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English Philosophy in the Age of Locke (review)

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 40, Number 2, April 2002
pp. 264-265 | 10.1353/hph.2002.0039

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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.2 (2002) 264-265

Book Review

English Philosophy in the Age of Locke

M. A. Stewart, editor. English Philosophy in the Age of Locke. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. x + 326. Cloth, $60.00.

Volume 3 in the Oxford Studies in the History of Philosophy, Stewart's anthology focuses on the philosophical, religious, and political thought of the seventeenth century. The text includes nine articles. This volume is essential reading to anyone interested in the relationship between metaphysics, religion, and politics. Some articles are new, some previously published and revised.

In "The Political Problem of Religion: Hobbes's Reading of the Bible," Paul Dumouchel finds the key to Hobbes's political philosophy in his religious, rather than scientific writings. He challenges traditional interpretations that construe the relation of Christianity to politics as one of opposition. According to Dumouchel, Hobbes attempts to free political power from religious legitimation and seeks a religious justification for the separation of church and state.

Knud Haakonson's "The Character and Obligation of the Natural Law According to Richard Cumberland," argues that Cumberland's theory concerning the obligation of natural law cannot be adequately characterized as either utilitarian or conventionalist (voluntarist).

Ian Harris addresses the question of the place of justice in Locke's philosophy. "Locke on Justice" is an excellent analysis of two radically different interpretations: (a) the early interpretation that justice hardly functions in Locke's thought, and (b) that justice is central to Locke's moral philosophy. Harris argues that the process of appropriation is a material condition of executing God's purpose, namely, maximizing human convenience and plenty. The golden rule, in conjunction with the desire for self-preservation, entails a duty to preserve humanity. Harris contends that the duty of charity is congruent with God's design as manifested in private property. He concludes that the backbone of Locke's political thought consists in the organization of government according to a moral purpose which is grounded in theological premises.

J. R. Milton reopens the question of Gassendi's influence on Locke. Extensive analysis of Locke's writings leads Milton to the conclusion that Gassendi's influence was much more limited than commonly assumed.

Stewart has selected several notable articles on Locke's religious doctrines: John Marshall's "Locke, Socinianism, 'Socinianism,' and Unitarianism"; Victor Nuovo's "Locke's Theology 1694-1704"; and Udo Thiel's "The Trinity and Human Personal Identity." Marshall re-examines the charges of socinianism and unitarianism against Locke in light of new scholarship and new discoveries concerning Locke's manuscripts. Comparisons between Locke and socinians concentrate on the advocacy of religious toleration, credal minimalism, and the possible materiality of the soul. Socinian belief that Christ was not a co-equal person of the Godhead was never explicitly rejected by Locke. Marshall finds evidence of Locke's socinianism in the positions, silences, and omissions in his published writings. Since Locke sought to avoid expressing views that appeared heretical, he was silent on the issue of the Trinity. This, coupled with evidence of his friendship with unitarians, extensive purchases of unitarian books, and dissemination of unitarian works, leads Marshall to conclude that Locke was probably influenced by, and had sympathy with, some socinian and unitarian views. Locke, he concludes, was probably a disbeliever in the Trinity.

Nuovo concurs with Marshall's view that Locke did not have a socinian agenda, but held opinions in common with them. He argues that Locke reinvented Christianity as a moral religion, one whose essence is the conduct of life and whose practice is prescribed by a divine law of nature.

Thiel focuses on aspects of Trinitarian controversy that relate to the issue of human personality. He points out that the origin of metaphysical debates about indivuation and identity lies in theological problems and related moral issues. Thiel addresses the Locke-Sherlock dispute. He argues that it is unlikely that Sherlock took ideas about the individuation of persons from Locke and equally unlikely that there was a direct influence of Sherlock on Locke.

Stewart's "Stillingfleet and the Way of Ideas" is a preparatory study for discussion of the Locke-Stillingfleet debate. He seeks to clarify...



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