Baron Charles de Montesquieu||||
John Locke (1632-1704)
The British philosopher John Locke was especially known for his liberal, anti-authoritarian theory of the state[->0], his empirical theory of knowledge, his advocacy of religious toleration, and his theory of personal identity. In his own time, he was famous for arguing that the divine right of kings is supported neither by scripture nor by the use of reason. In developing his theory of our duty to obey the state, he attacked the idea that might makes right: Starting from an initial state of nature with no government, police or private property, we humans could discover by careful reasoning that there are natural laws[->1] which suggest that we have natural rights[->2] to our own persons and to our own labor. Eventually we could discover that we should create a social contract[->3] with others, and out of this contract emerges our political obligations and the institution of private. This is how reasoning places limits on the proper use of power by government authorities. Regarding epistemology[->4], Locke disagreed with Descartes[->5]‘ rationalist theory that knowledge is any idea that seems clear and distinct to us. Instead, Locke claimed that knowledge is direct awareness of facts concerning the agreement or disagreement among our ideas. By “ideas,” he meant mental objects, and by assuming that some of these mental objects represent non-mental objects he inferred that this is why we can have knowledge of a world external to our minds. Although we can know little for certain and must rely on probabilities[->6], he believed it is our God-given obligation to obtain knowledge and not always to acquire our beliefs by accepting the word of authorities[->7] or common superstition. Ideally our beliefs should be held firmly or tentatively depending on whether the evidence is strong or weak. He praised the scientific reasoning of Boyle and Newton as exemplifying this careful formation of beliefs. He said that at birth our mind has no innate ideas; it is blank, a tabula rasa. As our mind gains simple ideas from sensation, it forms complex ideas from these simple ideas by processes of combination, division, generalization and abstraction. Radical for his time, Locke asserted that in order to help children not develop bad habits of thinking, they should be trained to base their beliefs on sound evidence, to learn how to collect this evidence, and to believe less strongly when the evidence is weaker. We all can have knowledge of God[->8]‘s existence by attending to the quality of the evidence available to us, primarily the evidence from miracles[->9]. Our moral obligations, says Locke, are divine commands[->10]. We can learn about those obligations both by God’s revealing them to us and by our natural capacities to discover natural laws. He hoped to find a deductive system[->11] of ethics in analogy to our deductive system of truths of geometry. Regarding personal identity[->12], Locke provided an original argument that our being the same person from one time to another consists neither in our having the same soul nor the same body, but rather the same consciousness.
Thomas Hobbes (1588 -1679): Moral and Political Philosophy
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes is best known for his political thought, and deservedly so. His vision of the world is strikingly original and still relevant to contemporary politics. His main concern is the problem of social and political order: how human beings can live together in peace and avoid the danger and fear of civil conflict. He poses stark alternatives: we should give our obedience to an unaccountable sovereign (a person or group empowered to decide every social and political issue). Otherwise what awaits...