Human Nature and Philosophy
Human beings are physical objects, according to Hobbes, sophisticated machines all of whose functions and activities can be described and explained in purely mechanistic terms. Even though itself, therefore, must be understood as an instance of the physical operation of the human body. Sensation, for example, involves a series of mechanical processes operating within the human nervous system, by means of which the sensible features of material things produce ideas in the brains of the human beings who perceive them. (Leviathan I 1)
Human action is similar to be explained in Hobbes’s view. Specific desires and appetites arise in the human body and are experienced as discomforts or pains which must be overcome. Thus, each of us is motivated to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own well-being. (Leviathan I 6) Everything we choose to do is strictly determined by this natural inclination to relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our bodies. Human volition is nothing but the determination of the will by the strongest present desire.
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Hobbes nevertheless supposed that human agents are free in the sense that their activities are not under constraint from anyone else. On this compatibilist view, we have no reason to complain about the strict determination of the will so long as we are not subject to interference from outside ourselves. (Leviathan II 21)
As Hobbes acknowledged, this account of human nature emphasizes our animal nature, leaving each of us to live independently of everyone else, acting only in his or her own self-interest, without regard for others. This produces what he called the “state of war,” a way of life that is certain to prove “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Leviathan I 13) The only escape is by entering into contracts with each other—mutually beneficial agreements to surrender our individual interests in order to achieve the advantages of security that only a social existence can provide. (Leviathan I 14)
Human Society Unable to rely indefinitely on their individual powers in the effort to secure livelihood and contentment, Hobbes supposed, human beings join together in the formation of a commonwealth. Thus, the commonwealth as a whole embodies a network of associated contracts and provides for the highest form of social organization. In Hobbes’s view, the formation of the commonwealth creates a new, artificial person (the Leviathan) to whom all responsibility for social order and public welfare is entrusted. (Leviathan II 17)
Of course, someone must make decisions on behalf of this new whole, and that person will be the sovereign. The commonwealth-creating covenant is not in essence a relationship between subjects and their sovereign at all. Rather, what counts is the relationship among subjects, all of whom agree to divest themselves of their native powers in order to secure the benefits of orderly government by obeying the dictates of the sovereign authority. (Leviathan II 18) That’s why the minority who might prefer a different sovereign authority have no complaint, on Hobbes’s view: even though they have no respect for this particular sovereign, they are still bound by their contract with fellow-subjects to be governed by a single authority. The sovereign is nothing more than the institutional embodiment of orderly government.
Since the decisions of the sovereign are entirely arbitrary, it hardly matters where they come from, so long as they are understood and obeyed universally. Thus, Hobbes’s account explicitly leaves open the possibility that the sovereign will itself be a corporate person—a legislature or an assembly of all citizens—as well as a single human being. Regarding these three forms, however, Hobbes himself maintained that the commonwealth operates most effectively when a hereditary monarch assumes the sovereign role. (Leviathan II 19) Investing power in a single natural person who can choose advisors and rule consistently without fear of internal conflicts is the best fulfillment of our social needs. Thus, the radical metaphysical positions defended by Hobbes lead to a notably conservative political result, an endorsement of the paternalistic view.
Hobbes argued that the commonwealth secures the liberty of its citizens. Genuine human freedom, he maintained, is just the ability to carry out one’s will without interference from others. This doesn’t entail an absence of law; indeed, our agreement to be subject to a common authority helps each of us to secure liberty with respect to others. (Leviathan II 21) Submission to the sovereign is absolutely decisive, except where it is silent or where it claims control over individual rights to life itself, which cannot be transferred to anyone else. But the structure provided by the orderly government, according to Hobbes, enhances rather than restricts individual liberty.
Whether or not the sovereign is a single hereditary monarch, of course, its administration of social order may require the cooperation and assistance of others. Within the commonwealth as a whole, there may arise smaller “bodies politic” with authority over portions of the lives of those who enter into them. The sovereign will appoint agents whose responsibility is to act on its behalf in matters of less than the highest importance. Most importantly, the will of the sovereign for its subjects will be expressed in the form of civil laws that have either been decreed or tacitly accepted. (Leviathan II 26) Criminal violations of these laws by any subject will be appropriately punished by the sovereign authority.
Despite his firm insistence on the vital role of the sovereign as the embodiment of the commonwealth, Hobbes acknowledged that there are particular circumstances under which it may fail to accomplish its purpose. (Leviathan II 29) If the sovereign has too little power, is made subject to its own laws, or allows its power to be divided, problems will arise. Similarly, if individual subjects make private judgments of right and wrong based on conscience, succumb to religious enthusiasm, or acquire excessive private property, the state will suffer. Even a well-designed commonwealth may, over time, cease to function and will be dissolved.
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©1997, 1998, 1999 Garth Kemerling. Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to [email protected] Lecture Notes Hobbes: Leviathan Now I wish to turn to the philosophy of Hobbes. He was primarily a political, rather than ethical philosopher. While ethics stresses the good for the human being, political philosophy emphasizes the good for society. We saw in Plato a functional notion of the social good. Justice is the proper functioning of a society, where each plays the appropriate role and no one interferes with anyone else. This view was based on the optimistic analogy with health: the good state is the one functioning in a way that is best naturally.
Christian political philosophy was of two minds. Augustine typifies the attitude that the community of the church and state constitute two entirely separate realms. The political philosophy of the “city of man” is independent of that of the “city of God.” The opposite view is that the state should be a theocracy, in which the laws of the state are the laws of God. There are some theocratic states in existence now (e.g., Iran), and in the medieval period, most states in Europe were closely tied to the Roman Catholic Church.
Theocracies can flourish only when there is a considerable unity of religious thinking. With the Reformation and the breakup of the Roman Catholic Church, the close connection between church and state began to be torn asunder. Deadly religious wars were fought across the European continent. It was in this climate the Thomas Hobbes proposed the first modern political philosophy.
Hobbes returned to human nature as the basis of the state, but the nature he found was quite different from that discussed by Plato, Aristotle and most of the other Greek philosophers. Taking his cue from modern natural science, which rejected the Aristotelian world-view, Hobbes declared the human being to be nothing more than matter in motion: he was a materialist. The reason, formerly arbiter of the good, now becomes a mere calculating device, no different in principle from a computer.
Material man has as his end merely the preservation and promotion of his own existence. The ethical view here is known as egoism: the good is what is in my interests alone. Egoism works against social relations, Hobbes believed. It leads to competition, creating enmity among persons; to distrust, which leads us to master others for our own protection; to a lust for recognition for others, leading to revenge when it is not given. Further, each one of us is capable of subjugating or even destroying anyone else, through the use of technology, collusion with others, etc.
This, Hobbes proclaimed, is the natural condition of the human race. It can only result in a war of all against all, with the consequence that all normal human endeavours (agriculture, industry, trade, etc. as in Plato’s Republic) are doomed to failure. Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. There is no right or wrong, justice or injustice. These things come into being only with the creation of the state.
We may contrast Hobbes’ description of the state of nature with that of Locke, whose work inspired the founders of the United States. He claimed that the natural state is one of peoples’ liberty to do what they please without requiring permission of anyone else. This must be done in conformity with a law of nature, according to which “no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions” (Second Treatise of Government, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 308 of our text). Locke emphasized the equality of all persons in their creation by God. He implicitly criticized Hobbes by claiming that the state of nature is not one of war, for, in a state of war, one inflicts force on others without right, thus violating the law of nature.
Although in the state of nature, there is no right or wrong, no justice or injustice, there is still a “right of nature” and “laws of nature.” The right of nature is that of self-preservation, and the only road to preserving one’s self is through seeking peace and following it. Corresponding to this right is a law of nature, which enjoins us to defend ourselves. We can defend ourselves best when we give up our liberty, our “right to all things.”
In Book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ antagonists had claimed that this kind of agreement is in the interests of those who do not have the power to commit injustice. Hobbes could reply by pointing out that in the state of nature, everyone has the power to destroy anyone else, either through contrivance or through collusion with others. So the contract is in the interest of the strong as well as the weak.
Locke held that what we give up to form a civil government is nothing more than inconvenience which results from extreme liberty in the state of nature. In that state, each person must be the judge of right and wrong, which leads inevitably to conflicts. There is no recourse when there are transgressions, so the state is erected to adjudicate conflict.
Once one lays down one’s rights, then one incurs a duty or obligation not to interfere with others who wish to take that which has been renounced. One would do this only for something in return. A contract is only good so long as it can be enforced, which requires that there be a “coercive power.” Thus justice requires both a contract and the power of enforcement. Hobbes found many other conditions for giving up one’s rights, some of them sounding quite modern. Punishment should be for the end of rehabilitation, there should be no overt declarations of hatred (compare the UCD “Principles of Community”), one has a right to govern one’s own body, etc.
As stated above, the social contract requires that power be conferred on an individual or assembly, the sovereign. Otherwise, there can be no confidence that surrendered rights will yield security in return. This security is needed for there to be any hope of enjoying the fruits of one’s labours. Hobbes listed various rights of the sovereign, including censorship, lawmaking, judging, and making war and peace. There is never a right to revolution against the sovereign since this is a breaking of the contract. The sovereign cannot break the contract, since the contract itself gives him the right to do what he thinks fit.
In a discussion of the best form of the commonwealth, Hobbes came down in favor of the monarch, where the power is invested in one person. The chief advantage is that the monarch’s public and private interests correspond exactly. (Compare the granting of stock options to corporate executives, on the grounds that if they have a personal stake in the company, they will perform better.) Locke later argued against the absolute monarch, on the grounds that there is no appeal to his decision. Since the government is established to mediate disputes, if one cannot dispute with the monarch, the purpose of instituting government is under At this point, we turn to Plato’s more sophisticated treatment of the matter. In the Republic, Socrates was challenged to “tell us how justice benefits a man intrinsically, and in the same way how injustice harms him” (p. 61). To do this, he had to show what justice is. His model of the just state was that of a healthy organism, where all the parts function for the benefit of the whole, and the whole benefits the parts.
Socrates gave an elaborate account of the elements which go into the making of a city (a small state). Many different kinds of roles are undertaken by different people. The survival of the whole depends on each one performing their functions properly. Justice is sticking to one’s role, doing one’s own work and not interfering with others. It, along with the other virtues of a state, temperance, courage and wisdom, contributes to the excellence of that state. Indeed, justice is necessary for the other three virtues.
In the case of the individual, Plato also appealed to a model of harmonious functioning. The soul has its divisions just as the state does. There are the reason, the passions and the “spirit” that enlivens them. The just man is one who keeps these in harmony with one another. “Justice, like health, depends upon the presence of a natural order governing the soul in the relation of its parts and in the conduct of the whole.” This is how justice benefits a man intrinsically, just as good health does.
In the discussion of Plato’s theory of virtue, we found that he considered a virtue to be an excellence of the soul. Insofar as the soul has several components, there will be many components of its excellence. The excellence of reason is wisdom, of the passions, attributes such as courage, and of the spirit, temperance. (Spirit is a kind of intensity of the soul, for Plato.) Finally, justice is that excellence that consists of a harmonious relation of the three parts. In the state, justice is each individual fulfilling his or her own function, without interfering with the others. So it is for the soul.
Now the question arises of what relation this account of justice has to the theory of the forms. When I queried Professor Malcolm, an expert on the Republic, he replied that the account stands on its own, and so requires no reference to the forms at all. Nonetheless, there is this relation. The forms were sometimes described by Plato as ideal objects, such as the triangle itself. The state and the soul that is really just is also an ideal. No actual individual attains the state of overall virtue adequate to Plato’s account.
Next Lecture Plato’s ultimate answer to the sort of question Socrates asked, what makes a kind of thing the kind of thing it is, was that the “form itself” does so and that the form is something different from the thing, having an eternal existence on its own. Thus beautiful things are beautiful because they partake of beauty itself, and just acts are just insofar as they partake of justice itself, and so forth. The highest form was that of the good. In the Republic, Plato undertook to describe this form through two famous analogies, that of the line and that of the cave. The analogy of the line has to do with the theory of knowledge. Plato recognized that knowledge is better than opinion. If Euthyphro was to know what piety is, he must know it through the form, which can only be thought and not sensed. Thus knowledge belongs to an invisible, intangible, insensible world of the intellect, while of the visible, tangible, sensible world we have the only opinion. The intelligible world is more real and true than the sensible world, as well as being more distinct.
Suppose we say in the abstract that there is some proportion of reality, truth and distinctness between the invisible and visible worlds. This can be represented on a line. (You can suppose the ratio be whatever you like, say 3:1).
Now Plato says that within each realm there is a further division. In the realm of the visible, there are real objects and their images (shadows, etc.). The images give us the lowest grade of belief, mere conjecture. If I see a shadow of an object, I get very little information about what specific object it is. Plato lays it down that the proportion of truth, reality and distinctness holding between the object and the image is the same as that holding between the intelligible and sensible worlds (e.g., 3:1).
Similarly, there is a division within the intelligible realm, between the forms themselves and images of the forms. Knowledge of the forms themselves through reason is the highest kind of knowledge, while knowledge of the images of the forms through their images through the understanding is a lower form. (Again, the ratio would be 3:1).
This identification may perhaps be understood in this way. Our opinions about the objects of the world are formed through the use of the senses, by observation. We can observe that things tend to go together all the time, and thus form the opinion that those things belong together. If Euthyphro had the right information about the preferences of the gods, he could observe that certain acts are pleasing to all of them. But he has not explained anything. He is left with a mere opinion.
We might try to understand objects of the visible world by using our understanding. We can make assumptions and show what follows from them. The use of these assumptions can enable us to generate laws that explain why things go together with the way they do. For example, Newton assumed that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, and bodies at rest tend to stay at rest unless some outside agency acts on them. This assumption about inertia helped him generate further principles about motion, but it is not itself proved. It is an unexamined assumption, in Plato’s terms. This method of proceeding is not the best way possible. One must instead start with forms and use them in explaining other things
. The cave analogy is in many respects similar to that of the line. It distinguishes between the truest, real, and most distinct (in this case, it is compared to the world outside the cave) and the least (the shadows in the cave and higher than them the objects in the cave casting the shadows when illuminated by fire within the cave).
The difference between the analogies is that the cave analogy is more vivid in its depiction of the sensible and intelligible realms and that it illustrates the problems of coming to know through the forms. Each step in our progress, from conjecture to opinion, to knowledge, has its difficulties. The images on the wall of the cave are easily mistaken for the real if they are all one can experience. When one breaks free and looks toward the fire, the objects casting the shadow are now mistaken for the truly real, and the light of the fire is painful and dazzling. This effect of bewilderment is even more intense outside the cave. Here, however, one has reached the real at last. Finally, if a person trained by the state reaches this higher form, he has the responsibility to govern. The philosopher-king knows the good itself and hence knows what is good to do.
A last point about the forms. They are what gives us knowledge, but they are also what gives things their reality. The sun casts light upon the earth, allowing us to see what is there, and it also supplies the energy through which things grow and prosper. So the form of the good gives to the sensible world the reality it has. Later philosophers in the early days of Christianity were to adapt this image of the sun into a thought of God as the source of all reality and knowledge. Lectures on John Locke Locke is generally considered the first in the line of British empiricists, with Berkeley and Hume adopting his starting point.
The fundamental claim is that human knowledge begins with sense experience and primarily is derived from it. Locke begins his philosophical examination of knowledge by trying to refute the claim that some of our knowledge is original, in the sense that it comes from ideas that are innate or inborn. This view was held most prominently by Descartes. Locke’s attempted refutation depends on a questionable assumption: if an individual has an idea, then that individual would understand it and assent to its content. If, as Descartes claimed, I am born with the idea of God, who implanted that idea in me at my creation, then my understanding of what God is should conform to that idea. But Locke points out that there is widespread disagreement over the concept of God. Furthermore, it does not seem to be present at all in small children. In II, I,6, Locke states that we come to our knowledge by degrees.
However, the proponents of innate ideas need not agree with Locke’s assumption. Descartes in one place wrote that innate ideas are dispositions, which require the proper circumstances to become fully clear to the mind. Leibniz responded that we can have ideas of which we are not conscious. Thus both disagreed with the fundamental Lockean assumption that to have an idea is to be aware of it.
Locke concluded from his attack on innate ideas that the only way ideas could arise is as the result of sense experience. We form ideas as the endpoint of the action of physical bodies on our own bodies. Locke points out in II,VIII,7 that sometimes he uses ‘idea’ to refer to the end product, what exists in the mind, and sometimes he uses it to refer to the quality in the body which causes the idea.
The ideas of sense are the first ideas we have. Once the mind begins to be populated with them, it can operate upon them. This operation is the source of the second kind of idea, the idea of reflection. Unlike many ideas of sense, which force themselves upon us, so that we cannot help but be aware of them, all ideas of reflection require that attention be paid to the workings of the mind. Thus Locke says that children and even some adults fail to have ideas of reflection because they lack the requisite attentiveness to what their mind is doing.
Locke classified ideas as simple and complex. All complex ideas are said to be made up, ultimately of simple ideas, and their complexity is the work of the mind.
A simple idea is “one uncompounded appearance,” said Locke. But it should be noted that the relation of simple to complex ideas is not the relation of part to whole. (Berkeley and Hume both thought that there are minimum sensible units, like the dots making up a newspaper picture.) A simple idea is perhaps best described as being of a certain sort or kind. Thus we have a simple ideas of solidity. When I press a football between my hands and feel its resistance to their joining together, I have a simple idea of solidity.
In general, our simple ideas are the effects of the operations of bodies on us (sensation) or the observation of the workings of our own minds (reflection). In a famous passage (II,XI,17), Locke compares the mind to a “dark room” (in the Latin, “camera obscura”) with only a narrow inlet. Ideas are analogous to the images projected onto the back of the room.
Locke classified the various simple ideas according to the following scheme.
Those that come to the mind by one sense only, such as color or odor.
Those that come in to the mind by more than one sense. These include extension, figure, rest and motion. (Note that these will later, for another reason, be called “primary” qualities.) These that come to the mind by reflection only. Perception (in the broad sense of sensibly perceiving, thinking, imagining, remembering) and willingness are the two simple ideas of this type. Those which accompany all our other ideas: pleasure and pain, unity, existence, power, succession. Pleasure and pain will assume importance later because of their role in the motivation of human action. Power is a most fundamental idea, as will be seen. In II,VII,8, Locke notes that we get this idea both from our thinking and from the effects of bodies on one another. Now let us consider the kinds of powers bodies have. Locke sometimes identifies the qualities corresponding to our ideas as powers.
Thus the sun has the power to melt the wax, and heat is the quality that brings this about. Call a bare power one by which a body can bring about a change in another body, such as the heat of the sun, which melts the wax. (The wax also has the power to be melted by the heat of the sun.) Other powers of bodies are such as can produce ideas in our minds. There is are powers in the sun to produce the idea of light as well as the idea of heat and that of roundness and that of yellow. Locke divided these powers (or as he puts it, the qualities of the bodies) into two kinds, the primary and secondary.
The basis of the division is our ability to conceive bodies in general. There are some qualities without which we cannot conceive a body. Thus we must conceive a body as being solid and extended, as having a figure, as being in motion or at rest. These qualities are primary. Other qualities are dispensable. Locke said he can conceive a given body as being neither warm nor cold, as having no color at all (as when it is in the dark).
The distinction between primary and secondary qualities is, at root, a conceptual distinction concerning how we can represent bodies. A primary quality is one that must represent a body as having in every possible circumstance. No matter how small a body is, it has some extension. No matter how fluid it is, it has some solidity, no matter where it is at a time, it must be moving or at rest at that time. Secondary qualities come and go, depending on whether they are in the right relation to a perceiver. An object has color only insofar as it can be seen. If there is no light, there is no color.
To be sure, a body always has the power to produce ideas of colors under the right circumstances, but this power is nothing more than a function of its primary qualities. Thus a body always has a certain texture, due to the arrangement and solidity of its component parts. Locke subscribed to the “corpuscularian hypothesis,” according to which bodies are made of indivisible particles. Each of them has all the primary qualities, but they lack secondary qualities. They do not even have the power to produce ideas which we could call their color.
Locke made the further claim that our ideas of primary qualities resemble the qualities, while those of the secondary do not. Berkeley will raise the question of how Locke can make any claim of resemblance, given that he has no data other than the ideas themselves, and hence cannot compare them to their supposed originals. Locke seems to have held the resemblance view because he could not conceive of bodies any other way.
The claim of the non-resemblance of the ideas of secondary qualities and their originals requires a further argument. Even if there are conditions under which bodies lack the qualities, why say that when they do produce the ideas, say of their colour, what produces them is not coloured? Locke appeals to relativity shown by the ideas of secondary qualities, not had by those of primary qualities. No matter what the conditions under which I perceive a body, my idea of it always includes an extension. But the perception of bodies can yield, under some conditions, an idea of heat, and under others, an idea of cold. Worse, at a distance from a fire, I have an idea of warmth, which is replaced by an idea of pain when I mistakenly place my hand in the fire.
I have skipped various peripheral material to turn to the idea of power, one of the most important of all. I have already noted that his idea includes that of the ability to bring about change (active power) and to suffer it (passive power).
Locke claimed that experience shows that the mind has the active powers of beginning or ceasing its own operations and of initiating or inhibiting motion in the body. This power is activated by a preference. He claims that if a mind can, merely on the occasion of a preference, affect the operations of the mind or the motion of the body, that mind is free to do so. If it cannot, it is necessitated to do something else.
Suppose we call the preference for a state of affairs the motive. My motive for typing these notes is my preference for my students to suttee them. I need not do so; I am free to go play golf instead. Locke says that my preferences are determined by the pleasure or pain I project as the result of the contemplated act. But then it seems as if my actions are determined by what is pleasurable for me and what is painful for me. Locke’s response is that the situation is more complicated than it would seem. I am at liberty to ignore, say, an intense, immediate pleasure because I understand that it would in the long term produce more pain. So ultimately, it is our ability to reason about pleasures and pains which constitute the foundation of our freedom.
Locke’s view of human liberty is directed forward in time. It does not matter how one gets to the point of choice, so long as the mind is able to bring about the desired event, the act is free. Many people find this kind of freedom to be of small comfort. They think that how one’s preferences are determined is the key to liberty. If my preferences are determined by pleasure and pain alone, then I am no better than a robot with no control over my destiny.
The next topic of interest is that of substance. Given his starting point, Locke is able to pronounce that in many cases we observe certain ideas to go together constantly. A certain bulk, shape, array of colours, speech patterns, etc., go together so constantly that we give them one name, say Bill Clinton. Calling this collection of ideas by a single name need not have any significance beyond the mere co-existence of the qualities, as Berkeley pointed out. But Locke made the further claim that the co-existence can only be understood if there is something which is the reason for their co-existing in just that way. Call this the “support” or “substratum.” Then our idea of a substance, in general, is that of co-existing qualities supported by something.
Of course, it would help the explanation if Locke could go beyond mere metaphor. The word ‘support’ cannot be taken literally (again as pointed out by Berkeley), since it then would be just another observable thing, like the foundation of a building. But there is nothing more to be said. Locke says that we are in the position of children, who can only say “something” when asked what is responsible for an event. Or, we are like the philosophers of India who, when asked about the support of the world, say that it rests on an elephant, and when asked further what supports the elephant, say that it rests on the broad back of a turtle. Finally, when asked what supports the turtle, he says, “something, I know not what.” Suffice it to say that Locke’s doctrine of substance was a weak point in his system.
The same story goes for mental substance. Our minds contain ideas and operations upon them. But the spirit which is responsible for these ideas and operations is also an unknown something. Thus although we know what spirit does, we do not know what it is. This leads to skepticism about whether the spiritual substance is absolutely immaterial. Bishop Stillingfleet, in particular, attacked Locke for leaving open the possibility that matter thinks.
The skepticism about mental substance spills over into the issue of identity over time. Could the same spirit be connected to different bodies or different personalities? Locke claimed that the criterion of identity over time is the same beginning. Rock is formed out of molten lava. Its existence begins at that time and it continues until the rock is broken. So long as there is continuity from the beginning, it is the same rock. The breaking constitutes a new beginning for each of the fragments.
The most simple case of identity is that of the identity of mass. A mass is the same when all the particles making it up are the same. Substitute one for another, and it is a different mass. This notion of the same mass is not very useful, however, since very few masses in the universe are so stable that they are not adding or losing parts, and hence becoming new masses.
A more complicated case of identity is that of a vegetable. We acknowledge that vegetables need not have exactly the same particles in order to be the same. What is the same, rather, is the dispositions and organization of the thing, which Locke seems to identify with its life. A tree sheds its leaves and grows new ones, all the while remaining the same tree. By extension (and with extended use of ‘life’) we can say that a machine is re-identified by its dispositions and organization. Animals are too, the only difference being that they are self-moving. Insofar as a man is an animal, a man is subject to the same-life identity condition.
Given this condition, it seems that Locke can solve the old problem of the identity of a ship that is wholly rebuilt. In its original location, a part of the ship is removed to another place, then replaced by a new part. An adjoining part is removed and transported, attached to the first removed part, and replaced. Eventually, there is a ship in the original place which has all new parts. It seems to be the same ship as the original, by Locke’s criterion. (Compare the claim that all the cells in the human body are replaced in ten years.)
We move now to Book IV of the Essay, wherein Locke presents his theory of knowledge. The material discussed in the lecture is tied to the handout distributed in class. The handout provides a matrix. The content of the cells is the extent of what is known for fifteen classifications of knowledge ((4 x 4) – 1, due to a consolidation of two classifications).
One dimension of the matrix is the degree of knowledge. Actually, the lowest degree of “knowledge” is not knowledge at all, but mere opinion. The lowest degree of knowledge proper is sensitive knowledge, which is based on sense experience rather than merely on ideas. Knowledge not based on sense experience is intuitive (in which ideas are compared directly with each other) and demonstrative (in which they are compared indirectly, via intermediary ideas). The presence of intermediaries in demonstrative knowledge introduces an element of slight uncertainty not present with intuitive knowledge.
The second dimension is the objects of knowledge and opinion. Identity and diversity is the simplest sort: two ideas are known to be (qualitatively) identical or different from each other. Black is not white and white is white, etc. All are known intuitively. Relations among abstract ideas are all known either intuitively or demonstratively if they are known at all (mathematical speculation is a matter of opinion). Since they are abstract, knowledge about them is not sensitive.
Co-existence and connection are relations that hold real objects, as opposed to abstract ideas. I have combined the categories of the intuitive and demonstrative here since Locke has little to say about them. Few relations of co-existence are known through the examination of ideas alone. Of greater importance are relations discovered to hold in sense objects. Most of them are subjects of opinion, and only those which are actually present in perception are known sensitively. Thus I may know that my yellow watch is gold.
Knowledge of existence is somewhat artificially divided among the various degrees. I know myself through the direct inspection of ideas. There is a demonstration of God’s existence, and there is sensitive knowledge of objects actually present to my senses. Thus I do not know that the classroom in which the lectures are given exists at the very moment I am typing these notes in my office. So in truth, we know very little sensitively, since what we perceive at any time is very limited.
Locke painted himself into a corner in his description of knowledge as concerned only with ideas. Paradigm examples of knowledge, on this view, are that white is not black and that the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle is the square of the hypotenuse. But both are independent of any facts except those concerning ideas themselves. Locke, rightly, asks why on his account of knowledge anything which comes into anyone’s head does not count as knowledge.
He notes that we intend for some of our ideas to refer beyond themselves to external reality and that the title of knowledge must be reserved for those ideas which correspond to it. But this raises the problem of the criterion for distinguishing which ideas conform to reality and which do not. Rather than giving a general criterion of knowledge, Locke proceeds on a case-by-case basis.
The second case he considers is the least interesting. We have seen already that mathematical knowledge is supposed to be based on intuition and demonstration concerning abstract ideas. Locke adds that they are representative of themselves, and the question of external reality touches them only indirectly. If there are things that correspond to our abstract ideas, then demonstrations about them apply to those things. The same goes for other kinds of abstract ideas, including moral ideas.
The first case of correspondence is that of simple ideas to their originals. Locke assumed that these ideas are not made up by ourselves (we can only operate on given simple ideas), they correspond to what causes them. Note, however, that Locke has not yet shown that we have knowledge of the existence of other things. It still remains open whether the source of these ideas is an external reality, and the nature of the correspondence has not been established.
The third case is the least ambitious. These concerns complex ideas of substances. To what extent does my idea of a raspberry correspond to the thing? Locke provisionally answers that the correspondence is rough.
Finally, we turn to the question of our knowledge of the existence of things. That we know our own existence intuitively is based on appeal to the argument of Augustine and Descartes, that doubting one’s own existence presupposes the existence of a doubter, and hence is futile. This knowledge is intuitive, it seems because one can hold this thought in its entirety at a single time.
The proof of the existence of God is problematic. As a good empiricist, Locke gave proof a posteriori, or from experience. The starting point is the already-demonstrated existence of himself. From this narrow basis, he moves outward using a version of the principle of sufficient reason (itself never justified), that nothing can produce anything. To avoid a regress of producers, he claims that we must acknowledge that from eternity there has been something. (It is not clear why he could not appeal instead to a first cause which was not produced, rather than produced by anything).
Next, he claimed that this something is most powerful. This conclusion is quite dubious on the grounds that the only thing he needs account for is the existence of himself. But even if he did invoke this being as the cause of the existence of the world, the being need only be as powerful as it takes to produce the world as its effect.
Finally, this eternal, most powerful, being is said to be most knowing. Locke has noted that he himself is an existing thinking thing, and now claims that thinking cannot arise spontaneously from matter. Only a thinking thing could give rise to a thinking thing. Further, the being is most knowing. But the same problem as before arises here: the being need only be powerful enough to produce the level of thinking found in the world. In general, proofs a posteriori have the problem that the infinite properties of a God seem to surpass what is required to explain the world around us.
Having given a flawed argument for the existence of God, Locke moved to give a shaky account of our knowledge of the existence of other things. This knowledge is sensitive and is very limited in its scope. One can know of the existence only of those things with which one is in sensory contact.
Locke’s theory of sensitive knowledge is very much like some contemporary theories of knowledge. It has two components, one “external” and the other “internal.” The external component in knowledge is that a causal relationship between the knower and the object is a necessary condition for knowledge. “It is, therefore, the actual receiving of ideas from without that gives us notice of the existence of other things and makes us know, that something doth exist at that time without us, which causes that idea in us; though perhaps we neither know nor consider how it does it” (IV, XI,2). Although this external connection is necessary for knowledge, however, it is not sufficient.
The second ingredient is what is Ernest Sosa calls an “epistemic perspective,” or an assessment of the way our faculties operate to produce the ideas in us. The eyes are said to give “testimony” in which we have confidence. “If we persuade ourselves that our faculties act and inform us right concerning the existence of those objects that affect them, it cannot pass for an ill-grounded confidence” (IV, XI,3). One thing he said in this connection caught the eye of Berkeley, that we cannot doubt the existence of the things we see and feel. But what, Berkeley asked, do we see and feel other than the ideas themselves?
Locke says that he “has reason to rely” on the testimony of the senses. He argues that has the assurance of God. It appears from IV, XI,3, that he thinks that since God has given him these faculties, and they are correlated with the production of pleasure and pain (“one great concernment of my present state”), he can be confident in the testimony of the senses. This is reminiscent of Descartes’ claim that God would be a deceiver had he been created with faculties whose manifest testimony is erroneous.
Locke then gives four concurrent reasons to be confident in the testimony of the senses (or equivalently, to support his “epistemic perspective.”) The first is that we cannot invent specific kinds of ideas, say the taste of pineapple so that they require “exterior causes.” Locke can cite only empirical evidence for this conclusion, i.e., that “nobody” gets the taste of pineapple until they actually bite into one. It is not clear that this establishes the impossibility of so doing, however. But even if the empirical evidence Locke cites is sufficient for his purposes, note the weakness of the conclusion. Locke cannot say what the exterior cause is. As Berkeley noted, the exterior cause might be God.
The second reason is also vulnerable to the same objections. Locke claims that the production of some ideas seems to be forced on me. I have no control over them (the come “willy-nilly” into the mind), and so they are the product of an exterior cause. As with the first case, Locke cites empirical evidence which may or may not be sufficient for his conclusion. And he again is vulnerable to Berkeley’s criticism that the specific exterior cause is not established by the argument.
The fourth reason (which is more continuous with the first two than is the third), is that the senses bear testimony to one another. This is a sound principle for evaluating testimony when there is some other evidence, but it does not work well in the present case. If a number of witnesses giving testimony are systematically lying or systematically deluded, then the coherence of their testimony is of no value. The only conclusion Locke could draw is that whatever the exterior cause of sensitive ideas may be, it is likely to be the same for all the sense modalities. Coherence may well be a criterion separating the dreamed or imagined from some other ideas to be called “real,” but the nature of the real is unknown, at least on the basis of these three arguments.
The third reason is an apparent difference between ideas, in that the pleasure or pain associated with some is dramatically more intense than what is associated with ideas of imagination, dreams, etc. This argument is not very strong, since hallucinations can bring on great pain, as with Delayed Stress Syndrome
. Locke went on to delimit the extent of our knowledge to objects actually affecting the senses, as is implied by his externalist condition discussed above. (I did not mention in a lecture that this condition allows knowledge on the basis of memory of actually sensed objects since the ideas were caused originally in the appropriate way.) On the other hand, we cannot know that other minds exist, though it is highly probable that they do. The required external causation falls short. We are not affected by the minds of others, but only by physical phenomena: what we see, hear, feel bodies to do.
This introduces the topic of the use of reason in matters that fall short of knowledge. Locke’s general principle is that we ought to assent to a proposition when the preponderance of the evidence is on its side, i.e., when it is highly probable. On the other hand, it is not always the case that we ought to withhold assent when there is not a preponderance of the evidence. This loophole exists because there are some matters which are “above reason,” in the sense that there is no way to adduce empirical evidence for or against it. These cases allow for consent on the basis of faith.
On the other hand, there are cases in which there is an absolute preponderance of evidence against a proposition when it is “contrary to reason.” I may not give my assent to what conflicts with what I know to be true.
What is wrong with assenting to a proposition (e.g., that there is more than one God) that is contrary to reason? It is an abuse of the faculty of reason which God gave us. Thus, Locke held that the true God would never give us faculties which we are supposed to subvert in order to know God. If we may revert to Descartes once again, God would be a deceiver if such a condition holds.
Locke’s religious convictions were rationalistic. That is, he thought that religious belief has a rational basis. We have already seen that he tried to demonstrate from rational principles the existence of God. He also held that revealed religion can be considered testimony which has its own evidential weight.
There are two sorts of revelation possible: direct implantation of ideas in our minds by God, and public signs such as the content of scripture. In both cases, whether we should place confidence in these sources depends on whether they have good credentials, i.e., whether we have good reason to think that they are actually the word of God.
Here Locke began his attack on enthusiasm, which would set up revelation without reason. Locke states that this is impossible so that anyone professing to do this must be stating his own fancies. The mark of the enthusiast is the justification of the belief by the mere degree to which it is believed. Locke diagnosed the syndrome as the product of an overheated brain.
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