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Initiation Into Philosophy
The English Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century
by Faguet, Émile


Locke: His Ideas on Human Liberty, Morality, General Politics, and Religious Politics.
LOCKE.--Locke, very learned in various sciences--physics, chemistry, medicine, often associated with politics, receiving enlightenment from life, from frequent travels, from friendships with interesting and illustrious men, always studying and reflecting until an advanced old age, wrote only carefully premeditated works: his Treatise of Government and Essay on the Human Understanding

Locke appears to have written on the understanding only in order to refute the "innate ideas" of Descartes. For Locke innate ideas have no existence. The mind before it comes into contact with the external world is a blank sheet, and there is nothing in the mind which has not first come through the senses. What, then, are ideas? They are sensations registered by the brain, and they are also sensations elaborated and modified by reflection. These ideas then commingle in such a manner as to form an enormous mass of combinations. They are commingled either in a natural or an artificial manner. In a natural manner, that is in a way conforming to the great primary ideas given us by reflection, the idea of cause, the idea of end, the idea of means to an end, the idea of order, etc., and it is the harmony of these ideas which is commonly termed reason; they become associated by accident, by the effects of emotion, by the effect of custom, etc., and then they give birth to prejudices, errors, and superstitions. The passions of the soul are aspects of pleasure and pain. The idea of a possible pleasure gives birth in us to a desire which is called ambition, love, covetousness, gluttony; the idea of a possible pain gives birth in us to fear and horror, and this fear and horror is called hatred, jealousy, rage, aversion, disgust, scorn. At bottom we have only two passions, the desire of enjoyment, and the fear of suffering.

THE FREEDOM OF MAN.--Is man free? Appealing to experience and making use only of it and not of intimate feeling, Locke declares in the negative. A will always seems to him determined by another will, and this other by another to infinity, or by a motive, a weight, a motive power which causes a leaning to right or left. Will certainly exists--that is to say, an exact and lively desire to perform an action, or to continue an action, or to interrupt an action, but this will is not free, for to represent it as free is to represent it as capable of wishing what it does not wish. The will is an anxiety to act in such or such a fashion, and this anxiety, on account of its character of anxiety, of strong emotion, of tension of the soul, appears to us free, appears to us an internal force which is self-governed and independent; we feel consciousness of will in the effort. This tension must not be denied, but it must be recognised as the effect of a potent desire which the obstacle excites; this tension, therefore, is an indication of nothing except the potency of the desire and the existence of an obstacle. Now this desire, so potent that it is irritated by the obstacle, and, so to speak, unites us against it, is a passion dominating and filling our being; so that we are never more swayed by passion than when we believe ourselves to be exercising our will, and in consequence the more we desire the less are we free.

It is not essential formally and absolutely to confound will with desire. Overpowered by heat, we desire to drink cold water, and because we know that that would do us harm we have the will not to drink; but although this is an important distinction it is not a fundamental one; what incites us to drink is a passion, what prevents us is another passion, one more general and stronger, the desire not to die, and because this passion by meeting with and fighting another produces in all our being a powerful tension, it is none the less a passion, even if we ought not to say that it is a still more impassioned passion.

LOCKE'S THEORY OF POLITICS.--In politics Locke was the adversary of Hobbes, whose theories of absolutism have already been noticed. He did not believe that the natural state was the war of all against all. He believed men formed societies not to escape cannibalism, but more easily to guarantee and protect their natural rights: ownership, personal liberty, legitimate defence. Society exists only to protect these rights, and the reason of its existence lies in this duty to defend them. The sovereign therefore is not the saviour of the nation, he is its law-maker and magistrate. If he violates the rights of man, he acts so directly contrary to his mission and his mandate that insurrection against him is legitimate. The "wise Locke," as Voltaire always called him, was the inventor of the Rights of Man.

In religious politics he was equally liberal and advocated the separation of Church and State; the State, according to him, should not have any religion of its own, its province being only to protect equally the liberty of all denominations. Locke was discussed minutely by Leibnitz, who, without accepting the innate ideas of Descartes, did not accept the ideas through sensation of Locke, and said: "There is nothing in the intelligence which has not first been in the senses," granted ... "except the intelligence itself." The intelligence has not innate ideas born ready made; but it possesses forms of its own in which the ideas arrange themselves and take shape, and this is the due province of the intelligence. And it was these forms which later on Kant was to call the categories of the intellect, and at bottom Descartes meant nothing else by his innate ideas. Locke exerted a prodigious and even imperious influence over the French philosophers of the eighteenth century.

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