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Locke on the Intellectual Basis of Sin VERE CHAPPELL THE Essay concerningHuman Understanding was published at the end of 1689.' It sold well, and within three years Locke was planning revisions for a second edition. Among those whose "advice and assistance" he sought was the Irish scientist William Molyneux. Locke had begun a correspondence with Molyneux a few months before, after the latter had lavishly praised the Essayand its author in the Epistle Dedicatory of his own DioptricaNova, published early in 1692. Here was a man, Locke concluded, whosejudgment one could trust. He returned Molyneux's compliment in the Essay'snew edition, calling him "that very Ingenious and Studious promoter of real Knowledge,... whom I am proud to call my friend" (2- 5 II.ix.8:145-46 ). Molyneux at first declined to make any substantive suggestions for improving the Essay, not wishing, apparently, to imply that he thought there were faults in it. But Locke pressed him, and eventually Molyneux did venture some critical comments. His chief target was Locke's "Discourse about Mans Liberty and Necessity" in Chapter xxi of Book II, "Of Power." Of this, Molyneux remarked that its "Thread seems so wonderfully fine spun .... that at last the Great Question of Liberty and Necessity seems to Vanish." He then noted that Locke, in this discussion, "seem[s] to make all Sins to proceed from our Understandings , or to be against Conscience; and not at all from the Depravity of our Wills," adding that "it seems harsh to say, that a Man shall be Damn'd, because he understands no better than he does" (C 1579: IV.6oo-6o0. In his next letter Locke addressed his friend's assessment. To the first part References to the Essayare made via page number of the Clarendon edition, ed. Peter Nidditch (Oxford, 1975), preceded by a numeral in italics to indicate which original edition is cited when that information matters. (Some first edition passages are printed as notes at the bottom of the page in the Nidditch edition; in citations of such passages the letter "n" follows the page number.) References to Locke's correspondence are made via letter number and volume and page number in the Clarendon edition, ed. E. S. de Beer (Oxford, 1976-89) , thus: C ~881: VII.~74. [197] 198 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 32:2 APRIL 1994 of it he replied: "I do not wonder to find you think my discourse about liberty a little too fine spun, I had so much that thought of it my self, that I said the same thing of it to some of my friends before it was printed, and told them that upon that account I judg'd it best to leave it out."* Locke made a different response to the second part of Molyneux's judgment , however. "I think," he writes, "there might be something said, which with a great many men would pass for a satisfactory answer to your objection; but it not satisfying me, I neither put it into my book, nor shall now into my letter. If I have put any fallacy on my self in all that deduction, as it may be, and I have been ready to suspect it my self, you will do me a very acceptable kindness to shew it me that I may reform it" (C 159u: IV.6u5). In the event Molyneux did not show Locke any fallacy in his thinking. No matter to Locke, however, since he himself found a flaw, or so he regarded it.3 ,Locke wrote a similar thing to van Limborch some years later: see C ~866: VII.252. In the end, Locke says that he was persuaded to retain his discussion of liberty by these same friends, among whom he evidently included Le Clerc, the "very ingenious but professed Arminian" who, upon being shown Locke's discourse, "frankly confessed he could carry it [so. either "his objections " or the discourse itself] no farther" (C 1592 to Molyneux: IV.695). Le Clerc, however, gives a quite different account of this episode: see his review of the posthumously published letters of Locke in the B/b//oth~que Cho/s/e XVII...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 197-207
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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