Short History of Modern Philosophy (Scruton)

Scruton, Roger.  A Short History of Modern Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2002.

This was a joy to read.  Scruton communicates depth with a certain type of elegance rarely matched in academic writers.  Bertrand Russell is probably the closest equivalent.

There are several angles from which we can view Scruton’s work.  An exhaustive review of each figure and movement would be beyond the scope of this review.  Several key themes emerge in Scruton’s narrative.  Substance never disappears as a concept, pace modern nominalists.  On the other hand, it cannot stand simply in its Aristotelian form.  Developments in mathematics, logic, and language require a sharper focus on substance.

First, some comments on Aristotle’s logic. Every proposition contains both subject and predicate, which corresponds to substance and attribute (Scruton 16). Since a substance can have, or perhaps lose, different attributes, a substance is something that survives change.  One problem raised is whether substances can cease to exist and what is meant by the term “exist.”

Distinction between stuff and things.  Stuff can be measured.  Things can be counted.  This made the idea of substance rather fuzzy.

The Port Royal Logic

 The Jansenist critics of Descartes anticipated several key breakthroughs in logical analysis. They noted the distinction between the intension and extension of a term.  The former denotes what a thing is.  The latter applies to the set of things: man vs. the class of men.


Gottfried Leibniz emerges as a true champion in this narrative. Spinoza had previously said there was only one substance and an infinity of modes.  Leibniz, by contrast, saw reality as reducible to individuals known as “monads,” which Scruton highlights as (68):

1 Monads are not extended in space. 

2 Monads are distinguished from one another by their properties (their ‘predicates’). 

3 No monad can come into being or pass away in the natural course of things; a monad is created or annihilated only by a ‘miracle’. 

4 The predicates of a monad are ‘perceptions’—i.e. mental states—and the objects of these mental states are ideas. Inanimate entities are in fact the appearances of animated things: aggregates of monads, each endowed with perceptions.

 5 Not all perceptions are conscious. The conscious perceptions, or apperceptions, are characteristic of rational souls, but not of lesser beings. And even rational souls have perceptions of which they are not conscious. 

6 ‘Monads have no windows’—that is, nothing is passed to them from outside; each of their states is generated from their own inner nature.

To be sure, not every organic thing is an individual monad. Most aren’t. Humans, for example, would be aggregates of monads.


Scruton’s analysis of Hegel’s logic put the brakes on any Hegelian speculations I might have had.   The main difficulty with Hegel, apart from his impenetrable prose, is that his use of terms doesn’t mirror the way the world normally uses such terms.  In normal usage, logic is a tool.  For Hegel it is almost an active, living entity.

Scruton summarizes the problem in reading Hegel in one elegant, witty passage:

“It is not to be expected that such a logic can readily be made intelligible, or that a philosophy which is able cold-bloodedly to announce (for example) that ‘Limit is the mediation through which Something and Other is and also is not’ should be altogether different from arrant nonsense” (175).

Scruton interrupts his survey after Nietzsche to make a few comments on political philosophy.

For John Locke, when I mix my labor with an object, I make it my own. It becomes my property (206).   Locke’s arguments on natural rights are interesting and quite important.  Contract theory, however, is built on a much shakier foundation.  Scruton identifies several problems. 1) On what grounds do we infer the existence of such a contract?  It is almost always an implied contract, if it exists at all.  Claims of “tacit consent” are vacuous, as Hume noted.  It’s not clear how anyone born in such a society gave “tacit consent.”

Marx takes Hegel’s concept of alienation and comes up with “false consciousness.”  Scruton notes that Marx didn’t use alienation all that much later on in life.  What is “alienation?” As Scruton observes, 

“Under capitalism it is not only objects, but also men, who are bought and sold. And in this buying and selling, under the regime of which one party has nothing to dispose of but his labour power, we reach the ultimate point in the treatment of men as means. Men have become objects for each other, and whatever remnants of their human (social) life remain will be dissipated” (225).

Although such a view is not entirely coherent (and Marx would trade it in for “false-consciousness” later on), it did have imaginative power.  A false consciousness, on the other hand, is a universal error one makes in examining the social world. This unhappy consciousness emerges from Marx’s analysis of “base” and “superstructure.”

Following this chapter Scruton examines utilitarianism and British idealism.  More pertinent for this review will be Scruton’s analysis of Gottlob Frege’s logical revolution.  


What did Frege do?  He overthrew Aristotelian logic.  He began by examining J. S. Mill’s claim that arithmetic was abstracted from experience, as in 2+3 = 5. Numbers are empirical aggregates from experience.  Frege responded that Mill could give no account of the number zero.  Moreover, while I cannot with my senses apprehend a 1,000 sided figure, I am easily prepared to acknowledge such a figure exists.  And in the final coup de grace on Mill, Frege notes that induction assumes probability, but probability presupposes arithmetical laws (250).

Frege then asks, “What is a number?” They can’t be a property, since if I say “Socrates is one,” I do not attribute the property of one-ness to Socrates. Nor are they abstractions. If numbers are objects, then we need to be able to locate them, and that entails a host of philosophical headaches. 

A more immediate problem, and one for which Frege is ultimately famous, concerns existential quantification.  If I say “Unicorns are horned animals,” am I saying that unicorns exist?  Frege made it clear that identity and prediction are different.

I don’t feel smart enough to explain what Frege meant by sense and reference, so we will go on to Heidegger, particularly, Scruton’s wonderful rhetorical comments on Heidegger.  

“It is impossible to summarise Heidegger’s work, which no one has claimed to understand completely. In the next chapter I shall give reasons for thinking that it may be unintelligible” (268).

“the reader has the impression that never before have so many words been invented and tormented in the attempt to express the inexpressible” (268).

“All these are more or less pompous ways of distinguishing things from persons” (269).

“Heidegger notices and applauds the result, but does not, as he perhaps should, feel threatened by it” (269).

“One thing is clear, which is that Heidegger’s conclusions, where intelligible, are clearly intended as universal truths, not merely about the human condition, but about the world as such” (272).

“Heidegger does not give any arguments for the truth of what he says. Most of Being and Time consists of compounded assertions, with hardly a ‘thus’, ‘therefore’, ‘possibly’, or ‘it might follow that’, to indicate the relations which are supposed to hold between them” (272).

This book was a sheer pleasure to read and absorb.  It is easily my favorite text and first recommendation on the history of modern philosophy.


Locke (Edward Feser)

Image result for edward feser john locke

One of the leading Thomist thinkers today, Edward Feser, gives a fine outline of key Lockean ideas and the tensions within Locke’s own thought.  The book is concise and well-written. We will begin with a survey of medieval scholastic thought, for this is Locke’s foil.


The Form of a thing is the organizational structure of a thing. It is not reducible to the sum of its parts.  For Aristotle it exists “in” the thing or at least gives structure to it. A Substance: it is an independently existing thing.  Its attributes or accidents cannot exist apart from it.

For Thomas Aquinas a Right (jus)  is a right ordering in a social context.  It is objective. It wasn’t originally thought of as a moral claim inhering *in* a subject.

Key idea: Locke held many similar aims with the scholastics: both sought to prove the existence of God, personal immortality, and natural rights. On the other hand, Locke rejects almost all of the key scholastic terms such as essence, quality, causation, etc.

The Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Against innate ideas. An idea is the object of understanding (Locke E.2.1.2).  All our ideas come from sensation or reflection (our observing mental images). A simple idea is one that has a uniform appearance. A complex idea is composed of simple ideas.

Locke’s substance: combination of simple ideas representing a particular thing capable of subsisting by itself.  A mode is something that cannot subsist by itself. Locke held to a “substratum” underlying all our ideas (E. 2.23.1ff). Locke understands there to be both real essences and nominal essences (i.e., complex ideas). A real essence is the internal constitution of a thing (E 3.3.15).

Problem for post-Lockean nominalists: there are mind-independent cases of “resemblances” between entities.  Resemblance is a universal. Two particulars agree because they have a “property” in common. The German mathematician Gottlob Frege delivers the killing blow: if the meaning of our words were identical to subjective entities like ideas, which only we can access, then communication is impossible.

The Second Treatise of Government

Law of Nature. Principle of self-ownership: nobody has a right to but himself.  This is Locke’s famous view of “self-ownership.” It’s not entirely the same as what modern libertarians teach.  We don’t have the right to suicide, for that would violate God’s own property-rights. Similar arguments could be made against prostitution, pornography, and illicit sex (and other libertarian talking points).

The problem:  given Locke’s strict conditions for knowledge, are there any knowable sanctions for non-compliance with the law of nature?  Another problem is that in “Toleration” and “Second Treatise” Locke seems to see humans as having identifiable natures. His “Essay” rules out such a claim (E 3.6.37).

Review: Paul Helm, Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards


Paul Helm Human Nature Calvin Edwards

If all Paul Helm had done were to marshal quotes showing the Reformed commitment to substance dualism, he would have done the church an inestimable service. He has done more. He has analyzed these thinkers as they were in conversation with the oncoming modern ontologies represented by Descartes, Locke, and Hobbes. This book is one of a kind and will repay constant readings. In fact, I think you could teach an entire ethics course from his chapter “Morality and Agency.” A key part of this book (and this review) examines the minor in-print debate between Paul Helm and Richard Muller on whether Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed tradition on free agency. I do have some criticisms of Helm that I will offer towards the end, but they do not detract from the value of this book.

Purchase Book Here.

Most Christians agree that body and soul aren’t the same thing. Christian reflection in general, and Reformed in particular, however, went a step further. The soul has faculties and powers. This modified Aristotelianism (and only in a modified form) allowed post-Reformation theologians to maintain individual responsibility while being faithful to the Scripture’s teachings on man’s fallenness.

Helm begins with a brief survey on the Patristic and medieval periods. By Patristic he means Tertullian and Augustine. I suppose that is inevitable. Other Western fathers don’t have Augustine’s depth of thought and the East had minimal impact. It is strange that Helm doesn’t mention the role of traducianism. It’s also strange that for all their Augustinianism, the Reformed didn’t really hold to traducianism. Of course, for that reason Helm doesn’t have to mention it. Nonetheless, traducianism allows the substance dualist to address challenges from neuroscience in ways that the creationist view of the soul does not.

Thomas Aquinas

The soul informs the body. When the body dies, many of the soul’s powers “hibernate.” While the soul is not the person, in this state it carries the identity of the person until the resurrection (15).

The intellect is “a possessor of collective powers related in incredibly complex ways between itself and the memory, will, and affections” (16). Specific to Thomas’s claim, and a claim the Reformed (and Roman Catholics) would generally maintain until recent times, was that the “soul itself acts via these various powers” (20).

Free Will Controversy, Part One

In his debate with Pighius, Calvin uses “voluntas” to mean both the Augustinian “heart” and the choice a man makes (34). In order to clear this confusion, Helm focuses on Calvin’s happy phrase that the fall is “adventitious” on human nature, not essential to it.

Body and Soul

Helm breaks new ground in this section. Despite the differences and nuances of the various Platonisms and Aristotelianism of the post-Reformation period, all thinkers to a man held that the soul is not reducible to the body. They would have heartily rejected the Christian physicalism of some thinkers today.

The Faculties and Powers of the Soul

Key idea: “The soul has a range or array of powers which the mind groups as certain activities of the understanding, and others as certain activities of the will” (81).

Flavel: the will is sovereign over the body but not over other faculties of the soul. In regeneration the will does not disturb conversion but is also changed by divine power (87).

Free Will Controversy, Part Two

Man’s free will is indexed to different states of man (e.g., fourfold state). According to the post-Reformation thinkers, man’s “Freedom” relates to spiritual activity. Man’s liberty relates to the capacities of our faculties.

Faculty Psychology

Powers of the soul are intrinsic to one faculty or another and they may be shared. Habits are acquired by nature or grace (105). As Flavel notes these are properties of faculties, not further faculties. When we die, certain habits are reduced to mere dispositions.

Morality and Agency

Aristotle didn’t have a concept of the conscience. This is a distinctly Jewish or Christian phenomenon. For the Reformed scholastics the conscience is a kind of “second-order reflex, telling us what we know about ourselves.” Further, it “binds” the understanding (112).

Free Will Controversy, Part Three

The fall had a “modal effect” on man, “establishing what it was possible and impossible to do hereafter” (134). We sin because we do not have the sufficient will not to sin. We have a natural liberty that “is essential to the will and all its acts.” Our moral ability to do the good, unfortunately, “is only accidental and separable” (136).

Did Edwards’ use of John Locke change how later Reformed discussed the soul and its faculties? There were some changes along the lines of personal identity, but Edwards himself seemed familiar with the subject and didn’t change too much. He leaned more towards Platonism than hylomorphism, but still remained a substance dualist.

Even Edwards’ distinction on natural and moral ability isn’t that novel. He merely sharpened some observations made by Owen and others. Edwards sees our inability along a spectrum (216). As Helm notes, “A natural ability is ability in its proper sense and the moral abilities are secondary” (217).

There are some changes, though. Scholastic faculties become “powers of the heart.” Does this change anything? Richard Muller seems to think it does. Helm disagrees. I think I side with Helm. It’s not immediately clear, either way.

*Reformation Heritage kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

John Locke: 2nd Treatise Civil Govt


A book much talked about (sometimes maligned) but rarely read. There are several good reasons to read this book: namely, Locke articulates a rather clear and logically coherent theory of resistance–but more on that later.

Like Hobbes and Rousseau, albeit with different and more godly conclusions, Locke analyzes man in his state of nature. What is this state of nature? It is men living together in reason without a common superior (III.19). If that is so, then why would anyone surrender a portion of his liberty and authority to incorporate into a state? Locke gives a clear, if not entirely consistent answer: men incorporate together because of the precariousness of solitary existence. Agreed, but if the state of nature is what it is, then why do men have to worry?

Labour as Distinction and Valuation: Labour creates a distinction between “his” and “common.” Labour begins the distinction of property.

Whatever a man cannot use for himself returns to the realm of “common” (V.29). Locke argues, contra later libertarians, that things have an intrinsic value, though not absolutely so (V.37). Their value depends on their usefulness to the life of man. Labour puts the difference of value on everything (V.40). Labour puts the value on land. Labour gives the right of property (V.45).

Money, however, has subjective value (V.47). It Has value from the consent of men. I think Locke has struck a good balance here. His emphasis on labour and the land maintains a healthy work ethic (a point Adam Smith capitalized on, much to the anger and ire of the Misesian School, though the Austrian school’s understanding of marginal utility far superior).

He ends his treatise with a discussion of representative government and the right and limits of resistance.  Below is an outline:

  1. State of Nature
    1. equality; reciprocity; men living together in reason without a common superior (III.19).
    2. Natural Rights
      1. Punish crime (every man in the state of nature has the right to kill a murderer).
      2. reparation
    3. All men are naturally in this state and remain so, until by their own consent they make themselves members of a political society (II.15).
  2. State of War
  3. Slavery
    1. “Nobody can give more power than he has himself,” and since we cannot take away our own lives, we cannot give our lives to others (IV.22)
    2. Slavery is the continuation of the state of war
  4. Property
    1. Mankind living in State of Nature has all things in common.
      1. Yet this is not an absolute commonality.
      2. Every man has property in his own person.
        1. His “labour” is an extension of that person.  
    2. Labour creates a distinction between “his” and “common.”
      1. Labour begins the distinction of property.
      2. Whatever a man cannot use for himself returns to the realm of “common” (V.29).  
      3. God commanded men to be industrious.  
    3. Labour as Valuation
      1. things have an intrinsic value, though not absolutely so (V.37)
        1. Their value depends on their usefulness to the life of man.
        2. Labour puts the difference of value on everything (V.40).
          1. Labour puts the value on land.
          2. Labour gives the right of property (V.45).
      2. Money, however, has subjective value (V.47).
        1. Has value from the consent of men.
  5. Paternal Power
    1. Law is not the limitation of freedom, but its direction to the proper interest (VI.57).
    2. Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence.
  6. Political and Civil Society

John Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Image result for john locke

Locke should have put Book IV first, not because of order of argument but of style.  Books 1-3 are so badly written and tedious, whereas Book IV is interesting and occasionally funny.  Be that as it may.

The how of knowledge

(1) At the risk of oversimplification, ideas for Locke are sense-impressions.  If I see a tree, light waves from the tree reach my eye, go to my brain/mind, and from there form a mental image of a tree in my mind. An idea is the object of understanding when a man thinks.  The power to produce any idea is a quality (II.8.7). Ideas are in the mind, qualities the body.

On the Soul

problem of identity: the soul cannot be reduced to physical causes/objects, otherwise how does one account for personal identity if we are just matter in motion (II.1.12)

  • primary qualities are inseparable from a body: solidity, extension, figure.
  • secondary qualities are that which produce various sensations in us by means of the primary qualities: colors, sounds, tastes.

Substance: combinations of simple ideas representing distinct things subsisting in themselves (II.8.6)

Modes of thinking:  

  • thinking: when the mind contemplates itself (II.19.1)
  • sensation: the entrance of any idea into the understanding by the senses (II.1.24).
  • intention: the mind focusing on an object

Thinking is the action of the soul, not its essence.  Otherwise, when we stop thinking we stop having a soul (implications for pro-life arguments).   

On Free Will

power: the possibility of acting change.

  • The will is a power.
  • we can’t speak of free will.
    • Liberty is a power that belongs to agents (II.21.14).
    • It doesn’t make sense to ask if one power has another power.
  • will is the ability to choose.
    • the mind operates the will.  
    • faculty, ability, and power are names of the same thing.
    • The mind determines the will (II.21.29).
  • Uneasiness: psychological determination of the will (II.21.34-40).  Locke has a very perceptive chapter on the difficulty of “willing ourselves to be better.”  A drunkard knows his decisions are destructive, but he is habituated in them. A direct charge to change won’t do anything for him.  
    • The good cannot determine our wills (practically, psychologically) because we are so overwhelmed with desire and unease.
    • There might be some spiritual import to this.  Fasting and other disciplines “turn down the volume” of the flesh.  
    • Our wills are only truly free when we suspend the desire.  
  • Psychological remarks (very perceptive)
    • We cannot directly change our beliefs (doxastic voluntarism), but we can change the surroundings which condition our beliefs (II.21.62).
    • The pain anyone actually feels is the most intense of any possibly present pains.
    • Future pleasure (absent good) is usually unable to prevent uneasiness/wrongdoing. This is why social justice programs have universally failed to reformed poverty-stricken neighborhoods.


Essence is “the very being of anything, whereby it is, what it is” (III.iii.15).  Locke held to the corpuscular hypothesis: the constitutions of things consists of minute particles of some sort, and that their workings are entirely due to such configurations (IV.iii.25).


The Ethics of Belief (Courtesy of Wolterstorff)

(2) Our assent is regulated by the grounds of probability (IV.16.1).

Doxastic Duty

Book IV. 17.24

“Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind…regulated…as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but good reason…He that believes without having reason for believing…neither seeks truth as he ought nor pays the obedience due to his Maker.”

(3) For Locke epistemology is linked with doxastic duty.  

Epistemic justification is deontological justification.  Is this Knowledge as Justified, True Belief? Maybe; however, Locke applies duty to belief, not knowledge.


(~1) Is Locke’s account of belief-formation really how the mind works?  Following the godly and right-thinking Mr Reid, we offer the critique: “idea” is a visual term.  How does Locke’s project work when we take a non-visual sensation like “touch?” How does the mind form an “image” of a non-imagery sensation?

(~2) This seems true and it is probably a wise way to live, but as later thinkers have pointed out (Wm. James, Wolterstorff, Plantinga, Kelly James Clark), what is the evidence for this claim?

David Hume: Concerning Human Understanding

Image result for david hume enquiry concerning human understanding

Agnosticism is bad, but not all agnosticisms are equally bad. Such is the case with David Hume. If one reads Karl Marx or Herbert Marcuse, one has to decode the dialectical system before you can even understand what they are saying. Further, Marx was probably demon-possessed and his economic system caused the deaths of hundreds of millions. Not so with Hume. Like many Anglo philosophers, his writing is fresh and clear. So when he is wrong, it’s easy to see where he is wrong. And in economics, he champions liberty (of a sorts).

Hume’s Argument: (1) all our ideas are copies of our impressions (VII.i.49). (2) There can never be an idea of a cause because there can never be a sense impression of a cause (Ibid sec. 50)

{A} Knower——->——-> Object–>Mind—>Idea—>knower

{A’} Knower——>—–>Object—> Mind —> Impression–>Idea—>knower

Our thought is a faithful mirror that copies objects truly. Perceptions of the Mind:

  • thoughts/ideas (weaker)
  • impressions (strong). Hume also means “sensations.”

Our ideas are always copied from some precedent (II.14). Ideas must follow from impressions. These impressions/sensations are always more vivid than the ideas.

Critique of Hume

Critics of Hume have to resist the temptation to read Berkeley back into Hume. I will assume, in the spirit of charity, that Hume believed in an external world. Further, we must also point out that Hume is not a modern atheist materialist: he believes in the existence of the mind and that the mind is not the brain.

[1] As Owen Barfield and others have pointed out, if all we can know are sense-impressions, then Hume’s three qualities of association fail the test: “resemblance, contiguity, and causation” are not sense-impressions, or did not originate as such (Barfield 25). Of course, this is the same criticism Hume offered of causality. But why stop at causality? Why not apply it to the other two?

[2] It is here that Hume’s nominalism becomes vicious. How are ideas “in the mind” held together? Hume says they are “bundled” together, but doesn’t bundling imply some sort of unity or association? If Hume’s criticism of causality holds, then it must also hold to any form of association. Thus examining the mental process, Hume is left with an array of facts that cannot relate to each other in any possible way. “All is flux.”

[3] This critique is not so much a refutation of Hume but points toward an ambiguity. During the mental act I perceive an object, we will say the sensory impression of touch, to which it comes back to my mind as the idea of touch. When I reflect upon the ideas “in my mind,” I do so in visual categories. But what does the visual category of “touch” even mean? [sidenote: As Wolterstorff pointed out, this is more a criticism of Locke than Hume].

[4] Hume cannot escape the reality of universals, as Bertrand Russell pointed out (Russell 96ff). If we deny, for example, the universals of “whiteness” and “triangularity,” we will still, in order to form an idea of a triangle, imagine a patch of whiteness and a three-sided figure and say that anything meeting these criteria is white and a triangle–we say that the resemblance must hold. We will also say that the resemblance must hold among many white 3-sided things. We will say that the resemblances must resemble each other. We have made “resemblance” a universal.

As Russell pointed out, Hume failed to note that not only are qualities universals, but so are relations.  The relation of “being north of” is also a universal

[5] Much has been made of Hume’s critique of miracles. I’ll give him credit on one point: if you define miracle as a violation of God’s law or nature’s law, then it’s hard to argue with Hume. But why must we accept Hume’s definition of miracle, or of reality in general? I can’t recall a good reason. There is no reason to view reality as as self-enclosed monads.

A theist could very well argue, as James K. A. Smith does, for an open ontology that allows the Spirit to move from within nature, rather than a miracle that is “tacked on” to nature from the outside. Miracles are not “add-ons.” They are not anti-nature, since “nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity” (Smith 104).

[6] Per Thomas Reid and N. Wolterstorff, Hume needs to explain how a physical sensation can cause a mental apprehension (Wolterstorff 2004).

[6.1] Hume’s analysis of perception and reflection seems to privilege visual ideas. Perhaps that can work. Such has been the tendency of philosophy since Plato. Yet when we move to the other senses Hume’s analysis breaks down. How does my idea (weakened sensation) of touch bear any resemblance to the apple I just touched? Even worse, doesn’t the phrase “mental idea” connote visuality? Could this possibly work on ideas like “touch”?

[7] As Thomas Reid pointed out, it seems Hume has lumped all mental reflection (sensation/though) under the label of “perception” in the mind. How does Hume make a distinction between the “idea” of sight and the “idea” of touch (Reid 301ff)?

Works Cited

Barfield, Owen. Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, reprint [1973]).

Reid, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Reid, ed. Sir William Hamilton. Edinburgh: McLachlan and Stewart, 1863.

Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, reprint [1964]).

Smith, James K. A. Thinking in Tongues. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004

The Ethics of Belief (Review)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  John Locke and the Ethics of Belief.  Cambridge.

Locke’s goal is simple: to offer a rational, objective, public account of reason that will heal the warring factions of society.  His method, at least in the broad strokes, is fairly straightforward: believe in accordance with the evidence the things of “maximal concernment.”  In other words, not only should you believe things on the basis of evidence, the strength in which you believe something should be proportional to the evidence.

It is to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s credit that he shows us a different picture of Locke:  sure, the empiricist is in the background, but Locke’s account of knowledge in Book IV of his Essay is far more nuanced than a mere empiricism.  And so we begin:

For Locke Knowledge is perception (Book IV).  What does it mean to see/become aware that a proposition is true? The classic answer:  One is aware that one and another proposition are true and that certain relationships that follow are true.

Whenever we say we “just know” something to be true, we usually attach to it the ocular metaphor that we “see” it to be true. Thus, for Locke, we perceive facts. Perception for Locke is immediate awareness (Wolterstorff 43).  That which comes short of certainty is not knowledge (Letter to Stillingfleet, Works III: 145). Does this mean we can’t know anything, given such limited criteria?  Not necessarily, for perception and certainty comes in degrees.  

Knowledge = act or state of mind (45).  It is not the same as belief. For Locke believing is a mental state; assenting is a mental act.  Problem: We all believe things that aren’t present to the mind.

Knowledge = not only awareness of some fact, but the relationship between facts (59)

Will Locke’s proposal work?  No.  It could not survive the hammer blows of Hume (or Reid).  Let’s take the claim that “Reason should be our guide.”  Locke’s view of empiricism and “the association of ideas” demands induction, and as Hume pointed out, that demands a formal fallacy.

But that’s not the biggest problem with Locke.  The problem is quite simple:  How are we to tell when the evidence is satisfactory (167)?  Not all evidence is simply a collection of apples and oranges on the ground and we count which side has the most.  Here is a sample of Locke’s argument (pp. 169ff):

P1: I note a correlation between a certain noise and a car going by
P2: The noise I am presently hearing is of that sort
C:  Hence it is highly probably a car is going by.

The main problem is that the correlations aren’t necessarily representative of reality.  We need another premise:

P1*. I note a correlation between a certain noise and a car going by
P2*. My sample of the correlation of events was and is representative of all tokens of that sort.

P3*. The noise I am presently hearing is of that sort.

But as Hume points out, P2* is not a necessary truth.  It is not intuitive.  Indeed, Hume doubts any real connections between past and present.

But Locke is still important.  His form of classical foundationalism remained more or less in play until the late 20th century.  Indeed, one can tease out connections between Locke’s epistemology and his ethics.  Further, one wonders about such ethics, the Anglo tradition in philosophy, and the current (if waning) dominance of neo-liberalism in politics.

The book is a hard read.  Locke isn’t necessarily an easy read and Wolterstorff’s analyses are very technical.  One other point:  Both Locke and Wolterstorff draw attention to the correct insight that knowledge has ethical dimensions.

An Intro to Neo-Eurasianism

In this work Alexander Dugin analyzes the development of earlier Eurasianism to its current manifestations on the political scene. According to Dugin, “Eurasianism is a type of structuralism with the accent placed on multiplicity and synchronicity of structures” (Dugin loc. Cited 68). This means there are a plurality of human societies, each with its own “mode of growing” that must be respected.

Dugin sees Russia’s role as defending the possibility of each civilization’s unique flourishing. This means Russia creates the political space as opposed to the Atlanticist desire to impose globalization. In terms of method Dugin largely applies Heidegger’s philosophy, though not universally. He draws upon suggestions made by both “Left” (dialectical) and “Right” (traditionalist) thinkers as they both oppose neo-liberalist/globalism (loc. 434).

How would a Neo-Eurasianist Policy Look?

Dugin isn’t blind to the advances that globalism has made. Whether we like it or not, it happened and we can’t go back to 19th century nation-states. Please note this: We are not nationalists in the strict sense of the word. Therefore, he suggests “several global zones (poles). The Eurasian Idea is an alternative or multipolar version of globalization” (loc. 641). Similar to his claims in The Last War of the World-Island, we no longer see a battle between East/West or North/South, but of Center/Periphery with the Atlanticist Civilization (New York/London/Brussels) at the center.

And within these zones there are poles and “Great Spaces,” or democratic empires that are organically constituted. Some examples

(I) Iran-Syria-Armenia
(2) Germano-Nordic/Frankish
(3) Anglo-American
(4) Mediterranean Europe
(5) Eurasian Europe
Etc. (see this article for more discussion on Meridian Zones;

Dugin argues for regions to have autonomy, not sovereignty and boundaries, not borders. Boundaries arise from an organic wholeness. Borders are used to divide, boundaries to bind. For countries with large amounts of land, major cities should be depopulated and there should be a network of townships. Townships are ecological settlements separated from the cities by clean forests (page 85).

Dugin ends his philosophical analysis with remarkable insights into social atomism. Lockean/empiricism/libertarianism is false because it rests upon a false physics, a false ontology. Atomism is false because we now about sub-atomic structures. Empirical social philosophies are false because within the individual are underlying currents that resist reductionism.

This book isn’t perfect, though. There was a coherent argument throughout, but some chapters seemed like blog articles tacked on.

Thomas Reid on Freedom

William Rowe gives a fantastic discussion on how British philosophers from Locke to Reid dealt with the problems of free agency and determinism. Regardless of whether one is a free will theist or a determinist, Rowe nicely clarifies what each thinker believed on these subjects.

Rowe begins with Locke’s Volitional Theory of Action. Actions are of two sorts: thoughts and motions of the body. The action is preceded by a certain act of will. S is free with respect to action A just in case it is in S’s power to do A if S should will to do A and in S’s power to refrain from doing A if S should will to refrain (78).

Necessary agent: a person’s actions are determined by the cause preceding those actions. This does not conflict with Lockean freedom, for Lockean freedom does not require that given the causes we could have acted differently–only that we act.

Problem for Locke: what determines the will on a given occasion to suspend some desire that is otherwise strong enough to move the will towards some other action (Rowe 10)?

Rowe offers a devastating counter-factual scenario: if I inject you with a drug so you can’t move your legs, then on Locke’s view you aren’t sitting freely. But if instead I hook your brain to a machine where I take away your *capacity* to will otherwise, on Locke’s account it would seem that this is a “free action,” since nothing is “making me” sit down.

Agent or Event Causation:

Point of clarification: thoughts and bodily motions that are actions are caused by volitions, and the volitions themselves, although not caused by other events, are caused by the person whose volitions they are (31). The person is the cause of the volition. his is substance causation. It is not reducible to causation by events. FWA (free will advocate) do not deny that events cause actions, pace Jonathan Edwards, but that these events have a prior cause in agents.

Event causation: roughly a physical event. Rowe argues that a necessitarian cannot consistently see herself as an agent cause of some of her actions (64). Something cannot cause me to be the agent-cause of an action. Being caused to cause A implies that, given the cause, one lacked the power not to cause A (67).

Reid’s View of Causation and Active Power

Reid’s Three Conditions
1. An agent must have the power to bring about the act of will.
2. The power to refrain from bringing about the act of will.
3. Exert her power to bring about or refrain.

Reid’s most controversial point: every event has an agent cause (quoted in Rowe 55-56). Rowe is a good enough philosopher that he sees where Reid’s argument could go, though Reid himself didn’t make much of it. If every event has an agent cause, then at the root of the universe’s existence is a Personal Agent.

Reid’s Conception of Freedom

negative thesis: if an action of ours is free, then our decision to do that action cannot have been causally necessitated by any prior events internal or external (Rowe 75-76)

positive thesis: free acts of will are caused by the agent whose acts they are (76).  

In contrasting Reidian freedom with Lockean freedom, Reid never says that an agent must have been able to do otherwise if he had willed to do otherwise.

What is the difference between the power to will to refrain from doing A (Locke) and the power not to will do to A (Reid)?  

For Reid the power to will is the power to cause the act of will.  

For Reid, the power to refrain from an action =/= the power not to will

Locke gives a scenario of a man locked in his room.  He wills to stay in his room but he doesn’t know it is locked.  For Locke, the person acts voluntarily but not freely.  But here is the problem for Locke:  the locked door causally necessitates his staying in the room, it does not causally necessitate his voluntary action of staying in the room.

volition (for Reid): an act of the mind, a determination of the mind or will to do or not do something (87).  

Reid’s Arguments for Libertarian Freedom

Basic argument (95):
1. Certain actions are in our power.
2. Bringing about these actions requires that we will them.
3. Actions that are in our power depend upon the determinations of our will.
4. If actions that are in our power depend upon the determination of our will, then the determinations of our will are sometimes in our power.
5. The determinations of our will are sometimes in our power.


This book, while technical at times, is a fine addition and even introduction to the free will debate.