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  • The Two Intellectual Worlds of John Locke: Man, Person, and Spirits in the "Essay."
  • Gustavo Costa
John W. Yolton . The Two Intellectual Worlds of John Locke: Man, Person, and Spirits in the "Essay."Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004. xiv + 180 pp. index. bibl. $35. ISBN: 0–8014–4290–7.

It was realized long ago that the Reasonableness of Christianity and theParaphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul attest to Locke's profound interest in theological topics. Yet religion did not influence the interpretation of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which continues to be treated as an entirely secular book, as appears from Étienne Balibar's challenging Identité et différence (1998), which Professor Yolton, a leading authority on Locke, reviewed for the British Journal for the History of Philosophy 10 (2002): 310–12. Yolton feels responsible for this trend of Lockean studies, because in his path-breaking John Locke and the Way of Ideas (1956), he overlooked that according to the Essay innate ideas are wrongly considered as the basis of faith in spirits and angels. Now Yolton presents his palinode: he maintains that Locke did not intend to deny the existence of supernatural beings, but offered a new epistemology able to lend a more solid proof of their existence than the one afforded by any form of innatism.

In his first chapter ("Locke's Man"), which appeared in the Journal of the History of Ideas (62 [2001], 665–83), Yolton points out that the Essay should not be viewed as a materialistic work because Locke asserts that God can grant a mental property to a physical mechanism. Locke does not advocate substance dualism, which would result in materialism, but only property dualism. This is a feat [End Page 705] accomplished by omnipotent God, going beyond our mental grasp. I would like to add that Locke's position is related to the theological problem of God's power, which was debated in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century philosophy (see Potentia Dei: L'onnipotenza divina nel pensiero dei secoli XVI e XVII, eds. Guido Canziani [et al.], 2000). Even Locke's view that immortality is possible for a material being presupposes God's omnipotence. Yolton takes issue with Nicholas Jolley's materialistic interpretation of Locke's account of personal identity, and through an accurate evaluation of the Lockean terms "man" and "person" argues that they are not synonymous: "Person adds something important to man, rationality is added to corporeality" (14). Yolton cogently concludes that in the Essay "the properties of a person — intelligence, rationality, consciousness — are not identified with or reduced to neurobiological properties nor to material particles" (14).

In chapter 2, Yolton considers the "theological domain of Locke's man," viewed as "the workmanship of God," a creature that belongs to the great chain of beings (the allusion to Arthur O. Lovejoy's famous book is implicit), namely the hierarchic order of the universe where man is "higher than the beasts and lower than angels and other intelligent Beings" (38). Above man is the realm of God, angels, and spirits that constitutes Locke's second intellectual world. According to Some Thoughts Concerning Education, immaterial beings are the secret cause of the great phenomena of nature such as gravity. But they have no part in human thought and actions produced by the immaterial mind or soul that is absolutely free. Under this aspect, Locke's position is a far cry from Malebranche's. In chapters 3 and 4, Yolton elaborates on angels, who are for Locke intelligent beings endowed with faculties which may be similar to, but are more perfect than, ours. According to Locke, intelligent beings who occupy many mansions of the universe, including other planets, can also be souls detached from the human body. But his notion of spirits is not clear, because Locke's statements about them are very cautious. Yolton could not find any cue in two books both familiar to Locke: An Essay upon Reason and the Nature of Spirits by Richard Burthogge and Le monde enchanté by Balthasar Bekker (both appeared in 1694, after the Essay was published).

In chapter 5, Yolton shows that Locke does not develop the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 705-707
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-27
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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