Philosophy John Locke
by
Keith Allen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0066

Introduction

John Locke (1632–1704) was an English philosopher best known for his work in epistemology, metaphysics, and political philosophy; however, he also made important contributions to diverse fields such as education, theology, medicine, physics, economics, and politics. Locke’s empiricist epistemology influenced Berkeley, Hume, and the subsequent course of empiricism. Locke’s political philosophy is often credited with influencing both the American Constitution and the French Revolution and remains a cornerstone of liberal political thought. Locke’s most famous works are An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Two Treatises of Government, and A Letter Concerning Toleration.

General Overviews

For a brief overview of some of the main themes of Locke’s philosophy, see McCann 2002. There are many excellent book-length treatments of Locke’s philosophy. Dunn 2003 discusses Locke’s life, political philosophy, and epistemology. Aaron 1971 focuses in more detail on the epistemology and metaphysics of the Essay but also provides an introduction to Locke’s moral, political, religious, and educational writings, as well details of Locke’s life. General discussions of Locke’s work tend, however, to focus on either his epistemology and metaphysics (particularly the Essay) or his political philosophy (particularly the Two Treatises). Ayers 1991 is by far the most comprehensive account of Locke’s epistemology and metaphysics. Lowe 1995 and Jolley 1999 are useful shorter introductions. Lloyd Thomas 1995 is a good introduction to Locke’s political philosophy. The entries in Savonius, et al. 2010 provide brief introductions to all aspects of Locke’s life and thought.

Anthologies

There are a number of anthologies on Locke. Together, Ashcraft 1991 and Anstey 2006 are the most comprehensive and contain many of the most important articles written in the 20th century, covering all aspects of Locke’s thought. Martin and Armstrong 1968, Tipton 1977, and Chappell 1998 are more selective anthologies, with the articles in Tipton 1977 and Chappell 1998 focusing exclusively on the Essay. The essays in Chappell 1994 and Newman 2007 are intended as introductions to different aspects of Locke’s thought but often represent important contributions to Locke scholarship in their own right. Rogers 1994 is an edited collection of essays on a diverse range of subjects by renowned Locke scholars, and Hall 1970–2000 is a journal that publishes new papers exclusively on Locke.

Bibliographies

Christophersen 1968 details bibliographical information about editions of Locke’s works and critical reactions up to 1928. Yolton 1998 provides a more detailed catalogue of editions of Locke’s works. Hall and Woolhouse 1983 and Yolton and Yolton 1985 contain bibliographical information of works on Locke up to the 1980s, and Hall 1970–2000 provides more up-to-date information.

  • Christophersen, H. O. A Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John Locke. New York: Burt Franklin, 1968.

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    Originally published in 1930. Contains details of the publication of editions of Locke’s writings, both during his lifetime and after. Chapter 1 summarizes some of the main arguments of contemporary responses to Locke’s work up to 1704; chapter 4 gives summary details of writings on the Essay from 1704–1928, and chapter 5 gives details of writings on Locke’s political, economic, educational, and religious works from 1704–1928.

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  • Hall, Roland, ed. Locke Newsletter 1–31 (1970–2000); continued as Locke Studies 1– (2001–).

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    A journal devoted exclusively to Locke scholarship, it contains invaluable bibliographic information on articles written about Locke each year.

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  • Hall, Roland, and Roger Woolhouse. 80 Years of Locke Scholarship. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983.

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    Bibliographical details of works published about Locke between 1900 and 1980. Not annotated, but it contains three indices that allow for searching by author, language, and subject. Based on the annual bibliographies published in Hall 1970.

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  • Yolton, Jean S. John Locke: A Descriptive Bibliography. Bristol, UK: Thoemmes, 1998.

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    Bibliographic details of all editions and translations of Locke’s works up to 1801, with brief details of subsequent publications.

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  • Yolton, Jean S., and John W. Yolton. John Locke: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985.

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    Comprehensive, annotated bibliography of writings about Locke from 1689 to 1982.

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Locke’s Works

Locke wrote numerous works during his lifetime, on a wide variety of subjects. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Locke 1975 and Locke 2008) is the main source of Locke’s views on epistemology and metaphysics. References to the Essay are given by book, chapter, and section (e.g., II.viii.9). Two Treatises of Government (Locke 1988) is the main statement of Locke’s political philosophy. References to the Two Treatises are given by Treatise and Section (e.g., II.25). The shorter Letter Concerning Toleration (Locke 1991) is also important for understanding Locke’s political philosophy. All of Locke’s published works, and some important unpublished pieces, are collected in The Works of John Locke (Locke 2009).

Epistemology and Metaphysics

Locke’s Essay deals with a variety of themes in epistemology, metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. Some of the more commonly discussed issues are set out in subsections.

Ideas

Ideas occupy a central role in the Essay, but there is controversy over exactly what Locke means by the term. One of the main questions concerns the ontological status of ideas, and whether ideas are objects that create a “veil” between subjects and the external world. This question is considered by Yolton 1984, Ayers 1991, Chappell 1994, Bolton 2004, and Jacovides 1999; see also some of the entries under Epistemology. A related question, discussed by Ayers 1991 and Soles 1999 is whether Locke thinks of all ideas as sensory images. Locke was an empiricist, for whom all ideas derive from experience. Central to Locke’s empiricism are the famous arguments against innate ideas in Book I of the Essay. Rickless 2007 provides a helpful introduction. For criticism of Locke’s arguments, see de Rosa 2004.

  • Ayers, Michael. Locke. 2 vols. London: Routledge, 1991.

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    Volume 1, part I is a detailed discussion of Locke’s theory of ideas and its historical context. Argues Lockean ideas are sensory images in chapter 5, pp. 44–51 (cf., Soles 1999), and criticizes the view of ideas as intentional objects in chapters 6–7, pp. 52–66 (cf., Yolton 1984 and Chappell 1994).

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  • Bolton, Martha Brandt. “Locke on the Semantic and Epistemic Role of Simple of Ideas of Sensation.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 85 (2004): 301–321.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0114.2004.00200.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers an account of the “epistemic” and “semantic” role of ideas: that is, how ideas warrant the truth of beliefs about the existence of external substances and how ideas represent external substances.

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  • Chappell, Vere. “Locke’s Theory of Ideas.” In Cambridge Companion to Locke. Edited by Vere Chappell, 26–55. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    A good general discussion of Locke’s theory of ideas, in which it is argued that ideas are “intentional objects” on pp. 29–35.

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  • de Rosa, Raffaella. “Locke’s Essay, Book I: The Question-Begging Status of the Anti-Nativist Arguments.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59 (2004): 37–64.

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    Argues that Locke’s arguments against nativism are question-begging, because they rest on the “awareness principle,” which states that there are no ideas in the mind that we are not currently aware of or haven’t been aware of in the past.

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  • Jacovides, Michael. “Locke’s Resemblance Theses.” Philosophical Review 108 (1999): 461–496.

    DOI: 10.2307/2998285Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Defends a literal interpretation of Locke’s claims (II.viii.15) that ideas of primary qualities resemble qualities of objects, but ideas of secondary qualities do not. Therefore defends an interpretation according to which ideas constitute a “veil of perception.”

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  • Rickless, Samuel C. “Locke’s Polemic against Nativism.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Edited by Lex Newman, 33–66. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Catalogues and evaluates Locke’s arguments in Book I of the Essay against the existence of innate ideas and principles. Argues that Locke’s criticisms of the arguments for innate ideas from “universal consent” are largely successful at challenging one of the main motivations for innate ideas.

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  • Soles, David. “Is Locke an Imagist?” Locke Newsletter 30 (1999): 17–66.

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    Argues against the view that Lockean ideas are always sensory images: that all mental activity (e.g., thinking, believing, conceiving) involves images of the kind that are present in sense perception. Contrast, for example, Ayers 1991.

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  • Yolton, John, W. Perceptual Acquaintance from Descartes to Reid. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

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    A detailed study of perception in the early modern period. Argues on pp. 88–104 against the interpretation of Lockean ideas as “real beings,” that stand between subjects and objects. For related discussion, see, for example, Ayers 1991, Chappell 1994, and Jacovides 1999.

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Primary and Secondary Qualities

Locke famously distinguishes between primary qualities, like shape, size, and solidity, and secondary qualities, like color, sound, and smell (II.viii). One of the main questions concerns the nature of Locke’s argument for this distinction. Is Locke’s distinction based on considerations of perceptual relativity, as later exploited by Berkeley in arguing for immaterialism, or is it based on the mechanistic corpuscular theory of matter championed by Boyle? For an overview, see Wilson 1992. Mackie 1976, Alexander 1985, and Allen 2008 argue that Locke’s argument for the distinction depends on the explanatory success of mechanistic science. For a different defense of Locke’s distinction, see Bennett 1971. Bolton 1983 links Locke’s discussion of the primary-secondary quality distinction to Pyrrhonian skepticism. For further discussion of Locke’s relationship to corpuscularianism, see also some of the entries under Substance. For a discussion of what secondary qualities are, see Stuart 2003.

  • Alexander, Peter. Ideas, Qualities, and Corpuscles: Locke and Boyle on the External World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    Detailed study of the influence of Boyle’s corpuscularian theory of matter on Locke’s epistemology and metaphysics. Argues that Locke’s argument for the primary-secondary quality distinction depends on the explanatory success of corpuscularian science. See in particular chapters 6–8, pp. 131–182.

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  • Allen, Keith. “Mechanism, Resemblance, and Secondary Qualities: From Descartes to Locke.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 16 (2008): 273–291.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608780801969092Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares Locke’s argument for the primary-secondary quality distinction to Descartes’ argument for a similar distinction between mechanical modifications and sensible qualities. Argues that Locke’s argument for the distinction is an a priori argument, based on our conception of material substance.

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  • Bennett, Jonathan. Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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    Attempts to reconstruct a valid argument from the primary-secondary quality distinction from Locke’s text, based on differences in the causal role of primary and secondary qualities, and defends the distinction against Berkeley’s criticisms. For discussion, see, for example, Mackie 1976 and Wilson 1992.

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  • Bolton, Martha Brandt. “Locke and Pyrrhonism: The Doctrine of Primary and Secondary Qualities.” In The Skeptical Tradition. Edited by Miles Burnyeat, 353–375. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

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    Against the view that Locke’s arguments for the primary-secondary distinction derive from Boyle, argues that Locke’s arguments (particularly in II.viii.19–21) represent a response to Pyrrhonian skeptical arguments about perceptual variation, the aim of which is to suspend judgment about the sensible qualities of objects.

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  • Mackie, J. L. Problems from Locke. Oxford: Clarendon, 1976.

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    Concerned both with offering an interpretation of Locke and addressing the philosophical issues Locke raises, Mackie defends a distinction between primary and secondary qualities in chapter 1, pp. 7–36. Mackie argues that Locke’s best argument for the primary-secondary quality distinction draws on the explanatory capabilities of the corpuscularian theory of matter and defends the distinction against Berkeley’s objections.

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  • Stuart, Matthew. “Locke’s Colors.” Philosophical Review 112 (2003): 57–96.

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    Considers the question of what, according to Locke, secondary qualities are, arguing that they are relational properties of objects.

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  • Wilson, Margaret. D. “History of Philosophy in Philosophy Today; and the Case of the Sensible Qualities.” Journal of Philosophy 101 (1992): 191–243.

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    Section 2, pp. 209–233 is a very useful survey of interpretations of Locke’s argument for the primary-secondary quality distinction. Section 3, pp. 234–243 highlights some of the enduring philosophical questions raised by Locke’s discussion.

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Freedom

Locke discusses human freedom in II.xxi, “Of Power.” This is the longest chapter in the Essay, and it was extensively revised in later editions. For general introductions, see Lowe 1995 and Chappell 2007. For a more detailed examination of Locke’s conception of freedom, see Yaffe 2000. One question is whether Locke was a compatibilist about human freedom and determinism, or else a libertarian for whom free actions are not causally determined. For discussion, see Schouls 1992 and Chappell 1994. For discussion of Locke’s answer to the question of “Whether a man be free to will” (II.xxi.22), see Chappell 1994 and Rickless 2000.

  • Chappell, Vere. “Locke on the Freedom of the Will.” In Locke’s Philosophy Content and Context. Edited by G. A. J. Rogers, 101–121. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

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    Argues that Locke is a “volitional determinist,” for whom freedom in willing (volitional freedom) is impossible. Defends a compatibilist interpretation of Locke.

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  • Chappell, Vere. “Power in Locke’s Essay.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Edited by Lex Newman, 130–156. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    General discussion of the themes addressed in II.xxi. Starts with a discussion of powers (or properties) in general, linking Locke’s views on powers to causation, qualities, and substances, pp. 130–137; the rest of the article is concerned with Locke’s views on the specifically human powers of willing and acting freely.

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  • Lowe, E. J. Locke on Human Understanding. London: Routledge, 1995.

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    Chapter 6, pp. 119–141, is a clear introduction to Locke’s theory of action. Argues that Locke defends a form of “volitionism,” according to whom voluntary actions contain volitions or “willings” that cause the result of the action (not the action itself). Also defends volitionism against objections. Uses the account of voluntary action to give an account of Locke’s views on human freedom.

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  • Rickless, Samuel C. “Locke on the Freedom to Will.” Locke Newsletter 31 (2000): 43–68.

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    Discussion of Locke’s answer to the question of “Whether a man be free to will” in II.xxi. 23–25. Argues, in response to Chappell 1994, that Locke’s views on freedom are consistent with the “Doctrine of Suspension,” which says that the mind has the power to suspend willing actions that are required to satisfy its desires.

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  • Schouls, Peter A. Reasoned Freedom: John Locke and the Enlightenment. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992.

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    Links Locke’s discussion of freedom to his philosophy of education, arguing that education places persons in the position to exercise rationality and freedom, necessary to achieve “mastery.” Argues for a libertarian interpretation of Locke, pp. 115–172.

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  • Yaffe, Gideon. Liberty Worth the Name. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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    Detailed examination of Locke’s conception of free agency, in which it is argued that Locke thought of free agency as a form of self-transcendence, not merely a form of self-expression: the genuinely free agent does not simply express their concerns and biases but transcends them.

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Substance

Important discussions of substance in the Essay are located at II.xiii.17–20 and II.xxiii. One question is how to interpret Locke’s claim that we have an idea of “substance in general.” Does this commit him to the existence of “substrata” or “bare particulars”? This question is considered by Bolton 1976, Ayers 1977, Alexander 1985, Bennett 1987, Ayers 1991, and McCann 1994. Further questions arise with respect to the nature of material substance, regarding the extent of Locke’s commitment to the corpuscular theory of matter and the possibility that material substance might “think.” For discussion, see Wilson 1979, Alexander 1985, Ayers 1991, McCann 1994, and Downing 2007.

  • Alexander, Peter. Ideas, Qualities, and Corpuscles: Locke and Boyle on the External World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    In chapter 11, pp. 204–235, argues that Locke identified two distinct types of “substance in general”: body, essential to which is solidity; and spirit, essential to which is the power of perception and thought. For discussion, see McCann 1994.

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  • Ayers, M. R. “The Ideas of Power and Substance in Locke’s Philosophy.” In Locke on Human Understanding. Edited by I. C. Tipton, 77–104. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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    Argues that Locke’s remarks about “substance in general” should not be interpreted as committing him to the existence of bare particulars. For discussion, see Bennett 1987 and McCann 1994.

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  • Ayers, Michael. Locke. 2 vols. London: Routledge, 1991.

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    Part I (pp. 15–128) is a detailed discussion of Locke’s conception of substance and its historical background. Part II (particularly chapters 10–13, pp. 131–168) is a discussion of Locke’s commitment to mechanism. Defends an “epistemic reading” of Locke’s concerns about the intelligibility of mechanistic explanation, arguing that apparent limits to the intelligibility of mechanistic explanation merely reflect epistemic limitations.

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  • Bennett, Jonathan. “Substratum.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 4 (1987): 197–215.

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    Offers an interpretation of Locke’s apparent “doubleness of attitude” in discussions of “substance in general.” On the one hand, Locke appears to think that substrata are necessary, and on the other that they are impossible. This interpretation differs from an original interpretation of Locke’s view on substance in Bennett 1971 and responds to criticisms of Ayers 1977.

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  • Bolton, Martha Brandt. “Substances, Substrata, and Names of Substances in Locke’s Essay.” Philosophical Review 85 (1976): 488–513.

    DOI: 10.2307/2184276Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that substrata should be identified with the internal constitutions (or real essences) that give rise to a substance’s properties.

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  • Downing, Lisa. “Locke’s Ontology.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Edited by Lex Newman, 352–380. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Attempts to reconcile tensions between Locke’s metaphysics and epistemology. Briefly considers the tension between Locke’s commitment to the corpuscular theory of matter and his concerns about the limits of intelligible mechanistic explanation. Also focuses on the tension between the claim that thinking matter is matter is conceivable (IV.iii.6) and the claim that materialist theories of thought are unintelligible (IV.x).

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  • McCann, Edwin. “Locke’s Philosophy of Body.” In Cambridge Companion to Locke. Edited by Vere Chappell, 56–88. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    A clear, general introduction to Locke’s conception of substance. On the question of corpuscularianism, argues that Locke’s appeal to God’s arbitrary “super-addition” of qualities to matter is consistent with mechanism, pp. 56–76. On the question of substance in general, defends a version of the traditional interpretation that substance in general is that which supports powers or qualities, pp. 76–86.

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  • Wilson, Margaret. “Superadded Properties: The Limits of Mechanism in Locke.” American Philosophical Quarterly, 16 (1979): 143–150.

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    Argues that Locke believes there to be limits to the intelligibility of mechanistic explanation, and therefore calls into question Locke’s official commitment to corpuscularianism.

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Personal Identity

Added to the second edition of the Essay, “Of Identity and Diversity” (II.xxvii) contains Locke’s famous discussion of personal identity. According to Locke, personal identity consists in continuity of consciousness and is essential to moral responsibility: Locke describes “person” as a “forensick” term. Locke’s theory was famously criticized by, among others, Butler 1975 and Reid 1975. One question is whether these criticisms are successful. At least in part, the answer to this question depends on what continuity of consciousness consists in and exactly what ontological status persons have. For discussion, see Allison 1977, Noonan 1978, Alston and Bennett 1988, Winkler 1991, and Yaffe 2007. Matthern 1980 links Locke’s discussion of personal identity with his wider interest in a systematic science of morality.

  • Allison, Henry E. “Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity: A Re-Examination.” In Locke on Human Understanding. Edited by I. C. Tipton, 105–122. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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    Sensitive discussion that defends the importance of Locke’s pioneering account of personal identity, despite the objections of Butler 1975, Reid 1975, and others.

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  • Alston, William, P., and Jonathan Bennett. “Locke on People and Substances.” Philosophical Review 97 (1988): 25–46.

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    Offers an interpretation of Locke’s views of personal identity, in light of the puzzling fact that Locke appears to claim that persons are, and are not, substances. The puzzle is resolved by arguing that Locke’s understanding of “substance” in II.xxvii differs from his understanding of this term elsewhere in the Essay.

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  • Butler, Joseph. “Of Personal Identity.” In Personal Identity. Edited by John Perry, 99–105. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

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    Originally published as the first appendix to Butler’s The Analogy of Religion (1736). Argues that Locke’s account of personal identity is circular, on the grounds that consciousness of personal identity presupposes facts about personal identity and so cannot be used to explain them.

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  • Matthern, Ruth. “Moral Science and the Concept of Persons in Locke.” Philosophical Review 89 (1980): 24–45.

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    Relates Locke’s discussion of persons to his ethical writings and, in particular, his belief in the possibility of a demonstrative science of morality.

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  • Noonan, Harold. “Locke on Personal Identity.” Philosophy 53 (1978): 343–351.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0031819100022397Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interesting discussion of Locke’s account of personal identity, in which it is argued that Locke accepts a version of the “relative identity thesis”: that an object x can be the same F as object y, but a different G.

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  • Reid, Thomas. “Of Identity” and “Of Mr. Locke’s Account of Our Personal Identity.” In Personal Identity. Edited by John Perry, 107–118. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

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    Originally published as chapters 4 and 6 of essay III of Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785). Includes the famous example of the brave officer who stole apples as a child, which is intended to show that personal identity is not determined by continuity of consciousness.

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  • Winkler, Kenneth P. “Locke on Personal Identity.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 29 (1991): 201–226.

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    Argues for the importance to Locke’s account of personal identity of the subjective constitution of the self: the thoughts, actions, and experiences the self “appropriates.” Relates this to the moral status of persons and the question of whether or not persons are substances.

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  • Yaffe, Gideon. “Locke on Ideas of Identity and Diversity.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Edited by Lex Newman, 192–230. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Argues against attributing to Locke a simple memory theory of personal identity, prone to the objections of Reid 1975 and Butler 1975. Instead, links Locke’s views on personal identity to the susceptibility of persons to punishment or reward, thus explaining Locke’s claim that “person” is a “forensick” term.

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Language

Book III of the Essay sets out Locke’s views on language. For a general discussion of the themes addressed, see Guyer 1994. One of the main questions concerns the interpretation of Locke’s claim that words “signify” ideas immediately and only secondarily the things ideas represent (III.ii.2). For discussion, see Kretzman 1968, Landesman 1976, Ashworth 1984, Ott 2004, and Losonsky 2007; and for a different perspective on the focus of Locke’s interest in language, see Dawson 2003.

  • Ashworth, E. J. “Locke on Language.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14 (1984): 45–73.

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    Argues that Locke does not present a theory of meaning in the modern sense but rather understands the term “signify” in something like the sense given to it in scholastic philosophy—that is, as a form of representation.

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  • Dawson, Hannah. “Locke on Private Language.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (2003): 609–638.

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    Argues that much recent commentary fails to appreciate the context of Locke’s theory of language because it focuses on the question of how communication is possible, and argues either that communication is impossible because ideas are private, or else defends Locke in the face of this objection. Instead, Dawson suggests that Locke’s interests did not lie in the possibility of communication but in the importance of failures of communication.

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  • Guyer, Paul. “Locke’s Philosophy of Language.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke. Edited by Vere Chappell, 115–145. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    General introduction to the argument of Book III of the Essay, including Locke’s theory of signification, his distinction between real and nominal essences, and the “abuses” of language.

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  • Kretzman, Norman. “The Main Theses of Locke’s Semantic Theory.” Philosophical Review 77 (1968): 175–196.

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    An interpretation and defense of Locke’s claim that in their immediate signification, words signify nothing other than ideas. Argues that Locke’s theory of signification is a theory of linguistic meaning.

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  • Landesman, Charles. “Locke’s Theory of Meaning.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 14 (1976): 23–35.

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    Argues that Locke’s theory of linguistic meaning is not “mentalistic” in the sense that words refer to mental images or private episodes. Instead, words refer to ideas, and ideas are “intentional objects.”

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  • Losonksy, Michael. “Language, Meaning, and Mind in Locke’s Essay.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Edited by Lex Newman, 286–312. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Defends the view that Locke’s theory of signification is a theory of linguistic meaning (like Kretzman 1968), as opposed to the view that words are “indicators” or “signals” of ideas (Ashworth 1984 and Ott 2004).

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  • Ott, Walter. Locke’s Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    Book-length discussion of Locke’s philosophy of language. Argues that ideas are “indicators” or “signs” of ideas in a subject’s mind, not that the ideas determine the meaning of a word.

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Real and Nominal Essence

Book III of the Essay also introduces Locke’s distinction between “nominal” essences (abstract ideas of substances based on their observable qualities) and “real” essences (the inner constitution of substances on which its observable qualities depend). For discussion of how to interpret this distinction, see Woolhouse 1971, Mackie 1976, Atherton 1984, and Stanford 1998. See also the sources under Substance, some of which contain important discussions.

  • Atherton, Margaret. “The Inessentiality of Lockean Essences.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14 (1984): 277–293.

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    Argues that Locke is skeptical of the existence of real essences, understood as the determinants of natural kinds. Instead, real essences are merely the inner constitutions of particular substances, on which their observable qualities depend.

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  • Mackie, J. L. Problems from Locke. Oxford: Clarendon, 1976.

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    Argues in chapter 3, particularly pp. 85–100, that Locke’s account of the reference of substance terms anticipates in certain key ways Kripke’s Causal Theory of Reference, according to which the reference of natural kind terms is determined by physical constitution (in Locke’s term, “real essence”).

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  • Stanford, P. Kyle. “Reference and Natural Kind Terms: The Real Essence of Locke’s View.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (1998): 78–97.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-0114.00051Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues against Mackie’s claim that Locke anticipates Kripke’s Causal Theory of Reference (Mackie 1976), on the grounds that Lockean real essences include not just real internal constitutions but logically necessary connections to observable properties. Instead, Locke anticipates the qua-problem for the Causal Theory of Reference.

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  • Woolhouse, R. S. Locke’s Philosophy of Science and Knowledge. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971.

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    Chapters 4–8, pp. 59–135, contain a detailed discussion of Locke’s views on substance and real essence. Argues that Locke is a conceptualist about the application of general words, a relativist about classification, and a transcendentalist about the explanation of the behavior of observable entities.

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Epistemology

The culmination of the Essay, Book IV sets out Locke’s theory of the nature and extent of human knowledge. For general discussions, see Gibson 1917, Aaron 1971, and Newman 2007. One question is whether Locke’s definition of knowledge, as the perception of agreement or disagreement of ideas, is consistent with the existence of knowledge of the existence of external things. For discussion, see Matthern 1978 and Newman 2007. For an account of the role of faith and religious revelation, see Jolley 2007. For a discussion of whether we are free to decide what to believe, see Passmore 1978.

  • Aaron, Richard I. John Locke. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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    A good introduction to Book IV, which considers Locke’s general account of knowledge, his views of the limitations of knowledge, his account of existential knowledge (of the self, God, and particular things), and his discussion of probability and error. See Part II, chapter 7, pp. 220–255.

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  • Gibson, James. Locke’s Theory of Knowledge and its Historical Relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1917.

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    A classic discussion, still worth reading. On Locke’s theory of knowledge, see in particular Part I, chapters 6–7, pp. 120–181. Part II compares Locke epistemology and metaphysics with that of his contemporaries.

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  • Jolley, Nicholas. “Locke on Faith and Reason.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Edited by Lex Newman, 436–455. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    An account of the role of faith in Locke’s epistemology. Considers Locke’s arguments for the importance of reason in assessing the claims of revealed religion.

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  • Matthern, Ruth. “Locke: ‘Our Knowledge, Which All Consists in Propositions.’” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 8 (1978): 677–695.

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    Discussion of the tension between Locke’s definition of knowledge, as the perception of agreement or disagreement of ideas, and his claim that knowledge of the existence of real things is possible. Argues that we should understand Locke’s definition of knowledge in terms of the “perception of the truth of affirmative or negative propositions,” which does not commit Locke to the seemingly problematic claim that all knowledge is merely about ideas.

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  • Newman, Lex. “Locke on Knowledge.” In The Cambridge Companion to Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Edited by Lex Newman, 313–351. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    A sophisticated discussion of the main themes of Locke’s theory of knowledge. Tries to resolve the tension between Locke’s definition of knowledge and the possibility of sensitive knowledge. It is suggested that sensitive knowledge involves both the perception of an agreement between ideas and a further “cognized” relation between one of these ideas and its external cause.

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  • Passmore, J. A. “Locke and the Ethics of Belief.” Proceedings of the British Academy 64 (1978): 185–208.

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    Discussion of the extent to which Locke thinks that it is possible to decide to believe something and the circumstances in which we are morally responsible for our beliefs.

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Political Philosophy

Locke’s major work of political philosophy is the Two Treatises. The First Treatise is a discussion of the views of the Royalist Sir Robert Filmer. The Second Treatise is the main source for Locke’s account of the source and justification of political authority, as well as his famous discussion of property. A Letter Concerning Toleration contains Locke’s defense of religious toleration.

Authority and the State

One of the main themes of the Two Treatises is the source, justification, and extent of legitimate political authority. Locke’s account of political authority, and his claim that subjects have the right to rebel against illegitimate rule, depends upon a version of a social contract theory, central to which are the notions of trust and consent. For general introductions, see Laslett 1988 and Tully 1993. For more detailed discussions, see Dunn 1982, Ashcraft 1986, Ashcraft 1987, Grant 1987, Lloyd Thomas 1995, and Simmons 1993.

  • Ashcraft, Richard. Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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    Important discussion of the historical context and development of Locke’s political thought, which portrays Locke as a participant in a radical political movement.

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  • Ashcraft, Richard. Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. London: Unwin Hyman, 1987.

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    A detailed guide to the Two Treatises that builds on the discussion of Ashcraft 1986. On the Second Treatise, see particularly chapters 4–8, pp. 81–230.

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  • Dunn, John. The Political Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of the “Two Treatises of Government.” Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

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    A historically sensitive account of Locke’s political philosophy. Presents an interpretation of the main line of argument in the Two Treatises emphasizing its theological character. First printed in 1969.

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  • Grant, Ruth. John Locke’s Liberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

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    An account of Locke’s political thought that relates Locke’s political philosophy to his epistemology in the Essay.

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  • Lastlett, Peter. “Introduction.” In Two Treatises of Government. Edited by Peter Laslett, 3–126. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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    A good introduction to the Two Treatises. Contains details of the history of the Two Treatises, the relationship of Locke’s political philosophy to Hobbes’s, and the content and argument of the Two Treatises.

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  • Lloyd Thomas, D. A. Locke on Government. London: Routledge, 1995.

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    A short and clear introductory guide to the Two Treatises. Discusses Locke’s social contract theory in chapter 2 on pp. 11–56 and the legitimacy of rebellion against illegitimate rule in chapter 3 on pp. 57–87.

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  • Simmons, A. John. On the Edge of Anarchy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

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    A general discussion of Locke’s moral and political philosophy, from a primarily philosophical (as opposed to a primarily historical) perspective. Discusses the origin of political society in the state of nature in Part I, pp. 11–56, political consent in Part II, pp. 57–98, and the limits of political authority in Part III, pp. 99–192.

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  • Tully, James. “An Introduction to Locke’s Political Philosophy.” In An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts. By James Tully, 9–68. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    A good general introduction to Locke’s political thought. Discusses the nature and extent of political power, the relationship of religion to politics (toleration), and the practical art of governing.

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Property

Chapter 5 of the Second Treatise contains Locke’s famous defense of property rights. For primarily historically orientated discussions, see Ashcraft 1986 and Tully 1980. Locke’s arguments are criticized by Macpherson 1962, Nozick 1974 and Waldron 1988. For defences of Locke, and broadly Lockean approaches, see Ryan 1965, Simmons 1992, and Sreenivasan 1995.

Toleration

Locke discusses the relationship of politics to religion and defends religious toleration in a Letter Concerning Toleration. Locke’s arguments were criticized by his contemporary, Jonas Proast, and Proast’s criticisms were echoed more recently by Waldron 1991. For discussion, see Mendus 1989, Wootten 1993, and Vernon 1997. For a discussion and defense of Locke’s arguments for toleration in later works, see Tuckness 2002.

  • Mendus, Susan. Toleration and the Limits of Liberalism. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1989.

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    Chapter 2, pp. 22–43 provides a clear introduction to, and defense of, Locke’s arguments for toleration in the Letter Concerning Toleration.

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  • Tuckness, Alex. Locke and Legislative Point of View. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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    An interpretation and defense of Locke’s arguments for toleration in his later works, based on the idea of adopting “the legislative point of view”; attempts to divorce Locke’s thought from its theological context. For discussion of Locke, see in particular chapters 2, 3, and 5, pp. 36–56, 57–84, and 117–136.

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  • Vernon, Richard. The Career of Toleration: John Locke, Jonas Proast, and After. Montreal: McGill Queen’s University Press, 1997.

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    Discussion and defense of Locke’s arguments for toleration, particularly his argument that belief cannot be coerced (chapter 1, pp. 17–34), in the context of the debate about toleration between Locke and Proast that arose out of the publication of the Letter Concerning Toleration.

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  • Waldron, Jeremy. “Locke: Toleration and the Rationality of Persecution.” In John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration: In Focus. Edited by John Horton and Susan Mendus, 98–124. London: Routledge, 1991.

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    A critical discussion of what is identified as the “main line of argument” for religious toleration in the Letter Concerning Toleration: that belief cannot be coerced. Waldron’s ultimately critical assessment of Locke’s argument is similar to that of Locke’s contemporary, Proast.

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  • Wootten, David. “Introduction.” In John Locke: Political Writings. Edited by David Wootten, 7–122. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1993.

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    A general introduction to Locke’s political thought, with an engaging discussion and defense of Locke’s argument for toleration in response, for example, to Proast and Waldron 1991. See pp. 94–110.

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