1. Historical Background and Locke’s Life
John Locke (1632–1704) was one of the greatest philosophers in Europe at the end of the seventeenth century. Locke grew up and lived through one of the most extraordinary centuries of English political and intellectual history. It was a century in which conflicts between Crown and Parliament and the overlapping conflicts between Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics swirled into civil war in the 1640s. With the defeat and death of Charles I, there began a great experiment in governmental institutions including the abolishment of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican church, and the establishment of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1650s. The collapse of the Protectorate after the death of Cromwell was followed by the Restoration of Charles II—the return of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican Church. This period lasted from 1660 to 1688. It was marked by continued conflicts between King and Parliament and debates over religious toleration for Protestant dissenters and Catholics. This period ends with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which James II was driven from England and replaced by William of Orange and his wife Mary. The final period during which Locke lived involved the consolidation of power by William and Mary, and the beginning of William’s efforts to oppose the domination of Europe by the France of Louis XIV, which later culminated in the military victories of John Churchill—the Duke of Marlborough.
1.1 Locke’s Life up to His Meeting with Lord Ashley in 1666
Locke was born in Wrington to Puritan parents of modest means. His father was a country lawyer who served in a cavalry company on the Puritan side in the early stages of the English civil war. His father’s commander, Alexander Popham, became the local MP, and it was his patronage which allowed the young John Locke to gain an excellent education. In 1647 Locke went to Westminster School in London.
From Westminster school he went to Christ Church, Oxford, in the autumn of 1652 at the age of twenty. As Westminster school was the most important English school, so Christ Church was the most important Oxford college. Education at Oxford was medieval. Locke, like Hobbes before him, found the Aristotelian philosophy he was taught at Oxford of little use. There was, however, more at Oxford than Aristotle. The new experimental philosophy had arrived. John Wilkins, Cromwell’s brother in law, had become Warden of Wadham College. The group around Wilkins was the nucleus of what was to become the English Royal Society. The Society grew out of informal meetings and discussion groups and moved to London after the Restoration and became a formal institution in the 1660s with charters from Charles II. The Society saw its aims in contrast with the Scholastic/Aristotelian traditions that dominated the universities. The program was to study nature rather than books. Many of Wilkins associates were people interested in pursuing medicine by observation rather than the reading of classic texts. Bacon’s interest in careful experimentation and the systematic collection of facts from which generalizations could be made was characteristic of this group. One of Locke’s friends from Westminster school, Richard Lower, introduced Locke to medicine and the experimental philosophy being pursued by the virtuosi at Wadham.
Locke received his B.A. in February 1656. His career at Oxford, however, continued beyond his undergraduate days. In June of 1658 Locke qualified as a Master of Arts and was elected a Senior Student of Christ Church College. The rank was equivalent to a Fellow at any of the other colleges, but was not permanent. Locke had yet to determine what his career was to be. Locke was elected Lecturer in Greek at Christ Church in December of 1660 and he was elected Lecturer in Rhetoric in 1663. At this point, Locke needed to make a decision. The statutes of Christ Church laid it down that fifty five of the senior studentships should be reserved for men in orders or reading for orders. Only five could be held by others, two in medicine, two in law and one in moral philosophy. Thus, there was good reason for Locke to become a clergyman. Locke decided to become a doctor.
John Wilkins had left Oxford with the Restoration of Charles II. The new leader of the Oxford scientific group was Robert Boyle. He was also Locke’s scientific mentor. Boyle (with the help of his astonishing assistant Robert Hooke) built an air pump which led to the formulation of Boyle’s law and devised a barometer as a weather indicator. Boyle was, however, most influential as a theorist. He was a mechanical philosopher who treated the world as reducible to matter in motion. Locke read Boyle before he read Descartes. When he did read Descartes, he saw the great French philosopher as providing a viable alternative to the sterile Aristotelianism he had been taught at Oxford. In writing An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke adopted Descartes’ ‘way of ideas’; though it is transformed so as to become an organic part of Locke’s philosophy. Still, while admiring Descartes, Locke’s involvement with the Oxford scientists gave him a perspective which made him critical of the rationalist elements in Descartes’ philosophy.
In the Epistle to the Reader at the beginning of the Essay Locke remarks:
The commonwealth of learning is not at this time without master-builders, whose mighty designs, in advancing the sciences, will leave lasting monuments to the admiration of posterity: but every one must not hope to be a Boyle or a Sydenham; and in an age that produces such masters as the great Huygenius and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some others of that strain, it is ambition enough to be employed as an under-labourer in clearing the ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge … (pp. 9–10. All quotations are from the Nidditch edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.)
Locke knew all of these men and their work. Locke, Boyle and Newton were all founding or early members of the English Royal Society. It is from Boyle that Locke learned about atomism (or the corpuscular hypothesis) and it is from Boyle’s book The Origin of Forms and Qualities that Locke took the language of primary and secondary qualities. Sydenham was an English physician and Locke did medical research with him. Locke read Newton’s Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis while in exile in Holland, and consulted Huygens as to the soundness of its mathematics. Locke and Newton became friends after Locke’s return from Holland in 1688. It may be that in referring to himself as an ‘under-labourer’, Locke is not only displaying a certain literary modesty, he is contrasting the positive discoveries of these men, with his own attempt to show the inadequacies of the Aristotelian and Scholastic and to some degree the Cartesian philosophies. There are, however, many aspects of Locke’s project to which this image of an under-labourer does not do justice. (See Jolley 1999, pp. 15–17.) While the corpuscular philosophy and Newton’s discoveries clearly influenced Locke, it is the Baconian program of producing natural histories that Locke makes reference to when he talks about the Essay in the Introduction. He writes:
It shall suffice to my present Purpose, to consider the discerning Faculties of a Man, as they are employ’d about the Objects, which they have to do with: and I shall imagine that I have not wholly misimploy’d my self in the Thoughts I shall have on this Occasion, if in this Historical, Plain Method, I can give any Account of the Ways, whereby our Understanding comes to attain those Notions of Things, and can set down any Measure of the Certainty of our Knowledge… (I. 1. 2., pp. 43–4—the three numbers, are book, chapter and section numbers respectively, followed by the page number in the Nidditch edition.)
The ‘Historical, Plain Method’ is apparently to give a genetic account of how we come by our ideas. Presumably this will reveal the degree of certainty of the knowledge based on such ideas. Locke’s own active involvement with the scientific movement was largely through his informal studies of medicine. Dr. David Thomas was his friend and collaborator. Locke and Thomas had a laboratory in Oxford which was very likely, in effect, a pharmacy. In 1666 Lord Ashley, one of the richest men in England, came to Oxford in order to drink some medicinal waters there. He had asked Dr. Thomas to provide them. Thomas had to be out of town and asked Locke to see that the water was delivered. As a result of this encounter, Ashley invited Locke to come to London as his personal physician. In 1667 Locke did move to London becoming not only Lord Ashley’s personal physician, but secretary, researcher, political operative and friend. Living with him Locke found himself at the very heart of English politics in the 1670s and 1680s.
1.2 Locke and Lord Shaftesbury 1666 to 1688
Locke’s chief work while living at Lord Ashley’s residence, Exeter House, in 1668 was his work as secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas. Lord Ashley was one of the advocates of the view that England would prosper through trade and that colonies could play an important role in promoting trade. Ashley persuaded Charles II to create a Board of Trade and Plantations to collect information about trade and colonies, and Locke became its secretary. In his capacity as the secretary of the Board of Trade Locke was the collection point for information from around the globe about trade and colonies for the English government. Among Ashley’s commercial projects was an effort to found colonies in the Carolinas. In his capacity as the secretary to the Lords Proprietors, Locke was involved in the writing of the fundamental constitution of the Carolinas. There is some controversy about the extent of Locke’s role in writing the constitution. In addition to issues about trade and colonies, Locke was involved through Shaftesbury in other controversies about public policy. There was a monetary crisis in England involving the value of money, and the clipping of coins. Locke wrote papers for Lord Ashley on economic matters, including the coinage crisis.
While living in London at Exeter House, Locke continued to be involved in philosophical discussions. He tells us that:
Were it fit to trouble thee with the history of this Essay, I should tell thee, that five or six friends meeting at my chamber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves quickly at a stand, by the difficulties that rose on every side. After we had awhile puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with. This I proposed to the company, who all readily assented; and thereupon it was agreed that this should be our first inquiry. Some hasty and undigested thoughts, on a subject I had never before considered, which I set down against our next meeting, gave the first entrance into this Discourse; which having been thus begun by chance, was continued by intreaty; written by incoherent parcels; and after long intervals of neglect, resumed again, as my humour or occasions permitted; and at last, in a retirement where an attendance on my health gave me leisure, it was brought into that order thou now seest it. (Epistle to the Reader, p. 7)
James Tyrrell, one of Locke’s friends was at that meeting. He recalls the discussion being about the principles of morality and revealed religion (Cranston, 1957, pp. 140–1). Thus the Oxford scholar and medical researcher came to begin the work which was to occupy him off and on over the next twenty years.
In 1674 after Shaftesbury had left the government, Locke went back to Oxford, where he acquired the degree Bachelor of medicine, and a license to practice medicine, and then went to France (Cranston, 1957. p. 160). In France Locke went from Calais to Paris, Lyons and on to Montpellier, where he spent the next fifteen months. Much of Locke’s time was spent learning about Protestantism in France. The Edict of Nantes (promulgated by Henry IV in 1598) was in force, and so there was a degree of religious toleration in France. Louis XIV was to revoke the edict in 1685 and French Protestants were then killed while some 400,000 went into exile.
While Locke was in France, Shaftesbury’s fortunes fluctuated. In 1676 Shaftesbury was imprisoned in the tower. His imprisonment lasted for a year. In 1678, after the mysterious murder of a London judge, informers (most notably Titus Oates) started coming forward to reveal a supposed Catholic conspiracy to assassinate the King and put his brother on the throne. This whipped up public anti-Catholic frenzy. Though Shaftesbury had not fabricated the conspiracy story, nor did he prompt Oates to come forward, he did exploit the situation to the advantage of his party. In the public chaos surrounding the sensational revelations, Shaftesbury organized an extensive party network, exercised great control over elections, and built up a large parliamentary majority. His strategy was to secure the passage of an Exclusion bill that would prevent Charles II’s openly Catholic brother from becoming King. Although the Exclusion bill passed in the Commons it was rejected in the House of Lords because of the King’s strong opposition to it. As the panic over the Popish plot receded, Shaftesbury was left without a following or a cause. Shaftesbury was seized on July 21, 1681 and again put in the tower. He was tried on trumped-up charges of treason but acquitted by a London grand jury (filled with his supporters) in November.
At this point some of the Country Party leaders began plotting an armed insurrection which, had it come off, would have begun with the assassination of Charles and his brother on their way back to London from the races at Newmarket. The chances of such a rising occurring were not as good as the plotters supposed. Memories of the turmoil of the civil war were still relatively fresh. Eventually Shaftesbury, who was moving from safe house to safe house, gave up and fled to Holland in November 1682. He died there in January 1683. Locke stayed in England until the Rye House Plot (named after the house from which the plotters were to fire upon the King and his brother) was discovered in June of 1683. Locke left for the West country to put his affairs in order the very week the plot was revealed to the government and by September he was in exile in Holland.
While in exile Locke finished An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and published a fifty page advanced notice of it in French. (This was to provide the intellectual world on the continent with most of their information about the Essay until Pierre Coste’s French translation appeared.) He also wrote and published his Epistola de Tolerentia in Latin. Richard Ashcraft in his Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government suggests that while in Holland Locke was not only finishing An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and nursing his health, he was closely associated with the English revolutionaries in exile. The English government was much concerned with this group. They tried to get a number of them, including Locke, extradited to England. Locke’s studentship at Oxford was taken away from him. In the meanwhile, the English intelligence service infiltrated the rebel group in Holland and effectively thwarted their efforts—at least for a while. While Locke was living in exile in Holland, Charles II died on Feb. 6, 1685 and was succeeded by his brother—who became James II of England. Soon after this the rebels in Holland sent a force of soldiers under the Duke of Monmouth to England to try to overthrow James II. The revolt was crushed, Monmouth captured and executed (Ashcraft, 1986). For a meticulous, if cautious review, of the evidence concerning Locke’s involvement with the English rebels in exile see Roger Woolhouse’s Locke: A Biography (2007).
Ultimately, however, the rebels were successful. James II alienated most of his supporters and William of Orange was invited to bring a Dutch force to England. After William’s army landed, James II realizing that he could not mount an effective resistance, fled the country to exile in France. This became known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It is a watershed in English history. For it marks the point at which the balance of power in the English government passed from the King to the Parliament. Locke returned to England in 1688 on board the royal yacht, accompanying Princess Mary on her voyage to join her husband.
1.3 The End of Locke’s Life 1689–1704
After his return from exile, Locke published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and The Two Treatises of Government. In addition, Popple’s translation of Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration was also published. It is worth noting that the Two Treatises and the Letter Concerning Toleration were published anonymously. Locke took up residence in the country at Oates in Essex, the home of Sir Francis and Lady Masham (Damaris Cudworth). Locke had met Damaris Cudworth in 1682 and became involved intellectually and romantically with her. She was the daughter of Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge Platonist, and a philosopher in her own right. After Locke went into exile in Holland in 1683, she married Sir Francis Masham. Locke and Lady Masham remained good friends and intellectual companions to the end of Locke’s life. During the remaining years of his life Locke oversaw four more editions of the Essay and engaged in controversies over the Essay most notably in a series of published letters with Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester. In a similar way, Locke defended the Letter Concerning Toleration against a series of attacks. He wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity and Some Thoughts on Education during this period as well.
Nor was Locke finished with public affairs. In 1696 the Board of Trade was revived. Locke played an important part in its revival and served as the most influential member on it until 1700. The new Board of Trade had administrative powers and was, in fact, concerned with a wide range of issues, from the Irish wool trade and the suppression of piracy, to the treatment of the poor in England and the governance of the colonies. It was, in Peter Laslett’s phrase “the body which administered the United States before the American Revolution” (Lazlett in Yolton 1990 p. 127). During these last eight years of his life, Locke was asthmatic, and he suffered so much from it that he could only bear the smoke of London during the four warmer months of the year. Locke plainly engaged in the activities of the Board out of a strong sense of patriotic duty. After his retirement from the Board of Trade in 1700, Locke remained in retirement at Oates until his death on Sunday 28 October 1704.
2. The Limits of Human Understanding
Locke is often classified as the first of the great English empiricists (ignoring the claims of Bacon and Hobbes). This reputation rests on Locke’s greatest work, the monumental An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke explains his project in several places. Perhaps the most important of his goals is to determine the limits of human understanding. Locke writes:
For I thought that the first Step towards satisfying the several Enquiries, the Mind of Man was apt to run into, was, to take a Survey of our own Understandings, examine our own Powers, and see to what Things they were adapted. Till that was done, I suspected that we began at the wrong end, and in vain sought for Satisfaction in a quiet and secure Possession of Truths, that most concern’d us whilst we let loose our Thoughts into the vast Ocean of Being, as if all the boundless Extent, were the natural and undoubted Possessions of our Understandings, wherein there was nothing that escaped its Decisions, or that escaped its Comprehension. Thus Men, extending their Enquiries beyond their Capacities, and letting their Thoughts wander into those depths where they can find no sure Footing; ‘tis no Wonder, that they raise Questions and multiply Disputes, which never coming to any clear Resolution, are proper to only continue and increase their Doubts, and to confirm them at last in a perfect Skepticism. Wheras were the Capacities of our Understanding well considered, the Extent of our Knowledge once discovered, and the Horizon found, which sets the boundary between the enlightened and the dark Parts of Things; between what is and what is not comprehensible by us, Men would perhaps with less scruple acquiesce in the avow’d Ignorance of the one; and employ their Thoughts and Discourse, with more Advantage and Satisfaction in the other. (I.1.7., p. 47)
Some philosophers before Locke had suggested that it would be good to find the limits of the Understanding, but what Locke does is to carry out this project in detail. In the four books of the Essay Locke considers the sources and nature of human knowledge. Book I argues that we have no innate knowledge. (In this he resembles Berkeley and Hume, and differs from Descartes and Leibniz.) So, at birth, the human mind is a sort of blank slate on which experience writes. In Book II Locke claims that ideas are the materials of knowledge and all ideas come from experience. The term ‘idea,’ Locke tells us “…stands for whatsoever is the Object of the Understanding, when a man thinks” (Essay I, 1, 8, p. 47). Experience is of two kinds, sensation and reflection. One of these—sensation—tells us about things and processes in the external world. The other—reflection—tells us about the operations of our own minds. Reflection is a sort of internal sense that makes us conscious of the mental processes we are engaged in. Some ideas we get only from sensation, some only from reflection and some from both.
Locke has an atomic or perhaps more accurately a corpuscular theory of ideas. There is, that is to say, an analogy between the way atoms or corpuscles combine into complexes to form physical objects and the way ideas combine. Ideas are either simple or complex. We cannot create simple ideas, we can only get them from experience. In this respect the mind is passive. Once the mind has a store of simple ideas, it can combine them into complex ideas of a variety of kinds. In this respect the mind is active. Thus, Locke subscribes to a version of the empiricist axiom that there is nothing in the intellect that was not previously in the senses—where the senses are broadened to include reflection. Book III deals with the nature of language, its connections with ideas and its role in knowledge. Book IV, the culmination of the previous reflections, explains the nature and limits of knowledge, probability, and the relation of reason and faith. Let us now consider the Essay in some detail.
2.1 Book I
At the beginning of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke says that since his purpose is “to enquire into the Original, Certainty and Extant of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of Belief, Opinion and Assent” he is going to begin with ideas—the materials out of which knowledge is constructed. His first task is to “enquire into the Original of these Ideas…and the ways whereby the Understanding comes to be furnished with them” (I. 1. 3. p. 44). The role of Book I of the Essay is to make the case that being innate is not a way in which the understanding is furnished with principles and ideas. Locke treats innateness as an empirical hypothesis and argues that there is no good evidence to support it.
Locke describes innate ideas as “some primary notions…Characters as it were stamped upon the Mind of Man, which the Soul receives in its very first Being; and brings into the world with it” (I. 2. 1. p. 48). In pursuing this enquiry, Locke rejects the claim that there are speculative innate principles (I. Chapter 2), practical innate moral principles (I. Chapter 3) or that we have innate ideas of God, identity or impossibility (I. Chapter 4). Locke rejects arguments from universal assent and attacks dispositional accounts of innate principles. Thus, in considering what would count as evidence from universal assent to such propositions as “What is, is” or “It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be” he holds that children and idiots should be aware of such truths if they were innate but that they “have not the least apprehension or thought of them.” Why should children and idiots be aware of and able to articulate such propositions? Locke says: “It seems to me a near Contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the Soul, which it perceives or understands not; imprinting if it signify anything, being nothing else but the making certain Truths to be perceived” (I. 2. 5., p. 49). So, Locke’s first point is that if propositions were innate they should be immediately perceived—by infants and idiots (and indeed everyone else)—but there is no evidence that they are. Locke then proceeds to attack dispositional accounts that say, roughly, that innate propositions are capable of being perceived under certain circumstances. Until these circumstances come about the propositions remain unperceived in the mind. With the advent of these conditions, the propositions are then perceived. Locke gives the following argument against innate propositions being dispositional:
For if any one [proposition] may [be in the mind but not be known]; then, by the same Reason, all Propositions that are true, and the Mind is ever capable of assenting to, may be said to be in the Mind, and to be imprinted: since if any one can be said to be in the Mind, which it never yet knew, it must be only because it is capable of knowing it; and so the Mind is of all Truths it ever shall know. (I. 2. 5., p. 50)
The essence of this argument and many of Locke’s other arguments against dispositional accounts of innate propositions is that such dispositional accounts do not provide an adequate criterion for distinguishing innate propositions from other propositions that the mind may come to discover. Thus, even if some criterion is proposed, it will turn out not to do the work it is supposed to do.
When Locke turns from speculative principles to the question of whether there are innate practical moral principles, many of the arguments against innate speculative principles continue to apply, but there are some additional considerations. Practical principles, such as the Golden Rule, are not self-evident in the way such speculative principles as “What is, is” are. Thus, one can clearly and sensibly ask reasons for why one should hold the Golden Rule true or obey it (I, 3. 4. p. 68). There are substantial differences between people over the content of practical principles. Thus, they are even less likely candidates to be innate propositions or to meet the criterion of universal assent. In the fourth chapter of Book I, Locke raises similar points about the ideas which compose both speculative and practical principles. The point is that if the ideas that are constitutive of the principles are not innate, this gives us even more reason to hold that the principles are not innate. He examines the ideas of identity, impossibility and God to make these points.
In Book I Locke says little about who holds the doctrine of innate principles that he is attacking. For this reason he has sometimes been accused of attacking straw men. John Yolton has persuasively argued (Yolton, 1956) that the view that innate ideas and principles were necessary for the stability of religion, morality and natural law was widespread in England in the seventeenth century, and that in attacking both the naive and the dispositional account of innate ideas and innate principles, Locke is attacking positions which were widely held and continued to be held after the publication of the Essay. Thus, the charge that Locke’s account of innate principles is made of straw, is not a just criticism. But there are also some important connections with particular philosophers and schools that are worth noting and some points about innate ideas and inquiry.
At I. 4. 24. Locke tells us that the doctrine of innate principles once accepted “eased the lazy from the pains of search” and that the doctrine is an inquiry stopper that is used by those who “affected to be Masters and Teachers” to illegitimately gain control of the minds of their students. Locke rather clearly has in mind the Aristotelians and scholastics at the universities. Thus Locke’s attack on innate principles is connected with his anti-authoritarianism. It is an expression of his view of the importance of free and autonomous inquiry in the search for truth. Ultimately, Locke holds, this is the best road to knowledge and happiness. Locke, like Descartes, is tearing down the foundations of the old Aristotelian scholastic house of knowledge. But while Descartes’ focused on the empiricism at the foundation of the structure, Locke is focusing on the claims that innate ideas provide its first principles. The attack on innate ideas is thus the first step in the demolition of the scholastic model of science and knowledge. Ironically, it is also clear from II.1.9. that Locke sees Descartes’ claim that his essence is to be a thinking thing as entailing a doctrine of innate ideas and principles.
2.2 Book II
In Book II of the Essay, Locke gives his positive account of how we acquire the materials of knowledge. Locke distinguishes a variety of different kinds of ideas in Book II. Locke holds that the mind is a tabula rasa or blank sheet until experience in the form of sensation and reflection provide the basic materials—simple ideas—out of which most of our more complex knowledge is constructed. While the mind may be a blank slate in regard to content, it is plain that Locke thinks we are born with a variety of faculties to receive and abilities to manipulate or process the content once we acquire it. Thus, for example, the mind can engage in three different types of action in putting simple ideas together. The first of these kinds of action is to combine them into complex ideas. Complex ideas are of two kinds, ideas of substances and ideas of modes. Substances are independent existences. Beings that count as substances include God, angels, humans, animals, plants and a variety of constructed things. Modes, are dependent existences. These include mathematical and moral ideas, and all the conventional language of religion, politics and culture. The second action which the mind performs is the bringing of two ideas, whether simple or complex, by one another so as to take a view of them at once, without uniting them. This gives us our ideas of relations (II. xii. 1., p. 163). The third act of the mind is the production of our general ideas by abstraction from particulars, leaving out the particular circumstances of time and place, which would limit the application of an idea to a particular individual. In addition to these abilities, there are such faculties as memory which allow for the storing of ideas.
Having set forth the general machinery of how simple and complex ideas of substances, modes, relations and so forth are derived from sensation and reflection Locke also explains how a variety of particular kinds of ideas, such as the ideas of solidity, number, space, time, power, identity, and moral relations arise from sensation and reflection. Several of these are of particular interest. Locke’s chapter on power giving rise to a discussion of free will and voluntary action. (See the entry on Locke on freedom.) Locke also made a number of interesting claims in the philosophy of mind. He suggested, for example, that for all we know, God could as easily add the powers of perception and thought to matter organized in the right way as he could add those powers to an immaterial substance which would then be joined to matter organized in the right way. His account of personal identity in II. xxvii was revolutionary. Both of these topics and related ones are treated in the supplementary document:
Some Interesting Issues in Locke’s Philosophy of Mind
In what follows, we focus on some central issues in Locke’s account of physical objects. (See also the entry Locke’s philosophy of science, which pursues a number of topics related to Locke’s account of physical objects that are of considerable importance but largely beyond the scope of this general account of Locke’s philosophy.) These include Locke on knowledge in natural philosophy, the limitations of the corpuscular philosophy and Locke’s relation to Newton.
Locke offers an account of physical objects based in the mechanical philosophy and the corpuscular hypothesis. The adherents of the mechanical philosophy held that all material phenomena can be explained by matter in motion and the impact of one body on another. They viewed matter as passive. They rejected the “occult qualities” and “causation at a distance” of the Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy. Robert Boyle’s corpuscularian hypothesis treated the material world as made up of particles. Some corupscularians held that corpuscles could be further divided and that the universe was full of matter with no void space. Atomists, on the other hand, held that the particles were indivisible and that the material world is composed of atoms and the void or empty space in which the atoms move. Locke was an atomist.
Atoms have properties. They are extended, they are solid, they have a particular shape and they are in motion or rest. They combine together to produce the familiar stuff and physical objects, the gold and the wood, the horses and violets, the tables and chairs of our world. These familiar things also have properties. They are extended, solid, have a particular shape and are in motion and at rest. In addition to these properties that they share with the atoms that compose them, they have other properties such as colors, smells, tastes that they get by standing in relation to perceivers. The distinction between these two kinds of properties goes back to the Greek atomists. It is articulated by Galileo and Descartes as well as Locke’s mentor Robert Boyle.
Locke makes this distinction in Book II Chapter 8 of the Essay and using Boyle’s terminology calls the two different classes of properties the primary and secondary qualities of an object. This distinction is made by both of the main branches of the mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Both the Cartesian plenum theorists, who held that the world was full of infinitely divisible matter and that there was no void space, and the atomists such as Gassendi, who held that there were indivisible atoms and void space in which the atoms move, made the distinction between these two classes of properties. Still, the differences between these two branches of the mechanical philosophy affect their account of primary qualities. In the Chapter on Solidity Locke rejects the Cartesian definition of body as simply extended and argues that bodies are both extended and impenetrable or solid. The inclusion of solidity in Locke’s account of bodies and of primary qualities distinguishes them from the void space in which they move.
The primary qualities of an object are properties which the object possesses independent of us—such as occupying space, being either in motion or at rest, having solidity and texture. The secondary qualities are powers in bodies to produce ideas in us like color, taste, smell and so on that are caused by the interaction of our particular perceptual apparatus with the primary qualities of the object. Our ideas of primary qualities resemble the qualities in the object, while our ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble the powers that cause them. Locke also distinguishes a second class of secondary properties that are the powers that one substance has to effect another, e.g. the power of a fire to melt a piece of wax.
There has been considerable scholarly debate concerning the details of Locke’s account of the distinction. Among the issues are which qualities Locke assigns to each of the two categories. Locke gives several lists. Another issue is what the criterion is for putting a quality in one list rather than another. Does Locke hold that all the ideas of secondary qualities come to us by one sense while the ideas of primary qualities come to us through two or is Locke not making the distinction in this way? Another issue is whether there are only primary qualities of atoms or whether compounds of atoms also have primary qualities. And while Locke claims our ideas of primary qualities resemble the primary qualities in objects, and the ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble their causes in the object, what does ‘resemble’ mean in this context? Related to this issue is how we are supposed to know about particles that we cannot sense. It seems clear that Locke holds that there are certain analogies between the middle sized macroscopic objects we encounter in the world, e.g. porphyry and manna for example, and the particles that compose these things. Maurice Mandelbaum called this process ‘transdiction.’ These analogies allow us to say certain things about the nature of particles and primary and secondary qualities. For example we can infer that atoms are solid and that heat is a greater rate of motion of atoms while cold is a slower motion. But these analogies may not get us very far in grasping the necessary connections between qualities in nature. Yet another issue is whether Locke sees the distinction as reductionistic. If what we mean by reductionistic here is that only the primary qualities are real and these explain the secondary qualities then there does not seem to be a clear answer. Secondary qualities surely are nothing more than certain primary qualities that affect us in certain ways. This seems to be reductionistic. But on Locke’s account of “real ideas” in II. XXX both the ideas of primary and secondary qualities count as real. And while Locke holds that our ideas of secondary qualities are caused by primary qualities, in certain important respects the primary qualities do not explain them. Locke holds that we cannot even conceive how the size, figure and motion of particles could cause any sensation in us. So, knowing the size, figure and motion of the particles would be of no use to us in this regard. (See IV. III. 11–40. Pp. 544–546)
Locke probably holds some version of the representational theory of perception, though some scholars dispute this. On such a theory what the mind immediately perceives are ideas, and the ideas are caused by and represent the objects which cause them. Thus perception is a triadic relation, rather than simply being a dyadic relation between an object and a perceiver. Such a dyadic relational theory is often called naive realism because it suggests that the perceiver is directly perceiving the object, and naive because this view is open to a variety of serious objections. Some versions of the representational theory are open to serious objections as well. If, for example, one treats ideas as things, then one can imagine that because one sees ideas, the ideas actually block one from seeing things in the external world. The idea would be like a picture or painting. The picture would copy the original object in the external world, but because our immediate object of perception is the picture we would be prevented from seeing the original just as standing in front of a painting on an easel might prevent us from seeing the person being painted. Thus, this is sometimes called the picture/original theory of perception. Alternatively, Jonathan Bennett called it “the veil of perception” to emphasize that ‘seeing’ the ideas prevent us from seeing the external world. One philosopher who arguably held such a view was Nicholas Malebranche, a follower of Descartes. Antoine Arnauld, by contrast, while believing in the representative character of ideas, is a direct realist about perception. Arnauld engaged in a lengthy controversy with Malebranche, and criticized Malebranche’s account of ideas. Locke follows Arnauld in his criticism of Malebranche on this point (Locke, 1823, Vol. IX: 250). Yet Berkeley attributed the veil of perception interpretation of the representational theory of perception to Locke as have many later commentators including Bennett. A.D. Woozley puts the difficulty of doing this succinctly: “…it is scarcely credible both that Locke should be able to see and state so clearly the fundamental objection to the picture-original theory of sense perception, and that he should have held the same theory himself” (Woozley, 1964. p. 27). Just what Locke’s account of perception involves, is still a matter of scholarly debate. A review of this issue at a symposium including John Rogers, Gideon Yaffe, Lex Newman, Tom Lennon, and Vere Chappell at a meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in 2003 and later expanded and published in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly found most of the symposiasts holding the view that Locke holds a representative theory of perception but that he is not a skeptic about the external world in the way that the veil of perception doctrine might suggest.
Another issue that has been a matter of controversy since the first publication of the Essay is what Locke means by the term ‘substance’. The primary/secondary quality distinction gets us a certain ways in understanding physical objects, but Locke is puzzled about what underlies or supports the primary qualities themselves. He is also puzzled about what material and immaterial substances might have in common that would lead us to apply the same word to both. These kinds of reflections led him to the relative and obscure idea of substance in general. This is an “I know not what” which is the support of qualities which cannot subsist by themselves. We experience properties appearing in regular clumps, but we must infer that there is something that supports or perhaps ‘holds together’ those qualities. For we have no experience of that supporting substance. It is clear that Locke sees no alternative to the claim that there are substances supporting qualities. He does not, for example, have a theory of tropes (tropes are properties that can exist independently of substances) which he might use to dispense with the notion of substance. (In fact, he may be rejecting something like a theory of tropes when he rejects the Aristotelian doctrine of real qualities and insists on the need for substances.) He is thus not at all a skeptic about ‘substance’ in the way that Hume is. But, it is also quite clear that he is regularly insistent about the limitations of our ideas of substances. Bishop Stillingfleet accused Locke of putting substance out of the reasonable part of the world. But Locke is not doing that.
Since Berkeley, Locke’s doctrine of the substratum or substance in general has been attacked as incoherent. It seems to imply that we have a particular without any properties, and this seems like a notion that is inconsistent with empiricism. We have no experience of such an entity and so no way to derive such an idea from experience. Locke himself acknowledges this point (I. IV. 18. p. 95). In order to avoid this problem, Michael Ayers has proposed that we must understand the notions of ‘substratum’ and ‘substance in general’ in terms of Locke’s doctrine of real essences developed in Book III of the Essay rather than as a separate problem from that of knowing real essences. The real essence of a material thing is its atomic constitution. This atomic constitution is the causal basis of all the observable properties of the thing. Were the real essence known, all the observable properties could be deduced from it. Locke claims that the real essences of material things are quite unknown to us. Locke’s concept of substance in general is also a ‘something I know not what.’ Thus, on Ayers’ interpretation ‘substance in general’ means something like ‘whatever it is that supports qualities’ while the real essence means ‘this particular atomic constitution that explains this set of observable qualities’. Thus, Ayers wants to treat the unknown substratum as picking out the same thing as the real essence—thus eliminating the need for particulars without properties. This proposed way of interpreting Locke has been criticized by scholars both because of a lack of textural support, and on the stronger grounds that it conflicts with some things that Locke does say. (See Jolley 1999 pp. 71–3.) As we have reached one of the important concepts in Book III, let us turn to that Book and Locke’s discussion of language.
2.3 Book III
Locke devotes Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding to language. This is a strong indication that Locke thinks issues about language were of considerable importance in attaining knowledge. At the beginning of the Book he notes the importance of abstract general ideas to knowledge. These serve as sorts under which we rank all the vast multitude of particular existences. Thus, abstract ideas and classification are of central importance in Locke’s discussion of language.
There is a clear connection between Book II and III in that Locke claims that words stand for ideas. In his discussion of language Locke distinguishes words according to the categories of ideas established in Book II of the Essay. So there are ideas of substances, simple modes, mixed modes, relations and so on. It is in this context that Locke makes the distinction between real and nominal essences noted above. Perhaps because of his focus on the role that kind terms play in classification, Locke pays vastly more attention to nouns than to verbs. Locke recognizes that not all words relate to ideas. There are the many particles, words that “…signify the connexion that the Mind gives to Ideas, or Propositions, one with another” (II., 7. 1. p. 471). Still, it is the relation of words and ideas that gets most of Locke’s attention in Book III.
Norman Kretzmann calls the claim that ‘words in their primary or immediate signification signify nothing but the ideas in the mind of him that uses them’ Locke’s main semantic thesis. (See Norman Kretzmann, “The Main Thesis of Locke’s Semantic Theory” in Tipton, 1977. pp. 123–140.) This thesis has often been criticized as a classic blunder in semantic theory. Thus Mill, for example, wrote, “When I say, ‘the sun is the cause of the day,’ I do not mean that my idea of the sun causes or excites in me the idea of day.” This criticism of Locke’s account of language parallels the “veil of perception” critique of his account of perception and suggests that Locke is not distinguishing the meaning of a word from its reference. Kretzmann, however, argues persuasively that Locke distinguishes between meaning and reference and that ideas provide the meaning but not the reference of words. Thus, the line of criticism represented by the quotation from Mill is ill founded.
In addition to the kinds of ideas noted above, there are also particular and abstract ideas. Particular ideas have in them the ideas of particular places and times which limit the application of the idea to a single individual, while abstract general ideas leave out the ideas of particular times and places in order to allow the idea to apply to other similar qualities or things. There has been considerable philosophical and scholarly debate about the nature of the process of abstraction and Locke’s account of it. Berkeley argued that the process as Locke conceives it is incoherent. In part this is because Berkeley is an imagist—that is he believes that all ideas are images. If one is an imagist it becomes impossible to imagine what idea could include both the ideas of a right and equilateral triangle. Michael Ayers has recently argued that Locke too was an imagist. This would make Berkeley’s criticism of Locke very much to the point. Ayers’ claim, however, has been disputed. (See, for example, Soles, 1999.) The process of abstraction is of considerable importance to human knowledge. Locke thinks most words we use are general (III, I. 1. p., 409). Clearly, it is only general or sortal ideas that can serve in a classificatory scheme.
In his discussion of names of substances and in the contrast between names of substances and names of modes, a number of interesting features of Locke’s views about language and knowledge emerge. Physical substances are atoms and things made up of atoms. But we have no experience of the atomic structure of horses and tables. We know horses and tables mainly by secondary qualities such as color, taste and smell and so on and primary qualities such as shape, motion and extension. So, since the real essence (the atomic constitution) of a horse is unknown to us, our word ‘horse’ cannot get its meaning from that real essence. What the general word signifies is the complex of ideas we have decided are parts of the idea of that sort of thing. These ideas we get from experience. Locke calls such a general idea that picks out a sort, the nominal essence of that sort.
One of the central issues in Book III has to do with classification. On what basis do we divide things into kinds and organize those kinds into a system of species and genera? In the Aristotelian and Scholastic tradition that Locke rejects, necessary properties are those that an individual must have in order to exist and continue to exist. These contrast with accidental properties. Accidental properties are those that an individual can gain and lose and yet continue in existence. If a set of necessary properties is shared by a number of individuals, that set of properties constitutes the essence of a natural kind. The borders between kinds is supposed to be sharp and determinate. The aim of Aristotelian science is to discover the essences of natural kinds. Kinds can then be organized hierarchically into a classificatory system of species and genera. This classification of the world by natural kinds will be unique and privileged because it alone corresponds to the structure of the world. This doctrine of essences and kinds is often called Aristotelian essentialism. Locke rejects a variety of aspects of this doctrine. He rejects the notion that an individual has an essence apart from being treated as belonging to a kind. He also rejects the claim that there is a single classification of things in nature that the natural philosopher should seek to discover. He holds that there are many possible ways to classify the world each of which might be particularly useful depending on one’s purposes.
Locke’s pragmatic account of language and the distinction between nominal and real essences constitute an anti-essentialist alternative to this Aristotelian essentialism and its correlative account of the classification of natural kinds. He claims that there are no fixed boundaries in nature to be discovered—that is there are no clear demarcation points between species. There are always borderline cases. There is debate over whether Locke’s view is that this lack of fixed boundaries is true on both the level of appearances and nominal essences, and atomic constitutions and real essences, or on the level of nominal essences alone. The first view is that Locke holds that there are no Aristotelian natural kinds on either the level of appearance or atomic reality. The second view holds that Locke thinks there are Aristotelian natural kinds on the atomic level, it is simply that we cannot get at them or know what they are. On either of these interpretations, the real essence cannot provide the meaning to names of substances. A.O. Lovejoy in the Great Chain of Being, and David Wiggins are proponents of the second interpretation while Michael Ayers and William Uzgalis argue for the first (Uzgalis, 1988; Ayers, 1991 II. 70).
By contrast, the ideas that we use to make up our nominal essences come to us from experience. Locke claims that the mind is active in making our ideas of sorts and that there are so many properties to choose among that it is possible for different people to make quite different ideas of the essence of a certain substance. This has given some commentators the impression that the making of sorts is utterly arbitrary and conventional for Locke and that there is no basis for criticizing a particular nominal essence. Sometimes Locke says things that might suggest this. But this impression should be resisted. Peter Anstey has characterized Locke’s conventionalism about classificatory terms as both constrained and convergent (Anstey, 2011, pp. 209, 212). Locke claims that while the making of nominal essences is the work of the understanding, that work is constrained both by usage (where words standing for ideas that are already in use) and by the fact that substance words are supposed to copy the properties of the substances they refer to. Locke says that our ideas of kinds of substances have as their archetype the complex of properties that produce the appearances we use to make our nominal essences and which cause the unity of the complex of ideas which appear to us regularly conjoined. The very notion of an archetype implies constraints on what properties (and hence what ideas) can go together. If there were no such constraints there could be no archetype.
Let us begin with the usage of words first. It is important that in a community of language users that words be used with the same meaning. If this condition is met it facilitates the chief end of language which is communication. If one fails to use words with the meaning that most people attach to them, one will fail to communicate effectively with others. Thus one would defeat the main purpose of language. It should also be noted that traditions of usage for Locke can be modified. Otherwise we would not be able to improve our knowledge and understanding by getting more clear and determinate ideas.
In the making of the names of substances there is a period of discovery as the abstract general idea is put together (e.g. the discovery of violets or gold) and then the naming of that idea and then its introduction into language. Language itself is viewed as an instrument for carrying out the mainly prosaic purposes and practices of every day life. Ordinary people are the chief makers of language.
Vulgar Notions suit vulgar Discourses; and both though confused enough, yet serve pretty well for the Market and the Wake. Merchants and Lovers, Cooks and Taylors, have Words wherewith to dispatch their ordinary affairs; and so, I think, might Philosophers and Disputants too, if they had a mind to understand and to be clearly understood. (III. Xi. 10. p. 514)
These ordinary people use a few apparent qualities, mainly ideas of secondary qualities to make ideas and words that will serve their purposes.
Scientists come along later to try to determine if the connections between properties which the ordinary folk have put together in a particular idea in fact holds in nature. Scientists are seeking to find the necessary connections between properties. Still, even scientists, in Locke’s view, are restricted to using observable (and mainly secondary) qualities to categorize things in nature. Sometimes, the scientists may find that the ordinary folk have erred, as when they called whales ‘fish’. A whale is not a fish, as it turns out, but a mammal. There is a characteristic group of qualities which fish have which whales do not have. There is a characteristic group of qualities which mammals have which whales also have. To classify a whale as a fish therefore is a mistake. Similarly, we might make an idea of gold that only included being a soft metal and gold color. If so, we would be unable to distinguish between gold and fool’s gold. Thus, since it is the mind that makes complex ideas (they are ‘the workmanship of the understanding’), one is free to put together any combination of ideas one wishes and call it what one will. But the product of such work is open to criticism, either on the grounds that it does not conform to already current usage, or that it inadequately represents the archetypes that it is supposed to copy in the world. We engage in such criticism in order to improve human understanding of the material world and thus the human condition. This is the convergent character of Locke’s conventionalism. In becoming more accurate the nominal essence is converging on the real essence.
The distinction between modes and substances is surely one of the most important in Locke’s philosophy. In contrast with substances modes are dependent existences—they can be thought of as the ordering of substances. These are technical terms for Locke, so we should see how they are defined. Locke writes: “First, Modes I call such complex Ideas, which however compounded, contain not in themselves the supposition of subsisting by themselves; such are the words signified by the Words Triangle, Gratitude, Murther, etc” (II. xii.4, p. 165). Locke goes on to distinguish between simple and mixed modes. He writes:
Of these Modes, there are two sorts, which deserve distinct consideration. First, there are some that are only variations, or different combinations of the same simple Idea, without the mixture of any other, as a dozen or score; which are nothing but the ideas of so many distinct unities being added together, and these I call simple Modes, as being contained within the bounds of one simple Idea. Secondly, There are others, compounded of Ideas of several kinds, put together to make one complex one; v.g. Beauty, consisting of a certain combination of Colour and Figure, causing Delight to the Beholder; Theft, which being the concealed change of the Possession of any thing, without the consent of the Proprietor, contains, as is visible, a combination of several Ideas of several kinds; and these I call Mixed Modes. (II, xii. 5., p. 165)
When we make ideas of modes, the mind is again active, but the archetype is in our mind. The question becomes whether things in the world fit our ideas, and not whether our ideas correspond to the nature of things in the world. Our ideas are adequate. Thus we define ‘bachelor’ as an unmarried, adult, male human being. If we find that someone does not fit this definition, this does not reflect badly on our definition, it simply means that that individual does not belong to the class of bachelors. Modes give us the ideas of mathematics, of morality, of religion and politics and indeed of human conventions in general. Since these modal ideas are not only made by us but serve as standards that things in the world either fit or do not fit and thus belong or do not belong to that sort, ideas of modes are clear and distinct, adequate and complete. Thus in modes, we get the real and nominal essences combined. One can give precise definitions of mathematical terms (that is, give necessary and sufficient conditions) and one can give deductive demonstrations of mathematical truths. Locke sometimes says that morality too is capable of deductive demonstration. Though pressed by his friend William Molyneux to produce such a demonstrative morality, Locke never did so. The entry Locke’s moral philosophy provides an excellent discussion of Locke’s views on morality and issues related to them for which there is no room in this general account. The terms of political discourse also have some of the same modal features for Locke. When Locke defines the states of nature, slavery and war in the Second Treatise of Government, for example, we are presumably getting precise modal definitions from which one can deduce consequences. It is possible, however, that with politics we are getting a study which requires both experience as well as the deductive modal aspect.
2.4 Book IV
In the fourth book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke tells us what knowledge is and what humans can know and what they cannot (not simply what they do and do not happen to know). Locke defines knowledge as “the perception of the connexion and agreement or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our Ideas” (IV. I. 1. p. 525). This definition of knowledge contrasts with the Cartesian definition of knowledge as any ideas that are clear and distinct. Locke’s account of knowledge allows him to say that we can know substances in spite of the fact that our ideas of them always include the obscure and relative idea of substance in general. Still, Locke’s definition of knowledge raises in this domain a problem analogous to those we have seen with perception and language. If knowledge is the “perception of … the agreement or disagreement … of any of our Ideas”—are we not trapped in the circle of our own ideas? What about knowing the real existence of things? Locke is plainly aware of this problem, and very likely holds that the implausibility of skeptical hypotheses, such as Descartes’ Dream hypothesis (he doesn’t even bother to mention Descartes’ malin genie or Evil Demon hypothesis), along with the causal connections between qualities and ideas in his own system is enough to solve the problem. It is also worth noting that there are significant differences between Locke’s brand of empiricism and that of Berkeley that would make it easier for Locke to solve the veil of perception problem than Berkeley. Locke, for example, makes transdictive inferences about atoms where Berkeley is unwilling to allow that such inferences are legitimate. This implies that Locke has a semantics that allows him to talk about the unexperienced causes of experience (such as atoms) where Berkeley cannot. (See Mackie’s perceptive discussion of the veil of perception problem, in Problems from Locke, pp. 51 through 67.)
What then can we know and with what degree of certainty? We can know that God exists with the second highest degree of assurance, that of demonstration. We also know that we exist with the highest degree of certainty. The truths of morality and mathematics we can know with certainty as well, because these are modal ideas whose adequacy is guaranteed by the fact that we make such ideas as ideal models which other things must fit, rather than trying to copy some external archetype which we can only grasp inadequately. On the other hand, our efforts to grasp the nature of external objects is limited largely to the connection between their apparent qualities. The real essence of elephants and gold is hidden from us: though in general we suppose them to be some distinct combination of atoms which cause the grouping of apparent qualities which leads us to see elephants and violets, gold and lead as distinct kinds. Our knowledge of material things is probabilistic and thus opinion rather than knowledge. Thus our “knowledge” of external objects is inferior to our knowledge of mathematics and morality, of ourselves, and of God. We do have a limited sensitive knowledge of external objects, which is limited to things we are presently experiencing. While Locke holds that we only have knowledge of a limited number of things, he thinks we can judge the truth or falsity of many propositions in addition to those we can legitimately claim to know. This brings us to a discussion of probability.
2.5 Knowledge and Probability
Knowledge involves the seeing of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas. What then is probability and how does it relate to knowledge? Locke writes:
The Understanding Faculties being given to Man, not barely for Speculation, but also for the Conduct of his Life, Man would be at a great loss, if he had nothing to direct him, but what has the Certainty of true Knowledge… Therefore, as God has set some Things in broad day-light; as he has given us some certain Knowledge…So in the greater part of our Concernment, he has afforded us only the twilight, as I may say so, of Probability, suitable, I presume, to that State of Mediocrity and Probationership, he has been pleased to place us in here, wherein to check our over-confidence and presumption, we might by every day’s Experience be made sensible of our short sightedness and liableness to Error… (IV, xiv, 1–2., p. 652)
So, apart from the few important things that we can know for certain, e.g. the existence of ourselves and God, the nature of mathematics and morality broadly construed, for the most part we must lead our lives without knowledge. What then is probability? Locke writes:
As Demonstration is the shewing of the agreement or disagreement of two Ideas, by the intervention of one or more Proofs, which have a constant, immutable, and visible connexion one with another: so Probability is nothing but the appearance of such an Agreement or Disagreement, by the intervention of Proofs, whose connection is not constant and immutable, or at least is not perceived to be so, but is or appears, for the most part to be so, and is enough to induce the Mind to judge the Proposition to be true, or false, rather than the contrary. (IV., xv, 1., p. 654)
Probable reasoning, on this account, is an argument, similar in certain ways to the demonstrative reasoning that produces knowledge but different also in certain crucial respects. It is an argument that provides evidence that leads the mind to judge a proposition true or false but without a guarantee that the judgment is correct. This kind of probable judgment comes in degrees, ranging from near demonstrations and certainty to unlikeliness and improbability to near the vicinity of impossibility. It is correlated with degrees of assent ranging from full assurance down to conjecture, doubt and distrust.
The new science of mathematical probability had come into being on the continent just around the time that Locke was writing the Essay. His account of probability, however, shows little or no awareness of mathematical probability. Rather it reflects an older tradition that treated testimony as probable reasoning. Given that Locke’s aim, above all, is to discuss what degree of assent we should give to various religious propositions, the older conception of probability very likely serves his purposes best. Thus, when Locke comes to describe the grounds for probability he cites the conformity of the proposition to our knowledge, observation and experience, and the testimony of others who are reporting their observation and experience. Concerning the latter we must consider the number of witnesses, their integrity, their skill in observation, counter testimony and so on. In judging rationally how much to assent to a probable proposition, these are the relevant considerations that the mind should review. We should, Locke also suggests, be tolerant of differing opinions as we have more reason to retain the opinions we have than to give them up to strangers or adversaries who may well have some interest in our doing so.
Locke distinguishes two sorts of probable propositions. The first of these have to do with particular existences or matters of fact, and the second that are beyond the testimony of the senses. Matters of fact are open to observation and experience, and so all of the tests noted above for determining rational assent to propositions about them are available to us. Things are quite otherwise with matters that are beyond the testimony of the senses. These include the knowledge of finite immaterial spirits such as angels or things such as atoms that are too small to be sensed, or the plants, animals or inhabitants of other planets that are beyond our range of sensation because of their distance from us. Concerning this latter category, Locke says we must depend on analogy as the only help for our reasoning. He writes: “Thus the observing that the bare rubbing of two bodies violently one upon the other, produce heat, and very often fire it self, we have reason to think, that what we call Heat and Fire consist of the violent agitation of the imperceptible minute parts of the burning matter…” (IV. XVI. 12. Pp 665–6). We reason about angels by considering the Great Chain of Being; figuring that while we have no experience of angels, the ranks of species above us is likely as numerous as that below of which we do have experience. This reasoning is, however, only probable.
2.6 Reason, Faith and Enthusiasm
The relative merits of the senses, reason and faith for attaining truth and the guidance of life were a significant issue during this period. As noted above James Tyrrell recalled that the original impetus for the writing of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was a discussion about the principles of morality and revealed religion. In Book IV Chapters XVII, XVIII and XIX Locke deals with the nature of reason, the relation of reason to faith and the nature of enthusiasm. Locke remarks that all sects make use of reason as far as they can. It is only when this fails them that they have recourse to faith and claim that what is revealed is above reason. But he adds: “And I do not see how they can argue with anyone or even convince a gainsayer who uses the same plea, without setting down strict boundaries between faith and reason” (IV. XVIII. 2. p. 689). Locke then defines reason as “the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, as it has got by the use of its natural faculties; viz, by the use of sensation or reflection” (IV. XVIII. ii. p. 689). Faith, on the other hand, is assent to any proposition “…upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication.” That is we have faith in what is disclosed by revelation and which cannot be discovered by reason. Locke also distinguishes between the original revelation by God to some person, and traditional revelation which is the original revelation “…delivered over to others in Words, and the ordinary ways of our conveying our Conceptions one to another” (IV. xviii, 3 p. 690).
Locke makes the point that some things could be discovered both by reason and by revelation—God could reveal the propositions of Euclid’s geometry, or they could be discovered by reason. In such cases there would be little use for faith. Traditional revelation can never produce as much certainty as the contemplation of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas. Similarly revelations about matters of fact do not produce as much certainty as having the experience one self. Revelation, then cannot contradict what we know to be true. If it could, it would undermine the trustworthiness of all of our faculties. This would be a disastrous result. Where revelation comes into its own is where reason cannot reach. Where we have few or no ideas for reason to contradict or confirm, this is the proper matters for faith. “…that Part of the Angels rebelled against GOD, and thereby lost their first happy state: and that the dead shall rise, and live again: These and the like, being Beyond the Discovery of Reason, are purely matters of Faith; with which Reason has nothing to do” (IV. xviii. 8. p. 694). Still, reason does have a crucial role to play in respect to revelation. Locke writes:
Because the Mind, not being certain of the Truth of that it evidently does not know, but only yielding to the Probability that appears to it, is bound to give up its assent to such Testimony, which, it is satisfied, comes from one who cannot err, and will not deceive. But yet, it still belongs to Reason, to judge of the truth of its being a Revelation, and of the significance of the Words, wherein it is delivered. (IV. 18. 8., p. 694)
So, in respect to the crucial question of how we are to know whether a revelation is genuine, we are supposed to use reason and the canons of probability to judge. Locke claims that if the boundaries between faith and reason are not clearly marked, then there will be no place for reason in religion and one then gets all the “extravagant Opinions and Ceremonies, that are to be found in the religions of the world…” (IV. XVIII. 11. p. 696).
Should one accept revelation without using reason to judge whether it is genuine revelation or not, one gets what Locke calls a third principle of assent besides reason and revelation, namely enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a vain or unfounded confidence in divine favor or communication. It implies that there is no need to use reason to judge whether such favor or communication is genuine or not. Clearly when such communications are not genuine they are ‘the ungrounded Fancies of a Man’s own Brain’ (IV. xix. 2. p. 698). This kind of enthusiasm was characteristic of Protestant extremists going back to the era of the Civil War. Locke was not alone in rejecting enthusiasm, but he rejects it in the strongest terms. Enthusiasm violates the fundamental principle by which the understanding operates—that assent be proportioned to the evidence. To abandon that fundamental principle would be catastrophic. This is a point that Locke also makes in The Conduct of the Understanding and The Reasonableness of Christianity. Locke wants each of us to use our understanding to search after truth. Of enthusiasts, those who would abandon reason and claim to know on the basis of faith alone, Locke writes: “…he that takes away Reason to make way for Revelation, puts out the Light of both, and does much what the same, as if he would perswade a Man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote Light of an invisible Star by a Telescope” (IV. xix. 4. p. 698). Rather than engage in the tedious labor required to reason correctly, enthusiasts persuade themselves that they are possessed of immediate revelation, without having to use reason to judge of the genuineness of their revelation. This leads to “odd Opinions and extravagant actions” that are characteristic of enthusiasm and which should warn that this is a wrong principle. Thus, Locke strongly rejects any attempt to make inward persuasion not judged by reason a legitimate principle.
We turn now to a consideration of Locke’s educational works.
3. Locke’s Major Works on Education
Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education and his Conduct of the Understanding form a nice bridge between An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and his political works. Ruth Grant and Nathan Tarcov write in the introduction to their edition of these works: “The idea of liberty, so crucial to all of Locke’s writings on politics and education, is traced in the Essay to reflection on the power of the mind over one’s own actions, especially the power to suspend actions in the pursuit of the satisfaction of one’s own desires until after a full consideration of their objects (II. xxi 47, 51–52). The Essay thus shows how the independence of mind pursued in the Conduct is possible” (Grant and Tarcov (1996) xvi).
Some Thoughts Concerning Education was first published in 1693. This book collected together advice that Locke had been giving his friend Edward Clarke about the education of Clarke’s son (and also his daughters) since 1684. In preparing the revision for the fourth edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke began writing a chapter called “The Conduct of the Understanding”. This became quite long and was never added to the Essay or even finished. It was left to Locke’s literary executors to decide what to do with it. The Conduct was published by Peter King in his posthumous edition of some of Locke’s works in 1706. As Locke was composing these works, some of the material from the Conduct eventually made its way into the Thoughts. Grant and Tarcov write that the Thoughts and the Conduct “complement each other well: the Thoughts focuses on the education of children by their parents, whereas the Conduct addresses the self-education of adults” (Grant and Tarcov, 1996, vii). though they also note tensions between the two that illustrate paradoxes in liberal society. The Thoughts is addressed to the education of the sons and daughters of the English gentry in the late seventeenth century. It is in some ways thus significantly more limited to its time and place than the Conduct. Yet, its insistence on the inculcating such virtues as “justice as respect for the rights of others, civility, liberality, humanity, self-denial, industry, thrift, courage, truthfulness, and a willingness to question prejudice, authority and the biases of one’s own self-interest” very likely represents the qualities needed for citizens in a liberal society (Grant and Tarcov 1996, xiii).
Locke’s Thoughts represents the culmination of a century of what has been called “the discovery of the child.” In the Middle Ages the child was regarded as “only a simple plaything, as a simple animal, or a miniature adult who dressed, played and was supposed to act like his elders…Their ages were unimportant and therefore seldom known. Their education was undifferentiated, either by age, ability or intended occupation” (Axtell 1968 pp 63–4). Locke treated children as human beings in whom the gradual development of rationality needed to be fostered by parents. Locke urged parents to spend time with their children and tailor their education to their character and idiosyncrasies, to develop both a sound body and character, and to make play the chief strategy for learning rather than rote learning or punishment. Thus, he urged learning languages by learning to converse in them before learning rules of grammar. Locke also suggests that the child learn at least one manual trade.
In advocating a kind of education that made people who think for themselves, Locke was preparing people to effectively make decisions in their own lives—to engage in individual self-government—and to participate in the government of their country. The Conduct reveals the connections Locke sees between reason, freedom and morality. Reason is required for good self-government because reason insofar as it is free from partiality, intolerance and passion and able to question authority leads to fair judgment and action. We thus have a responsibility to cultivate reason in order to avoid the moral failings of passion, partiality and so forth (Grant and Tarcov 1996, xii). This is, in Tarcov’s phrase, Locke’s education for liberty.
We turn now to Locke’s political writings. (See the entry on Locke’s political philosophy, which focuses on five topics (the state of nature, natural law, property, consent and toleration) and goes into these topics in more depth than is possible in a general account and provides much useful information on the debates about them.)
4. The Two Treatises Of Government
The introduction of the work was written latter than the main text, and gave people the impression that the book was written in 1688 to justify the Glorious Revolution. We now know that the Two Treatises of Government were written during the Exclusion crisis in 1681 and may have been intended in part to justify the general armed rising which the Country Party leaders were planning. Supposing that his is correct, how does it do this?
The First Treatise of Government is a polemical work aimed at refuting the patriarchal version of the Divine Right of Kings doctrine put forth by Sir Robert Filmer. Locke singles out Filmer’s contention that men are not “naturally free” as the key issue, for that is the “ground” or premise on which Filmer erects his argument for the claim that all “legitimate” government is “absolute monarchy”—kings being descended from the first man, Adam and their subjects being naturally slaves. Early in the First Treatise Locke denies that either scripture or reason supports Filmer’s premise or arguments. In what follows in the First Treatise, Locke minutely examines key Biblical passages.
While The Second Treatise of Government provides Locke’s positive theory of government—, it also continues his argument against Sir Robert Filmer’s claims that monarchs legitimately hold absolute power over their subjects. Locke holds that Filmer’s view is sufficiently incoherent to lead to governments being established by force and violence. Thus, Locke claims he must provide an alternative account of the origin of government “lest men fall into the dangerous belief that all government in the world is merely the product of force and violence.” Locke’s account involves several devices which were common in seventeenth and eighteenth century political philosophy—natural rights theory and the social contract. Natural rights are those rights which we are supposed to have as human beings before ever government comes into being. We might suppose, that like other animals, we have a natural right to struggle for our survival. Locke will argue that we have a right to the means to survive. When Locke comes to explain how government comes into being, he uses the idea that people agree that their condition in the state of nature is unsatisfactory, and so agree to transfer some of their rights to a central government, while retaining others. This is the theory of the social contract. There are many versions of natural rights theory and the social contract in seventeenth and eighteenth century European political philosophy, some conservative and some radical. Locke’s version belongs on the radical side of the spectrum. These radical natural right theories influenced the ideologies of the American and French revolutions.
Locke’s strategy for refuting Filmer’s claims that monarchs have absolute power over their subjects is to show that Filmer is conflating a whole variety of limited powers, all of which might be held by one man and thus give the false appearance that that a king has absolute power over wives, children, servants and slaves as well as subjects of a commonwealth. When properly distinguished, however, and the limitations of each displayed, it becomes clear that monarchs have no legitimate absolute power over their subjects.
4.1 The Second Treatise of Government
An important part of Locke’s project in the Second Treatise is to figure out what the role of legitimate government is, thus allowing him to distinguish the nature of illegitimate government. Once this is done, the basis for legitimate revolution becomes clear. Figuring out what the proper or legitimate role of civil government is would be a difficult task indeed if one were to examine the vast complexity of existing governments. How should one proceed? One strategy is to consider what life is like in the absence of civil government. Presumably this is a simpler state, one which may be easier to understand. Then one might see what role civil government ought to play. This is the strategy which Locke pursues, following Hobbes and others. So, in the first chapter of the Second Treatise Locke defines political power.
Political power, then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the common-wealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good
In the second chapter of The Second Treatise Locke describes the state in which there is no government with real political power. This is the state of nature. It is sometimes assumed that the state of nature is a state in which there is no government at all. This is only partially true. It is possible to have in the state of nature either no government, illegitimate government, or legitimate government with less than full political power. (See the section on the state of nature in the entry on Locke’s political philosophy.)
If we consider the state of nature before there was government, it is a state of political equality in which there is no natural superior or inferior. From this equality flows the obligation to mutual love and the duties that people owe one another, and the great maxims of justice and charity. Was there ever such a state? There has been considerable debate about this. Still, it is plain that both Hobbes and Locke would answer this question affirmatively. Whenever people have not agreed to establish a common political authority, they remain in the state of nature. It’s like saying that people are in the state of being naturally single until they are married. Locke clearly thinks one can find the state of nature in his time at least in the “inland, vacant places of America” (Second Treatise V. 36) and in the relations between different peoples. Perhaps the historical development of states also went though the stages of a state of nature. An alternative possibility is that the state of nature is not a real historical state, but rather a theoretical construct, intended to help determine the proper function of government. If one rejects the historicity of states of nature, one may still find them a useful analytical device. For Locke, it is very likely both.
4.2 Human Nature and God’s Purposes
According to Locke, God created man and we are, in effect, God’s property. The chief end set us by our creator as a species and as individuals is survival. A wise and omnipotent God, having made people and sent them into this world:
…by his order and about his business, they are his property whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s.
It follows immediately that “he has no liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, yet when some nobler use than its bare possession calls for it” (II. 2. 6). So, murder and suicide violate the divine purpose.
If one takes survival as the end, then we may ask what are the means necessary to that end. On Locke’s account, these turn out to be life, liberty, health and property. Since the end is set by God, on Locke’s view we have a right to the means to that end. So we have rights to life, liberty, health and property. These are natural rights, that is they are rights that we have in a state of nature before the introduction of civil government, and all people have these rights equally.
There is also a law of nature. It is the Golden Rule, interpreted in terms of natural rights. Thus Locke writes: “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…” (II. 2. 6). Locke tells us that the law of nature is revealed by reason. Locke makes the point about the law that it commands what is best for us. If it did not, he says, the law would vanish for it would not be obeyed. It is in this sense that Locke means that reason reveals the law. If you reflect on what is best for yourself and others, given the goal of survival and our natural equality, you will come to this conclusion. (See the section on the law of nature in the entry on Locke’s Political Philosophy.)
PREFACE by the EDITOR.
The person chiefly concerned in improving this edition of Mr. Lock’s works, having long entertained an high esteem for that author’s writings, and being informed that a new edition of them was preparing, became naturally desirous of seeing one more complete than any of the foregoing; and of contributing his assistance towards it (so far as the short time allowed for that purpose would give leave) by not only collating former editions, and correcting those numerous errors which had crept into most of them; but also by inserting, or giving some description of, such other pieces as are known to have come from the same hand, though not appearing in any catalogue or collection of his works.
The farther liberty has been taken to subjoin a few things by other hands, which seemed necessary to a right use of Mr. Locke’s discoveries, and a more ready application of the principles whereon they are founded, v. g.
1. To the Essay on Human Understanding is prefixed a correct analysis, which has been of considerable service by reducing that essay into some better method, which the author himself shows us, (preface and elsewhere) that he was very sensible it wanted, though he contented himself with leaving it in its original form, for reasons grounded on the prejudices then prevailing Edition: current; Page: [ii] against so novel a system; but which hardly now subsist.
This map of the intellectual world, which exhibits the whole doctrine of ideas in one view, must to an attentive reader appear more commodious than any of those dry compends generally made use of by young students, were they more perfect than even the best of them are found to be.
2. There is also annexed to the same essay a small tract in defence of Mr. Locke’s opinion concerning personal identity; a point of some consequence, but which many ingenious persons, probably from not observing what passed between him and Molyneux on the subject, [letters in September and December, 1693, and January, February, May, 1694,] have greatly misunderstood.
It may perhaps be expected that we should introduce this edition of Mr. Locke’s works with a particular history of the author’s circumstances and connections; but as several narratives of this kind have been already published by different writers, viz. A. Wood, [Ath. Ox. Vol. 2d.]; P. Coste, [character of Mr. Locke here annexed]; Le Clerc, [first printed in English before the Letters on Toleration, 1689, but more complete in the edition of 1713, from whence the chief part of the subsequent lives is extracted]; Locke’s Article in the Supplement to Collier Addend.; and by the compilers of the General Dictionary, Biographia Britannica, Memoirs of his Life and Character, 1742, &c. &c. and since most of that same account which has been prefixed to some late editions by way of Life, is likewise here annexed; there seems to be little occasion for transcribing any more of such common occurrences, as are neither interesting enough in themselves, nor sufficiently characteristic of the author. We have therefore chosen to confine the following observations to a critical survey of Mr. Locke’s writings, after giving some account of his literary correspondence, and of such anonymous tracts as are not commonly known to be his, but yet distinguishable from others that have been imputed to him. Besides those posthumous pieces which have Edition: current; Page: [iii] been already collected by Des Maizeaux, and joined with some others in the late editions, there is extant,
1. His Introductory Discourse to Churchill’s Collection of Voyages, [in 4 vols. fol.] containing the whole History of Navigation from its Original to that Time, (A. D. 1704) with a Catalogue and Character of most Books of Travels.*
These voyages are commonly said to have been published under his direction. They were presented by him to the university of Oxford [v. Collier’s Dict.] That he was well versed in such authors is pretty plain, from the good use he has made of them in his essays; and the introductory discourse is by no means unworthy of him, though deemed too large to be admitted into this publication: whether it may be added, some time hence, in a supplemental volume, along with some of his other tracts hereafter mentioned, must be submitted to the public, and those who are stiled proprietors.
2. For the same reason we are obliged to suppress another piece usually ascribed to him, and entitled, The History of our Saviour Jesus Christ, related in the Words of Scripture, containing, in Order of Time, all the Events and Discourses recorded in the four Evangelists, &c. 8vo. printed for A. and J. Churchill, 1705, concerning which a learned friend, who has carefully examined it, gives the following account: ‘I am inclined to think that this work is the genuine production of Mr. Locke. It is compiled with accuracy and judgment, and is in every respect worthy of that masterly writer. I have compared it with Mr. Locke’s Treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity, and find a striking resemblance between them in some of their expressions, in their quotations from scripture, and in the arrangement of our Saviour’s discourses.’ Under each of these heads this ingenious writer has produced remarkable instances of such resemblance, but too particular and minute to be here recited; on the last he adds, that Edition: current; Page: [iv] whoever reads the Treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity with the least attention, will perceive that Mr. Locke has every where observed an exact chronological order in the arrangement of his texts, which arrangement perfectly corresponds with that of the History. It would have been very difficult to throw a multitude of citations from the four evangelists into such a chronological series without the assistance of some Harmony, but Mr. Locke was too cautious a reasoner to depend upon another man’s hypothesis; I am therefore persuaded that he compiled his Harmony, the History of Christ, for his own immediate use, as the basis of his Reasonableness of Christianity. And though the original plan of this history may have been taken from Garthwaite’s Evangelical Harmony, 4to. 1633, as Dr. Doddridge supposes, yet the whole narrative and particular arrangement of facts is so very different, that Mr. Locke’s History in 1705 may properly be termed a new work.
3. Select Moral Books of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, paraphrased, viz. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus, in one vol. 12mo. 1706. This useful work is given by tradition to Mr. Locke, and his name often written before it accordingly. It was printed for his old booksellers A. and J. Churchill, and is thought by some good judges to bear evident marks of authenticity: of which I shall only observe farther, that by the method there taken of paraphrasing these writers in one close, continued discourse, where the substance is laid together and properly digested, a much better connexion appears to be preserved, and the author’s sense more clearly expressed, than it can be in any separate exposition of each verse with all the repetitions usual in eastern writings, and all the disadvantages arising from the very inaccurate division of their periods, as is hinted in the judicious preface to that work.
4. A letter to Mrs. Cockburn, not inserted before in any collection of Mr. Locke’s pieces. It was sent with a present of books to that lady, on her being discovered to have written a Defence of his Essay against some Edition: current; Page: [v] Remarks made upon it by Dr. T. Burnet, author of the Theory of the Earth, &c. Dr. Burnet’s Remarks appeared without his name in three parts, the first of which was animadverted on by Mr. Locke at the end of his Reply to bish. Stillingfleet in 1697; the two others were left to the animadversion of his friends. Mrs. Cockburn, to whom the letter under consideration is addressed, finished her Defence of the Essay in December, 1701, when she was but twenty-two years old, and published it May, 1702, the author being industriously concealed: which occasioned Mr. Locke’s elegant compliment of its being ‘a generosity above the strain of that groveling age, and like that of superiour spirits, who assist without showing themselves.’ In 1724 the same lady wrote a letter to Dr. Holdsworth on his injurious imputations cast upon Mr. Locke concerning the Resurrection of the same Body, printed in 1726; and afterwards an elaborate Vindication of Mr. Locke’s Christian Principles, and his controversy on that subject, first published, together with an account of her works, by Dr. Birch, 1751, and the forementioned letter added here below, Vol. ix. p. 314.
5. Of the same kind of correspondence is the curious letter to Mr. Bold, in 1699, which is also inserted in the 9th volume, p. 315, as corrected from the original. Mr. Bold, in 1699, set forth a piece, entitled, Some Considerations on the principal Objections and Arguments which have been published against Mr. Locke’s Essay; and added in a collection of tracts, published 1706, three defences of his Reasonableness of Christianity; with a large discourse concerning the Resurrection of the same Body, and two letters on the Necessary Immateriality of created thinking Substance.
Our author’s sentiments of Mr. Bold may be seen at large in the letter itself, Vol. ix. p. 315.
6. Mr. Locke’s fine account of Dr. Pococke was first published in a collection of his letters, by Curl, 1714, (which collection is not now to be met with) and some extracts made from it by Dr. Twells, in his Life of that learned author, [Theol. Works, Vol. I. p. 83.] The same is given at full length by Des Maizeaux, as a letter Edition: current; Page: [vi] to ****, (intending Mr. Smith of Dartmouth, who had prepared materials for that life) but without specifying either the subject or occasion.
7. The large Latin tract of Locke’s De Toleratione was first introduced in the late 4to. edition of his works, but as we have it translated by Mr. Popple to the author’s entire satisfaction, and as there is nothing extraordinary in the language of the original, it was judged unnecessary to repeat so many things over again by inserting it. Perhaps it might afford matter of more curiosity to compare some parts of his Essay with Mr. Burridge’s Version, said to be printed in 1701, about which he and his friend Molyneux appeared so extremely anxious, but which he tells Limborch (Aug. 1701) he had not then seen; nor have we learnt the fate of this Latin version, any more than what became of a French one, (probably that of P. Coste, mentioned under Locke’s article in the General Dictionary) in correcting which he (Mr. Locke) had taken very great pains, and likewise altered many passages of the original, in order to make them more clear and easy to be translated.* Many of these alterations I have formerly seen under his hand in the library at Oates, where he spent the last and most agreeable part of his life in the company of lady Masham, and where his own conversation must have proved no less agreeable and instructing to that lady, since by means of it, as well as from an education under the eye of her father, Cudworth, she appears to have profited so much as to compose a very rational discourse, entitled, Occasional Thoughts in reference to a virtuous and Christian Life, published 1705, and frequently ascribed to Mr. Locke. [See particularly Boyer’s Annals of Queen Anne, Vol. III. p. 262.] She was generally believed (as Le Clerc tells us) to be the author of another discourse on the Love of God, in answer to Mr. Norris; which has likewise been attributed to Mr. Locke, and has his name written before it in a copy now in the library of Sion College, but others Edition: current; Page: [vii] give it to Dr. Whitby. Of the same excellent lady Mr. Locke gives the following character to Limborch: ‘Ejus [i. e. Historiæ Inquisitionis] lectionem sibi et utilissimam et jucundissimam fore spondet Domina Cudwortha, quæ paternæ benignitatis hæres omnem de rebus religionis persecutionem maxime aversatur.’ Lett. June, 1691. ‘Hospes mea Tyrannidi Ecclesiasticæ inimicissima, sæpe mihi laudat ingenium et consilium tuum, laboremque huic operi tam opportune impensum, creditque frustra de religionis reformatione et Evangelii propagatione tantum undique strepitum moveri, dum Tyrannis in Ecclesiâ vis in rebus religionis (uti passim mos est) aliis sub nominibus utcunque speciosis obtinet et laudatur.’ Id. Nov. 1691.
8. We cannot in this place forbear lamenting the suppression of some of Mr. Locke’s treatises, which are in all probability not to be retrieved. His Right Method of searching after Truth, which Le Clerc mentions, is hardly to be met with; nor can a tract which we have good ground to believe that he wrote, in the Unitarian Controversy, be well distinguished at this distance of time; unless it prove to be the following piece, which some ingenious persons have judged to be his; and if they are right in their conjecture, as I have no doubt but they are; the address to himself that is prefixed to it must have been made on purpose to conceal the true author, as a more attentive perusal of the whole tract will convince any one, and at the same time show what reason there was for so extremely cautious a proceeding. Part of the long title runs thus: ‘The Exceptions of Mr. Edwards in his Causes of Atheism, against The Reasonableness of Christianity as delivered in the Scriptures, examined and found unreasonable, unscriptural, and injurious, &c. London, printed in the year 1695, 47 pages, 4to.
It is uncertain whether he lived to finish that System of Ethics which his friend Molyneux so frequently recommended to him; but from a letter to the same person, dated April 1698, it appears that he had several plans by him, which either were never executed, or never saw the light.Edition: current; Page: [viii]
Among the late Mr. Yorke’s papers burnt in his chambers in Lincoln’s-Inn, were many of Mr. Locke’s letters to lord Sommers, but probably no copies of these remain; which must prove an irreparable loss to the public, many of them being in all likelihood written on subjects of a political nature, as that eminent patriot was well acquainted with, and seems to have availed himself considerably of Mr. Locke’s principles throughout his excellent treatise, entitled, The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations concerning the Rights and Prerogatives of Kings, and the Rights, Privileges, and Properties of the People. A work which seems to be but little known at present, though there was a tenth edition of it in 1771. The conclusion is taken almost verbatim from Mr. Locke.
9. Thirteen letters to Dr. Mapletoft, giving some account of his friends, with a large description of a severe nervous disorder and his method of treating it, and frequent intimations of his desire to succeed the doctor in his professorship at Gresham College, &c. were very obligingly communicated by a grandson of the doctor’s; but we have not room to insert them, as they contain very few matters of literature, to which our inquiries are chiefly confined at present; nor shall we be excused perhaps for taking notice of his letter to the earl of **, dated May 6, 1676, with a curious old ms. on the subject of free masonry, published in the Gentleman’s Magazine for September, 1758.
We are informed, that there is a great number of original letters of Mr. Locke, now in the hands of the Rev. Mr. Tooke, chaplain to the British factory at Petersburgh; but have no proper means of applying for them.*
10. Forty letters to Edward Clarke, esq. m. p. are among Dr. Birch’s papers in the Museum, but of like unimportance. Perhaps some readers think that the Edition: current; Page: [ix] late editions of Mr. Lock’s works are already clogged with too many of that kind; however I shall give one of these for a specimen, on raising the value of coin, as the same method which he there recommends, viz. of weighing it, has of late been practised. See the letter in Vol. ix. of this edition, p. 320. The two letters from lord Shaftesbury and sir Peter King, will speak for themselves.
11. It may likewise be observed, that our author has met with the fate of most eminent writers, whose names give a currency to whatever passes under them, viz. to have many spurious productions fathered on him. Beside those abovementioned, there is a Common-place Book to the Bible, first published in 1693, and afterwards swelled out with a great deal of matter, ill digested, and all declared to be Mr. Locke’s; but whatever hand he might be supposed to have in the original book itself, it is plain he had none in that preface, which is neither sense nor English. A puerile edition of Æsop’s Fables has likewise his name prefixed to it, and was in all probability ascribed to him for no better reason than the frequent mention made of that book in his Thoughts on Education. The title runs thus; ‘Æsop’s Fables in English and Latin, interlineary, for the benefit of those who, not having a master, would learn either of those tongues. The second edition, with sculptures. By John Locke, gent. Printed for A. Bettesworth, 1723.’
12. But it is high time to conduct the reader to Mr. Locke’s more authentic and capital productions, the constant demand for which shows that they have stood the test of time, and their peculiar tendency to enlarge and improve the mind, must continue that demand while a regard to virtue or religion, science or common sense remains amongst us. I wish it were in my power to give so clear and just a view of these as might serve to point out their proper uses, and thereby direct young unprejudiced readers to a more beneficial study of them.
The Essay on Human Understanding, that most distinguished of all his works, is to be considered as a system, at its first appearance absolutely new, and directly Edition: current; Page: [x] opposite to the notions and persuasions then established in the world. Now as it seldom happens that the person who first suggests a discovery in any science is at the same time solicitous, or perhaps qualified to lay open all the consequences that follow from it; in such a work much of course is left to the reader, who must carefully apply the leading principles to many cases and conclusions not there specified. To what else but a neglect of this application shall we impute it that there are still numbers amongst us who profess to pay the greatest deference to Mr. Locke, and to be well acquainted with his writings, and would perhaps take it ill to have this pretension questioned; yet appear either wholly unable, or unaccustomed, to draw the natural consequence from any one of his principal positions? Why, for instance, do we still continue so unsettled in the first principles and foundation of morals? How came we not to perceive that by the very same arguments which that great author used with so much success in extirpating innate ideas, he most effectually eradicated all innate or connate senses, instincts, &c. by not only leading us to conclude that every such sense must, in the very nature of it, imply an object correspondent to and of the same standing with itself, to which it refers [as each relative implies its correlate], the real existence of which object he has confuted in every shape; but also by showing that for each moral proposition men actually want and may demand a reason or proof deduced from another science, and founded on natural good and evil: and consequently where no such reason can be assigned, these same senses or instincts, with whatever titles decorated,* whether styled sympathetic or sentimental, common or intuitive,—ought to be looked upon as no more than mere habits; under which familiar name their authority is soon discovered, and their effects accounted for.Edition: current; Page: [xi]
From the same principles it may be collected that all such pompous theories of morals, however seemingly diversified, yet amount ultimately to the same thing, being all built upon the same false bottom of innate notions; and from the history of this science we may see that they have received no manner of improvement (as indeed by the supposition of their innateness they become incapable of any) from the days of Plato to our own; but must always take the main point, the ground of obligation, for granted: which is in truth the shortest and safest way of proceeding for such self-taught philosophers, and saves a deal of trouble in seeking reasons for what they advance, where none are to be found. Mr. Locke went a far different way to work, at the very entrance on his Essay, pointing out the true origin of all our passions and affections, i. e. sensitive pleasure and pain; and accordingly directing us to the proper principle and end of virtue, private happiness, in each individual; as well as laying down the adequate rule and only solid ground of moral obligation, the divine will. From whence also it may well be concluded that moral propositions are equally capable of certainty, and that such certainty is equally reducible to strict demonstration here as in other sciences, since they consist of the very same kind of ideas [viz. general abstract ones, the true and only ground of all general knowledge]: provided always that the terms be once clearly settled, in which lies the chief difficulty, and are constantly applied (as surely they may be) with equal steadiness and precision: which was undoubtedly Mr. Locke’s meaning in that assertion of his which drew upon him so many solicitations to set about such a systematic demonstration of morals.
In the same plain and popular introduction, when he has been proving that men think not always, [a position which, as he observes, letter to Molyneux, August 4, 1696, was then admitted in a commencement act at Cambridge for probable, and which few there now-a-days are found weak enough to question] how come we not to attend him through the genuine consequences of that proof? This would soon let us into the true nature Edition: current; Page: [xii] of the human constitution, and enable us to determine whether thought, when every mode of it is suspended, though but for an hour, can be deemed an essential property of our immaterial principle, or mind, and as such inseparable from some imaginary substance, or substratum, [words by the by, so far as they have a meaning, taken entirely from matter, and terminating in it] any more than motion, under its various modifications, can be judged essential to the body, or to a purely material system.* Of that same substance or substratum, whether material or immaterial, Mr. Locke has farther shown us that we can form but a very imperfect and confused idea, if in truth we have any idea at all of it, though custom and an attachment to the established mode of philosophising still prevails to such a degree that we scarcely know how to proceed without it, and are apt to make as much noise with such logical terms and distinctions, as the schoolmen used to do with their principle of individuation, substantial forms, &c. Whereas, if we could be persuaded to quit every arbitrary hypothesis, and trust to fact and experience, a sound sleep any night would yield sufficient satisfaction in the present case, which thus may derive light even from the darkest parts of nature; and which will the more merit our regard, since the same point has been in some measure confirmed to us by revelation, as our author has likewise shown in his introduction to the Reasonableness of Christianity.
The abovementioned essay contains some more refined speculations which are daily gaining ground among thoughtful and intelligent persons, notwithstanding the neglect and the contempt to which studies of this kind Edition: current; Page: [xiii] are frequently exposed. And when we consider the force of bigotry, and the prejudice in favour of antiquity which adheres to narrow minds, it must be matter of surprise to find so small a number of exceptions made to some of his disquisitions which lie out of the common road.
That well-known chapter of Power has been termed the worst part of his whole essay,* and seems indeed the least defensible, and what gave himself the least satisfaction, after all the pains he and others took to reform it; [v. Letters between him and Molyneux and Limborch. To which may be added note 45 to King’s Or. of E. p. 220, 4th edit.] which might induce one to believe that this most intricate subject is placed beyond human reach; since so penetrating a genius confesses his inability to see through it. And happy are those inquirers who can discern the extent of their faculties! who have learnt in time where to stop and suspend a positive determination! ‘If you will argue,’ says he, ‘for or against liberty from consequences, I will not undertake to answer you: for I own freely to you the weakness of my understanding, that though it be unquestionable that there is omnipotence and omniscience in God our maker, yet I cannot make freedom in man consistent with omnipotence and omniscience in God, though I am as fully persuaded of both as of any truths I most firmly assent to; and therefore I have long left off the consideration of that question, resolving all into this short conclusion: that, if it be possible for God to make a free agent, then man is free; though I see not the way of it.’ Letter to M. Jan. 20, 169⅔.
13. Connected in some sort with the forementioned essay, and in their way equally valuable, are his tracts on Education and the early Conduct of the Understanding; both worthy, as we apprehend, of a more careful perusal than is commonly bestowed upon them, the latter more especially, which seems to be little known and less attended to. It contains an easy popular illustration Edition: current; Page: [xiv] of some discoveries in the foregoing essay, particularly that great and universal law of nature, the support of so many mental powers, (v. g. that of memory under all its modifications) and which produces equally remarkable effects in the intellectual, as that of gravitation does in the material world;—I mean the association of ideas: the first hint whereof did not appear till the fourth edition of his essay, and then came in as it were by the by, under some very peculiar circumstances, and in comparatively trivial instances; the author himself seeming not to be sufficiently aware of its extensiveness, and the many uses to which it is applicable, and has been applied of late by several of our own writers. The former tract abounds with no less curious and entertaining than useful observations on the various tempers and dispositions of youth: with proper directions for the due regulation and improvement of them, and just remarks on the too visible defects in that point; nor should it be looked upon as merely fitted for the instruction of schoolmasters or nurses, but as affording matter of reflection to men of business, science, and philosophy. The several editions of this treatise, which has been much esteemed by foreigners, with the additions made to it abroad, may be seen in Gen. Dict. Vol. VII. p. 145.
14. Thus much may serve to point out the importance of some of our author’s more private and recluse studies; but it was not in such only that this excellent person exercised his learning and abilities. The public rights of mankind, the great object of political union; the authority, extent, and bounds of civil government in consequence of such union; these were subjects which engaged, as they deserved, his most serious attention. Nor was he more industrious here in establishing sound principles and pursuing them consistently, than firm and zealous in support of them, in the worst of times, to the injury of his fortune, and at the peril of his life, (as may be seen more fully in the life annexed); to which may be added, that such zeal and firmness must appear in him the more meritorious, if joined with that timorousness and irresolution which is there observed Edition: current; Page: [xv] to have been part of his natural temper, note,* p. xxix. Witness his famous Letter from a Person of Quality, giving an account of the debates and resolutions in the house of lords concerning a bill for establishing passive Obedience, and enacting new oaths to inforce it: [V. Biogr. Brit. p. 2996. N. 1.] which letter, together with some supposed communications to his patron lord Shaftesbury, raised such a storm against him as drove him out of his own country, and long pursued him at a distance from it. [Ib. p. 2997, &c. from A. Wood.] This letter was at length treated in the same way that others of like tendency have been since, by men of the same spirit, who are ready to bestow a like treatment on the authors themselves, whenever they can get them into their power. Nor will it be improper to remark how seasonable a recollection of Mr. Locke’s political principles is now become, when several writers have attempted, from particular emergencies, to shake those universal and invariable truths whereon all just government is ultimately founded; when they betray so gross an ignorance or contempt of them, as even to avow the directly opposite doctrines, viz. that government was instituted for the sake of governors, not of the governed; and consequently that the interests of the former are of superiour consideration to any of the latter;—that there is an absolute indefeasible right of exercising despotism on one side, and as unlimited an obligation of submitting to it on the other: doctrines that have been confuted over and over, and exploded long ago, and which one might well suppose Mr. Locke must have for ever silenced by his incomparable treatises upon that subject,* which have indeed exhausted it; and notwithstanding any objections that have yet been, or are likely to be brought against them, may, I apprehend, be fairly justified, and however unfashionable they grow, continue fit to be Edition: current; Page: [xvi] inculcated; as will perhaps be fully made appear on any farther provocation.
15. Nor was the religious liberty of mankind less dear to our author than their civil rights, or less ably asserted by him. With what clearness and precision has he stated the terms of it, and vindicated the subject’s just title to it, in his admirable letters concerning Toleration! How closely does he pursue the adversary through all his subterfuges, and strip intolerance of all her pleas!
The first lord Shaftesbury has written a most excellent treatise on the same subject, entitled, An Essay concerning Toleration, 1667, which, though left unfinished, well deserves to see the light; and, as I am assured, in due time will be published at the end of his lordship’s life, now preparing.
16. From one who knew so well how to direct the researches of the human mind, it was natural to expect that Christianity and the scriptures would not be neglected, but rather hold the chief place in his inquiries. These were accordingly the object of his more mature meditations; which were no less successfully employed upon them, as may be seen in part above. His Reasonableness of Christianity, as delivered in the Scriptures, is a work that will richly repay the labour of being thoroughly studied, together with both its Vindications, by all those who desire to entertain proper notions concerning the pure, primitive plan of Christ’s religion, as laid down by himself: where they will also meet with many just observations on our Saviour’s admirable method of conducting it. Of this book, among other commendations, Limborch says, ‘Plus veræ Theologiæ ex illo quam ex operosis multorum Systematibus hausisse me ingenue fateor.’ Lett. March 23, 1697.
In his Paraphrase and Notes upon the epistles of St. Paul, how fully does our author obviate the erroneous doctrines (that of absolute reprobation in particular), which had been falsely charged upon the apostle! And to Mr. Locke’s honour it should be remembered, that he was the first of our commentators who showed what Edition: current; Page: [xvii] it was to comment upon the apostolic writings: by taking the whole of an epistle together, and striking off every signification of every term foreign to the main scope of it; by keeping this point constantly in view, and carefully observing each return to it after any digression; by tracing out a strict, though sometimes less visible, connexion in that very consistent writer, St. Paul; touching the propriety and pertinence of whose writings to their several subjects and occasions, he appears to have formed the most just conception, and thereby confessedly led the way to some of our best modern interpreters. Vide Pierce, pref. to Coloss. and Taylor on Rom. No. 60.
I cannot dismiss this imperfect account of Mr. Locke and his works, without giving way to a painful reflection; which the consideration of them naturally excites. When we view the variety of those very useful and important subjects which have been treated in so able a manner by our author, and become sensible of the numerous national obligations due to his memory on that account, with what indignation must we behold the remains of that great and good man, lying under a mean, mouldering tomb-stone, [which but too strictly verifies the prediction he had given of it, and its little tablet, as ipsa brevi peritura] in an obscure country church-yard — by the side of a forlorn wood—while so many superb monuments are daily erected to perpetuate names and characters hardly worth preserving!
Books and treatises written, or supposed to be written, by Mr. Locke.
Epistola de Tolerantia.
The History of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Select Books of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, paraphrased.
Introductory Discourse to Churchill’s Collection of Voyages.
Exceptions of Mr. Edwards to the Reasonableness of Christianity, &c. examined.Edition: current; Page: [xviii]
Pieces groundlessly ascribed, or of doubtful authority.
Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Virtuous and Christian Life.
Discourse on the Love of God.
Right Method of searching after Truth.
Common Place-Book to the Bible.
Interlineary Version of Æsop’s Fables.
P. S. Having heard that some of Mr. Locke’s mss. were in the possession of those gentlemen to whom the library at Oates belonged, on application made to Mr. Palmer, he was so obliging as to offer that a search should be made after them, and orders given for communicating all that could be found there; but as this notice comes unhappily too late to be made use of on the present occasion, I can only take the liberty of intimating it along with some other sources of intelligence, which I have endeavoured to lay open, and which may probably afford matter for a supplemental volume, as abovementioned.
the LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
Mr. John Locke was the son of John Locke, of Pensford, a market-town in Somersetshire, five miles from Bristol, by Ann his wife, daughter of Edmund Keen, alias Ken, of Wrington, tanner. He was born at Wrington, another market-town in the same county. John Locke, the father, was first a clerk only to a neighbouring justice of the peace, Francis Baber, of Chew Magna, but by col. Alexander Popham, whose seat was at Huntstreet, hard by Pensford, advanced to a captain in the parliament’s service. After the restoration he practised as an attorney, and was clerk of the sewers in Somersetshire. This John the father was son of Nicholas Locke, of Sutton Wick, in the parish of Chew Magna, but a younger brother of the Lockes of Charon Court in Dorsetshire.* The late Mr. Locke’s age is not to be found in the registers of Wrington, which is the parish church of Pensford; which gave umbrage to a report that his mother intending to lie in Edition: current; Page: [xx] at Wrington, with her friends, was surprised in her way thither, and putting into a little house, was delivered there. Mr. Locke had one younger brother, an attorney, married, but died issueless, of a consumption. By the interest of col. Popham, our author was admitted a scholar at Westminster, and thence elected to Christ-Church in Oxon. He took the degree of bachelor of arts in 1655, and that of master in 1658.* But though he made considerable progress in the usual course of studies at that time, yet he often said, that what he had learned there was of little use to him, to enlighten and enlarge his mind. The first books which gave him a relish for the study of philosophy, were the writings of Des Cartes: for though he did not always approve of that author’s sentiments, he found that he wrote with great perspicuity. After some time he applied himself very closely to the study of medicine; not with any design of practising as a physician, but principally for the benefit of his own constitution, which was but weak. And we find he gained such esteem for his skill, even among the most learned of the faculty of his time, that Dr. Thomas Sydenham, in his book intitled, ‘Observationes medicæ circa morborum acutorum historiam et curationem,’ gives him an high encomium in these words: ‘You know,’ says he, ‘likewise how much my method has been approved of by a person, who has examined it to the bottom, and who is our common friend; I mean Mr. John Locke, who, if we consider his genius, and penetrating and exact judgment, or the purity of his morals, has scarce any superiour, and few equals, now living.’ Hence he was very often saluted by his acquaintance with the title, though he never took the degree, of doctor of medicine. In the year 1664, sir William Swan being appointed envoy from the English court to the elector of Brandenburgh, and some other German princes, Mr. Locke Edition: current; Page: [xxi] attended him in the quality of his secretary: but returning to England again within the year, he applied himself with great vigour to his studies, and particularly to that of natural philosophy.* While he was at Oxford in 1666, he became acquainted with the lord Ashley, afterward earl of Shaftesbury. The occasion of their acquaintance was this. Lord Ashley, by a fall, had hurt his breast in such a manner, that there was an abscess formed in it under his stomach. He was advised to drink the mineral waters at Astrop, which engaged him to write to Dr. Thomas, a physician of Oxford, to procure a quantity of those waters, which might be ready against his arrival. Dr. Thomas being obliged to be absent from Oxford at that time, desired his friend Mr. Locke to execute this commission. But it happened, that the waters not being ready the day after the lord Ashley’s arrival, through the fault of the person who had been sent for them, Mr. Locke was obliged to wait on his lordship to make an excuse for it. Lord Ashley received him with great civility, according to his usual manner, and was satisfied with his excuses. Upon his rising to go away, his lordship, who had already received great pleasure from his conversation, detained him to supper, and engaged him to dine with him the next day, and even to drink the waters, that he might have the more of his company. When his lordship left Oxford to go to Sunning-Hill, where he drank the waters, he made Mr. Locke promise to come thither, as he did in the summer of the year 1667. Edition: current; Page: [xxii] Lord Ashley afterward returned, and obliged him to promise that he would come and lodge at his house. Mr. Locke went thither, and though he had never practised physic, his lordship confided intirely in his advice, with regard to the operation which was to be performed by opening the abscess in his breast; which saved his life, though it never closed. After this cure, his lordship entertained so great an esteem for Mr. Locke, that though he had experienced his great skill in medicine, yet he regarded this as the least of his qualifications. He advised him to turn his thoughts another way, and would not suffer him to practise medicine out of his house, except among some of his particular friends. He urged him to apply himself to the study of political and religious matters, in which Mr. Locke made so great a progress, that lord Ashley began to consult him upon all occasions. By his acquaintance with this lord, our author was introduced to the conversation of some of the most eminent persons of that age: such as, Villiers duke of Buckingham, the lord Hallifax, and other noblemen of the greatest wit and parts, who were all charmed with his conversation. The liberty which Mr. Locke took with men of that rank, had something in it very suitable to his character. One day, three or four of these lords having met at lord Ashley’s when Mr. Locke was there, after some compliments, cards were brought in, before scarce any conversation had passed between them. Mr. Locke looked upon them for some time, while they were at play: and taking his pocket-book, began to write with great attention. One of the lords observing him, asked him what he was writing? ‘My lord,’ says he, ‘I am endeavouring to profit, as far as I am able, in your company; for having waited with impatience for the honour of being in an assembly of the greatest geniuses of this age, and at last having obtained the good fortune, I thought I could not do better than write down your conversation; and indeed I have set down the substance of what hath been said for this hour or two.’ Mr. Locke had no occasion to read much of this conversation; those noble persons saw the ridicule of it, and diverted Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] themselves with improving the jest. They quitted their play, and entering into rational discourse, spent the rest of their time in a manner more suitable to their character.
In 1668 our author attended the earl and countess of Northumberland into France; but did not continue there long, because the earl dying in his journey to Rome, the countess, whom he had left in France with Mr. Locke, came back to England sooner than was at first designed. Mr. Locke, upon his return to his native country, lived as before, at the lord Ashley’s, who was then chancellor of the exchequer, but made frequent visits to Oxford, for consulting books in the prosecution of his studies, and keeping the changes of the air. While he was at the lord Ashley’s, he inspected the education of that lord’s only son, who was then about sixteen years of age. This province he executed with great care, and to the full satisfaction of his noble patron. The young lord being of a weakly constitution, his father thought to marry him betimes, lest the family should be extinct by his death. He was too young, and had too little experience, to choose a wife for himself; and lord Ashley having the highest opinion of Mr. Locke’s judgment, and the greatest confidence in his integrity, desired that he would make a suitable choice for his son. This, it must be owned, was no easy province; for though lord Ashley did not require a great fortune for his son, yet he would have him marry a lady of a good family, an agreeable temper, and a fine person; and above all a lady of good education, and of good understanding, whose conduct would be very different from that of the generality of court-ladies. Notwithstanding all these difficulties, our author undertook the business, and acquitted himself in it happily. From this marriage sprung seven children, all of them healthy. The eldest son, afterward the noble author of the Characteristics, was committed to the care of Mr. Locke in his education. Here was a great genius, and a great master to direct and guide it, and the success was every way equal to what might be expected. It is said, that this noble author always Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] spoke of Mr. Locke with the highest esteem, and manifested on all occasions a grateful sense of his obligations to him: but there are some passages in his works, in which he speaks of Mr. Locke’s philosophy with great severity.*
In 1670, and the year following, our author began to form the plan of his ‘Essay on Human Understanding,’ at the earnest request of Mr. Tyrrell, Dr. Thomas, and some other friends, who met frequently in his chamber to converse together on philosophical subjects; but his employments and avocations prevented him from finishing it then—About this time, it is supposed, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society.Edition: current; Page: [xxv]
In 1672, his great patron Lord Ashley was created earl of Shaftesbury, and lord high chancellor of England; and appointed him secretary of the presentation to benefices; which place he held till the end of the year 1673, when his lordship resigned the great seal. Mr. Locke, to whom the earl had communicated his most secret affairs, was disgraced together with him: and assisted the earl in publishing some treatises, which were designed to excite the people to watch the conduct of the Roman catholics, and to oppose the arbitrary designs of the court.
In 1675 he travelled into France, on account of his health. At Montpelier he staid a considerable time; and there his first acquaintance arose with Mr. Herbert, afterward Earl of Pembroke, to whom he dedicated his ‘Essay on Human Understanding,’ having the highest respect for that noble lord. From Montpelier he went to Paris, where he contracted a friendship with Mr. Justel, whose house was at that time the place of resort for men of letters: and there he saw Mr. Guenelon, the famous physician of Amsterdam, who read lectures in anatomy with great applause. He became acquainted likewise with Mr. Toignard, who favoured him with a copy of his ‘Harmonia Evangelica,’ when there were no more than five or six copies of it complete. The earl of Shaftesbury being restored to favour at court, and made president of the council in 1679, thought proper to send for Mr. Locke to London. But that nobleman did not continue long in his post; for refusing to comply with the designs of the court, which aimed at the establishment of popery and arbitrary power, fresh crimes were laid to his charge, and he was sent to the Tower. When the earl obtained his discharge from that place, he retired to Holland; and Mr. Locke not thinking himself safe in England, followed his noble patron thither, who died soon after. During our author’s stay in Holland, he renewed his acquaintance with Mr. Guenelon, who introduced him to many learned persons of Amsterdam. Here Mr. Locke contracted a friendship with Mr. Limborch, professor of divinity among the remonstrants, and the most learned Mr. Le Edition: current; Page: [xxvi] Clerc, which he cultivated after his return into England, and continued to the end of his life.
During his residence in Holland, he was accused at court of having writ certain tracts against the government, which were afterward discovered to be written by another person, and upon that suspicion he was deprived of his place of student of Christ-Church.
‘Being observed,’ (says the very unfair writer of his article in Biographia Britannica) ‘to join in company with several English malecontents at the Hague, this conduct was communicated by our resident there to the earl of Sunderland, then secretary of state; who acquainting the king therewith, his majesty ordered the proper methods to be taken for expelling him from the college, and application to be made for that purpose to bish. Fell, the dean: in obedience to this command, the necessary information was given by his lordship, who at the same time wrote to our author, to appear and answer for himself, on the first of January ensuing: but immediately receiving an express command to turn him out, was obliged to comply therewith, and accordingly Mr. Locke was removed from his student’s place on the sixteenth of Nov. 1684.’—But in order to a more complete view of these iniquitous proceedings, it may not be improper to annex the several letters between lord Sunderland and bp. Fell on the occasion, from Dr. Birch’s papers in the Museum. The first from lord Sunderland runs thus: ‘Whitehall, Nov. 6, 1684. The king having been given to understand that one Locke, who belonged to the late earl of Shaftesbury, and has, upon several occasions, behaved himself very factiously against the government, is a student of Christ-Church; his majesty commands me to signify to your lordship, that he would have him removed from being a student, and that, in order thereunto, your lordship would let him know the method of doing it,’ &c. The bishop answered, Nov. 8, 1684. ‘To the right hon. the earl of Sunderland, principal secretary of state: right honourable, I have received the honour of your lordship’s letter, wherein you are pleased to inquire concerning Mr. Locke’s being a student of Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] this house, of which I have this account to render: that he being, as your lordship is truly informed, a person who was much trusted by the late earl of Shaftesbury, and who is suspected to be ill affected to the government, I have for divers years had an eye upon him; but so close has his guard been on himself, that after several strict inquiries, I may confidently affirm, there is not any man in the college, however familiar with him, who had heard him speak a word either against or so much as concerning the government; and although very frequently, both in public and private, discourses have been purposely introduced to the disparagement of his master, the earl of Shaftesbury, his party and designs; he could never be provoked to take any notice, or discover in word or look the least concern. So that I believe there is not a man in the world so much master of taciturnity and passion. He has here a physician’s place, which frees him from the exercise of the college, and the obligation which others have to residence in it, and he is now abroad for want of health; but notwithstanding this, I have summoned him to return home, which is done with this prospect, that if he comes not back, he will be liable to expulsion for contumacy; and if he does, he will be answerable to the law for that which he shall be found to have done amiss. It being probable that, though he may have been thus cautious here where he knew himself suspected, he has laid himself more open at London, where a general liberty of speaking was used, and where the execrable designs against his majesty and government were managed and pursued. If he don’t return by the first of January, which is the time limited to him, I shall be enabled of course to proceed against him to expulsion. But if this method seems not effectual or speedy enough, and his majesty, our founder and visitor, shall please to command his immediate remove, upon the receipt thereof, directed to the dean and chapter, it shall accordingly be executed, by your lordship’s,’ &c. Lord Sunderland’s second letter to the bishop of Oxon: ‘My lord, having communicated Edition: current; Page: [xxviii] your lordship’s of the 8th to his majesty, he has thought fit to direct me to send you the inclosed concerning his commands for the immediate expulsion of Mr. Locke.’ The inclosed warrant, addressed to the dean and chapter, Nov. 12, ‘Whereas we have received information of the factious and disloyal behaviour of Locke, one of the students of that our college; we have thought fit hereby to signify our will and pleasure to you, that you forthwith remove him from his student’s place, and deprive him of all rights and advantages thereunto belonging, for which this shall be your warrant. And so we bid you heartily farewell. Given at our court of Whitehall, the 11th day of Nov. 1684. By his majesty’s command, Sunderland.’ The bishop answered thus: Nov. 16, ‘Right honourable, I hold myself bound to signify to your lordship, that his majesty’s command for the expulsion of Mr. Locke from this college is fully executed.’ The last letter from lord Sunderland to the bishop of Oxon: ‘I have your lordship’s of the 16th, and have acquainted his majesty therewith, who is well satisfied with the college’s ready obedience to his commands for the expulsion of Mr. Locke.’
With regard to bishop Fell’s conduct on this occasion, Dr. Birch observes, that notwithstanding his many good qualities, he was capable of some excesses in cases where the interest of party could bias him. Life of Tillotson, p. 100, first edition. What has been urged on the bishop’s side as rather favouring Mr. Locke, seems only to prove that all he acted against him might be done with some degree of reluctance; but yet notwithstanding the respect and kindness which he bore toward Mr. Locke, bishop Fell, it seems, on the clearest conviction of his inoffensiveness, under so many trials, had no thoughts of serving him so far as to run the least hazard of suffering for him, or with him. His candour towards Mr. Locke on a former occasion, when application was making for his being admitted to a doctor’s degree at Oxon, on a visit from the prince of Orange, will appear sufficiently from lord Shaftesbury’s letter to Edition: current; Page: [xxix] the said Dr. Fell, annexed in Vol. ix. p. 321, of this edition.
After the death of king Charles II. Mr. William Penn, who had known our author at the university, used his interest with king James to procure a pardon for him; and would have obtained it, if Mr. Locke had not answered, that he had no occasion for a pardon, since he had not been guilty of any crime.
In the year 1685, when the duke of Monmouth and his party were making preparations in Holland for his unfortunate enterprize, the English envoy at the Hague had orders to demand Mr. Locke and eighty-three other persons to be delivered up by the states-general: upon which he lay concealed to the year following.aEdition: current; Page: [xxx]
During this concealment, our author wrote his ‘Letter of Toleration,’ in Latin, in 1685; which was printed in duodecimo, at Gouda,* 1689, under the following title, ‘Epistola de Tolerantia; ad Clarissimum Virum, t. a. r. p. t. o. l. a. [Theologiæ apud Remonstrantes Professorem, Tyrannidis Osorem, Limburgium, Amstelodamensem:] scripta a p. a. p. o. i. l. a.’ [Pacis Amico, Persecutionis Osore, Joanne Lockio, Anglo.]†
At Amsterdam he formed a weekly assembly, consisting of Mr. Limborch, Mr. Le Clerc, and others, for conversation upon important subjects, and had drawn Edition: current; Page: [xxxi] up in Latin some rules to be observed by them; but these conferences were much interrupted by the frequent changes he was forced to make of the places of his residence.
Our author’s great work, the ‘Essay concerning Human Understanding,’ he had been employed about for some years, and he finished it in Holland about the end of the year 1687. He made an abridgment of it himself, which his friend Mr. Le Clerc translated into French, and inserted in one of his ‘Bibliotheques.’* This abridgment was so highly approved of by all persons of understanding, and sincere lovers of truth, that they expressed the strongest desire to see the whole work.
About the same time, as Le Clerc informs us, he made several extracts of books, as that of Boyle on Specific Medicines, which is inserted in the second volume of Bibliotheque Universelle; and some others in the following volume.
At length the happy revolution in 1688, effected by the courage and good conduct of the prince of Orange, opened a way for Mr. Locke’s return into his own country; whither he came in the fleet which conveyed the princess of Orange. And upon the restoration of public liberty, he thought it proper to assert his own private rights. He endeavoured therefore to procure his restoration to his place of student of Christ-Church; not that he designed to return thither, but only that it might appear from thence, that he had been unjustly deprived of it. But when he found, that the college could not be prevailed on to dispossess the person who had been elected in his room, and that they would only admit him as a supernumerary student, he desisted from his claim.
He was now at full liberty to pursue his speculations, and accordingly, in the year 1689, he published his ‘Essay on Human Understanding.’ This work, which has made our author’s name immortal, and which does honour to our country, gave great offence to many Edition: current; Page: [xxxii] people at the first publication. It was proposed at a meeting of the heads of houses of the university of Oxford, to censure and discourage the reading of it; and after various debates among themselves, it was concluded, that each head of an house should endeavour to prevent its being read in his college.* The reason of this is obvious; Mr. Locke had let in more light upon the minds of men than was consistent with the dark designs of some persons.
In the same year Mr. Locke also published his ‘Two Treatises on Government;’ in which he fully vindicated the principles upon which the revolution was founded, and entirely overturned all the doctrines of slavery.
His writings had now procured him such high esteem, and he had merited so much of the government, that it would have been easy for him to have obtained a very considerable post; but he contented himself with that of commissioner of appeals, worth about 2001. per ann. He was offered to go abroad in a public character, and it was left to his choice whether he would be envoy at the court of the emperor, the elector of Brandenbourg, or any other, where he thought the air most suitable to him; but he declined it on account of his ill health.
About this time the public coin was very bad, having been so much clipped, and no care used to remedy it, that it wanted above a third of its due value. The effect of this was, that the people thought themselves a great deal richer than indeed they were: for though the coin was not raised in its value by public authority, it was put off in trade for above a third part more than it weighed. Mr. Locke had observed this disorder ever since his return to England; and he frequently spoke of it, that some measures might be taken to prevent it.—He said, ‘that the nation was in greater danger from a secret unobserved abuse, than from all those other evils of which persons were so generally apprehensive; and that if care was not taken to rectify the coin, that Edition: current; Page: [xxxiii] irregularity alone would prove fatal to us, though we should succeed in every thing else.’ One day, when he seemed very much disturbed about this matter, some persons rallied him as if he tormented himself with a groundless fear: he answered, ‘that persons might laugh if they pleased, but they would find in a very short time, that if care was not taken, we should want money in England to buy bread.’ And accordingly there were such disorders on this account, that the parliament took the matter into the most serious consideration. To assist the great men at the head of affairs, who are not always the best judges, to form a right understanding of this matter, and to excite them to rectify this shameful abuse, Mr. Locke published a little treatise, intitled, ‘Some Considerations of the Consequence of the lowering of the Interest, and raising the Value of Money;’ in which there are many nice and curious observations on both those subjects, as well as on trade in general. This treatise was shortly followed by two more upon the same subject, in which he obviated all objections, and confuted all his opposers.
He fully showed to the world by these discourses, that he was able to reason on trade and business, as on the most abstract parts of science; and that he was none of those philosophers, who spend their lives in search of truths merely speculative, and who by their ignorance of those things which concern the public good, are incapable of serving their country. These writings recommended him to the notice of the greatest persons, with whom he used to converse very freely. He held weekly conferences with the earl of Pembroke, then lord keeper of the privy seal; and when the air of London began to affect his lungs, he went for some days to the earl of Peterborough’s seat near Fulham, where he always met with the most friendly reception: but he was obliged afterward entirely to leave London, at least all the winter season, and to go to a greater distance. He had made frequent visits at different times to sir Francis Masham’s, at Oates, in Essex; where he found the air so good, so agreeable to his constitution, and the society so delightful, that he was easily prevailed with Edition: current; Page: [xxxiv] to become one of the family, and to settle there during his life. He was received upon his own terms, that he might have his intire liberty, and look upon himself as at his own house. Here he applied himself to his studies as much as his weak health would allow, being seldom absent, because the air of London grew more and more troublesome to him. He came to town only in the summer for three or four months, and if he returned to Oates any thing indisposed, the air of that place soon recovered him.
In 1693 he published his ‘Thoughts concerning the Education of Children,’ which he improved considerably afterward.
In 1695 Mr. Locke published his treatise of ‘The Reasonableness of Christianity, as delivered in the Scriptures:’ written, it is said, in order to promote the scheme which king William III. had much at heart, of a comprehension with the dissenters. In this he has proved, that the christian religion, as delivered in the scriptures, and free from all corrupt mixtures, is the most reasonable institution in the world. This book was attacked by an ignorant, but zealous divine, Dr. Edwards, in a very rude and scurrilous manner. Mr. Locke answered Edwards, and defended his answer with such strength of reason, that he might justly have expected from his adversary a public acknowledgment of his errour, if he had not been one of those writers who have no more shame than reason in them. Mr. Locke was also obliged to Mr. Bold, a worthy and pious clergyman, for vindicating his principles against the cavils of Edwards.
Some time before this, Mr. Toland published a book, intitled, ‘Christianity not mysterious,’ in which he endeavoured to prove, that there is nothing in the ‘christian religion, not only contrary to reason, but even nothing above it.’ Mr. Toland, in explaining some of his notions, used several arguments from Mr. Locke’s ‘Essay on Human Understanding.’ Some unitarians also about this time published several treatises, in which they affirmed, that there was nothing in the christian religion but what was rational and intelligible; Edition: current; Page: [xxxv] and Mr. Locke having asserted in his writings, that revelation delivers nothing contrary to reason; these things engaged Dr. Stillingfleet, the learned bishop of Worcester, to publish a treatise in which he endeavoured to defend the doctrine of the trinity, against Mr. Toland and the unitarians. In this treatise the bishop opposed some of Mr. Locke’s principles, judging them heretical, and favouring the above-mentioned writers. Mr. Locke answered him, and the bishop replied the same year. This reply was confuted, by a second letter of Mr. Locke’s, which drew a second answer from the bishop in 1698; and Mr. Locke again replied in a third letter, wherein he treated more largely of ‘the certainty of reason by ideas, of the certainty of faith, of the resurrection of the same body, and the immateriality of the soul.’ He showed the perfect agreement of his principles with the christian religion, and that he had advanced nothing which had the least tendency to scepticism, which the bishop had very ignorantly charged him with. But the bishop dying some time after this, the dispute ended. In this controversy every body admired the strength of Mr. Locke’s reasoning, his great clearness and exactness, both in explaining his own notions and principles, and confuting those of his adversary: nor were men of understanding less surprised, that so learned a man as the bishop should engage in a controversy, wherein he had all the disadvantages possible; for he was by no means able to maintain his opinions against Mr. Locke, whose reasoning he neither understood, nor the thing itself about which he disputed. This learned bishop had spent the greatest part of his time in the study of ecclesiastical antiquities, and reading a prodigious number of books, but was no great philosopher; nor had he ever accustomed himself to that close way of thinking and reasoning, in which Mr. Locke did so highly excel. However, though our philosopher had so great a victory over the bishop, and had reason to complain of the bishop’s unjust charges against him, and for his writing on subjects of which he was so grossly ignorant; yet he did not make an insolent triumph over his ignorance, but in the confutation Edition: current; Page: [xxxvi] of his errours treated him with great respect. He shows, indeed, that the bishop did not understand the subject he wrote about, and that he was very incorrect and inaccurate in his expressions; but he rather insinuates this by producing the bishop’s own words, and leaving his readers to judge, than reflects on him for it. In short, never was a controversy managed with so much art and skill on one side; nor, on the other, so unjustly, confusedly, or so little to the credit of the author. Time, which is the best judge of things, has abundantly manifested this. The bishop’s writings on that subject, like all those of our author’s adversaries, are neglected and buried in oblivion; but his own will live for ever.
In 1695 Mr. Locke was appointed one of the commissioners of trade and plantations, a place worth 1000l. per annum. The duties of this post he discharged with much care and diligence, and with universal approbation. He continued in it till the year 1700, when upon the increase of his asthmatic disorder, he was forced to resign it.
He acquainted no person with his design of leaving that place till he had given up his commission into the king’s own hand. The king was very unwilling to dismiss him, and told our author, that he would be well pleased with his continuance in that office, though he should give little or no attendance; for that he did not desire him to stay in town one day to the hurt of his health. But Mr. Locke told the king, that he could not in conscience hold a place to which such a salary was annexed, without discharging the duties of it; and therefore he begged leave to resign it. King William had a great esteem for our author, and would sometimes send for him to discourse on public affairs, and to know his sentiments of things. Mr. Locke once told the king very plainly, that if the universities were not reformed, and other principles taught there, than had been formerly inculcated, they would either destroy him, or some of his successors, or both.
He had a great knowledge of the world, and was prudent without cunning, easy, affable, and condescending Edition: current; Page: [xxxvii] without any mean complaisance. If there was any thing he could not bear, it was ill manners, and a rude behaviour. This was ever ungrateful to him, unless when he perceived that it proceeded from ignorance; but when it was the effect of pride, ill-nature, or brutality, he detested it. He looked on civility not only as a duty of humanity, but of christianity; and he thought that it ought to be more pressed and urged upon men than it commonly is. He recommended on this occasion a treatise in the moral Essays, written by the gentlemen of Port Royal, ‘concerning the means of preserving peace among men,’ and was a great admirer of Dr. Whichcote’s sermons on the subject. He was exact to his word, and religiously performed whatever he promised. He was very scrupulous of giving recommendations of persons whom he did not well know, and would by no means commend those whom he thought not to deserve it. If he was told that his recommendation had not produced the effect expected, he would say, ‘the reason of that was because he never deceived any person by saying more than he knew; that he never passed his word for any but such as he believed would answer the character he gave of them; and that if he should do otherwise, his recommendations would be worth nothing.’
He was naturally very active, and employed himself as much as his health would permit. Sometimes he diverted himself with working in the garden, which he well understood. He loved walking, but not being able to walk much, through the disorder of his lungs, he used to ride out after dinner; and when he could not bear a horse, he went in a chaise. He always chose to have company with him, though it were but a child, for he took pleasure in talking with children of a good education.* His bad health was a disturbance to none but himself; and any person might be with him without any other concern than that of seeing him suffer. He did not differ from others in his diet, but only in that his usual drink was nothing but water; and he thought Edition: current; Page: [xxxviii] that was the means, under God, of lengthening his life. To this he also thought the preservation of his sight was in a great measure owing, for he could read by candle-light all sorts of books to the last, if they were not of a very small print, without the use of spectacles. He had no other distemper but his asthma, except a deafness for about six months, which he lamented in a letter to one of his friends, telling him, ‘he thought it better to be blind than deaf, as it deprived him of all conversation.’
The last fourteen or fifteen years of his life, he spent chiefly at Oates, seldom coming to town; and during this agreeable retirement, he applied himself to the study of the scriptures.
In 1704 our author’s strength began to fail more than ever in the beginning of the summer; a season which for several years had restored him some degrees of strength. His weakness made him apprehend his death was near. He often spoke of it himself, but always with great composure, though he omitted none of the precautions which his skill in medicine could suggest, in order to prolong his life. At length his legs began to swell; and that swelling increasing every day, his strength diminished visibly. He then saw how short a time he had to live, and prepared to quit this world, with a deep sense of the manifold blessings of God to him, which he took delight in recounting to his friends, and full of a sincere resignation to the divine will, and of firm hopes in his promises of a future life. For some weeks, as he was not able to walk, he was carried about the house in a chair. The day before his death, lady Masham being alone with him, and sitting by his bed, he exhorted her, to regard this world only as a state of preparation for a better; and added, that he had lived long enough, and thanked God for having passed his life so happily, but that this life appeared to him a mere vanity. He had no sleep that night, but resolved to try to rise next morning, as he did. He was carried into his study, and placed in an easy chair, where he slept a considerable while at different times. Seeming to be a little refreshed, he would be dressed as he Edition: current; Page: [xxxix] used to be. He then desired lady Masham, who was reading the psalms low, while he was dressing, to read aloud: she did so, and he appeared very attentive, till the approach of death preventing him, he desired her to break off, and a few minutes after expired, on October 28, 1704, in the seventy-third year of his age. He was interred in the church-yard of High Lever, in Essex, and the following inscription, placed against the church-wall, was written by himself:
‘Siste viator, Hic juxta situs est Joannes Locke. Si qualis fuerit rogas, mediocritate sua contentum se vixisse respondet. Literis innutritus, eousque profecit, ut veritati unice litaret. Hoc ex scriptis illius disce; quæ, quod de eo reliquum est, majori fide tibi exhibebunt, quam epitaphii suspecta elogia. Virtutes si quas habuit, minores sane quam sibi laudi, tibi in exemplum proponeret. Vitia una sepeliantur. Morum exemplum si quæras, in evangelio habes; vitiorum utinam nusquam: mortalitatis, certe, quod prosit, hic et ubique.’
- Natum An. Dni. 1632, Aug. 29°.
- Mortuum 1704, Oct. 28°.
- Memorat hac tabula
- Brevi et ipsa peritura.
Thus died this great and most excellent philosopher, who, after he had bestowed many years in matters of science and speculation, happily turned his thoughts to the study of the scriptures, which he carefully examined with the same liberty he had used in the study of the other sciences.
There is no occasion to attempt a panegyric on our author. His writings are now well known, and valued, and will last as long as the English language. Some account of these has been given in the editor’s preface, and a farther description of them occurs in Des Maizeaux’s dedication, towards the middle of our last vol. His character, by P. Coste, is likewise delivered at large in the same place, and need not be repeated here, as it inadvertently was in a former edition.
AN ESSAY concerning HUMAN UNDERSTANDING. IN FOUR BOOKS.
As thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God, who maketh all things.
Quam bellum est velle confiteri potius nescire quod nescias, quam ista effutientem nauseare atque ipsum sibi displicere!
Cic. de Nat. Deor. Lib. 1.
to the right honourable THOMAS, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery,
Baron Herbert of Cardiff, Lord Ross of Kendal, Par, Fitzhugh, Marmion, St. Quintin, and Shurland; Lord President of his Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, and Lord Lieutenant of the County of Wilts, and of South-Wales.
This Treatise, which is grown up under your lordship’s eye, and has ventured into the world by your order, does now, by a natural kind of right, come to your lordship for that protection, which you several years since promised it. It is not that I think any name, how great soever, set at the beginning of a book, will be able to cover the faults that are to be found in it. Things in print must stand and fall by their own worth, or the Reader’s fancy. But there being nothing more to be desired for truth, than a fair unprejudiced hearing, nobody is more likely to procure me that than your lordship, who are allowed to have got so intimate an acquaintance with her, in her more retired recesses. Your lordship is known to have so far advanced your speculations in the most abstract and general knowledge of things, beyond the ordinary reach, or Edition: current; Page: [xliv] common methods, that your allowance and approbation of the design of this treatise, will at least preserve it from being condemned without reading; and will prevail to have those parts a little weighed, which might otherwise, perhaps, be thought to deserve no consideration, for being somewhat out of the common road. The imputation of novelty is a terrible charge amongst those who judge of men’s heads, as they do of their perukes, by the fashion; and can allow none to be right, but the received doctrines. Truth scarce ever yet carried it by vote any where at its first appearance: new opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason, but because they are not already common. But truth, like gold, is not the less so for being newly brought out of the mine. It is trial and examination must give it price, and not an antique fashion: and though it be not yet current by the public stamp; yet it may, for all that, be as old as nature, and is certainly not the less genuine. Your lordship can give great and convincing instances of this, whenever you please to oblige the public with some of those large and comprehensive discoveries you have made of truths hitherto unknown, unless to some few, from whom your lordship has been pleased not wholly to conceal them. This alone were a sufficient reason, were there no other, why I should dedicate this Essay to your lordship; and its having some little correspondence with some parts of that nobler and vast system of the sciences your lordship has made so new, exact, and instructive a draught of, I think it glory enough, if your lordship permit me to boast, that here and there I have fallen into some thoughts not Edition: current; Page: [xlv] wholly different from yours. If your lordship think fit, that, by your encouragement, this should appear in the world, I hope it may be a reason, some time or other, to lead your lordship farther; and you will allow me to say, that you here give the world an earnest of something, that, if they can bear with this, will be truly worth their expectation. This, my lord, shows what a present I here make to your lordship; just such as the poor man does to his rich and great neighbour, by whom the basket of flowers or fruit is not ill taken, though he has more plenty of his own growth, and in much greater perfection. Worthless things receive a value, when they are made the offerings of respect, esteem, and gratitude; these you have given me so mighty and peculiar reasons to have, in the highest degree, for your lordship, that if they can add a price to what they go along with, proportionable to their own greatness, I can with confidence brag, I here make your lordship the richest present you ever received. This I am sure, I am under the greatest obligations to seek all occasions to acknowledge a long train of favours I have received from your lordship; favours, though great and important in themselves, yet made much more so by the forwardness, concern, and kindness, and other obliging circumstances, that never failed to accompany them. To all this, you are pleased to add that which gives yet more weight and relish to all the rest: you vouchsafe to continue me in some degree of your esteem, and allow me a place in your good thoughts; I had almost said friendship. This, my lord, your words and actions so constantly show on all occasions, Edition: current; Page: [xlvi]