The most influential philosopher of this age was born at Wrington, near Bristol, in the same year as Spinoza. He grew up in an England that made a bloody revolution and killed its King; he became the voice of a peaceful revolution and an age of moderation and tolerance, and represented English compromise at its sanest and best. His father was a Puritan attorney, who at some sacrifice supported the Parliamentary cause, and expounded to his son the doctrines of popular sovereignty and representative government. Locke remained faithful to these lessons, and grateful for the paternal discipline that trained him to sobriety, simplicity, and industry. Lady Masham said of Locke’s father that he
used a conduct towards him when young that he [the son] often spoke of afterwards with great approbation. It was the being severe to him by keeping him in much awe and at a distance when he was a boy, but relaxing still by degrees of that severity as he grew up to be a man, till, he being become capable of it, he lived perfectly with him as a friend. 104
Locke bore no similar gratitude toward his teachers. At Westminster School he was choked with Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, and was probably not allowed to witness the execution of Charles I (1649) in nearby Whitehall Palace Yard; but that event left a mark on his philosophy. The turmoil of the Civil War delayed his entry into Christ College, Oxford, till he was twenty years old. There he studied Aristotle as dressed in Latin Scholastic form; more Greek; some geometry and rhetoric; much logic and ethics, most of which he later disgorged as antequated in substance and indigestible in form. After taking his master’s degree (1658) he remained at Oxford as a don, tutoring and lecturing. He had a love affair which for a time “robbed me of the use of my reason”; 105 he regained his reason and lost the lady. Like nearly all the philosophers in this period—Malebranche, Bayle, Fontenelle, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz—he never married. He was advised to enter the ministry, but he demurred at “being lifted into a place which perhaps I cannot fill, and from whence there is no descending without tumbling.” 106
In 1661 his father died of tuberculosis, leaving him with a small fortune and weak lungs. He studied medicine, but did not take the medical degree till 1674. Meanwhile he read Descartes, and felt the fascination of philosophy when it spoke intelligibly. He helped Robert Boyle in laboratory experiments, and acquired an admiration for scientific method. In 1667 he received an invitation to come and live at Exeter House as personal physician to Anthony Ashley Cooper, soon to be first Earl of Shaftesbury, member of the Cabal ministry under Charles II. From that time onward, though keeping Oxford as his legal home till 1683, Locke found himself in the stream of English politics, whose events and figures molded his thought.
As physician he saved Shaftesbury’s life by a skillful operation for tumor (1668). He helped to negotiate the marriage of the Earl’s son, attended the daughter-in-law in her confinement, and directed the education of the grandson, his successor in philosophy. “Mr. Locke,” recalled this third Earl of Shaftesbury,
grew so much in esteem with my grandfather that, as great a man as he experienced him in physic, he looked upon this as but his least part. He encouraged him to turn his thoughts another way; nor would he suffer him to practice physic except in his own family, and as a kindness to some particular friend. He put him upon the study of the religious and civil affairs of the nation, with whatsoever related to the business of a minister of state; in which he was so successful that my grandfather began to use him as a friend, and consult with him on all occasions of that kind. 107
For two years (1673–75) Locke served as secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations (Colonies), of which Shaftesbury was president. He helped Shaftesbury to draft a constitution for Carolina, of which the Earl was a founder and a chief proprietor; these “Fundamental Institutions” were not generally carried out in the colony, but the freedom of conscience provided in them was largely accepted by the new settlement. 108
When Shaftesbury fell from office in 1675 Locke traveled and studied in France. There he met François Bernier, who introduced him to the philosophy of Gassendi; therein he found a reasoned rejection of “innate ideas,” the comparison of the unborn child’s mind to a tabula rasa, or clean slate, and the key sentence that was to be later bandied across the Channel: Nihil est in intellectu nisi quod prius fuerit in sensu—“There is nothing in the mind except what was first in the senses.”
Locke returned to London and Shaftesbury in 1679, but as the Earl ventured closer and closer to revolution, Locke retired to Oxford (1680), and resumed the life of a scholar. Shaftesbury’s arrest, escape, and flight to Holland cast royal suspicion upon his friends. Spies were sent to Oxford to catch Locke in remarks that might serve as a basis for prosecuting him. 109 Feeling insecure, and foreseeing the accession of his enemy James II, Locke too sought refuge in Holland (1683). The abortive revolution of the Duke of Monmouth (1685) provoked James to demand from the Dutch government the extradition of eighty-five Englishmen on the charge that they had shared in the plot to overthrow the new King; Locke was named among them. He hid, and took a false name. A year later James sent him an offer of pardon, but Locke preferred to remain in Holland. Living in Utrecht. Amsterdam, and Rotterdam, he enjoved the friendship not only of English refugees but of Dutch scholars like Jean Le Clerc and Philip van Limborch, both of them leaders in the liberal Arminian theologv. In that environment Locke found much encouragement for his ideas of popular sovereignty and religious freedom. There he wrote his Essay concerning Human Understanding, and the first drafts of his treatises on education and toleration.
In 1687 he joined in the plot to replace James II with William III on the throne of England. 110 When the expedition of the Stadholder succeeded in this enterprise, Locke sailed to England (1689) on the same vessel that carried the future Queen Mary. 111 Before leaving Holland he wrote to Limborch, in Latin, a letter whose warmth of sentiment may correct the supposition that his habitual moderation stemmed from coldness of character:
In going away, I almost feel as though I were leaving my own country and my own kinsfolk; for everything that belongs to kinship, good will, love, kindness—everything that binds men together with ties stronger than that of blood—I have found among you in abundance. I leave behind me friends whom I can never forget, and I shall never cease to wish for an opportunity of coming back to enjoy once more the genuine fellowship of men who have been such friends that, while far away from my own connections, while suffering in every other way, I have never felt sick at heart. As for you, best, dearest, and most worthy of men, when I think of your learning, your wisdom, your kindness and candor and gentleness, I seem to have found in your friendship alone enough to make me always rejoice that I was forced to pass so many years amongst you. 112
In an England governed by his friends, Locke passed through a succession of official employments. In 1690 he was a commissioner of appeals; in 1696–1700 he was a commissioner of trade and plantations. He was intimate with John Somers, attorney general, with Charles Montagu, first Earl of Halifax, and with Isaac Newton, whom he aided in reforming the coinage. After 1691 he lived most of the time at Oates Manor in Essex with Sir Francis Masham and his wife, Lady Damaris Masham, a daughter of Ralph Cudworth. He remained in that quiet haven, writing and rewriting, till his death.
2. Government and Property
When he came back from exile he was already fifty-six years old. So far he had published only some minor articles, and a French epitome of his Essay in Le Clerc’s Bibliothèque universelle (1688). He was not yet known as a philosopher except to a few friends. Then, all in one annus mirabilis, he sent to the press three works that made him a major figure in European thought. In March, 1689, his Epistola de Tolerantia appeared in Holland; it was translated into English in the fall; and it was followed in 1690 by aSecond Letter concerning Toleration. In February, 1690, he issued his two Treatises on Government, the cornerstone of modern democratic theory in England and America; and a month later the Essay concerning Human Understanding, the most influential book in modern psychology. Though this had been completed before he left Holland, he preceded it in print by the Treatises on Government because he was anxious to provide a philosophical basis for the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89. This purpose was frankly stated in the preface to the first treatise: “to establish the throne of our great restorer, our present William III; to make good his title in the consent of the people . . . and to justify to the world the people of England, whose love of their just and natural rights, with their resolution to preserve them, saved the nation when it was on the brink of slavery and ruin.” 113
The first and lesser treatise undertook to answer the Patriarcha, or The Natural Power of Kings Asserted, which Sir Robert Filmer had written about 1642 to uphold the divine right of Charles I, but which had only recently (1680) reached print in the heyday of Charles II’s triumphant absolutism. It was not the best of Sir Robert’s writings. He published anonymously in 1648 The Anarchy of a Limited Mixed Monarchy, anticipating Hobbes’s views. Though he suffered imprisonment for his defense of a losing cause, he defended it again in Observations upon Aristotle’s Politiques, published anonymously in 1652, a year before the author’s death.
Filmer presented government as an extension of the family. God conferred sovereignty over the first human family upon Adam, from whom it descended to the patriarchs. Those who (like Filmer’s opponents) believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible must admit that the patriarchal family, and the power of the patriarch, were sanctioned by God. From the patriarchs this sovereignty passed to kings; the early kings were patriarchs, and their authority was a form and derivative of parental rule. Monarchy, therefore, goes back to Adam, and so to God; its sovereignty, except when it commands an explicit violation of God’s law, is divine and absolute; and rebellion against it is a sin as well as a crime. 114
Against the theory that man is born free, Filmer points out that man is born subject to the customs and laws of the group, and to the natural and legal rights of parents over their children; “natural freedom” is a romantic myth. It is also a myth that government was originally established by the consent and agreement of the people. “Representative government” is another myth; actually the representative is chosen by a small and active minority in each constituency. 115 All government is of a majority by a minority. It is in the nature of government to be above the laws, for by definition a legislature is empowered to make and unmake laws. “We do but flatter ourselves if we hope ever to be governed without an arbitrary power.” 116 If government is to depend upon the will of the governed, there will soon be no government, for every individual or group will claim the right to rebel according to “conscience.” That would be anarchy, or mob rule; and “there is no tyranny to be compared to the tyranny of the multitude.” 117
Locke felt that his first task, as defender of the Glorious Revolution, was to dispose of Filmer’s arguments. He thought “there was never so much glib nonsense put together in well-sounding English” as in Sir Robert’s discourses. 118 “I should not speak so plainly of a gentleman long since past answering, had not the pulpit, of late years, publicly owned his doctrine and made it the current divinity of the times”—i.e., had not the Anglican clergy upheld the divine right of kings even under Catholic James II. Locke proceeded with playful, sometimes ungracious, sarcasm to question Filmer’s derivation of royal authority from the supposed sovereignty of Adam and the patriarchs; we need not follow him in his long Biblical refutation; today we rationalize our political prejudices by other than Scriptural means. Something of Filmer remains after Locke’s rough handling of him—the attempt, however mistaken in detail, to illuminate the nature of government by seeking its origins in history, even in biology. Probably both Filmer and Locke underestimated the role of conquest and force in the establishment of states.
In the Second Treatise of Civil Government Locke turned to the task of finding for the rule of William III in England some more defensible basis than a divine right that would unfortunately return the power to James II. In deriving William’s title from the consent of the governed he assumed more than he could historically prove: the people had not given their consent to William’s conquest of England, and the aristocrats who had maneuvered it had thought not of securing popular consent, but only of avoiding public resistance. Nevertheless, in building a philosophical prop for William’s power, Locke raised an impressive defense of popular sovereignty. While defending a monarch he developed the theory of representative government; and while offering a rationale to the Whigs and the defenders of property he formulated the gospel of political liberty. He ended, in English political philosophy, the ascendancy of Hobbes.
He followed Hobbes in assuming a primitive “state of nature” before the rise of states; like Hobbes and Filmer he fashioned history to his purpose; but, unlike Hobbes, he imagined that individuals in the “state of nature” were free and equal; he used this word as Jefferson was to use it in following him, to mean that no man had by nature more “rights” than any other; and he allows to man in the “natural condition” certain social instincts as a psychological preparation for society. Occasionally Locke makes some amiable assumptions—“Every man being . . . naturally free, and nothing being able to put him into subjection to any earthly power without his consent . . .” 119 The state of nature, in this theory, was not a Hobbesian war of each against all, for the “law of nature” supported the rights of men as reasoning animals. By reason (Locke supposed) men came to an agreement—made a “social contract” with one another—to surrender their individual rights of judging and punishing not to a king but to the community as a whole. Hence the community is the real sovereign. By its majority vote it selects a chief administrator to implement its will. 120 He may be called king, but, like any other citizen, he is bound to obey the laws enacted by the community. If (like James II) he seeks to violate or circumvent them, the community has the right to withdraw from him the authority which it has conferred.
Locke was really defending not William against James, but (the now victorious) Parliament against any king. The highest power in a state should be the legislature. It should be chosen by the unpurchased vote of the people, and the laws should punish severely any attempt to buy the vote of a citizen or a legislator; Locke did not foresee that his admired William III would be forced to buy the vote of M.P.s, and that powerful families would continue for yet 140 years to control and dispose of the vote of “rotten boroughs.” The functions of the legislature should be strictly separate from those of the executive, and each of these branches of the government should serve as a check upon the other.
“Government,” said Locke, “has no other end but the preservation of property.” 121 There had once been a primitive communism, when food grew without planting and men could live without toil; but when labor began communism ended, for a man naturally claimed as his separate property anything whose value had been created by his work. Labor, then, is the source of “ninety-nine hundredths” of all physical values. 122 (Here, quite without intending it, Locke offered one of its basic tenets to modern socialism.) Civilization grows through labor, and therefore through the institution of property as the product of labor. Theoretically no man should have more property than he can use; 123 but the invention of money enabled him to sell such surplus product of his labor as he could not utilize; and in this way there developed the great inequality of possessions among men. We might have expected at this point some criticism of the concentration of wealth; instead, Locke looked upon property, however unequally distributed, as natural and sacred; the continuance of social order and civilization requires that the protection of property shall be the paramount purpose of the state. “The supreme power cannot take from any man part of his property without his consent.” 124
On this basis Locke could not admit any revolution involving the expropriation of property. But as the “prophet and voice of the Glorious Revolution” 125 he could not deny the right to overthrow a government. “The people are absolved from obedience when illegal attempts are made upon their liberties or properties,” for “the end of government is the good of mankind. And which is best for mankind? That the people should be always exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should be sometimes liable to be opposed when they grow exorbitant in the use of their power and employ it for the destruction and not the preservation of the properties of their people?” 126 Whereas some Huguenot and some Jesuit philosophers had sanctioned revolution to protect the one true religion, Locke sanctions it only to protect property. Secularization was changing the locus and definition of sanctity.
Locke’s influence on political thought remained supreme till Karl Marx. His philosophy of the state was so well suited to the Whig ascendancy and the English character that for a century its faults were ignored as trivial blemishes in a magnificent Magna Carta of the bourgeoisie. It provided a halo not only to 1689 but, by remarkable anticipation, to 1776 and 1789—i.e., to the three stages in the revolt of business against birth, of money against land. Today critics smile at Locke’s derivation of government from the consent of free men in a state of nature, just as he smiled at Filmer’s derivation of it from the patriarchs, Adam, and God. “Natural rights” are suspect and theoretical; in a lawless society the only natural right is superior might, as now among states; and in civilization a right is a liberty desired by the individual and not injurious to the group. Rule by the majority may exist in small communities on less than vital concerns; usually rule is by an organized minority. Governments now recognize greater obligations than the protection of property.
Nevertheless, the achievement of that second treatise remains immense. It broadened the victory of Parliament and the Whigs over the monarchy and the Tories into a theory of representative and responsible government that inspired one people after another in its climb to liberty. England rejected Locke’s separation of powers, and subordinated all government to the legislature; but his doctrine had aimed to check the executive, and that aim was completely achieved. Much of his trust in human reasonableness and decency, and his moderation in applying theory to practice, became standard procedure in English politics, making revolution imperceptible while real.
From England the ideas of Locke passed to France with Voltaire in 1729; they were taken up by Montesquieu on his visit to England in 1729–31; they found voice in Rousseau and others before and during the French Revolution, and appeared in full blast in the Constituent Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. When the American colonists rebelled against the resurgent monarchy of George III, they adopted the ideas, the formulas, almost the words, of Locke to express their Declaration of Independence. The rights that Locke had vindicated became the Bill of Rights in the first ten amendments to the American Constitution. His separation of governmental powers, as extended to the judiciary by Montesquieu, became a living factor in the American form of government; his solicitude for property passed into American legislation; his essays on toleration influenced the founding fathers in separating Church from state and decreeing religious liberty. Rarely in the history of political philosophy has one man had such lasting influence.
3. Mind and Matter
Locke’s influence was as extensive and profound in psychology as in the theory of government. He had been writing the Essay concerning Human Understanding since 1670; characteristically he sent it to the printer only after twenty years of revision; and then, for this masterpiece of psychological analysis, he received thirty pounds. He himself ascribed the inception of the Essay to a conversation in London in 1670:
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 a while puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a solution of those doubts . . . 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 . . . which I set down against our next meeting gave the first entrance into this discourse. 127
Apparently the stimulus to the Essay was the contention of the Cambridge Platonists—who here followed the Scholastic philosophers—that we derive our ideas of God and morality not from experience but from introspection, and that these ideas are innate with us, part of our mental equipment, however unconscious, at our birth. This view, rather than Descartes’ incidental statements on “innate ideas,” led Locke to consider whether there were any ideas whatever that were not the result of impressions from the external world. 128 Locke came to the conclusion that all knowledge—including our ideas of God and right and wrong—is derived from our experience, and is not part of the inborn structure of the mind. He knew that in arguing for this empirical position he would offend many of his contemporaries, who felt that morality required the support of religion, and that both morality and religion would be weakened if their basic ideas had any less noble origin than God Himself. He asked his readers to be patient with him; and for his own part he approached the dangerous discussion in a spirit of modest uncertainty. “I pretend not to teach, but to inquire.” 129 He spoke quietly, moderately, leisurely. And he confessed that he was “too lazy, and too busy,” to be brief. 130
But at least he would define his terms. He protests against the “affected obscurity” of some philosophers. 131 “The knowing precisely what our words stand for would . . . in many cases . . . end the dispute.” 132 It must be allowed that Locke’s teaching in this particular is better than his practice. He defines understanding as “the power of perception,” but he uses perception to include (1) the perception of ideas in our minds; (2) the perception of the signification of signs (words); and (3) the perception of the agreement or disagreement between ideas. 133 But what is idea? Locke uses the term to mean (1) the impress of external objects upon our senses (what we should call sensation); or (2) the internal awareness of this impress (what we should call perception); or (3) the image or memory connected with the idea (what we should call idea); or (4) the “notion” that combines many individual images into a general or abstract or “universal” concept of a class of similar objects. Locke does not always make clear in which sense he uses this troublesome term.*
He begins by rejecting “innate principles.” “It is an established opinion, amongst some men, that there are in the understanding certain innate principles, some primary notions . . . stamped upon the mind of man, which the soul receives in its very first being, and brings into the world with it.” He proposes to show “the falseness of this supposition.” 135 He does not deny innate tendencies—what were later called tropisms, reflexes, or instincts; but these, in his view, are physiological habits, not ideas. Following Hobbes, he describes such processes as “trains of motion in the animal spirits, which, once set going, continue in the steps they have been used to, which, by often treading, are worn into a smooth path, and the motion in it becomes easy, and as it were natural” or inborn. 136He is inclined to reduce the associations of ideas to such physiological paths. Descartes had supposed that the idea of God is innate in us; Locke denies this. Some tribes have been found without it, and those that profess it have such different conceptions and images of the deity that it is wiser to reject the notion of innateness, and rest our belief in God upon “the visible marks of extraordinary wisdom and power . . . in all the works of creation” 137—i.e., upon experience. Likewise there are “no innate practical principles”—no inborn conceptions of right and wrong; history shows so great, sometimes so contradictory, a variety of moral judgments that they cannot be a part of man’s natural inheritance; they are a social inheritance, differing from place to place and from time to time. 138
Having disposed of innate ideas, Locke proceeds to inquire how ideas are generated. “Let us then suppose the mind [at birth] to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? . . . To this we answer in one word, from experience; in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.” 139 All ideas are derived either from sensation or from reflection on the products of sensation. Sensations themselves are physical; their mental result is perception, which is “the first faculty of the mind.” 140
Locke saw no reason to doubt that we can have true or valid knowledge of the external world, but he accepted the long-established distinction between the primary and secondary qualities of objects perceived. Primary qualities are “such as are utterly inseparable from the body, in what state soever it be”: solidity, extension, figure, number, and motion or rest. Secondary qualities “are nothing in the objects themselves but powers to produce various sensations in us by their primary qualities”; so colors, sounds, tastes, and odors are secondary qualities produced in us by the bulk, figure, texture, or motion of objects; the objects themselves have no color, weight, taste, smell, sound, or warmth. This distinction, as old as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, had been accepted by Descartes, Galileo, Hobbes, Boyle, and Newton; Locke’s exposition and emphasis gave it new and wider currency; theoretically the external world was now imagined by science as a colorless and silent neutrality, whose flowers and fruit had lost all fragrance and flavor. Poetry may have been depressed by this conception into the prosy verse of the “Augustan Age”—the early eighteenth century in England; but it ultimately discovered that qualities felt are as real as the objects themselves; and romanticism revenged itself on classicism by making feelings the supreme reality.
The analysis of an object into qualities led to the question, What is the substance in which the primary qualities seem to inhere? Locke confessed that we know nothing of that mysterious substratum except its qualities; take these away, and the substance—the underlying ground of the qualities—loses all meaning, apparently all existence. 141 Berkeley entered here. If we know only the qualities of objects, and know these only as ideas, then all reality is perception; and Locke, the great champion of empiricism—of experience as the source of all knowledge—becomes an idealist, reducing matter to idea. Moreover, the “mind” is as suppostitious as substance, body, or matter. In a remarkable passage Locke overleaps Berkeley and anticipates Hume:
The same thing happens concerning the operations of the mind, viz. thinking, reasoning, fearing, etc., which we, concluding not to subsist of themselves, nor apprehending how they can belong to body or be produced by it, are apt to think the actions of some other substance, which we call spirit, whereby yet it is evident that, having no other idea or notion of matter but something wherein those many sensible qualities which affect our senses do subsist, [so] by supposing a substance wherein thinking, knowing, doubting, and a power of moving, etc., do subsist, we have as clear a notion of spirit as we have of body: the one being supposed to be (without knowing what it is) the substratum to those simple ideas we have derived from without; and the other supposed (with a like ignorance of what it is) to be the substratum to those operations we experiment [experience] in ourselves within. 142
Admitting, then, that “our idea of substance is equally obscure, or none at all, in both” worlds, and that “it is but a supposed I know not what to support those ideas we call accidents,” Locke concludes that in both cases we are warranted in believing in a substance, though we cannot know it: in a matter behind and emitting the sensory qualities, and in a mind behind and possessing the ideas—a spiritual agent performing the various operations of perceiving, thinking, feeling, and willing. 143
Whatever the mind is, its operations are all of one kind—the play of ideas. Locke rejects the Scholastic notion of “faculties” in the mind, such as thought, feeling, and will. Thought is the combination of ideas, feeling is the physiological reverberation of an idea; will is an idea flowing into action, as all ideas tend to do unless checked by another idea.* But how can an idea become an action—how can a “spiritual” process become a physiological process and a physical motion? Locke reluctantly accepts the dualism of corporeal body and incorporeal mind; but in an imprudent moment he suggests that “mind” might be a form of “matter.” This is a locus classicus in Locke:
Possibly we shall never be able to know whether any mere material being thinks or no; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas, without revelation, to discover whether Omnipotency has not given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think, or else joined and fixed to matter, so disposed, a thinking immaterial substance; it being, in respect of our notions, not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if He pleases, superadd to matter afaculty of thinking, than that He should add to it another substance with a faculty of thinking. . . . He that considers how hardly sensation is, in our thoughts, reconcilable to extended matter, or existence to anything that has no extension at all, will confess that he is very far from certainly knowing what his soul is. . . . He who will give himself leave to consider freely . . . will scarce find his reason able to determine him fixedly for or against the soul’s materiality. 145
Though Hobbes had already leaped upon the materialistic horn of the dilemma, the suggestion of its possible truth was, in the intellectual context of Locke’s time, so offensive to orthodoxy that a hundred defenders of religion attacked him as playing recklessly into the hands of the atheists. They paid little attention to his passing obeisance to revelation, or to his earlier statement that “the more probable opinion is that consciousness is annexed to, and the affection of, one individual immaterial substance.” 146 Perhaps they foresaw how La Mettrie, d’Holbach, Diderot, and other materialists would see in Locke’s suggestion a secret inclination to their view. Bishop Stillingfleet accused him of precisely such a tendency, and warned him that it endangered the whole Christian theology. Forgetting his usual caution, Locke warmly reasserted the possibility of the material hypothesis, in a controversy that lasted, with Stillingfleet and others, till 1697.
Despite its critics, its occasional contradictions, obscurities, and other faults, the Essay gathered prestige and influence with every year. Four editions of it were called for in the fourteen years between its publication and Locke’s death. A French edition appeared in 1700, and was greeted with enthusiastic admiration. It became a topic in English drawing rooms; Tristram Shandy assured his hearers that a reference to the Essay would enable anyone to cut “no contemptible figure in a metaphysical circle.” 147 The influence of the Essay on Berkeley and Hume was so great that we might date from it the turn of British philosophy from metaphysics to epistemology. Perhaps Pope had Locke in mind when he wrote that “the proper study of mankind is man.”
A French edition appeared in 1700, and was greeted with enthusiastic hyperboles. “After so many speculative gentlemen had formed the romance of the soul,” wrote Voltaire, “one truly wise man appeared who has, in the most modest manner imaginable, given us its real history. Mr. Locke has laid open to man the anatomy of the soul, just as some learned anatomist would have done that of the body.” 148 And again, “Locke alone has developed the human understanding in a book where there is nothing but truths, a book made perfect by the fact that these truths are stated clearly.” 149 The Essay became the psychological bible of the French Enlightenment. Condillac adopted and extended Locke’s sensationism, and thought nothing had been done in psychology between Aristotle and Locke 150—a manifest injustice to the Scholastics and Hobbes. D’Alembert, in the discours préliminaire of the Encyclopédie, credited Locke with having created scientific philosophy as Newton (he supposed) had created scientific physics. Despite its professions of orthodoxy, the Essay made for a rationalistic empiricism that soon discarded the soul as a needless hypothesis, and passed on to apply the same reasoning to God.
4. Religion and Toleration
Locke himself had no sympathy with such extremes. Whatever his private doubts, he felt, like an English gentleman, that good manners and morals required public support of the Christian church. If philosophy should take from the people their faith in a divine justice standing behind the apparent injustices and sufferings of life, what could it offer to sustain the hopes and courage of men? A slow progress toward a democratic utopia? But in that utopia would not the natural greed and inequality of men forge new means for the use and abuse of the simple or the weak by the clever or the strong?
His first concern was to “lay down the measures and boundaries between faith and reason”; and this he aimed to do in Chapter 18 of Book IV of the Essay. “I find every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, It is a matter of faith, and above reason.” 151 “Whatever God hath revealed is certainly true,” 152 but only reasoning on the available evidence can tell us whether a scripture is the word of God, and “no proposition can be received for divine revelation if it be contrary to our clear intuitive knowledge.” 153 When a matter can be decided by such direct observation, our knowledge is above any supposed revelation, for it is clearer than any certainty we can have that the revelation in question is really divine. However, “there being many things wherein we have very imperfect notions, or none at all; and other things, of whose past, present, or future existence, by the natural use of our faculties, we can have no knowledge at all; these, as being . . . above reason, are, when revealed, the proper matter of faith.” 154 Locke concludes: “Nothing that is contrary to, and inconsistent with, the clear and self-evident dictates of reason, has a right to be urged or asserted as a matter of faith wherein reason hath nothing to do.” 155 “One unerring mark of” the love of truth is “not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant.” 156 “Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.” 157
So, in 1695, Locke published The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures. He read the New Testament again, as one might read a new book, putting aside (as he thought) all dogmas and commentaries. He was overwhelmed by the lovable nobility of Christ, and the beauty of nearly all his teaching as the best and brightest hope of mankind. If anything could be a divine revelation, this narrative and doctrine seemed divine. Locke proposed to accept it as divine, but also to prove it, in all its essentials, to be in the profoundest agreement with reason.
But those essentials, it seemed to him, were far more modest and simple than the complex theology of the Thirty-nine Articles, the Westminster Confession, or the Athanasian Creed. He quoted passage after passage from the New Testament requiring of a Christian only the belief in God and in Christ as his divine messenger or Messiah. Here, said Locke, is a plain and intelligible religion, fit for any man, and independent of all learning and theology. As to the existence of God, he felt that “the works of nature in every part of them sufficiently evidence a Deity”; 158 from his own existence he argued to a First Cause; and since he found perception and knowledge in himself, he concluded that such attributes must also belong to God; God is “eternal Mind.” 159 When Locke’s critics complained that he had left out such vital doctrines as the immortality of the soul and everlasting punishments and rewards, he replied that in accepting Christ he accepted Christ’s teachings, in which those doctrines were included. So Locke came out by the same door wherein he went.
However, he insisted that all forms of Christianity except Catholicism should enjoy full liberty in England. He had written an essay on toleration as early as 1666. When he moved to Holland (1683) he found much more freedom of worship than in England; and while he was there he must have noted Bayle’s powerful defense of toleration (1686). Moved by the persecution and migration of the Huguenots (1685), he wrote a letter to his friend Limborch, who urged its publication; it was printed in Latin in 1689 asEpistola de Tolerantia, and appeared in an English translation before the year was out. An Oxford don denounced it; Locke, now in England, defended it in a second and third Letter concerning Toleration (1690, 1692). The Toleration Act of 1689 fell far short of his proposals; it excluded Catholics, Unitarians, Jews, and pagans, and barred Dissenters from public affairs. Locke also made exceptions: he would not tolerate atheists, because he thought their word could not be trusted, since they feared no God; or any religion that did physical harm, as by human sacrifice; or any religion demanding allegiance to a foreign power; he gave Mohammedanism as an example, but was understood to mean Catholicism too. 160 He explicitly called for toleration of Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, Arminians, and Quakers. He did not dare include Unitarians, though the first Shaftesbury, dying in Amsterdam (1683), he had imbibed Arianism and Socinianism (Unitarianism) from his secretary Locke. 161
The law, said Locke, should concern itself only with the preservation of social order; it has a right to suppress expressions destructive of the state, but it has no jurisdiction over men’s souls. No church should have the power to compel adherence. How ridiculous to punish persons in Denmark for not being Lutherans, in Geneva for not being Calvinists, in Vienna for not being Catholics! After all, which individual or group can have the full truth about human life and destiny? Locke noted that most of the religions demanded toleration when they were weak, but refused it when they were strong. Persecution, he felt, comes from lust for power, and from jealousy masquerading as religious zeal. Persecution creates hypocrites, toleration promotes knowledge and truth. And how can a Christian persecute, being pledged to charity?
Locke continued his campaign for toleration till the close of his life. He was engaged in writing a fourth letter on the subject when his time ran out. Death came to him (1704) while he sat quietly listening to Lady Masham reading Psalms.
Even before his death he had reached in philosophy a reputation surpassed only by Newton’s in science; men already spoke of him as “the philosopher.” While he ended in almost orthodox piety, his books, unable to change with age, passed through editions and translations into the thought of educated Europe. “The Western Enlightenment,” said Spengler, “is of English origin. The rationalism of the Continent comes wholly from Locke.” 162 Of course not wholly. But of whom else would one now risk such hyperbole?