arguments would be within the capacity of ourselves, of all the animals and of all for whom the pure and simple law of Nature still holds sway. But they themselves have renounced such arguments. They must not tell me: ‘This is true; you can see it is; you can feel it is.’ … [If they do,] let them abandon their professed intention, which is to accept nothing and approve nothing except by following the ways of reason.

– Michel de Montaigne, “An apology for Raymond Sebond” (1580), Screech, pp. 607-608

a piece of paper or a feather lightly brushed over any part of our body performs exactly the same operation with regard to itself namely, moving and touching. But with regard to us, by touching between the eyes, or on the nose, or under the nostrils, it produces an almost intolerable titillation, whereas in other parts it is hardly felt. That titillation is entirely in us and not in the feather, and if the animate and sensitive body is removed, it is nothing but an empty name. Now, I believe that many qualities that are attributed to natural bodies (such as tastes, odors, colors, and others) may have a similar and not greater reality … I do not believe that in order to stimulate in us tastes, odors, and sounds, external bodies require anything other than sizes, shapes, quantity, and slow or fast motions. I think that if one takes away ears, tongues, and noses, there indeed remain the shapes, numbers, and motions, but not the odors, tastes, or sounds; outside the living animal these are nothing but names, just as tickling and titillation are nothing but names if we remove the armpits and the skin around the nose.

– Galileo, The Assayer (1623), Finocchiaro, pp. 186-187

There are, however, many other things which I may appear to have been taught by nature, but which in reality I acquired not from nature but from a habit of making ill-considered judgements; and it is therefore quite possible that these are false. Cases in point are the belief that … the heat in a body is something exactly resembling the idea of heat which is in me; or that when a body is white or green, the selfsame whiteness or greenness which I perceive through my senses is present in the body; or that in a body which is bitter or sweet there is the selfsame taste which I experience, and so on.

– Descartes, Sixth Meditation (1641), CSM 2:56

the illiterate bulk of manking that walk the high-road of plain, common sense, and are governed by the dictates of nature, [are] for the most part easy and undisturbed … They complain not of any want of evidence in the senses, and are out of all danger of becoming sceptics. But no sooner do we depart from sense and instinct to follow the light of a superior principle, to reason, meditate, and reflect on the nature of things, but a thousand scruples spring up in our minds, concerning those things which before we seemed fully to comprehend. Prejudices and errors of sense do from all parts discover themselves to our view; and endeavouring to correct these by reason, we are insensibly drawn into uncouth paradoxes, difficulties, and inconsistencies, which multiply and grow upon us as we advance in speculation; till at length, having wandered through many intricate mazes, we find our selves just where we were, or, which is worse, sit down in a forlorn scepticism.

– Berkeley, Principles (1710), Intro §1

I assure you, Hylas, I do not pretend to frame any hypothesis at all. I am of a vulgar cast, simple enough to believe my senses, and leave things as I find them … I cannot for my life help thinking that snow is white and fire hot.

– Berkeley, Three Dialogues, Luce and Jessop 229

I am presently reading (portions of) Montaigne’s famous Essays for the first time. I found his remark on trust in the senses (the first of the quotations above) quite striking, because it seems to me to form an interesting prequel to the story I tell in “How Berkeley’s Gardener Knows his Cherry Tree”.

Montaigne’s aim here is skeptical, but he believes that a sort of escape from skepticism can be accomplished by a return to ‘a state of nature’ which is a state of naive trust in the senses. One can find (very different!) versions of this strategy in Berkeley, Hume, and Reid.2 Montaigne is arguing against ‘the philosophers’ who, according to him, want “to accept nothing and approve nothing except by following the ways of reason.”3 This is objectionable to Montaigne, in part, because it leaves no room for religious faith. In fact, in an earlier passage that is strikingly similar to a famous remark of Kant’s (though used for a totally different purpose), Montaigne suggests that Pyrrhonian skepticism is the best of philosophical systems because it “shows us Man … annihilating his intellect to make room for faith” (Screech 564).4

The discussion of trust in the senses is part of Montaigne’s argument that reason is unable to serve as our sole guide in everything. If someone denies that fire is hot, Montaigne suggests, no one can argue that person into accepting this proposition; appeal must be made to experience. However, according to ‘the philosophers’ (whoever they are?) the senses can’t provide an independent basis for belief. Trust in the senses is legitimate only to the extent that reason tells us it is. Thus ‘the philosophers’ have no basis for believing that fire is hot or snow is white.

Oddly enough, only a few decades later, philosophers were actually arguing that snow is not white and fire is not hot! According to Galileo, thinking that the fire is hot is like thinking that the feather is ticklish. Descartes classifies the belief that “the heat in a body is something exactly resembling the idea of heat which is in me” among the ‘childish’ beliefs that his course of meditations is meant to eliminate.

What is even more interesting, is that both Descartes and Galileo do this as part of an effort to assert the supremacy of the intellect over the senses. In so doing, they take themselves to be going against Aristotelianism, although Montaigne blames reverence for Aristotle for teaching people to despise the senses. Galileo wants to argue that only those qualities of bodies that can be understood geometrically really inhere in the body itself. This ensures the role of pure intellect for interpreting the ‘book of nature’. According to Descartes, the “greatest benefit [of the method of doubt] lies in freeing us from all our preconceived opinions, and providing the easiest route by which the mind may be led away from the senses” (Synopsis, CSM 2:9). When he comes to his anti-skeptical conclusion in the Sixth Meditation, the conclusion is not that all of my faculties are trustworthy but rather that “there [is not] any falsity in my opinions which cannot be corrected by some other faculty supplied by God” (CSM 2:55, emphasis added). The senses are not completely to be despised, according to Descartes, but it is a serious error to “treat[] them as reliable touchstones for immediate judgements about the essential nature of the bodies located outside us” (CSM 2:56). The senses cannot be relied upon for ‘immediate judgements’; instead, they require constant correction by the pure intellect. In other words, Galileo and Descartes can be seen as leaning into Montaigne’s characterization of ‘the philosophers’ in a way that is much more extreme than anything one would find in the Aristotelian tradition.5

Berkeley, on the other hand, advocates for an anti-skeptical, philosophical return to “the dictates of nature.” Like Montaigne, he ridicules ‘the philosophers’ for casting doubt on the veracity of the senses. Unlike Montaigne, he refuses to blame this on the inherent weakness of our faculties. As he famously writes:

The cause of this [skepticism] is thought to be the obscurity of things, or the natural weakness and imperfection of our understandings … But perhaps we may be too partial to our selves in placing the fault originally in our faculties, and not rather in the wrong use we make of them … Upon the whole, I am inclined to think that the far greater part, if not all, of those difficulties which have hitherto amused philosophers, and blocked up the way to knowledge, are entirely owing to our selves. That we have first raised a dust, and then complain, we cannot see (Principles, Intro §§2-3).

Berkeley’s view, mediating in a way between Descartes and Montaigne,is that when reason is used properly it casts no doubt on the senses, and in fact explains why they were worthy of our trust all along. In this way Berkeley advocates a return to Montaigne’s ‘state of nature’ in which we can be ‘simple’ or childish enough to believe that snow is white and fire is hot.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)


  1. The ‘Cannibals’ were a tribe the Portugese were said to have encountered in Brazil, who were said to practice cannibalism. In his essay “On the Cannibals” (Screech 228-241) Montaigne argues that the Cannibals are in fact less cruel, savage, and barbarous than the Europeans and live happier more moral lives. Even their cannibalism, he argues, can be understood to be motivated by the same sort of desire for ‘ultimate revenge’ that leads Europeans to commit a variety of atrocities, in the Americas and at home, and is no worse than those European atrocities.
  2. I could have continued my list of quotations for several pages, but I decided not to!
  3. Due to too many years in academia, I have lost the ability to write without footnotes.
  4. Screech, in his introduction and notes, is for some reason very concerned to deny that Montaigne is a skeptical fideist, but I am not at all sure what Screech thinks the phrase ‘skeptical fideist’ means. The nature of Montaigne’s book makes it difficult to be confident in attributing any view to him, but I really can’t see how one can deny that he holds that the inadequacy of human reason for finding the truth means that we must have faith of a sort that goes beyond—and perhaps even conflicts with—(natural, human) reason. As far as I know that’s all that philosophers (and scholars of the history of philosophy) mean by ‘skeptical fideism’.
  5. Interestingly, Montaigne also ridicules belief in mountains and valleys on the moon (Screech, 505). The observation of such mountains and valleys was one of the main results reported in Galileo’s Starry Messenger (1610).

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The Irish Philosophy in the Age of Berkeley conference will take place in the Trinity Long Room Hub Neill Lecture Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, on 5 and 6 April, 2019.

George Berkeley’s Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713) are standard texts in the philosophy curricula of most European and American universities. No other Irish philosopher, and no other work of Berkeley’s, has achieved this ‘canonical’ status. However, there was a vibrant philosophical scene in Ireland in Berkeley’s lifetime, to which Berkeley was far from the only contributor. Studying this broader Irish philosophical discussion will improve our understanding of Berkeley and also of early modern philosophy more generally.

The Irish Philosophy in the Age of Berkeley conference will include general exploration of the intellectual culture of early modern Ireland as well as examination of specific thinkers with significant connections to Ireland active during Berkeley’s lifetime (1685–1753). Such figures include Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh (1615–1691); Robert Boyle (1627–1691); Michael Moore (c. 1639-1726); William King (1650–1729); William Molyneux (1656–1698); Edward Synge (1659–1741); Jonathan Swift (1667–1745); John Toland (1670–1722); Peter Browne (d. 1735); and Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746).

Invited speakers will include:

  • Lisa Downing, Professor of Philosophy, The Ohio State University, USA
  • Eric Schliesser, Professor of Political Science, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Kate Davison, Lecturer in History, University of Sheffield, UK

Approximately nine additional papers will be selected by anonymous review of submitted abstracts.

We welcome abstracts from scholars in any discipline addressing one or more of the following issues:

  • The Irish context of Berkeley’s philosophy.
  • The philosophical work of other Irish thinkers active during Berkeley’s lifetime.
  • The reception within Ireland of other philosophical figures, ideas, and movements.
  • The reception of Irish philosophy outside Ireland.

Particular preference will be given to papers that address figures and/or topics outside the currently recognized philosophical ‘canon’, including the work of early modern women.

Papers presented at the conference will be considered for publication as part of the Mind Occasional Series, Oxford University Press.

For complete details and abstract submission instructions, please visit: http://www.tcd.ie/Philosophy/events/IPAB/

Participants and attendees may also be interested in attending Berkeleian Minds: Will and Understanding, to be held at York University 2 and 3 April. Contact John Blechl (john.blechl@gmail.com) for more information.

Support for this conference is provided by the Mind Association, in association with the Trinity Long Room Hub Making Ireland Research Theme and the Department of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin.

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Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man … in such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

– Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), ch. 13

And here we have the plain difference between the state of nature and the state of war, which however some men have confounded, are as far distant, as a state of peace, good will, mutual assistance and preservation, and a state of enmity, malice, violence and mutual destruction, are one from another. Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature. But force, or a declared design of force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war: and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, tho’ he be in society and a fellow subject.

– Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1689), §19

In response to Friday’s post about Hooker and Locke, I was reminded that a few months ago Eric Schliesser offered a similar comparison of Suarez and Hobbes. On the issue I discussed yesterday, regarding individualistic versus communalist notions of the social contract, Schliesser puts Suarez with Hooker and Hobbes with Locke. This seems to me to be correct. However, this got me thinking about another issue on which Locke sides with Hooker against Hobbes, and this is the view that laws exist in large part to constrain the sovereign. Hobbes (in)famously argues that it is contradictory to think of the sovereign as bound by laws and, indeed, that to accuse a sovereign of injustice against a subject is to commit a conceptual confusion (see ch. 18). Hooker suggests, on the contrary, that laws were invented precisely because, after trying out absolute monarchy as a solution to the problems inherent in the state of nature, people “saw that to live by one man’s will, became the cause of all men’s misery” (Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity [1593], McGrade, vol. 1, p. 73). So, according to Hooker, the explicit promulgation of laws was introduced precisely in order to constrain the sovereign. Locke similarly argues at length that absolute monarchy does not actually remove us from the state of nature because the monarch is still a judge in his or her own case. (In a similar way, and for similar reasons, Locke argues that enslaving one’s enemies is a way of continuing the state of war, not a way of ending it.)

This difference, it seems to me, derives directly from a difference in the conception of the state of nature shared by Locke and Hooker, as against the very different conception held by Hobbes. For Locke and Hooker, the state of nature is characterized by fragile peace, and the peace is fragile because in the state of nature “men may be judges in their own cases” (Locke, Second Treatise, §13). As Hooker explains:

Men always knew that when force and injury was offered, they might be defenders of themselves; they knew that howsoever men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury to others, it was not to be suffered, but by all men and by all good means withstood; finally they knew that no man might in reason take upon him to determine his own right, and according to his own determination proceed in maintenance thereof, inasmuch as every man is toward himself and them whom he greatly affects partial; and therefore that all strifes and troubles would be endless, except they gave their common consent to be ordered by some whom they should agree upon (McGrade, 1:72).

The explanation Locke gives in §13 is almost identical, except that Locke is more explicit in admitting that in the state of nature people are indeed judges in their own cases, with all the problems that this causes.

The problem of the state of nature, for Hooker and Locke, is that even very well-meaning people will fail in their attempts to judge fairly when they have severe conflicts of interest. Thus since, as Locke puts it, “in the state of nature every one has the executive power of the law of nature” (§13), the state of nature can result in violent conflict even when both sides are doing their level best to follow the laws of nature, simply because of the inability of the human being to judge fairly in his or her own case.

On Hooker’s account, the natural response to this is simply to appoint some one judge (or judicial body) over all the cases, and this is not too dissimilar from a Hobbesian sovereign. However, according to Hooker, this fails to solve the problem because that judge will then inevitably be a judge in his or her own case. Because of the concentration of power in the hands of this judge (or judicial body) not only does this not solve the problem of the state of nature, it exacerbates it. This, of course, is precisely the issue Locke has in mind in the famous remark that the proponents of absolute monarchy “think, that men are so foolish, that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes; but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions” (§93).

Hobbes sees the problem of the state of nature quite differently. Hobbes famously claims that the state of nature is “a warre … of every man against every man” in which “the life of man, [is] solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” In Hobbes’s view, in the state of nature, the law of nature permits—and in fact requires—human beings to do whatever is necessary for their survival, and this puts them in direct conflict and competition with other human beings. The point of entering the civil state is simply to stop the killing. The way to do this is to institute “a common Power to keep them all in awe.” As long as the sovereign’s power is, and is believed to be, overwhelming, there will be no violence except at the sovereign’s command.

But of course this last bit is really the crux of the issue, since Hobbes admits essentially no restrictions on the sorts of violence the sovereign may command:

it belongeth of Right, to whatsoever Man, or Assembly that hath the Soveraignty, to be Judge both of the meanes of Peace and Defence; and also of the hindrances, and disturbances of the same; and to do whatsoever he shall think necessary to be done, both beforehand, for the preserving of Peace and Security, by prevention of discord at home and Hostility from abroad; and, when Peace and Security are lost, for the recovery of the same (ch. 18).

This means that there is simply no recourse for a person whom the sovereign has judged an enemy of the state. In this way, submission to a Hobbesian sovereign does indeed put one at risk of being “devoured by lions.” Hobbes, however, would respond that to introduce any mechanism of holding the sovereign accountable for obeying the laws is to introduce a competing sovereign, which inevitably leads back to the state of nature, i.e., the war of all against all.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)

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The influence of ‘the judicious Hooker’ (1554-1600) on Locke’s political philosophy is impossible to miss: Hooker is cited by name 13 times in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which is not a very long book and contains very few other explicit citations. However, Hooker is rarely mentioned in discussions of Locke’s epistemology. I suggest that he should be. Recognizing this fact helps to strengthen the case for the unity of Locke’s thought (epistemological, scientific, religious, and political) which has been made by John Rogers, Nicholas Jolley, and others.

Hooker’s general epistemology looks most like Locke’s in this passage from book 2, chapter 7 of Ecclesiastical Polity (McGrade 1:127-128):

The truth is, that the mind of man desires evermore to know the truth according to the most infallible certainty which the nature of things can yield. The greatest assurance generally with all men is that which we have by plain aspect and intuitive beholding. Where we cannot attain to this, there what appears to be true by strong and invincible demonstration, such as wherein it is not by any way possible to be deceived, thereto the mind does necessarily assent, neither is it in the choice thereof to do otherwise. And in case these both do fail, then which way greatest probability leads, thither the mind does evermore incline … Now it is not required or can be exacted at our hands, that we should yield to anything other assent, than such as does answer the evidence which is to be had of that we assent to. For which cause even in matters divine, concerning some things we may lawfully doubt and suspend our judgment, inclining neither to one side nor other … [and] of some things we may very well retain an opinion that they are probable and not unlikely to be true.

Here we find versions of several key Lockean epistemological doctrines: two degrees of knowledge, intuitive and demonstrative, with intuitive being more certain; the propriety and importance of holding merely probable beliefs; and doxastic involuntarism.* Hooker does not develop this view in detail, and he doesn’t have anything like Locke’s definition of knowledge in terms of ideas, but the basic structure is quite similar.

Perhaps more importantly, Hooker, like Locke, wields his epistemology as a weapon in defense of the use of reason in matters of religion. The central goal of Ecclesiastical Polity is to argue that different Christian churches may justly (without violating any divine command) introduce different forms of church government and ritual practice. Hooker’s Puritan opponents had held that the church ought to do nothing without the sanction of the divinely revealed Scriptures. In response, Hooker defends the (traditional) view that the God-given faculty of reason is a type of ‘natural’ or ‘general’ revelation, distinct from the ‘special’ revelation found in Scripture (cf. Locke, EHU §4.19.4). According to Hooker, we cannot understand or believe Scripture without employing our natural reasoning faculties and so for Scripture to undermine reason would be for it to undermine itself. On the basis of this general picture of the relationship between reason and revelation, Hooker argues that God never intended the Scripture to prescribe every detail of our lives (or even our corporate religious life) in a universal, one-size-fits-all sort of way, but instead intended to leave room for the use of reason to determine what is appropriate in our specific circumstances.

In defending this role for reason in religion, Hooker makes a number of arguments that are quite similar to Locke’s. In chapter 6 of the Preface (McGrade 1:24) Hooker argues that because his sola scriptura Puritan opponents do not claim to have received “intuitive revelation” their claims must rest on their own ‘collection’ from Scripture and hence be merely probable (cf. EHU §4.18.6). Additionally, Hooker raises the regress/circularity objection to the view that Scripture is self-validating:

it is not the word of God which does or possibly can assure us, that we do well to think [the Bible is] his word. For if any one book of Scripture did give testimony to all; yet still that Scripture which gives credit to the rest, would require another Scripture to give credit to it: neither could we ever come to any pause whereon to rest our assurance this way, so that unless besides scripture there were something which might assure us that we do well, we could not think we do well, no not in being assured that scripture is a sacred and holy rule of well-doing (book 2, chapter 4 [McGrade 1:110])

This bears a close similarity to the other main part of the argument of EHU §4.18.6:

I do not see how those, who make Revelation alone the sole Object of Faith, can say, That it is a Matter of Faith and not of Reason, to believe, That such or such a Porposition to be found in such or such a Book, is of Divine Inspiration; unless it be revealed, That that Proposition, or all in that Book, was communicated by Divine Inspiration. Without such a Revelation, the believing, or not believing, that Proposition, or Book, to be of Divine Authority, can never be Matter of Faith, but Matter of Reason.

I do not mean to claim that Hooker is the only source where Locke could have gotten these ideas, or that the views of Locke and Hooker are precisely the same. Certainly, Hooker’s religious rationalism is more moderate than Locke’s, and Hooker’s religious views are more orthodox. However, Hooker is one writer that we know Locke read and appealed to in other contexts who could have been a source for some of Locke’s views in epistemology. Certainly the issue of religious epistemology is a key thematic overlap between these two otherwise very different books, Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity and Locke’s Essay.

I want to close by discussing an important point of divergence (more important, I think, than Locke’s ‘Way of Ideas’) between Locke and Hooker that I think helps to show the unity of Locke’s epistemological, religious, and political thought. This is Locke’s radical individualism.

One of the reasons Locke cites Hooker so frequently in his political writings is that Hooker, though considered a safely ‘establishment’ thinker in both politics and religion, was a kind of early social contract theorist and was opposed to claims of divine right for either monarchs or bishops. Hooker is quite explicit in holding that just rule rests on the consent of the governed. However, he means something very different by ‘the governed’ than Locke and other classic liberals do. Here is Hooker’s explanation in book 1, chapter 10:

Men always knew … that strifes and troubles would be endless, except they gave their common consent all to be ordered by some whom they should agree upon: without such consent, there were no reason, that one man should take upon him to be Lord or Judge of another … [But] by experience they found … that to live by one man’s will, became the cause of all men’s misery. This constrained them to come to laws … Laws do not only teach what is good but they enjoin it, they have in them a certain constraining force … Laws are matters of principal consequence; men of common capacity and but ordinary judgment are not able (for how should they?) to discern what things are fittest for each kind and state of regiment … Howbeit laws do not take their constraining force from the quality of such as devise them, but from that power which does give them the strength of laws … for any Prince or potentate of what kind soever upon earth to exercise [legislative power] of himself and not either by express commission immediately and personally received from God, or else by authority derived at the first from their consent upon whose persons they impose laws, it is no better than mere tyranny. Laws they are not therefore which public approbation has not made so. But approbation not only they give who personally declare their assent by voice sign or act, but also when others do it in their names by right originally at the last derived from them. As in parliaments, councils, and the like assemblies, although we be not personally ourselves present, notwithstanding our assent is by reason of other agents there in our behalf … Of this point therefore we are to note, that since men naturally have no full and perfect power to command whole politic multitudes of men; therefore utterly without our consent we could in such sort be at no man’s commandment living. And to be commanded we do consent, when that society whereof we are part has at any time before consented, without revoking the same after by the like universal agreement. Wherefore as any man’s deed past is good as long as himself continues: so the act of a public society done five hundred years since stands as theirs, who presently are of the same societies, because corporations are immortal: we were then alive in our predecessors, and they in their successors do live still. Laws therefore human of what kind soever are available by consent (McGrade 1:72-77).

Let me point out a few things from this long quotation (and some of the surrounding text I didn’t quote). First, Hooker, like Locke, has a picture of a ‘state of nature’ organized into family units and governed by a law of nature. However, again like Locke, Hooker holds that the lack of a common judge to adjudicate disputes between people in the state of nature creates a likelihood of degeneration into ‘endless strifes and troubles’. However, to be subjected to every whim of an absolute monarch turned out to be even worse than the state of nature. (Locke remarks that to think that, to avoid the strifes that occur in he state of nature, people would choose absolute monarchy, “is to think, that men are so foolish, that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes; but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions” [Second Treatise, §93].) As a result, laws were invented.

Many human laws, according to Hooker, simply record what was already part of the law of nature. However, “Laws do not only teach what is good but they enjoin it, they have in them a certain constraining force,” and this constraining force can only come either from God or from the consent of the governed. Like Locke, Hooker holds that Moses exercised divine right monarchy, but no contemporary monarchs do; their right is always based on consent of the governed.

Now, the key point of difference between Locke and Hooker is, as I said, the nature of ‘the governed’ who consent. According to Hooker, this consent is given by ‘society’ which is a type of ‘corporation’ and this is meant to explain how we today can be bound by consent given “five hundred years since” when we were not even born: “corporations are immortal”** and so the ‘society’ that gave its consent in the past still lives today. This results in a much more limited right of rebellion in Hooker than Locke would recognize: this consent is valid until it is “revok[ed] by the like universal agreement” of the society. For Locke, the consent is individual and can be revoked individually; for Hooker the consent is communal and can only be revoked communally.

This contrast between Hooker’s communalism and Locke’s individualism shows up in numerous places in their political and religious thought, but it can also be seen in a crucial place in their epistemologies: the definition of ‘reason’. For Locke, reason is a matter of exercising one’s own cognitive faculties. In a narrower sense, reason is merely the use of a train of intermediary ideas to enable us to perceive the agreement or disagreement of two ideas. It is all a matter of what I myself am able to perceive by examining my own ideas. Hooker, by contrast, writes:

although we know not the cause, yet thus much we may know, that some necessary cause there is, whensoever the judgements of all men generally or for the most part run one and the same way … The general and perpetual voice of men is as the sentence of God himself. For that which all men have at all times learned, nature herself must needs have taught; and God being the author of nature, her voice is but his instrument … The apostle S. Paul having speech concerning the Heathen says of them, They are a law to themselves [Romans 2:14]. His meaning is, that by force of the light of reason, wherewith God illuminates everyone which comes into the world [John 1:9], men being enabled to know truth from falsehood, and good from evil, do thereby learn in many things what the will of God is; which will himself not revealing by any extraordinary means to them, but they by natural discourse attaining the knowledge thereof, seem the makers of those laws which indeed are his, and they but only the finders of them out (book 1, chapter 8 [McGrade 1:62]).

In the surrounding text, Hooker argues at much greater length that we ought not to substitute our own private judgment for the consensus gentium, which he here says “is as the sentence of God himself.” Although this is not fully explicit, it seems to me that Hooker has a communal notion of reason. Indeed, he often moves seamlessly between arguments for the propriety of using reason in religion and arguments for the propriety of relying on merely human testimony in religion. ‘Reason’ for Hooker often seems to mean what the human race can learn by our natural faculties, whereas for Locke it is what I individually can learn by my natural faculties. The communal picture of reason, in which I often need to defer to others, is employed by Hooker to defend his more communal picture of politics and religion. The kind of deference involved drastically restricts the right of rebellion or civil disobedience and also creates space for a deferential acceptance of religious orthodoxies.*** Locke, in precisely analogous fashion, uses his individualistic epistemology to push toward his individualistic approach to politics and religion, with its almost total rejection of human religious authorities and its severely limited picture of civic authority.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

  • In chapter 6 of the Preface (McGrade 1:26), Hooker says that “An argument necessary and demonstrative is such, as being proposed to any man and understood, the mind cannot choose but inwardly assent,” and he appears to treat this as a point of contrast between demonstration and probability, but in the discussion quoted above he clearly says that probable belief is involuntary.

** Yes, that really is a quote from Richard Hooker in 1593 and not Mitt Romney in 2012.

*** Locke may have Hooker, or other similar writers, in mind when he writes, “those who set up force again in opposition to the laws, do rebellare, that is, bring back again the state of war, and are properly rebels” (Second Treatise, §226). That is, Locke denies that he is giving anyone a ‘right of rebellion’; he’s claiming that when governing authorities exceed the bounds of the social contract they create a state of war and the people who resist them are not really ‘rebelling’ at all.

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