In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

556 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY ~4:4 OCTOBER 1986 Nicholas Jolley. Leibniz and Locke. A Study of the "New Essayson Human Understanding." New York: Oxford University Press, The Clarendon Press, t984. Pp. 215. $34.95From our perspective it is tempting to view the conflict between the philosophies of Locke and Leibniz as embodied in the New Essays on Human Understanding as an epistemologicai one. It is Jolley's central contention that this is not so. Rather, the major difference is metaphysical. It lies in the fact that the book is "defending the idea of a simple immaterial and naturally immortal soul" (7)- Leibniz, as Berkeley. argues that reality is ultimately spiritual whereas Locke concedes too much to the new science which threatened to introduce a new materialism. The central themes of Leibniz's critique of Ix)cke are often taken to be founded on his remark that "Nothing is in the understanding which was not previously in the senses, except the understanding itself." But Jolley emphasizes the way l.~ibniz's words continue. In these Locke is taken to task because he "alsoundermines the immaterial nature of the soul. He inclined to the Socinians... whose philosophy of God and mind was always mean" (quoted on 1~). It is the charge of Socinianism that is examined in Chapter ~. Joltey does not wish to maintain that the New Essays is primarily an anti-Socinian tract but the current standing of Socinianism and Leibniz's strong opposition are very much to the fore in the context of the work, with special reference to the Socinian denial of God's foreknowledge and the natural immortality of the soul. The Socinians, Leibniz complained , have debased our minds to the level of matter. To appreciate the nature of the gap between Locke and Leibniz we must remember , as Jolley rightly emphasizes, that Locke's doubts about the immaterial nature of the mind arise not because Locke thought that there is good argument for the materialist position. Rather it is because we lack knowledge of the essential nature of the soul that Locke could see no conclusive argument for the immaterialist one. Locke's rejection of Cartesian claims to knowledge of essence lead him to an agnosticism about the mind which Leibniz interprets as a commitment to a positive metaphysics which is almost certainly not to be found there. Is Leibniz, then, unfair to Locke right from the outset? From Leibniz's viewpoint the answer must be "not at all." Locke's failure to grasp that we can indeed know the essence of mind is itself enough to set him on the downward path to materialism. It looks as though Leibniz was committed to the position that to admit to the possibility of thinking matter was tantamount to admitting its necessity. As Jolley sees it, and the argument is persuasive, Leibniz takes Locke's epistemological enquiry to be a blind for his real concern which is to insinuate a materialist metaphysics (2o). In Chapter 3, The English Background, Jolley gives us important insight into the extent of Leibniz's understanding of the debate generated in England not only over Locke's Essay but also by his other writings, especially TheReasonablenzss of Christianity. I_.eibniz was kept fully informed on matters by Thomas Burnett, including the fact that Locke was the author of the anonymously published Rtasonab/enzss. We must therefore see the New Essays as emerging from a picture of Locke's thought which BOOK REVIEWS 557 was much more comprehensive than the content might lead one to suppose. Added to this was the failure of Leibniz actually to make contact with I~cke who ignored his advances. This cannot be attributed solely to churlishness on Locke's side, for Leibniz 's paper criticizing his views which he received via Burnett in 1696 contained much dogma and little argument. In isolation from Leibniz's wider philosophy, Locke's response was not surprising: the paper appeared not to be of sufficient intellectual merit to warrant detailed reply. It is perhaps worth adding to Jolley's argument that if Locke had seen in Leibniz's words a comprehensive assault on his theology he might in any case...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 556-558
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.