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History of Philosophy
English Empiricism
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


The tendency of British philosophy has always been towards the positivistic and practical rather than towards the mystical and speculative. This trait we have already observed in the philosophy of Hobbes and Bacon. It reappeared during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the critical and empirical philosophy of Locke, in the natural philosophy of Newton, and in the theological doctrines of the Deists. How the British moralists of the eighteenth century applied the principle of empiricism to ethical problems, will be seen in the next chapter.

JOHN LOCKE

Life. John Locke was born in 1632 at Wrington, near Bristol. In 1646 he entered Westminster School and in 1652 he entered Christ Church, Oxford. Here, although he found Scholasticism still in the ascendency, he began to take an interest in Cartesian philosophy, and, while it is certainly incorrect to regard Locke's empiricism as an English branch of Cartesianism, there can be no doubt as to the important influence of this early study of Descartes on the philosophical career of Locke. On leaving Oxford Locke entered the household of Lord Ashley, afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury, as secretary, tutor, and physician. After the downfall and death of his patron Locke took up his residence in Holland (1683). There he remained until 1689, when he returned to England in the suite of William of Orange. He died at Oates, in Essex, in the year 1704.

Sources. Locke's works, which were first published in nine volumes (London, 1714), include the Essay concerning Human Understanding, Thoughts concerning Education, Two Treatises on Government, The Reasonableness of Christianity as delivered in Scripture, and other treatises. The best edition of the Essay is that of Alexander Campbell Fraser (2 vols., Clarendon Press, 1894). Manuals to be consulted: Fraser's Locke (Blackwood's Philosophical Classics, Edinburgh and Philadelphia, 1890) and Marion's J. Locke, sa vie et son oeuvre (Paris, 1893). [1]
[1] Consult also article on Locke in Encyc. Brit., Dewey's Leibniz's New Essays (Chicago, 1888), and Green's Introduction in edition of Hume's Works.
DOCTRINES

Starting Point. All Locke's Philosophy centers in his theory of cognition, and his theory of cognition is based on the principle which may be enunciated negatively by saying that there are no innate ideas, or affirmatively by saying that all knowledge comes from experience.

There are no innate ideas. The first book of the Essay is devoted to proving that "there are no innate principles in the mind." Locke observes that the universal acceptance of certain principles is taken as a proof of their innateness. He then proceeds to show that facts do not sustain the contention that the principles in question, or, indeed, any principles, are universally accepted. Children and uneducated persons are ignorant of the principles of identity and contradiction; the existence of atheism and polytheism demonstrates that the idea of God is not present in the minds of all men from the beginning and the well-known diversity of the moral ideals of different races and nations proves that the elementary principles of morality are not universally accepted. He further adduces positive evidence against the innateness of these principles, arguing that the ideas which compose them are abstract, and therefore do not appear in consciousness until a comparatively late period in the mental development of the individual. Here, as well as elsewhere Locke assumes that to be in the mind and to be known are one and the same.

The mind, therefore, is in the beginning a blank sheet, or, to use the Aristotelian phrase, a tabula rasa. It remains to inquire how our ideas are acquired.

Analysis of Experience. The second book of the Essay is devoted to the task of showing how our ideas originate by experience Experience, Locke teaches, is twofold: sensation, or the perception of external phenomena by means of the senses, and reflection or the perception of the internal phenomena, that is, of the activity of the understanding itself. From these two sources arise all our ideas. Now, our ideas are either simple or complex. Simple ideas are those which are "furnished" to the mind by sensation and reflection, the understanding itself remaining perfectly passive; complex ideas are those which the understanding "makes" by "repeating, comparing, and combining" simple ideas. [2]
[2] Essay, II, 2.
(a) Simple ideas. Simple ideas are divided into four classes: (1) those which come into the mind by one sense only; (2) those which convey themselves into the mind by more senses than one; (3) those which are had from reflection only; (4) those which are suggested to the mind by all the ways of sensation and reflection. To the first class belong not only the ideas of color, taste, etc., but also that of solidity, or impenetrability. It is this quality, and not, as Descartes taught, extension, that is the primary attribute of body. To the second class belong our ideas of motion, space, etc. As examples of the third class Locke instances the ideas of thought and will, while to the last class he assigns our ideas of pleasure and power. [3]
[3] Op. cit., II, 3-6.
With regard to the validity of simple ideas, Locke adopts Boyle's division of the qualities of bodies into primary and secondary. Secondary qualities, such as colors, tastes, etc., do not really exist in bodies; real existence can be attributed only to primary qualities, such as bulk, figure, motion, etc., which have the power to produce in us the simple ideas of secondary qualities. Here Locke fails to distinguish between the psychic and the physical aspect of secondary qualities, and from the undeniable fact that the quality of color, for example in its psychic aspect, exists in the mind alone, concludes that, in no true sense of the word, can color be said to exist outside the mind. [4]
[4] Cf. op. cit., II, 8.
(b) Complex ideas. In the twelfth chapter of the second book of the Essay, Locke divides complex ideas into three classes ideas of modes, ideas of substances, and ideas of relations.

(alpha) Modes are defined as "complex ideas which, however compounded, contain not in them the supposition of subsisting by themselves, but are considered as dependencies on or affections of substances." Simple modes are combinations of the same simple idea: thus, distance, surface, figure are modifications and combinations of the simple idea of space; duration, time, and eternity are simple modes of the idea of duration, while memory, reasoning, and judging are simple modes of the idea of thinking. Mixed modes are combinations of different kinds of simple ideas. For example, the idea of sacrilege or of murder is made up of the simple ideas of action, circumstance, motive, etc. [5]
[5] Op. cit., II, 12-13
(beta) Substance. Not being able to conceive how simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we form a complex idea of substance as the substratum which "upholds" them. Substance, then, is not primarily conceived as that which is capable of subsisting by itself, but rather as that which upholds or supports the qualities of things. [6] Thus, the substance of the rose is the complex idea of that which upholds or supports the simple ideas, color, fragrance, softness, etc.
[6] Op. cit., II, 23.
Whatever Locke may have meant when he said that our idea of substance is obscure, his First Letter to the Bishop of Worcester removes all doubt as to his belief in the real existence of substance. Indeed, the letter explicitly distinguishes between our knowledge that substance is and our knowledge of what it is.

Substance is threefold, -- bodily, spiritual, and divine. We have as clear an idea of spiritual substance as we have of bodily substance; for thought is as easily known as extension, and will is as easily known as impulsion or force. And the idea of divine substance offers no special difficulty; for it is merely the complex idea made up of our ideas of existence, power, knowledge, etc., to which is added the idea of infinite. The idea of infinite is obtained by the addition of finite to finite.

(gamma) Relations. A relation arises "when the mind so considers one thing that it does, as it were, bring it to, and set it by another, and carries its view from the one to the other." [7] Relations are innumerable. Locke undertakes to discuss merely the principal relations, as, for example, causality and identity.
[7] Op. cit., II, 25.
Although Locke's analysis of the relation of causality seems unimportant when compared with Hume's more thorough analysis of the causal axiom, nevertheless the mere fact of reducing causality to a relation rather than to the category of substance or action is a revolution in philosophy. Locke defines a cause as that which produces, and an effect as that which is produced. He does not, therefore, reduce causality to mere sequence; he teaches that there are real causes as there are real substances.

The relation of identity arises "when, considering anything as existing at any determined time and place, we compare it with itself existing at another time." [8] Locke teaches that the principle of individuation is existence itself; but as the existence of living bodies is not the same as that of mere masses of matter, the identity of living bodies is the permanence of organization, while the identity of a mere mass of matter is the identity of its aggregated particles (atoms). Personal identity (the identity of man) is the continuity of consciousness. Locke apparently fails to distinguish between the psychological and the ontological aspect of the problem of personality, -- between the question, How is personal identity known? and the question, How is personal identity constituted?
[8] Op. cit., II, 27.
Philosophy of Language. In the third book of the Essay Locke treats of the philosophy of language. Words do not, as is generally supposed, signify things. Neither do they, in their primary or immediate signification, stand for ideas common to all men, but merely for the ideas in the mind of him who uses them. Now, it is impossible that every particular thing should have its own name; indeed, "the greatest part of words are general terms" used to express general ideas. The generality and universality of names and ideas are, therefore, mere creatures and inventions of the understanding and belong not to the existence of things (nominalism). Locke considers, in particular, the relation of our universal ideas to the essences of things, pointing out the distinction between nominal and real essences. Real essence is "the very being of anything, whereby it is what it is"; nominal essence is "the abstract idea which the general name stands for." [9] Thus, the real essence of gold is that which makes gold to be what it is (the "substantial form" of Aristotle and the schoolmen), while the nominal essence is the complex idea of the color, weight, malleability, etc., of gold. Now we can and do know the nominal essences of material substances, but, as to real essences, although we know that they exist we cannot know what they are; for we have no means of judging whether the real essence which constitutes the "insensible" parts of gold is like the nominal essence, which is the complex idea including yellow, malleable, etc. We know the surface qualities of things, but we are no more competent to judge what the real essence is than the countryman who sees the exterior of the clock at Strasburg and hears it strike is competent to judge of the mechanism with which the clock is provided. [10] Locke grants that the qualities which constitute the nominal essence are produced by the real essence, but apparently overlooks the principle that, by virtue of the similarity of effect to cause, we may proceed from the knowledge of the effect to the knowledge of the cause.
[9] Op. cit., III, 3

[10] Op. cit., III, 6.
Theory of Knowledge. The fourth book of the Essay is devoted to the study of the extent and validity of knowledge. Knowledge is defined [11] as "the perception of the connexion of and agreement or disagreement and repugnance of our ideas." It is of three kinds, -- intuitive, demonstrative, and sensitive. Intuitive knowledge is "the perception of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas immediately by themselves without the intervention of any other." It is by means of this knowledge that we perceive that three equals one and two, and it is on the same kind of knowledge that the certainty and evidence of all our knowledge depend. [12] Demonstrative knowledge is the perception of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas by the intervention of other ideas, as, for example, the perception of the agreement of the sum of the three angles of a triangle and two right angles. Sensitive knowledge is "the perception of the particular existence of finite beings without us."
[11] Op. cit., IV, 2.

[12] Op. cit., IV, 2.
Intuitive knowledge is the basis of all certitude; demonstrative knowledge is less clear than intuitive knowledge, and, therefore, inferior to it; but demonstrative knowledge is, in turn, superior to sensitive knowledge. Yet, while rating sensitive knowledge so low, and describing it as "going beyond bare probability," Locke does not deny the validity of sensitive knowledge when it testifies to the existence of external things.

Our knowledge of our own existence is intuitive; our knowledge of the existence of God is demonstrative; and our knowledge of other things is sensitive. [13]
[13] Op. cit., IV, 9.
Moral and Political Doctrines. [14] Locke's ethical and political doctrines bear the general character of his theoretical speculations -- they aim at being empirical. There are four determinants of moral good: reason, the will of God, the general good, and self-interest. To each of these in turn Locke appeals without determining the relations of one to the others. [15] In his treatises on political government he combats the principles of state absolutism, maintaining that natural rights were in no way abrogated by the transition of primitive man from the state of nature to the conditions of political life. He defends the constitutional theory, advocates the supremacy of the legislative power, and teaches that, in a conflict between the legislative and the executive powers, the will of the nation is supreme, because, in such an event, sovereign authority reverts to the source whence it is derived, namely the people. Locke is commonly regarded as the founder of that philosophy of civil government which inspired the great modern movements towards popular representation, the extension of the rights of subjects, and the restriction of monarchical privileges.
[14] Consult Curtis, An Outline of Locke's Ethical Philosophy (Leipzig, 1890).

[15] Cf. Falckenberg, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, p. 244; English trans. p. 178.
Historical Position. Locke is commonly styled the successor of Bacon and Hobbes, although it is sometimes denied that he was influenced directly by the writings of either of these philosophers. The man, however, who exercised the greatest influence on Locke was Descartes. [16] This influence was indirect as well as direct. Thus, Locke begins his Essay by denying the innateness of ideas, -- a distinctively Cartesian doctrine; and throughout his inquiry into the nature and value of knowledge he is constantly denying what Descartes affirmed, and affirming what Descartes denied. And yet the cardinal idea of Cartesianism, namely the antithesis between mind and matter, appears as a tacit assumption in Locke's inquiry, and underlies everything that Locke wrote concerning human knowledge.
[16] Cf. Thilly, Leibnizens Streit gegen Locke (Heidelberg, 1892), pp. 5-32.
Locke's original contribution to philosophy may be described by saying that he introduced the critical spirit. For him the paramount problem was to determine the nature, value, and extent of human knowledge, and the method which he employed was the empirical rather than the rational, or deductive. He applied to the study of the mind the method which Bacon advocated as best suited to the study of nature. The result which he reached was the establishment of an empiricism which is, in ultimate analysis, a system of sensism. His chief defect is superficiality, -- a defect common to his school. He stopped where the real problems of philosophy begin, and although, as the subsequent development of empiricism in France has shown, his premises led inevitably to materialism, he himself maintained, with characteristic inconsistency, the spirituality of the human soul and the existence of purely spiritual substances.

NEWTON

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is the most important representative of the scientific phase of the English empiricism of the seventeenth century. His chief works are Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) and Opticks (1704). The philosophical importance of his discovery of the law and theory of universal gravitation lies in this, -- that it established the fact that the physical laws which hold good on the surface of the earth are valid throughout the universe, as far as we can know anything about it. [17]
[17] Höffding, op. cit., I, 408.


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