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Locke: metaphysics & epistemology ethics & politics. Mark Bedau Hum 210. overview. Locke’s metaphysics and epistemology key: primary vs. secondary qualities rooted in new science evidence for distinction connection with skepticism Locke’s ethics and politics

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Presentation Transcript
  • Locke’s metaphysics and epistemology
  • key: primary vs. secondary qualities
    • rooted in new science
      • evidence for distinction
      • connection with skepticism
  • Locke’s ethics and politics
    • similarities and differences with Hobbes
      • especially property
    • key problems
broad ideological context
broad ideological context
  • primary & secondary qualities
    • contingent empirical natural science vs. necessary a priori philosophy
      • relation gives rise to primary/secondary
    • private, subjective, internal perspective vs. public, objective, external perspective
      • appearance/reality ~ primary/secondary
      • Aristotle downplays appearance/realitynew science relies on appearance/reality

idea of redness idea of roundness

redness roundness


veil of ideas
“veil of ideas”
  • immediate objects of awareness are ideas
    • not objects or their qualities
    • anti-Aristotelian
  • purely mental ideas merely represent external reality
    • symbolically stand for them
secondary qualities
secondary qualities
  • secondary: color, sound, taste, odor, heat
  • primary: shape, size, motion, location
  • explain perceptual relativity naturally
    • corpuscles in hand are in motion
    • “warmth, as it is in the hand, is nothing but a certain sort of motion in the minute particles of our nerves or animal spirits”
    • contact between water corpuscles and hand corpuscles causes them to go faster/slower
    • causes hand to feel hotter/colder
  • N.B. our ideas do not resemble their external causes
metaphysical consequences
metaphysical consequences
  • colors, odors, etc. are nothing in objects but powers to cause certain ideas in us?
    • plausible for pain: caused by needle, persists after needle is gone, so not in needle
    • consequence: nothing is really colored, etc.
      • not black, white, gray, …
      • color is no more in needle than pain is
      • nothing in needle remotely resembles its color
    • Q - why believe this?
perceptual relativity argument
perceptual relativity argument
  • ideas of secondary qualities vary with conditions of perceiver (mind-dependent)
    • water feels hot/cold, porphyry, almond, manna, fire …
  • contrast constancy of ideas of primary qualities
  • so, ideas of secondary qualities are “only powers to produce various sensations in us by their primary qualities”
  • problem: perception of primary qualities also varies
    • circle looks elliptical, rectangle looks square, …
    • square tower looks round, straight oar looks bent, …
new science argument
new science argument
  • new science posits corpuscular, atomistic view of nature
  • so, only PQs can be properties of objects
    • shape, size, motion, location, solidity
  • so, ideas of SQ cannot resemble real Qs
new science argument10
new science argument
  • the corpuscular theory of matter is true
  • if so, then perceived color, etc. are not real, intrinsic qualities of objects
  • so, in bodies they are only powers to produce various sensations in us by primary qualities.
  • issue with (2): corpuscular theory consistent with real colors, etc.
  • (1) is real flaw: no compelling evidence for Locke that science could explain everything
    • evidence compelling only 200 years later
upshot on evidence
upshot on evidence
  • problem: why believe it?
    • no good arguments for PQ/SQ distinction
    • Locke and many others believed it
  • possible solution
    • take new science for granted, not question it
    • PQ/SQ distinction follows
    • compare two perspectives on skepticism
global skepticism
global skepticism
  • preoccupation: secure foundations for all knowledge
    • inner sensory experience is certain
    • build objective knowledge of external reality on subjective certainty of inner reality
  • but global skepticism equally hits PQ, SQ
    • so why confident that PQs are veridical?
limited skepticism
limited skepticism
  • preoccupation: metaphysics and epistemology implied by new science
    • no demon-proof guarantee of new science
    • new science is less intuitive than Aristotelean
    • key: take science for granted, it entails PQ/SQ distinction, so our senses are mistaken
    • entails skepticism about SQ, not about PQ
  • picture: L’s discussion of fire, etc. do not argue for distinction but illustrate how science accounts for puzzles of contextual relativity and illusions
conclusion part 1
conclusion (part 1)
  • post-Aristotelian world of Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke is our world
  • contemporary philosophy: colors, etc.?
    • consciousness paradox
  • contemporary science
    • PQs = root explanation + observable properties
    • today: nothing plays both roles
    • everything is a secondary quality
    • science removes the world even further from our grasp
ethics and politics
ethics and politics
  • Locke
    • rights
    • government
    • property
  • first: compare Hobbes
    • both are social contract theorists
    • why differences?
    • consequences?
locke hobbes
Locke = Hobbes
  • H&L - right of self preservation in a state of nature
    • H - problematic, since no “rights” in state of nature
    • L - religious foundation of right to self preservation
locke hobbes18
Locke = Hobbes
  • H&L - “negative” liberty only: free from restrictions or coercion from society
      • willingly give up in social contract
    • compare “positive” liberty requires society
      • Hegel: rational control rather than caprice
      • Marx: economic resources allowing choice
    • H - children and beasts are free
    • L - freedom requires reason, recognition of true goods

Locke ≠ Hobbes

locke hobbes19
Locke ≠ Hobbes
  • H - state of nature = war
  • L - state of nature = peace
  • H - no property in state of nature
  • L - property in state of nature
    • property is Locke’s primary concern
locke hobbes20
Locke ≠ Hobbes
  • H - no rights in state of nature
      • morality is artificial -- radical view
  • L - many rights in state of nature
      • perfect freedom if respect self-preservation of others
      • equal right to exercise natural freedoms (none subordinate to another)
      • rights to life, health, liberty, property, punish transgressors
      • no right to destroy self, to deprive others of rights
        • we are all God’s property
locke hobbes21
Locke ≠ Hobbes
  • H - no appeal to religion in ethics or politics
      • a novelty then, more natural now
  • L - ethics is founded on religion
      • conventional then, less natural now
locke hobbes22
Locke = Hobbes
  • H&L- aim of political society is security

Locke ≠ Hobbes

  • L - government is just for protecting our rights, especially property
    • government as “fiduciary” of the people
    • only purpose is to protect citizens’ interests
  • H - nothing like this
  • cp. Declaration of Independence
locke hobbes23
Locke ≠ Hobbes
  • H - no right of rebellion
      • sovereign may do as he pleases, bound by no law
  • L - right of rebellion
      • when government becomes a tyranny, “the people have no other remedy … but to appeal to heaven” §168
      • in 17th C. England means taking up arms
social contract problem
social contract problem
  • is the contract hypothetical or historical?
  • hypothetical
    • how can it bind us?
  • historical
    • where and when?
    • why bind us?
social contract problem25
social contract problem
  • is the contract hypothetical or historical?
  • hypothetical
    • how can it bind us?
  • historical
    • where and when?
    • why bind us?
  • tacit consent if you benefit
    • real, daily
  • God gave us the earth and all in it for our support and comfort
    • ours “in common”
    • to be of use, how to apportion it?
  • you own your body and your labor
    • its your property
  • removing something from state of labor and mixing your labor with it makes it your property
    • nobody else need consent, not robbery
mixing your labor
mixing your labor
  • acorns or apples you gather
  • deer you kill, fish you catch
  • grass your horse eats
  • turfs your servant cuts
    • not limited to your labor
    • permits tremendous wealth if you can hire others
    • forerunner of capitalistic theory of appropriation
  • “As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property.” §32
  • God commanded us to labor, to improve the land for our own benefit
  • “He that in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another has no title to, nor could without injury take from him.” §32
puzzles about property
puzzles about property
  • When you mix your labor with something, why don’t you own just the portion you put in?
  • … why don’t you just loose it?
  • When you enclose something with a fence, why don’t you just own the part under the posts?
  • … why don’t you acquire what’s “outside”?
  • If ability to use is enough to acquire title, what about the 360º view from a mountain top?
  • If land is inherited legitimately only if previous owner had legitimate title, does anyone have a legitimate title?
  • only as much as you can use and enjoy
    • given by God for us to enjoy; so cannot waste it
  • Locke holds equality of persons and rights, but justifies vast inequalities in property
    • money can exist only by convention, and it does exist
      • so we have consented to it
    • consequence: money not spoil, allows vast inequality
      • so we have also consented to this consequence
      • Protestant ethic: different degrees of industry determines your wealth
lockean proviso
Lockean proviso
  • scarcity makes appropriation problematic
    • no problem at flowing drinking fountain
  • if scarce, you can take only as much as would leave in common as much, and as good
    • then it’s just as if you didn’t take any
  • problem: is the proviso ever met?
    • not right to equal property but equal right to property
      • equal opportunity to mix our labor with it
    • but, given economic, social, and gender differences,is there really equal opportunity to exercise this right?
conclusions part 2
conclusions (part 2)
  • Locke on rights
    • Can we make sense of natural rights without God?
  • Locke on property
    • social and political consequences of L’s property
    • forces us to confront deep questions
      • What is the proper way to view property?
        • legitimate possession
        • redistribution without consent