Are human beings purely material creatures, or is there something else to them, an immaterial part that does some (or all) of the thinking, and might even be able to outlive the death of the body? This book is about how a series of seventeenth-century philosophers tried to answer that question. It begins by looking at the views of Thomas Hobbes, who developed a thoroughly materialist account of the human mind, and later of God as well.
In the 17th century, there was a lively debate in the intellectual circles with which Locke was familiar, revolving around the question whether the human mind is furnished with innate ideas. Although a few scholars declared that there is no good reason to believe, and good reason not to believe, in the existence of innate ideas, the vast majority took for granted that God, in his infinite goodness and wisdom, has inscribed in human minds innate principles that constitute the foundation (...) of knowledge, as well in practical as in theoretical matters. It was in opposition to the latter group, which included Descartes, leading Anglican divines, and the Cambridge Platonists, that Locke directed his attack upon innate ideas in the first book of the Essay.1 In the minds of those who weighed in on one side or the other, the importance of the controversy related to epistemological, moral, and religious doctrines. At the epistemological level, innatists (or, as I will also call them, nativists) held that all knowledge of the natural and supernatural world available to humans is based on fundamental “speculative” axioms, theoretical principles that neither require nor are capable of proof. These principles, such as the causal principle – that nothing comes from nothing – or the principle of non-contradiction – that nothing can both be and not be at the same time, were taken to be both universal and necessary, and hence impossible to derive from experience. To the mind of an innatist, if these principles are not based on experience and are not (as chimerical ideas were thought to be) constructed out.. (shrink)
In this paper I argue against the received view that the anti‐nativist arguments of Book I of Locke's Essay conclusively challenge nativism. I begin by reconstructing the chief argument of Book I and its corollary arguments. I call attention to their dependence on (what I label) “the Awareness Principle”, viz., the view that there are no ideas in the mind of which the mind either isn't currently aware or hasn't been aware in the past. I then argue that the arguments' (...) dependence on this principle is question begging on two counts. Unless this principle is defended, Locke's arguments beg the question against Descartes and Leibniz because their nativism implies the denial of the Awareness Principle. And even when Locke defended the principle, his arguments remain question begging because they presuppose the empiricism they aim to prove. The disclosure of the question‐begging status of these arguments debunks a seemingly powerful way of attacking nativism. (shrink)
In this paper I argue against the received view that the anti-nativist arguments of Book I of Locke’s Essay conclusively challenge nativism. I begin by reconstructing the chief argument of Book I and its corollary arguments. I call attention to their dependence on (what I label) “the Awareness Principle”, viz., the view that there are no ideas in the mind of which the mind either isn’t currently aware or hasn’t been aware in the past. I then argue that the arguments’ (...) dependence on this principle is question begging on two counts. Unless this principle is defended, Locke’s arguments beg the question against Descartes and Leibniz because their nativism implies the denial of the Awareness Principle. And even when Locke defended the principle, his arguments remain question begging because they presuppose the empiricism they aim to prove. The disclosure of the question-begging status of these arguments debunks a seemingly powerful way of attacking nativism. (shrink)
This paper traces the connections between the assertion or denial of innate ideas, and the possibility of the soul being immortal, in the contrasting cases of Descartes and Locke. Descartes and Locke disagree about whether there are innate ideas and the nature of the soul, but they agree that the soul is immortal. The issue explored is which theory of the mind, Descartes's or Locke's, is in the best position to contend that we to survive death, and indeed exist immortally. (...) The argument is not as straightforwardly in Descartes's favor, as one might suppose. (shrink)
The topic of this dissertation is a discussion of the seventeenth century debate between Descartes and Locke over innate ideas. I propose a novel approach to the study of this debate. I argue that their disagreement over innate ideas is directly related to their differing views of how the content of ideas is determined and of what counts as having an idea in the mind. Approaching the controversy between Descartes and Locke from this perspective has allowed me to conclude that (...) Descartes' nativist argument prevail over Locke's arguments to the contrary. ;I begin the discussion, in Chapter One, by examining the anti-nativist arguments offered by Locke in Book I of his Essay concerning Human Understanding and by clarifying the nature of Descartes' dispositional nativism. I conclude that since Locke's arguments rely on a principle whose denial is implied by Descartes' Dispositional Nativism, his arguments at best beg the question against Descartes. I suggest then that discussion of the controversy between Descartes and Locke should shift to the arguments they provide, respectively, for and against the awareness principle. ;In Chapter Two, I argue that Locke's argument for the awareness principle is to be found in the empiricism of Book II of his Essay and, hence, that the anti-nativist arguments of Book I are question-begging since they presuppose the very empiricism they aim to prove. ;In Chapters Three and Four, I argue that Descartes' argument for the denial of the awareness principle is to be found in his rationalist theory of idea-individuation according to which the content of ideas is determined by an intellectual and implicitly known presentation of the object. ;In the final chapter, I argue that Descartes' arguments for nativism are a version of what is known in the literature as "Poverty-of-the-Stimulus Arguments" and conclude that, interpreted this way, they have an edge over Locke's anti-nativist arguments. I contend that whereas Locke's argument for the awareness principle depend on an empiricist theory of idea individuation that assumes that principle, Descartes' argument for the denial of the awareness principle depends on a rationalist theory of idea individuation that argues for the denial of that principle. (shrink)
Pierre Gassendi, who did not like nonsense, said of the idea of infinity: ‘if someone calls something "infinite" he attributes to a thing which he does not grasp a label which he does not understand’. Gassendi’s is a harsh judgement for, surely, we all do quite cheerfully and successfully use the concept of infinity, and in a variety of contexts. Yet if Gassendi’s judgement is too hard it is easy enough to have sympathy with his claim. For it is a (...) perennial fact that we never, in Descartes’s phrase, seem to have an ‘adequate idea’ of infinity. Nor is this just because it is an abstract noun like friendship or strength, for it retains this familiar lack of adequacy when it appears in its adjectival or adverbial forms: infinite space, infinite power, infinitely large, infinitely good. It is not my intention in this paper to offer a philosophical account of this familiar state of affairs, though perhaps what I shall have to say will throw some little light on the matter. It is rather to explore how discussions of such questions take us into issues at the heart of the foundations of modern philosophy, and specifically, into the great debate which I will refer to by the usual title as that between the Rationalists and the Empiricists, of whom the protagonists are traditionally identified as Descartes on the one side and Locke on the other. It would not be out of place for somebody to say in response to that famous contrast that either it is hackneyed or else it is mistaken. It is hackneyed because we all know that Descartes and Locke represent contrasting traditions in modern philosophy and there is nothing new to be said about it. It is mistaken because, as a matter of fact, it is simplistic to set them up as dogmatic exponents of their respective schools. There are rationalist elements in Locke’s Essay, especially in Book IV, and there is a strong empiricist element in Descartes, especially in his science. Those emphasizing the former, Webb for example in the last century and Aaron in this, have underlined the place of intuition and demonstration in Locke’s account of knowledge. Descartes’s empirical leanings have been noted in his account of the role of experiment in the natural sciences. There is of course no denying these aspects of their philosophies. But my path will be more revisionist than supportive of such readings of their work. I shall argue that the dominant (though not the only) strain in Descartes is a rationalist one and that Locke was keenly aware of this and strongly hostile to it. On the other side, whilst Locke was impressed by much of Descartes’s presentation of knowledge, and borrowed heavily from it, he never looks tike subscribing at all to the central rationalist doctrines, and indeed saw his work as a major refutation of them. In all of this his account of our idea of infinity plays an exemplary role. But before we reach Locke we should go back to Descartes. (shrink)
This paper suggests that Locke's arguments against innate principles rest on a particular conception of what it is for things to be "in the mind." Understanding that notion in terms of presuppositions for radical interpretation allows us to see how some principle might be considered innate after all.
Locke and descartes only disagree about innate knowledge because they both accept the principle that knowledge that comes through the senses is sensible knowledge or reducible to such knowledge. Other philosophers from berkeley to wittgenstein share the same principle. This principle is rejected by aristotle and the aristotelian tradition; consequently aristotle is able to give a more convincing account of knowledge and its acquisition. A summary of this account is given and defended.
In the seventeenth century, the concept of natural law was linked with that of “innate ideas”. Natural laws were said to be ideas imprinted by nature or by God on men's minds and were the very foundation of religion and morality. Locke's attack on innate ideas in the first book of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding is therefore considered to be an assault on natural law. Modern critics like Peter Laslett, W. von Leyden and Philip Abrams are of the opinion (...) that Locke's critique of innate ideas in the Essay cannot be reconciled with the concept of natural law in the Two Treatises of Government. (shrink)
John Locke is famous for, among other things, his attack on innate ideas. At one time it was felt that Locke had attacked a straw man. But John Yolton has shown that many of Locke's contemporaries held strange views about innate ideas. Appealing to innate ideas was apparently a popular method of establishing principles that might otherwise be difficult to defend. Locke's attack is in good measure directed at those who preferred not to provide arguments. However, when one tries to (...) sort out Locke's own arguments and to reconstruct what the more articulate defenders of innate ideas were interpreted to hold, matters become complicated. (shrink)