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Newman's Dispute with Locke R. A. NAULTY THEREARE AT LEAST TWO DISPUTESbetween Newman and Ix)eke in the Grammar ol Assent. The first is on the question of whether or not there are degrees of assent . Locke thinks that there are and Newman thinks that there axe not. In the second dispute, Newman contests Locke's "pretentious axiom that probable reasoning can never lead to certitude.'u This seems to me to be by fax the more important issue, and I shall concentrate on it after having made some remarks about the first. According to Locke, the mind judges or assents whenever it "takes . . . any proposition to be true or false, without perceiving a demonstrative evidence in the proofs.''2 The difference between judgment and assent, for Locke, is that a judgment takes place subsequent to the direct investigation of facts, whereas an assent is given to the conclusion of verbal reasoning, when that reasoning does not entail the conclusion,s Both assents and judgments are takings or presumings that P is the ease.4 This being so, assent is a mental act, and does not admit of degrees. Hence it is (at least) misleading of Locke to speak of degrees of assent.5 Locke introduces that notion because he believes that there is something that we should vary in our acceptance of P according as the evidence for P is strong or weak. Now we cannot vary our assent, as Locke defines that, but we can vary our assurance. And in fact Locke says How a man may know whether he is (a lover of truth for truth's sake) in earnest is worth inquiry: and I think there is one unerring mark of it, viz.: The not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant,e So Locke could quite easily concede Newman's point that there are no degrees of assent, but he could maintain that there axe degrees of assurance or confidence, which we should regulate according to the strength of the evidence. Were Locke to make this inexpensive concession, he would, as far as I can see, effectively close the dispute about whether there are degrees of assent! x John Hem'y Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (Doubleday Image Books, 1955), p. 136. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Dover Edition, Book 4, ch. 14, Section 3. (4.14.3) a Ibid. Up. cir., 4.14.4. Up. cit., 4.16. r Up. cit., 4.19.1. T H. H. Price in Belief (Allen and Unwin, 1969), develops a view about the dispute be- [453] 454 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY I turn now to the other dispute. The substance of that is whether or not we can be legitimately certain of the conclusion of arguments which are not demonstrative (i.e which do not entail their conclusions). We may be pu~led about why this should be a subject of dispute. A natural reaction is that "If P does not entail Q, it does not follow that we cannot be certain that Q on the basis of P." But as Hume remarks, "Mr. Locke divides all arguments into 'demonstrative' and 'probable '. ''s Newman is an heir to this tradition, and although he is suspicious of Locke's bifurcation, he accepts it in the Grammar,and poses his problem in Locke's terminology: How (is it) that a proposition which is not, and cannot be, demonstrated, which at the highest can only be proved to be truth-like, not true, such as "I shall die," nevertheless claims and receives our unqualified adhesion.9 This way of putting the matter invites the question "how he (Newman) substantiates the bridge by which he steps so freely from the state of doubt which . . . inevitably attaches to these results of probabilities, to the state of absolute certainty which he seems to substitute for this.''1~ In the Grammar, Newman attempts to show that there is a "bridge." Newman's first move is to show that Locke crosses it too. In one place, Locke acknowledges that "we make no doubt at all" about some propositions that have not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 453-457
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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