On a currently popular reading of Locke, an idea represents its cause, or what God intended to be its cause. Against Martha Bolton and my former self (among others), I argue that Locke cannot hold such a view, since it sins against his epistemology and theory of abstraction. I argue that Locke is committed to a resemblance theory of representation, with the result that ideas of secondary qualities are not representations.
In this paper, I argue that Locke is not in fact agnostic about the ultimate nature of the mind. In particular, he produces an argument, much like Jaegwon Kim's exclusion argument, to show that any materialist view that takes mental states to supervene on physical states is committed to epiphenomenalism. This result helps illuminate Locke's otherwise puzzling notion of 'superaddition.'.
Although a fascination with language is a familiar feature of 20th-century empiricism, its origins reach back at least to the early modern period empiricists. John Locke offers a detailed (if sometimes puzzling) treatment of language and uses it to illuminate key regions of the philosophical topography, particularly natural kinds and essences. Locke's main conceptual tool for dealing with language is 'signification'. Locke's central linguistic thesis is this: words signify nothing but ideas. This on its face seems absurd. Don't we need (...) words to signify things as well? But its very absurdity – our inclination to dismiss Locke as a 'linguistic idealist'– should signal to us that we have not yet understood Locke. Doing so must begin with an analysis of signification. Each of the three main interpretations on offer allows Locke to escape the charge of linguistic idealism, although they do so in very different ways. Locke's text also offers an influential account of linguistic particles, words like 'is', 'and' and 'if'. These signify, not ideas, but acts of the mind. These acts can either take place within a proposition, uniting its constituent ideas into a thought that admits of a truth-value, or they can take propositions as their objects, in which case they express attitudes like doubt, assertion and so on. Even this seemingly innocuous sketch of Locke's view is controversial, and many writers, from J.S. Mill onwards, have argued that Locke cannot make sense of propositional attitudes. Apart from the intrinsic interest of these questions, understanding how Locke thinks language works is a prerequisite for understanding his arguments against scholastic essentialism. It also illuminates later discussions of language in Berkeley, Hume and Mill. Author Recommends: 1. Losonsky, Michael. 'Language, Meaning, and Mind in Locke's Essay. ' The Cambridge Companion to Locke's Essay . Ed. Lex Newman. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 286–313. In addition to making some original points, Losonsky provides an excellent overview of the three main competing positions on Lockean signification: the Fregean reading, the Scholastic reading and the Indicator theory (see entries 2–5 in the following). 2. Kretzmann, Norman. 'The Main Thesis of Locke's Semantic Theory.' Locke on Human Understanding . Ed. I. C. Tipton. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1975. 123–40. Kretzmann's influential paper offers a broadly Fregean analysis, according to which primary signification is sense and secondary, reference. Locke can then avoid the charge of linguistic idealism, as it is not the case that words signify only ideas. 3. Ashworth, E. J. 'Do Words Signify Ideas or Things?' Journal of the History of Philosophy 19 (1981): 299–326. Ashworth rejects Kretzmann's view, partly on the grounds of anachronism, and sets Locke in his historical context. As she reads Locke, he holds a scholastic position, according to which signification amounts to 'making known' or 'expressing'. This preserves the portmanteau analysis of Kretzmann: words can primarily signify or express ideas, while secondarily signifying things. 4. Lowe, E. J. 'Language and Meaning,' chapter 4. Locke . London: Routledge, 2005. This is a spirited defense of Locke's claim that words signify ideas against contemporary prejudices. Like Ian Hacking (see entry 7 in the following), Lowe argues that Locke is not offering a semantic theory in anything like the contemporary sense; rather, he is concerned with explaining human communication. 5. Ott, Walter. Locke's Philosophy of Language . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. On the interpretation offered in chapter 1, Lockean signification is indication: words signify ideas in the same sense in which clouds signify rain. If this view is correct, Locke is departing from the particular scholastic tradition Ashworth focuses on, and embracing instead a tradition running from the Stoics through Thomas Hobbes. http://www.springerlink.com/content/xv362655719101n3/ 6. Winkler, Kenneth. 'Signification, Intention, Projection.' Forthcoming, Philosophia . http://www.springerlink.com/content/xv362655719101n3 Although previous commentators acknowledge the role of intentions in Locke's view (see especially Kretzmann's argument from the uses of words), Winkler claims that they are far more central to Locke's view than has been supposed. In particular, Winkler uses these considerations to criticize the indicator interpretation. 7. Hacking, Ian. Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1975. Much broader in focus than these other works, Hacking's classic text has much to say about early modern views on language. Hacking argues that Hobbes and Locke do not, properly speaking, even have theories of meaning. Online Materials The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Locke, by William Uzgalis: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke/ > The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Locke, author unknown: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/l/locke.htm > Sample Syllabus Weeks 1–2: What is Locke's linguistic thesis? Is it a semantic thesis at all? Ashworth, E. J. 'Do Words Signify Ideas or Things?' Journal of the History of Philosophy 19 (1981): 299–326. Kretzmann, Norman. 'The Main Thesis of Locke's Semantic Theory.' Locke on Human Understanding . Ed. I. C. Tipton. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1975. 123–40. Locke, Essay III. i–iii. Lowe, E. J. 'Language and Meaning,' chapter 4. Locke . London: Routledge, 2005. Week 3: Propositions and attitudes Locke, Essay III. vii. Ott, Walter. 'Propositional Attitudes in Modern Philosophy.' Dialogue 41 (2002): 1–18. Owen, David. 'Locke on Judgment.' The Cambridge Companion to Locke's Essay . Ed. Lex Newman. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 406–35. If one wanted to explore whether and how Locke applies his semiotic theory in his anti-essentialist argument, one might add (or perhaps replace Week 3 with): Week 4: Applications Bolton, Martha. 'The Relevance of Locke's Theory of Ideas to his Doctrine of Nominal Essence and Anti-Essentialist Semantic Theory.' Locke . Ed. Vere Chappell. Oxford: OUP, 1998. pp. 214–225 Locke, Essay III. vi; III.xi. 4–22. Ott, Walter. 'Locke's Argument from Signification.' Locke Studies 2 (2002): 145–76. Focus Questions 1. What is a semantic theory? What do we want out of such a theory, and does Locke even purport to provide one? 2. What are the differences among the three main competing readings of Locke? What is at stake here? What, if anything, turns on which of them accurately captures Locke's view? 3. How does Locke think his linguistic thesis tells against competing views, such as those of the scholastics? 4. What is the difference between a proposition and a list? Can Locke account for this difference? 5. There is clearly a difference between merely thinking that the cat is on the mat and asserting that it is. Can Locke account for this difference? (shrink)
How can Hume account for the meaning of causal claims? The causal realist, I argue, is, on Hume's view, saying something nonsensical. I argue that both realist and agnostic interpretations of Hume are inconsistent with his view of language and intentionality. But what then accounts for this illusion of meaning? And even when we use causal terms in accordance with Hume’s definitions, we seem merely to be making disguised self-reports. I argue that Hume’s view is not as implausible as it (...) sounds by exploring his conception of language. (shrink)
Despite their influence on later philosophers such as Hume, Malebranche's central arguments for occasionalism remain deeply puzzling. Both the famous ‘no necessary connection’ argument and what I call the epistemic argument include assumptions – e.g., that a true cause is logically necessarily connected to its effect – that seem unmotivated, even in their context. I argue that a proper understanding of late scholastic views lets us see why Malebranche would make this assumption. Both arguments turn on the claim that a (...) volition is the only candidate for a cause, because only a volition can include an effect as its intentional content. (shrink)
Unlike many of Descartes’s other followers, Pierre-Sylvain Re´gis resists the temptations of occasionalism. By marrying the ontology of mechanism with the causal structure of concurrentism, Re´gis arrives at a novel view that both acknowledges God’s role in natural events and preserves the causal powers of bodies. I set out Re´gis’s position, focusing on his arguments against occasionalism and his responses to Malebranche’s ‘no necessary connection’ and divine concursus arguments.
The popular Cartesian reading of George Berkeley's philosophy of mind mischaracterizes his views on the relations between substance and essence and between an idea and the act of thought in which it figures. I argue that Berkeley rejects Descartes's tripartite taxonomy of distinctions and makes use of a fourth kind of distinction. In addition to illuminating Berkeley's ontology of mind, this fourth distinction allows us to dissolve an important dilemma raised by Kenneth Winkler.
Hume’s views on language have been widely misunderstood. Typical discussions cast Hume as either a linguistic idealist who holds that words refer to ideas or a proto-verificationist. I argue that both readings are wide of the mark and develop my own positive account. Humean signification emerges as a relation whereby a word can both indicate ideas in the mind of the speaker and cause us to have those ideas. If I am right, Hume offers a consistent view on meaning that (...) is neither linguistic idealism nor positivism but a genuine alternative to these, one that deserves to be taken seriously. (shrink)
I claim that Berkeley's main argument against abstraction comes into focus only when we see Descartes as one of its targets. Berkeley does not deploy Winkler's impossibility argument but instead argues that what is impossible is inconceivable. Since Descartes conceives of extension as a determinable, and since determinables cannot exist as such, he falls within the scope of Berkeley's argument.
This book examines John Locke's claims about the nature and workings of language. Walter Ott proposes a new interpretation of Locke's thesis that words signify ideas in the mind of the speaker, and argues that rather than employing such notions as sense or reference, Locke relies on an ancient tradition that understands signification as reliable indication. He then uses this interpretation to explain crucial areas of Locke's metaphysics and epistemology, including essence, abstraction, knowledge, and mental representation. His discussion, which is (...) the first book-length treatment of its topic, challenges many of the current orthodox readings of Locke, and will be of interest to historians of philosophy and philosophers of language alike. (shrink)
Philosophers of the modern period are often presented as having made an elementary error: that of confounding the atttitude one adopts toward a proposition with its content. By examining the works of Locke and the Port-Royalians, I show that this accusation is ill-founded and that Locke, in particular, has the resources to construct a theory of propositional attitudes.
This paper addresses the following questions: (a) what did Locke mean when he said that ‘words signify ideas’? and (b) what is Locke’s argument for this thesis, and how successful is it? The paper argues that the two most prominent interpretations, those of Norman Kretzmann and E. J. Ashworth, attribute to Locke an argument for his semantic thesis that is fallacious, and that neither can make good sense of two key passages in book 3 of the Essay concerning Human Understanding. (...) An alternative understanding of signification, drawn from the works of Hobbes and the Port-Royal logicians, is explored and shown to provide both a satisfactory interpretation of these two passages and an understanding of Locke’s argument for the thesis that absolves him of fallacy. (shrink)
On the face of it, Locke rejects the scholastics' main tool for making sense of talk of God, namely, analogy. Instead, Locke claims that we generate an idea of God by 'enlarging' our ideas of some attributes (such as knowledge) with the idea of infinity. Through an analysis of Locke's idea of infinity, I argue that he is in fact not so distant from the scholastics and in particular must rely on analogy of inequality.