Monday, July 25, 2011

John Locke 5

Book III, Chapter X ("Abuse of Words"): "...he that will look into that sort of learned writings, will find the words there much more obscure, uncertain, and undetermined in their meaning, than they are in ordinary conversation." There are some good points in this section about idle, useless pedants, as well as something useful, which word unfortunately I can no longer make out in my scribblings, which I too often forget.

"He that hath words of any language, without distinct ideas in his mind to which he applies them, does, so far as he uses them in discourse, only make a noise without any sense or signification; not much more advanced thereby in knowledge, than he would be in learning, who had nothing in his study but the bare titles of books, without possessing the contents of them." O.K., they have me figured out.

Book III, Chapter XI ("Remedies of the Abuse of Words"): "This exactness will, perhaps, be judged very troublesome; and therefore most men will think they may be excused from settling the complex ideas of mixed modes so precisely in their minds." The "excused" is well-chosen here.

I believe I have already mentioned that the guy who wrote the footnotes is more obscure than Locke, but he must have been really bad, seeing as I felt the need to note it a second time in the course of the reading.

Book IV, Chapter I ("Of Knowledge In General"): "Nobody, I think, can deny, that Mr Newton certainly knows any proposition that he now at any time reads in his book to be true; though he has not in actual view that admirable chain of intermediate ideas whereby he at first discovered it to be true." Perhaps not the whole view, but I would guess that he had a lot of it.

Book IV, Chapter IV ("Reality of Knowledge"): "...the truth and certainty of moral discourses abstracts from the lives of men, and the existence of those virtues in the world whereof they treat: nor are Tully's Offices less true, because there is nobody in the world that exactly practises his rules, and lives up to that pattern of a virtuous man which he has given us, and which existed nowhere when he writ but in idea." Morality as an abstraction comparable to mathematics. Or art.

"...where God or any other law-maker, hath defined any moral names, there they have made the essence of that species to which that name belongs..." The influence of lawgivers and other authorities is a serious matter with Locke.

In Book IV, Chapter VII ("Of Maxims") Locke discusses unlocking and opening the "secrets of knowledge". For the most part it is all just a big secret, isn't it?

"The Schools having made disputation the touchstone of men's abilities, and the criterion of knowledge, adjudged victory to him that kept the field: and he that had the last word was concluded to have the better of the argument, if not of the cause." Someday wisdom is really going to have to learn how to project itself better.

Book IV, Chapter X ("Our Knowledge of the Existence of a God"): "If, therefore, we know there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else." Pretty clever, I guess. It caught me napping at first, but on a closer look you can see all the assumptions that are embedded in it.

There's a translated quote from Cicero, or as Locke refers to him, Tully, on the same subject: "What can be more sillily arrogant and misbecoming, than for a man to think that he has a mind and understanding in him, but yet in all the universe beside there is no such thing?" I believe much of this line of thinking with its fairly wild range of generalities was later clarified by Hume and perfected by Kant. Not that I would know.

Remember Aristippus, who placed happiness in bodily pleasure? I was a terrible philosophy student and would be hard pressed to name ten general principles running through the history of the pursuit if my life depended on it, but you sure will never be able to persuade me that happiness lies in bodily pleasure. That teaching I cannot seem to forget.

"Hence I think I may conclude, that morality is the proper science and business of mankind in general, several arts, conversant about several parts of nature, are the lot and private talent of particular men, for the common use of human life, and their own particular subsistence in this world." I have never developed an effective program of my own for how to live/approach life as an active agent in its course. This being after all the purpose of philosophy, I would have to say that my education was really not a success. This is besides that it is hard to participate in any kind of social intercourse requiring a decent level of thought when one does not have (or does not wish to reveal) a coherent explanation of why one's existence is playing out the way it is in any way and in what directions one might wish to direct it in the future.

Locke does not appear to be one who is especially impressed by nature (as in outside, the natural world) as something more interesting or grand than the human mind. One would have spent a lot more time grappling with it in the 17th century than we do today, and it doubtless seemed less wondrous than the possibilities of rigorous thought to the intellectuals of that time. It is a tone that I think few thinkers would take, and maybe even feel, today.

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