Nature and Politics: Liberalism in the Philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, and: John Locke's Liberalism (review) [Book Review]

Journal of the History of Philosophy 28 (1):133-136 (1990)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:BOOK REVIEWS 133 argument that the third dream contains an anticipation of the "Cogito, ergo sum," in that Descartes, towards the end of the dream, recognizes that he is dreaming. This monograph is rounded out with Sebba's reflections on some of the problems involved in writing the history of philosophy, including the need for the historian to be philosophic in a way which exceeds the need for a historian of science to be an active scientist. Here Sebba expressed his debt to his friend and mentor, the intellectual historian Eric Voegelin. As an indication of his plans (sadly, never to be realized), Watson has also included some notes Sebba put together, in which he reacted especially to Richard Popkin's work on the history of scepticism. The Descartes student is grateful not only to Sebba for these studies, but also to Professors Watson and Popkin for the care they have taken to bring this work before the public via the Journal of the History of Philosophy Monograph Series. In the light of their generosity, it seems churlish to wish they had added an index and a bibliography of works referred to. DESMOND J. FITZGERALD University of San Francisco Andrzej Rapaczynski. Nature and Politics: Liberalism in the Philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987. Pp. xi + 3o2. $29.95. Ruth W. Grant.John Locke'sLiberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Pp. viii + 22o. $~4.95. Both Grant and Rapaczynski claim that their books clarify the place of Locke's political theory with respect to liberalism as a set of beliefs and social practices transmitted from one generation to the next over time, although each author premises this claim upon a different interpretive approach to Locke's political thought. Professor Rapaczynski maintains that a historical dimension is indispensable to an understanding of political theory (a), but since he offers no historical evidence, uncovers no new facts or information, and generally fails even to make use of available evidence produced by other historians, this pronouncement appears to be little more than a defensive piece of rhetoric divorced from his actual interpretive practice. Historical accuracy is an important element of interpretation, he writes, "but I have not felt bound by the strictures that would constrain a more narrowly historical work" (5), and he is "quite prepared," he insists, for the objection that his reading of Locke is anachronistic (15). Well might he be prepared for such a criticism, for his interpretation of Locke's thought is not only anachronistic, but replete with errors and unsubstantiated assertions. Apparently, for Rapaczynski, historical accuracy is a necessary ingredient of a "narrowly historical" work of scholarship or a "narrowly contextualist reading" of Locke's Two TreatisesofGovernment, but in order to grasp "the proper historical meaning of liberal doctrine" (5, 15-16) and Locke's place in the tradition of liberalism, interpretive leaps into the evidential void are required. Rapaczynski is right to focus upon the recovery of meanings from a text, for that is what interpreters do. Yet, meanings are neither arbitrarily created by the author (or ~34 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 28:1 JANUARY I990 the interpreter) nor are they wholly contained "in" the text; rather, meanings are conventional, embedded in social practices, and are significandy affected by those factors which increase or decrease the causal efficacy of beliefs in relation to the execution of actions with which those beliefs are assumed to be associated. If, therefore, Rapaczynski interprets Locke's ideas as expressing a secular viewpoint, an indifferent attitude towards nature, an understanding of natural law premised upon a mechanistic model of natural science, and as the embodiment of an unqualified defense of capitalism (117-~5), the question arises, from what source are such meanings to be drawn? They are certainly not reflections of Locke's intentions or authorial meaning, nor are they expressions of the conventional meanings accepted by Restoration thinkers. They cannot even draw upon the general authority of "the political tradition to which Locke's readers have belonged," as Rapaczynski assumes (5), for that tradition includes Paine and Adam Smith, Bentham and Hegel, Defoe and John Stuart Mill, individuals for whom Locke's arguments carried...

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