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Full Text

Manchester University Lectures, No. XXVIII


Published by the University of Manchester at




for 1932
Professor of Logic and Metafysi n ter university of Edinburgh




L -~-~

PLATO has suggested that action is so much more
natural to us than contemplation, that only those who
are handicapped by ill-health or in some other way
are likely to adopt the philosophic life, contenting them-
selves with the less immediately vivid satisfactions of the
looker-on. Is it fanciful to find in John Locke an example
of the justice of this remark? After being privately tutored,
Locke entered Westminster School at the age of fourteen;
and taking one year longer than the usual curriculum of
five years, did not proceed to Oxford until he was in his
twenty-first year. There he continued his linguistic and
other studies, following out what seems to have been his
first intention, or at least his father's intention, of prepar-
ing himself for the Church. He early came to have doubts
as to whether this was his proper calling, but it was not
until 1666, when he was thirty-four years of age, that he
finally abandoned all thoughts of it. Meantime, thanks
to his intimacy with Boyle and his scientific circle, he had
become interested in the physical sciences, and especially
in their practical application in medicine;'and as these
new interests gained upon him, he resolved to become a
S physician.
Whereas up to this point we have no information as to
Locke's general health, we may reasonably suppose that it
had been somewhat delicate, handicapping him in many
ways, accounting for his late entry to the University, and
so abating his energies as to prevent his earlier adoption
of a permanent profession. We hear nothing of any sud-
den failure of health, but from 1666 onwards there are
constant references in his correspondence to his ailments;
and notwithstanding the anxious care of devoted friends,
these infirmities were his constant companions through all

~ -----------------------~~

his later years. They constrained him again to change
his programme of life. As Lady Masham-the source of
our most intimate knowledge of Locke-tells us: "Some
time after that Mr. Locke had begun to study in earnest,
he applied himself principally to physic-a science which
he yet never afterwards made use of to his profit, as not
being well able to bear the fatigue those must undergo who
would bring themselves into any considerable practice."
Happily, at this juncture, a new way of life, highly con-
genial to him, and consistent with his poor health, was
suddenly opened out by a chance meeting with Lord Ashley,
afterwards the first Earl of Shaftesbury. The meeting re-
sulted in their becoming life-long friends. Lord Ashley
installed Locke in his London house, in the Strand, as his
private physician and as tutor to his son; and later when
he became President of the Board of Trade and Lord
Chancellor, from 1672 onwards, as a trusted secretary and
adviser in his political concerns. Locke also received a
Government appointment as Secretary of Presentations (to q
benefices), and later as Secretary to the Council of Trade
and Foreign Plantations. Thus far, Locke's health, though
troublesome, had sufficed for these varied calls upon his
energies. It gradually worsened, however; and in 1675
he went into retirement in France, where he spent three
years, partly in Paris, chiefly in Montpellier. Writing to a
friend from Paris in 1677 he says: "My health is the only
mistress I have a long time courted, and is so coy a one
that I think it will take up the remainder of my days to
obtain her good graces and keep her in good humour."
On his return to England Locke was again engaged
with Shaftesbury in political activities of various kinds;
but sharing in the consequences of his fall from power,
he followed him into exile in Holland. And so at last, in
the enforced inactivities of a life at once of ill-health and
of exile, he became, what otherwise the preoccupations
of active life would probably never have permitted, a
professional thinker and writer on philosophical subjects,
his first work appearing some seven years later, when he
was fifty-eight years of age.
I Fox Bourne, Life of Jo/m Locke, I, p. 370. ;

Theri was one later occasion on which the enticements
of practical life again presented themselves. In returning
to England in February 1689 in the train of King William,
he was offered the Ambassadorship to the Court of Fred-
erick the First, Elector of Brandenburg, one of the most
important positions in the diplomatic service, Frederick
being the ally on whom William had mainly to rely in
S his opposition to Louis XIV. But Locke's good genius,
in the guise of ill-health, again, happily for Philosophy,
entered an interdict. His letter of refusal, addressed to
Lord Mordaunt, has survived, and contains these passages:
"I cannot but in the highest degree be sensible of the great
honour his Majesty has done me in those gracious inten-
tions towards me which I have understood from your Lord-
ship; and it is the most touching displeasure I have ever
received from that weak and broken constitution of my
health which has so long threatened my life, that it now
affords me not a body suitable to my mind in so desirable
an occasion of serving his Majesty My Lord, the
post that is mentioned to me is at this time, if I mistake
not, one of the busiest and most important in all Europe.
.. But what shall a man do in the necessity of applica-
tion and variety of attendance on business to be followed
there, who sometimes after a little motion has not breath
to speak, and cannot borrow an hour or two of watching
from the night without repaying it with a great waste of
time the next day?" I
Locke did, indeed, accept the modest office of Commis-
sioner of Appeals, and later very reluctantly agreed to act
for a time as one of the Commissioners of the Board of
S Trade. But save for his occasional visits to London, in
discharge of the duties of these offices, the remaining four-
teen years of his life were spent in the country, in almost
complete retirement, under the devoted care of Lady
Masham and her family. And there we can picture him,
as he describes himself in a letter to his Quaker friend,
Benjamin Furley, resident in Rotterdam: "Do not think
now I am grown either a stoic or a mystic. I can laugh
as heartily as ever, and be in pain for the public as much
1 Lord King, Life of Jon Locke (1830 ed.), I, pp. 319-20.

as you .... You may easily conclude this written in a
chimney corner, in some obscure hole out of the way of
the lazy men of this world and I think not the worse for
being so, and I pray heartily it may continue as long as I
live. I live in fear of the bustlers, and would not have
them come near me. Such quiet fellows as you are, that
come without drum and trumpet, with whom we can talk
upon equal terms and receive some benefit by their com-
pany, I should be glad to have in my neighbourhood, or
to see sometimes though they come from the other side of
the water." 1
In reviewing Locke's life, there are two points to which
I may direct attention: first, the fact that he published
S nothing under his own name until he published his main
work, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in his
fifty-eighth year; and secondly, that almost immediately
upon its appearance Locke became the dominant philoso-
phical influence throughout Europe, displacing Descartes
-most notably so in France. Why, having delayed so
long, did Locke publish at all? And why was his message
so immediately influential, once it had been delivered? The
answer which we have to give to the first of these questions
also affords in part the answer to the second.
Why was Locke so late in finding his vocation? It does
not suffice to say that Locke was one of those whose powers
mature slowly and late. The main reason seems to have
been that, in the very modest estimate which he had formed
/ of his abilities, he had never been tempted to picture him-
self as destined to be a leader in the world of thought.
Time and again, in his correspondence and writings, we
find him protesting with obvious sincerity, that any merit '
his writings might have was not due to unusual abilities.
This unawareness of his powers may, in part, have been
caused by the uncongeniality of the linguistic studies to
which he had to devote so large a proportion of his time
at school and in Oxford, and to the bewilderment of mind
occasioned by the scholastic philosophy into which his not
very competent teachers sought to initiate him. One of
the consolations which he drew from his first eager reading
1 Fox Bourne, op. cit., II, p. 506.

of Deilrtes was that perhaps, after all, this had not pro-
ceeded from any defect in his understanding, since how-
ever often he might differ in opinion from Descartes, he
never failed to find him intelligible.
Fortunately Locke early acquired the habit-so much
more usual than in these modern days-of writing out his
views on any topic that might interest him, and of com-
municating them in epistolary form to his friends. While
at Oxford, he was not, Lady Masham tells us, "any very
hard student," but "sought the company of pleasant and
witty men, with whom he likewise took great delight in
corresponding by letters, and in conversation and these
correspondences he spent for some years much of his time."
Practically all his writings originated in this way. It was
the appreciative response of his friends, and their urgent
petitions that these papers be used for the instruction of
the world at large, that alone ultimately induced Locke to
venture upon publication. In this regard the origins of
his Essay Concerning Human Understanding are typical.
Five or six of his friends, he tells us, meeting at his cham-
ber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from that
of the Essay-as we know from one of these friends they
were discussing the "principles of morality and revealed
religion"--found themselves quickly at a stand by the
difficulties that rose on every side. "After we had a while
puzzled ourselves ... it came into my thoughts, that we
took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon
enquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our
own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were i
or were not fitted to deal with. .. Some hasty and un-
digested thoughts .which I set down against our next
meeting, gave the first entrance into this discourse, which
being thus begun by chance, was continued by entreaty;
written by incoherent parcels; and after long intervals of
neglect, resumed again, as my humour or occasions per-
mitted; and at last, in a retirement, where an attendance
upon my health gave me leisure, was brought into that
order thou now seest it." And Locke, addressing his
Reader, proceeds: "It will possibly be censured as a great
Essay: Epistle to tle Reader.

piece of vanity or insolence in me to pretend to instruct
this our knowing age, it amounting to little less when I
own that I publish this Essay with hopes it may be useful
to others. If I have not the luck to please, yet nobody
ought to be offended with me. I plainly tell all my readers,
except half a dozen, this treatise was not at first intended
for them; and therefore they need not be at the trouble to
be of that number I shall always have the satisfaction
to have aimed sincerely at truth and usefulness, though in
one of the meanest ways Everyone must not hope
to be a Boyle or a Sydenham; ... it is ambition enough
to be employed as an under-labourer in clearing the ground
a little, and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the
way to knowledge."
Locke's own account of the origins of the Essay is, how-
ever, incomplete, and can now be supplemented. An early
draft of the Essay was discovered a few years ago by Dr.
Benjamin Rand in the Lovelace collection of the Locke
manuscripts, and is now accessible in the edition which he
published last year. The meeting of friends, as we pre-
viously knew, was in and about the year i670. What is
a matter of considerable interest, and in view of Locke's
own utterances, very unexpected, is that this early draft,
which is in Locke's own handwriting and dated by him
1671, and which is about one-tenth the length of the Essay,
treats in consecutive form, though in a somewhat different
order, nearly all the problems later dealt with in the four
books into which he divided the Essay, and that all his
main doctrines are already at this early date more or less
definitely formulated. It is therefore the more surprising
that Locke should not have thought of publication until
some nineteen years later. We hear of him rewriting and
extending this material during his stay at Montpellier.
He showed his manuscript to friends; and Lord Shaftesbury
had read it prior to his death, which took place in 1683.
But it was subsequently to that date, during his exile in
Holland, that Locke made his final revisions and additions.
In all probability, Lady Masham declares, the work never
would have been finished had he continued in England.1
1 Fox Bourne, op. cit., II, p. 16.

It was, not unlikely, the importunity of his friend Leclerc,
whom he first met during his exile in Holland, that finally
overcame his disinclination to publish. Leclerc was the
editor of a literary and scientific review, entitled the Biblio-
theque Universelle. For this journal he succeeded in
obtaining from Locke a few minor contributions,1 and
finally an outline of the Essay. This outline, in the French
translation made by Leclerc himself, appeared in January
1687-8; and its reception so encouraged Locke that two
years later, in 1690, he published the Essay in its complete
form. As I have said, it was an immediate success, new
editions being called for in rapid succession. It was at
once adopted as a text-book at Trinity Colfege, Dublin,
where some years later it was studied by Berkeley. With
Locke's approval an abridgement of it was prepared by
John Wynne, afterwards Bishop of St. Asaph. The
decision of the Heads of Colleges in Oxford in 1703 that
tutors must not read it with their pupils is even better
evidence of the interest which it had aroused. On hear-
ing of the interdict, Locke wrote to his young friend,
Anthony Collins: "I take what has been done as a recom-
mendation of that book to the world, as you do, and I
conclude, when you and I next meet, we shall be merry
upon the subject. For this is certain that, because some
wink or turn their heads away, and will not see, others will
not consent to have their eyes put out." 2 The French
translation of the Essay, by Pierre Coste, appeared in 1700;
and the Latin translation-Latin we have to bear in mind
was then still the language of the learned world-begun
in 1696, appeared in 1701. Meantime Locke had been
publishing his other writings: his Letters on Toleration, his
works on Government, on Education, and on Religion.
But while the welcome accorded to the Essay was suffi-
ciently encouraging to dispel any doubts that Locke may
still have entertained as to his vocation, he would have been
amazed, and probably more dismayed than gratified, had
he lived to read the eulogies which were passed upon his
writings on the Continent, and especially in France, in
1 cf. Fox Bourne, op. cit., II, pp. 44-5.
2 Fox Bourne, op cit., II, p. 523.

those formative decades in which Voltaire, Montesquieu,
D'Alembert, Diderot, Condillac, and Rousseau were the
outstanding figures. They one and all looked up to Locke
as the philosopher in whose steps they were proud to follow.
He is hailed as "the wise Locke," the "greatest of all philo-
sophers since Plato." Voltaire, in popularizing Newton's
discoveries in optics and in astronomy, sought also to popu-
larize the teaching of the Essay. "Many," he says, and
among them he included Descartes, "have written the
romance of the mind; a sage has come who has modestly
written its history." The Abb6 de Condillac wrote his
Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge as a supplement
to Locke's Essay. D'Alembert, in the Discourse with which
he prefaces the first volume of the great Encyclopedie, claims
for Locke that he had created metaphysics very much as
Newton had created physics. In paying this tribute to
Locke, D'Alembert is not, in any unpatriotic spirit, for-
getting Descartes. Descartes he depicts as the great geo-
meter, and as the protagonist of reason, liberating the
European mind, as no other had done, from the yoke of
tradition and authority, and yet all the while forging weapons
that in the end had to be turned against himself-his posi-
tive teaching with its many reactionary doctrines having
to yield place to the counter-teaching of Locke.
This strain of eulogy continued unabated, in France
at least, throughout the century. As late as 1794, in Con-
dorcet's posthumously published work, An Historical View
of the Progress of the Human Mind, a work of which the
National Assembly ordered three thousand copies to be
printed at the public expense, we find Condorcet describ-
ing what he takes to be the new method first formulated
by Locke, and which he roundly declares to have been the
method to which all genuine philosophical thinking, alike
in the physical and in the moral sciences, has since con-
formed. While it was mainly Locke's Essay, it was not
solely the Essay that earned for him this position of pre-
eminence; his writings on toleration and government, on
education, and on religion also played their part. Mon-
tesquieu in questions of government, and Rousseau in
treating of education, bear witness to their indebtedness

to him.- Those who set themselves in opposition to the
prevailing spirit of the times entertained of course no such
reverence for Locke; but even they paid indirect homage
to his influence by the violence of their denunciations.
This is especially true of De Maistre; he depicts Locke as
"the evil genius" of the eighteenth century.
To proceed therefore to our second question: How came
Locke-in such complete contrast to the neglect, and even
obloquy, that awaited his predecessor Hobbes and his con
temporary Spinoza-how came he to exert, in so short a
space of time after the appearance of the Essay, a European
influence of the first magnitude, and also to retain it over
so long a period? Was this not a strange fate to befall
so modest and so moderate a writer? Certainly it calls
for explanation; and the explanation, which is not far to
seek, would seem to be mainly twofold: on the one hand
the representative character of Locke's teaching, and on the
other hand, the relations in which he stood to Descartes
and to Newton.
Let us consider each of these two points in turn.
In the course of his life Locke enjoyed an extraordinary
range of varied experiences. "I no sooner perceived
myself in the world," he wrote in 1660, "but I found
myself in a storm which has lasted hitherto." When he
was a boy of ten, the Civil War was raging around his
home in Bristol; and political troubles again came very near
him when King Charles was beheaded within a few hun-
dred yards of the school in which he was a pupil. Prayers
were said that morning in the school for the preservation
of the life of the King. While at first Locke, like his
Father, had Puritan sympathies, many of his friends were
Royalists; and he was caught up into the vortex of their
competing interests, learning by bitter experience that the
Presbyterians and the Independents, in coming to power,
could be just as intolerant as the most extreme of their
opponents. Welcoming the Restoration, he found oppor-
tunity, in the service of the Earl of Shaftesbury, to acquire
first-hand experience in the management of public affairs,
and this from a point of vantage which enabled him to
follow their course, with first-hand knowledge of the issues

and personalities involved. Partly in the service of the
State and partly, as we have seen, for reasons of health, he
travelled and resided in France, in Germany, and as an
exile in Holland, his keen mind eager and open to almost
every human interest. Even when politically engaged, he
maintained the scientific and other contacts which had been
formed in Oxford and elsewhere, corresponding on all kinds
of topics with a large circle of friends. In particular he
V very early came to stand in intimate personal relations with
the chief scientific workers of his time. The scientific
gfioup which was concerned in thelFounding of the Royal
,Society, the group of which Boyle was the centre, occa-
Sionally met in Locke's rooms in Oxford. Locke was him-
self elected a Fellow of the Society in 1668; and presum-
ably it was at its meetings that he first became acquainted
with Newton. After Boyle's death Locke edited Boyle's
General History of the Air, a work which Boyle had started
at Locke's instigation, and for which Locke had himself
made observations.
But, of course, it was not only Locke's general interest,
however intelligent, in all these matters, that gave its char-
Sacteristic cast to his thinking. We must never forget that
S to his friends and acquaintances he was Dr. Locke, that
he had very thoroughly equipped himself to be a practising
Physician, and that throughout his life he practised the art
from time to time, placing his knowledge and skill freely
at the disposal of his friends. When Shaftesbury had to
undergo a delicate and difficult operation, it was upon
Locke's judgment and practical skill that he chose to rely.
Was some acquaintance in despair over persistent ill-health,
or did he have a child that was sickly, it was to Locke,
sooner or later, that appeal for aid and advice came to be
made. His knowledge of methods of treatment and of the
effects of drugs, and still more of diet, he was constantly
adding to, with the consequence that the bodily conditions
of our human existence were never in danger of being lost
sight of when as a philosopher he came to speculate on the
/ nature and limits of the human understanding or to formu-
late views on education and on government.
Thus we are, I think, justified in maintaining that Locke

was qiite peculiarly equipped to appreciate the specific
needs and the major tendencies of his age, equipped as no
other contemporary thinker could claim to be; and that
this is, therefore, one very obvious explanation of the wel-
come accorded to his writings. But these considerations,
relevant and important as they are, by no means suffice to
answer our question. Locke could never have gained so
immediate and so universal a welcome in England and
throughout Europe had it not been for the favouring rela-
tions in which, thanks to historical contingencies, he hap-
pened to stand to the two great figures of the philosophy
and science of his time, namely to Descartes and to Newton.
Like two great planets in conjunction, they created the tide
that swept Locke's venturing argosies into so many foreign
Though Locke gained his first relish for philosophical-
enquiry from Descartes, his interest in the empirical
sciences, and especially his medical studies, enabled him
to adopt, from the very start, a critical and detached atti- i
tude towards Descartes' teaching. In particular, they acted,
as a prophylactic, guarding Locke against any temptation
to regard as satisfactory its dualistic foundations. He
insisted that man is not to be understood apart from the
body, that the problem of the interrelation of mind and
body, in its metaphysical aspects, has for us no very special
urgency; and in consequence he set aside, as of little value,
almost the whole of Descartes' metaphysics. What, on -
the other hand, he gratefully adopted from Descartes, his
doctrine of clear and distinct ideas, and his rationalist
method of approach to all problems, are precisely those
features'in Descartes' philosophy that allowed of a general
welcome, especially when, as in Locke, they were supple-
mented by due recognition, so completely absent in Des-
cartes, of the part which experience must play in providing
the materials with which reason has to cope. Since Locke
could thus take over all those elements in Descartes' philo-
sophy which were suited to the needs of his contemporaries,
and also was able, in place of much that Descartes had
retained from the older ways of thinking, to substitute
doctrines more in keeping with the scientific and other ten-

dencies of the times, it is not surprising that the Cartesian
philosophy put up so poor a fight, and everywhere yielded
place, not least quickly and completely in France itself, to
Locke's type of teaching.
In yet another regard Locke is a carrier of Cartesian
doctrine, namely, in his insistence upon the necessity of
new beginnings, through an abrupt break with the past.
Alike in Descartes and in Locke, this takes the form of a
i depreciatory estimate of the value both of history and of
learning. Truth, they argue, is independent of time.
To engage our energies in study of the ever-changing
opinions and beliefs of men is therefore worse than useless;
when truth is our goal, to carry a weight of learning is
to be handicapped in the race with the simple and the
merely ignorant. Fired by this conviction, Descartes and
Locke lived provincially in the age to which they belonged;
and in respect of the many prejudices and limitations to
which their teaching became thereby subject, neither had
the advantage over the other. In the century that fol-
lowed-a century even less historically minded than the
seventeenth-no small part of Locke's influence was due
to his unquestioning adherence to this way of thinking.
The history of seventeenth-century science reads, as
Whitehead has said, "as though it were some vivid dream
of Plato or Pythagoras." Starting with Descartes' crea-
./ tion of analytic geometry, the mathematical sciences, enter-
ing upon a period of extraordinarily fruitful development,
had given rise to the most extravagant hopes that by ana-
logous methods metaphysics might be enabled to make
corresponding advances. Such, indeed, is the philoso-
phical ideal for which Descartes stood, or rather, since
this statement is not wholly just, it is the ideal to which
Descartes' successors believed him to be committed.
Descartes was conceived as the great geometer, and as
teaching that philosophy must itself be geometrical in
method, that it is in a position to start from principles which
are guaranteed by reason, and which, when followed by
reason into their necessary consequences, place in our hands
the keys adequate to the solution of all the problems of
1 Science and tie Modern World, p. 46.

science aid philosophy. This interpretation of Descartes'
purposes is, as I have just suggested, unfair to him; but
it is by no means so unfair, if the spirit of his teaching
be gathered from the programme which he set himself in
physics and astronomy. And, as it happened, it was almost
exclusively by his teaching in thqse fields that his philosophy
as a whole came to be judged. j
The subsequent course of events, which was highly
dramatic, is quite unintelligible save in the light of the
dominant influence exercised by Newton, an influence
which in philosophy no less than in science has all the
importance of a watershed dividing two epochs from one
another. Notwithstanding the character of the work done
by Kepler, Galileo and Huyghens-all of whom were con-
cerned with the problems of applied mathematics-prior
to Newton it was still possible to argue, in the Cartesian
manner, that the mathematical ideal of a purely deductive
science is the ideal also for physical science, and that it is
possible of early achievement. To this somewhat super-
ficial type of rationalism Newton, through his discoveries
in optics and in astronomy, gave-at least so far as the
next two centuries were concerned-what was virtually the
death-blow, the issue being decided in the great controversy
between the Newtonian and the Cartesian types of cosmo-
logy. Thanks to Voltaire, it became a hotly debated sub-
ject among the intelligent public. Descartes professed to
have demonstrated "by means of reason" I that light must be
so and so constituted and is instantaneous in its action;
Newton "by means of a prism" proved that in actual fact
it is quite otherwise constituted and takes (on his estimate)
six and a half minutes in travelling to us from the sun.
Descartes professed to show "by the natural light of reason"
that there must be vortices of subtle matter, and that in
these vortices is to be found the explanation of the move-
ments of the planets; Newton "by observations upon comets"
proved that there are in actual fact no such vortices.
Newton thus made clear beyond all questioning, that how-
ever important be the part played by mathematics in phy-
sical enquiry, observation and experiment are no less
x Voltaire's Lttres Philosophiques, Letters XIV, XV and XVI.

indispensable as supplying the brute data, the "irreducible
and stubborn facts," which reason may not ignore and is
required to interpret.
Whitehead has asserted that in consequence of this
revolution the men of science became anti-rationalist, being
content with a simple faith in the order of nature, and that
it was the clergy alone who continued to uphold the rights
of reason. But this, surely, is a perverse reading of what
actually happened. The typical thinkers of the eighteenth
century are, indeed, in striking contrast to those of the
seventeenth century, anti-metaphysical; but this did not in
the least weaken their conviction that in all matters of con-
troversy reason is the sole ultimate court of appeal. What
they had come to recognize-and it is here that Locke,
following Newton, seemed to them to have shown the way
S-was that while reason is the instrument, it is never in
and by itself a source of insight; and that speculation is
therefore idle save when we are constrained to it in our
efforts to define what it is that is being vouched for by
Newton's Principia, it is important to remember, ap-
peared just four years prior to Locke's Essay. Being at
one in the empirical character of their teaching as in the
time of their publication, they came to be associated in
men's minds, each work assisting in the spread of the other.
And in this partnership it was, of course, Locke who
stood to be the main beneficiary. The battle-cry which
Voltaire adopted in his great crusade was: "the Newtonian
-Philosophy and Locke as its Prophet."
To return for a moment to the subject of my original
question-Locke's vogue in France throughout the eigh-
teenth century. When we bear in mind what Descartes
has meant, and still means, to the French people, as giving
classical expression to so much that's native to their genius,
it seems strangely paradoxical that an Englishman, and so
very English an Englishman as John Locke, should have
been allowed, for the space of a century, to eclipse in their
esteem their own native teacher-a teacher who, as we
must admit, is the greater figure of the two. But the
1 Science and the Modern World, p. 73.

paradox is more seeming than real. As I have already
said, Locke took over from Descartes precisely those
elements in his teaching which were suited to the needs
of the times, his insistence on clear and distinct ideas,
and his trust in reason as exercising supreme sovereignty
in all matters of controversy. Locke re-stated these doc-
trines in the manner demanded by the results of the empir-
ical sciences, and especially of Newton's great discoveries.
Thereby Locke became the chief channel through which
all that could be immediately fruitful in Descartes' teaching
came to its own; and it was these parts of Locke's Philo-
sophy that alone gained general currency in France. The
Locke they adopted was not the complete Locke, but Locke
cut to a French pattern, as befitted the r6le assigned to him.
It is accordingly no exaggeration to say that what France, in
the eighteenth century, received from England at the hands
of Locke is in large part what France, in the seventeenth
century, had herself given to England, in the person of
Descartes. In substituting Locke the philosopher for
Descartes the metaphysician, the French were not there-
fore proving false to their own traditions; they were con-
serving them, and this in a manner which allowed their
realist aptitudes-surely no less typical of the French genius
-to gain more adequate expression than was possible
within the limits of the Cartesian system.
In the comedy of human life time plays strange tricks
with men and affairs. Here we have Locke, the most
modest of men, being set on a pedestal as a rival to Plato,
or when attacked by his enemies treated as an influence so
powerful as to have poisoned the mind of a whole century.
That Locke should have lent himself to such apotheosis
and attack, is easily understandable as regards his contro-
versial writings-Locke the protagonist of toleration, Locke
as standing for constitutional rights and for individual
liberty, and for a simplified theology, Locke the education-
alist, Locke the opponent of innate ideas in the first book
of the Essay. It was natural that the importance of these
writings should be overestimated. Just because of their
immediate serviceableness, being written to meet contem-
porary needs, nothing in them was likely to fail of effect.

But as regards the Essay, outside the first book, only a few
of its main doctrines, not always those that we should now
regard as the most important, received attention; and as a
rule these were formulated in some doctrinaire manner,
quite contrary to the temperate, tentative, qualified spirit
in which they were put forward by Locke himself. Accord-
ingly the passing away of the eighteenth-century over-
estimate of Locke has not, so far as the Essay is concerned,
brought any excessive reaction in its train. On the con-
trary, when the clouds of incense ceased to rise, in place
of the cosmopolitan figure, there emerged the plain honest
features of the genuine Locke, less imposing but more
individual, distinctively English, and with a great deal more
in his teaching than the eighteenth century, notwithstand-
ing its exaggerated worship of him, had ever been suffi-
ciently interested to study and appreciate.
J Let us then, in the time that remains, turn to the com-
plete Locke, the English Locke, as he reveals himself to
us in his writings, and especially in the Essay. No one
can read these writings without being struck by the pre-
dominance of the moral note. Sober and discriminating
in all his judgments, he tested everything by a twofold
criterion, truth and icfilJnes, neither, as he seems to have
believed, leing possible in the absence of the other. On
first hearing, this may seem to be a somewhat common-
place and prosaic creed; it is redeemed by the freshness
and liberality, no less than by the religious intensity, with
which Locke held it. "It is a duty we owe to God, as the
fountain and author of all truth, who is truth itself; and
it is a duty also we owe our own selves, if we will deal
candidly and sincerely with our own souls, to have our
minds constantly disposed to entertain and receive truth
wheresoever we meet with it, and under whatsoever appear-
ance of plain or ordinary, strange, new, or perhaps dis-
pleasing, it may come in our way. Truth is the proper
object, the proper riches and furniture of the mind, and
according as his stock of this is, so is the difference and
value of one man above another. ... Our first and great
duty then is, to bring to our studies and to our enquiries
after knowledge a mind covetous of truth; that seeks after


nothing else, and after that impartially, and embraces it,
how poor, how contemptible, how unfashionable soever it
may seem."1 For Locke truth is no mere abstract term;
it came to him weighted with the benefits and powers that,
as he believed, may confidently be counted to follow in its
No less characteristic of Locke's writings are certain
features which I may perhaps not unfairly describe as
distinctively English, moderation, preference for qualified
over unqualified statement, for adequacy over consistency,
distrust of logic so long as contrary facts are in evidence,
and consequent comparative lack of interest in the more meta-
physical aspects of philosophy. These characteristics have
been very happily summed up by Professor S. Alexander.
"[The] general tone [of Locke's writings] is that of equable
common-sense, without emphasis, without enthusiasm, re-
strained in its judgment, careful of measure, never dull
but reflecting evenly from a candid surface, modest when
it is most original, because concerned with the faithful
presentment of things, rather lambent than fiery, an inspired
pedestrianism." 2
Yet another general characteristic of Locke's teaching
-I have already referred to it as common to him and to
Descartes-is his insistence that in matters of knowledge
and belief each man must stand on his own feet. "He
that distrusts his own judgment in everything, and thinks
his understanding not to be relied on in the search of truth,
cuts off his own legs that he may be carried up and down
by others, and makes himself a ridiculous dependent upon
the knowledge of others, which can possibly be of no use
to him; for I can no more know anything by another man's
understanding than I can see by another man's eyes."
Why, Locke asks, "make it one's business to study what
have been other men's sentiments in things where reason
is only to be judge?" 4 The teaching which Locke thus
inculcated he himself practised, and to it his philosophy
owes many of its chief merits, and some of its defects. He
lived almost entirely in his time, reading, for the most part,
1 Lord King, op. cit., I, pp. 187-8. a Locke (1908), p. 23.
a Lord King, op. cit., I, p. 196. 4 Op. cit., I, p. 175.

the works only of his contemporaries, and even these but
J sparingly. Every field in which he worked he prospected
as if it were virgin country, never before explored. This,
indeed, is the key-note of all Locke's writings, no matter
on what topic he may be writing: not that he himself
made extravagant claims to originality-that he left to his
eighteenth-century eulogists. "He who has raised him-
self above the alms-basket, and not content to live lazily
on scraps of begged opinions, sets his own thoughts on
work, to find and follow truth, will (whatever he lights on)
not miss the hunter's satisfaction; every moment of his
pursuit will reward his pains with some delight, and he
will have reason to think his time not ill-spent, even when
he cannot much boast of any great acquisition."1
Take, for instance, Locke's Thoughts Concerning Education.
Here indeed was a virgin territory, for Locke the physician,
for Locke who looked back with such regrets upon the
opportunities that his teachers had failed to open out to
him, for Locke the lover, and himself the especial favourite,
of children. Consider some of the many novel maxims
that he propounds. That children should live much in
the open air, and should go bareheaded; that it is custom
alone that makes children more liable to catch cold through
the feet than through the hands, and that their shoes should
therefore be so constructed that they do not keep out the
wet-in a word, the present-day sandals; that the ideal
breakfast for children is plain brown bread, preferably
without butter, and small beer; that children be not too
warmly clad, winter or summer; that their beds be hard and
made in different fashions, the pillow now high and now
low, that they may not in after-life be put out when some-
thing is amiss. "The great cordial is sleep. He that
misses that, will suffer by it; and he is very unfortunate
who can take his cordial only in his mother's fine gilt cup,
and not in a wooden dish." Nor is Locke above dwelling
upon the evils of costiveness, and the duty of paying
"court"-as he expresses it-"to Madame Cloacina." "It
being an indisposition I had a particular reason to enquire
into, and not finding the cure of it in books, I set my
1 Essay: Epistle to the Reader.

thought* on work, believing that greater changes than that
might be made in our bodies, if we took the right course,
and proceeded by rational steps."
In things of the mind, the formation of character, he
holds, takes first place. Next in importance he reckons
wisdom in the management of affairs; third he places good-
breeding; and only thereafter book-learning. Dancing he
regards as a main instrument of education; and would have
children disciplined by its means from their earliest years.
"For, though this consist only in outward gracefulness
of motion, yet, I know not how, it gives children manly
thoughts and carriage, more than anything." The ordin-
ary school curriculum, as he had himself known it, he
regarded with little favour. "What ado," he says, "is
made about a little Latin and Greek, how many years are
spent in it, and what a noise and business it makes to no
purpose." But the defender of the classics will be apt to
think that Locke, in his candour, weakens his case, in dis-
closing his mind somewhat further. "If [a child] have a
poetic vein, it is to me the strangest thing in the world, that
the father should desire or suffer it to be cherished or
improved. Methinks the parents should labour to have
it stifled or suppressed as much as maybe; and I know not
what reason a father can have to wish his son a poet, who
does not desire to have him bid defiance to all other call-
ings and business .for it is very seldom seen that any
one discovers mines of gold or silver in Parnassus. It is
a pleasant air, but a barren soil; and there are very few
instances of those who have added to their patrimony by
anything they have reaped from thence." Poetry and the
fine arts lay outside the range of Locke's otherwise very
catholic interests.
In general, Locke is confident that the road to know-
ledge can, by new and proper methods, be made short and
easy. French and Latin are to be learned by reading and
talking. "Latin is no more unknown to a child, when he
comes into the world, than English; and yet he learns
English without master, rule or grammar; and so might
he Latin too as Tully did, if he had somebody always to
talk to him in this language." In the curriculum for school

and college he would also include the study of the sciences,
of law, and of philosophy, but not either rhetoric or logic;
and he would give prime importance to the pupils' mother-
tongue. Would it, he asks, "be very unreasonable to
require a learned schoolmaster (who has all the tropes and
figures in Farnaby's rhetoric at his fingers' ends) to teach
his scholar to express himself handsomely in English, when
it appears to be so little his business or thought, that the
boy's mother outdoes him in it?" In addition Locke
would have every child learn "a manual trade; if practicable
two or three, but one more particularly."
But we should not pass from Locke's work on education
without noting what is one of its great qualities, namely
his sympathetic understanding of child-life, and his demand
that the discipline and training which he recognized to be
very necessary be by gentler methods than those which had
hitherto prevailed. The article on Locke in Diderot's
Encyclopedia is unsigned; but internal evidence reveals the
author. Who but Rousseau could have written the follow-
ing passage, which gives a very French version of what is
not untrue to the essential spirit of Locke's teaching?
"Accustom the mind to the spectacle of nature ... it is
always great and simple Unhappy the children who
have never seen the tears of their parents flow upon the
recital of a generous action; unhappy the children who have
never seen the tears of their parents flow at the sight of
the misfortune of others. Fable relates that Deucalion and
Pyrrha repeopled the earth by throwing stones behind them.
There remains in the soul of the most sensible something
of its stony origins; and we must labour to recognize and
to soften it."
Locke's independent approach to every subject that came
to occupy his attention can similarly be illustrated in the
case of his other writings. These, however, in even greater
degree than his Thoughts Concerning Education, are now of
almost purely historical interest. It is the EssayConcern-
H. i, [-[.m .. .i v'.'., o-,: by shihT e.s ge.-- nila ust
maijn.J.-_beju.dgd. It ha~ -ri.ood the tes.r of time as no
other of his rrntines hia done. Hi-i influence throughout
the eighteenth century, as I have sought to show, was


favoured by circumstances which conferred upon his writ-
ings a timeliness and an importance they could not other-
wise have had; and there was consequently an element of
happy accident in the recognition accorded to Locke. But
this cannot be said as regards the present-day reputation
of the Essay. It has attained the assured rank of a philo-
sophical classic, thanks to the sane, solid, and at the same
time original, qualities of Locke's native genius.
The four Books into which the Essay is divided are of
very unequal value. Books I and III are much shorter
than the others, forming between them only one-fourth of
the Essay. As I have already suggested, Book I is little
more than a controversial tract, with almost no present-
day relevance. Book III, which treats of language, though
expository in character, has also little present value. In
it Locke shows no appreciation of the closeness and subtlety
of the inter-relations between thought and language. He
is merely repeating and applying the kind of views which
were then current-that language, while socially indispen-
sable, is from an intellectual point of view a necessary evil,
and the prime cause of fallacy-views not unnatural when
we bear in mind that the type of philosophy then still
dominant in the universities was a weakened form of
Scholasticism, which employed an archaic and highly tech-
nical phraseology, and which was so out of keeping with
the times that even its most reputable teachers had no
genuine and living appreciation of the truths for which it
stood. The intellectual life, Locke seems to say-as did
Berkeley after him-should largely be spent in dodging
out of the way of words. I am apt, Locke says, to imagine
that when we quit words, and think upon things, we all
think the same; whereas when we have some strange, out-
landish doctrine to propound, it is upon legions of obscure,
doubtful and undefined words that reliance is placed, so
that the positions defended are more like the dens of
robbers or the holes of foxes than the fortress of truth.
This view of language is still occasionally to be met with
among workers in the sciences; students of the humanities
have, happily, freed themselves from it.
It is, therefore, to the other two Books of the Essay, to

Books II and IV, that we have to look for Locke's main
contribution to philosophy. What is that contribution?
Usually the opening sections of Book II have been given
such prominence that Locke's purposes and teaching in
the Essay have been set in a very misleading light, as if
he were mainly intent upon showing that the materials of
knowledge are all-important, and are all, without exception,
empirically obtained. This is part of the teaching of the
Essay, but in Locke's own view-and he was entirely justi-
fied in so believing-the less important and the less original
part. The primary purpose of the Essay is to determine
the nature, conditions and limits of knowledge, the term
"knowledge" being employed in an unusually strict and
narrow sense. As Professor Gibson, in his masterly work
on LA, k,'i T74 *-'y ,J/T- -l hs p..i;.tid oi.r, ,or Locke
knowledge and certainty are equivalent terms. -Khow-
1FdgeocEIe holds, excludes-e possibility not only of
doubt bult.! err...r. It is a fi:.rn of absolutely certain
cognition; and to possess it is to recognize it as such.
"With me," he says, "to know and to be certain is the
same thing: what I know, that I am certain of; and what
I am certain of, that I know. What reaches to knowledge,
I think may be called certainty; and what comes short of
certainty, I think cannot be called knowledge." 2
How, Locke asks, is this knowledge possible; in what
fields is it possible; and what are the substitutes for it,
where it is not available? Locke believed himself to have
quite definite answers to these questions. Knowledge
proper, he declares, is scientific; and consists of truths
which are abstract and universal. The most obvious ex-
amples of such knowledge are, he recognizes, to be found
in the mathematical sciences. But since "our business
here is not to know all things, but those which concern our
conduct," it is in "morality" and in "divinity" that we
must look for its most important instances. Outside these
three fields, we have at best only an assurance resting on
probabilities-an assurance which for practical purposes
may amount to certainty but still never is certainty.
1 Op. cit., p. 2.
2 Second Letter to Stillingfleet, Works, Vol. IV, p. 145.

Such is the very strange answer that Locke gives to his
fundamental question: what is the nature and what are
the limits of knowledge? Knowledge, absolutely certain
knowledge, is possible in mathematics, in ethics, and in
natural theology; it is possible nowhere else. Both physics
and metaphysics are excluded from the domain of know-
ledge; they are concerned with the dark, not with the
possibly "enlightened" parts of things; and accordingly
they should be pursued no further than practical need
Now had Locke been true to his own programme, had
he in the Essay consistently held to these positions, and
succeeded in formulating a body of teaching in harmony
with them, the Essay would, by now, have been, like his
other writings, of purely historical interest. What he
actually achieved, as distinguished from what he believed
himself to have achieved, was to show, with admirable force
and suggestiveness, that such hard and fast distinctions,
such attempts at clear-cut delimitation of the knowable
from the unknowable, are far from tenable, and that the
metaphysical issues, the discussion of which he has depre-
cated, are not to be evaded in any such off-hand fashion.
This, indeed, is precisely what lends to the Essay its per-
manent value. Locke does more than merely abstain from
concealing counter-considerations. He was much too
deeply interested in the problems, as problems, to be under
any temptation to do other than emphasize them; and for
the same reason, the metaphysical issues, though ruled out
on principle, receive in the course of the Essay, no small
share of attention.
All this comes about in the following manner. There
is a conflict between the account given in Book II of the
origins and nature of our ideas, and the teaching of Book
IV, which deals with the validity of the knowledge we have
by means of them. In Book II Locke declares sensation
and reflection to be the two possible sources of all our ideas,
reflection being described as itself a kind of inner sense.
To these two sources, he tells us, all our simple ideas are
due; we can have no complex ideas that are not reducible,
without remainder, to such simple ideas. Yet later in the

Essay, when Locke passes from the consideration of sense-
experience to the treatment of knowledge, when, that is
to say, he passes from the consideration of how we acquire
experience in time to the consideration of truth, which
holds independently of time, we find that he traces such
knowledge neither to sensation nor to reflection, but to
a quite new source of experience, which he entitles "in-
tuition." And patently there is such a third source of
experience. The apprehension that two units added to
two units make four units is not a set of simple ideas; it
is a proposition, the truth of which is learned through direct
inspection. In what relation, then, does such direct
intuitive inspection stand to sense-experience? Locke's
answer is virtually to accentuate the distinction until it
becomes an opposition between what is given to the mind
and what the mind does for itself, and so paradoxically
enough to base truth not on experience but on constructions
of which the mind is alleged to be the author. Sense-
experience, like the world from which we receive it, is ever-
changing and gives, he says, no assurance beyond the
moment. Like time it is a perpetual perishing; once past
it can never recur. Intuition, on the other hand, yields
knowledge that is universal and holds independently of
time: a proposition, if true at all, has always been true and
must remain true. This difference between our changing
sense-experiences and the propositions in which intuition
expresses its insights points back, Locke argues, to an
equally marked difference in the nature of their objects.
Sense-experience is of the real, which as real is always
changing and in each of its changing states is inexhaustibly
complex. For both reasons, that the real changes and that
it is inexhaustibly complex, it is not being known even
when it is being experienced. Sense-experience does not
carry us beyond the moment of its own occurrence, and
even at the moment we apprehend only the simple ideas
present to the mind, not the reality to which they are due.
Intuitive knowledge, on the other hand, is not of the real
but of the abstract, not of the changing but of the im-
mutable, not of terms-that is, not of simple ideas-but of
relations which presuppose at least two terms, two ideas.

Indeed it is the relations, and not the terms, the struc-
tural features of the compound, and not its separate
constituents, of which alone we come to have understand-
ing, when we formulate propositions and recognize them as
Thus the objects of intuition are not ideas at all, not at
least of any kind allowed for by Locke in his account of
the sources of experience. They are immutable essences,
each with a complex nature that is no longer itself if any,
even the least, alteration be made in it. Locke adds, in-
deed, that they are essences and not realities, nominal not
real, abstract with none of the inexhaustibleness that is
proper to the genuinely actual. But while thus seeming
to withdraw with one hand what he puts forward with the
other, he does not withdraw from either of the two opposed
positions, that sense-experience is never knowledge, and
that there is a knowledge which is otherwise obtained.
The nearest that experience can come to having the cer-
tainty proper to knowledge is in experimental sampling
and the generalizations based on such sampling; but this,
Locke insists, is worlds apart from the certainty attained
in mathematical and other intuited propositions.
From logic and the theory of knowledge Locke then
leads us on, in his speculations regarding "substance" and
what he entitles "real essences," to the problems of meta-
physics. Is existence, like time, a perpetual perishing; or
have we the right to posit what direct experience, in Locke's
view, never discloses, a something that survives the pass-
ing of time, a something that fulfils itself in and through
change? Or to state the problem in a wider form, is the
compound resolvable into the simple, is the enduring
reducible to the successive; and if so, is the complex and
enduring nothing in its own right, is it a mere aggregate
or series, without any structure proper and peculiar to
itself? To these questions Locke suggests the same anti-
thetic answers as to those we have just been considering.
His theory of the sources of experience leads him in one
direction, the nature of the knowledge which we actually
possess leads him in a quite opposite direction. Thus to
read Locke is constantly to be made to question what the

Author is saying in any one passage in the light of what
he has said elsewhere, with the result that the Essay, when
we are studying it, is-is it not?-as often on the knee as
in the hand. And is not this the best tribute that a reader
can pay to a reflective work of this kind?
To employ a distinction drawn by Whitehead, what we
have come to value in Locke's Essay is his adequacy, an
adequacy constantly obtained in disregard of consistency.
He opens out fundamental problems in a manner none the
less admirable that quite patently he fails to afford an
answer that is final or satisfactory. This, under the cir-
cumstances, is a positive merit. For the questions which
he sets us asking are problems which, as we have to recog-
nize, still retain their central position, and to which, after
two centuries of philosophical speculation, there is still no
agreed solution. In respect of this considered, balanced,
weighty character of its teaching, the Essay stands apart
from Locke's other writings. As we have seen, it was
Locke's main interest for a period of thirty years, from the
time when he first drafted it in 1671 to the year I700,
when he made his final revisions for its fourth edition.
Cm Li t iir: %lh the E :.;. ., h-i other \,rjiaii h.es-rhr. f
p,-ribble exij.otin ox h-iL-ond Ir,. i," ..j G.;., .':-,,'.w -
iTu aml I be -.ii d to be in the r, arure .,tp _.'it.i. They
arepropaganidst in i-aracteir, and are seldom elaborated
beyond what the immediate need; of the contemporary
audieincefor which thet\ uer, urltren enemed to him to
'The account which I have given of Locke in this lecture
is, I need hardly say, very far from complete, even as an
outline. I have barely touched on his writings on religion
and on government, and have entirely passed over his
writings on finance and currency. I have said nothing
about his influence on Berkeley, on Hume, on the Mills
and Herbert Spencer, or of the manner in which his Essay
has contributed to the establishment of psychology as a
positive science. I have preferred to dwell on those fea-
tures of his personality and of his time which enable us to
understand how so immense a range of influence has fallen
to the lot of a writer so moderate, so candid, so unpreten-

tious; and why, in especial, his Essay Concerning Human
Understanding bhA akqiired the unqueztiwlied natur, of a
philosophical classic, each succeeding generation of readers,
not least so in these present days, finding in its pages
something suited to its needs.

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