Locke's Theory of Demonstration and Demonstrative Morality

Patrick J. Connolly
Lehigh University
Locke famously claimed that morality was capable of demonstration. But he also refused to provide a system of demonstrative morality. This paper addresses the mismatch between Locke’s stated views and his actual philosophical practice. While Locke’s claims about demonstrative morality have received a lot of attention it is rare to see them discussed in the context of his general theory of demonstration and his specific discussions of particular demonstrations. This paper explores Locke’s general remarks about demonstration as well as his claims about demonstration in natural philosophy, mathematics, and morality. Careful attention to these detailed discussions motivates a reevaluation of Locke’s views on demonstrative knowledge of morality. Specifically, while Locke did believe that some demonstrative moral knowledge might be in-principle available to us he also believed that facts about the difficulty of demonstration meant that this knowledge would in-practice be largely unattainable.
Keywords ethics  reason  intermediate ideas  syllogism  scientia
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DOI 10.1111/phpr.12512
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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.John Locke - 1979 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 169 (2):221-222.
Hedonism and Natural Law in Locke's Moral Philosophy.Elliot Rossiter - 2016 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 54 (2):203-225.
Managing Expectations: Locke on the Material Mind and Moral Mediocrity.Catherine Wilson - 2016 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 78:127-146.
6 Locke's Theory of Knowledge.Roger Woolhouse - 1994 - In V. C. Chappell (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Locke. Cambridge University Press. pp. 146.

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