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Reviewed by:
  • Toleration and Understanding in Locke by Nicholas Jolley
  • Julie Walsh
Nicholas Jolley. Toleration and Understanding in Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. x + 175. Cloth, $70.00.

Jolley argues that paying close attention to Locke’s Epistola de Tolerentia, as well as the later letters on toleration occasioned by Jonas Proast’s response to the Epistola, reveals that “a different Locke emerges from the one who is familiar to us today; it is a Locke who is more single-mindedly devoted to the project of promoting the cause of religious toleration than has been realized” (5). Jolley argues that Locke is a more systematic thinker than we think, and that the theme that unites his three greatest works—Epistola, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and Two Treatises—is a commitment to the cause of religious toleration (8). Jolley’s discussion proceeds through eight main chapters: one on the socio-cultural backdrop to Locke’s work, four on the connection of the Essay to the project of toleration, one to the connection between Epistola and the Second Treatise, one to how Locke’s project in The Reasonableness of Christianity is consistent with his project in Epistola, and one to explain the absence of arguments for toleration from the law of nature in the Proast letters.

Jolley’s discussion is a welcome addition to the literature on Locke on toleration. His treatment of Locke’s engagement with Proast, and the way that engagement relates to moments in Locke’s earlier writings are engaging and interesting. However, the defense of the view that there is a single unifying theme across texts this broad in scope is an ambitious challenge. Jolley’s defense of Locke’s single-minded devotion to promoting toleration almost meets it. [End Page 374]

Jolley’s best case focuses on the claim that the Second Treatise is a complementary text to Epistola and the Proast letters. Because these texts are concerned with the limits of civil power, he argues, they articulate Locke’s view that the function of the state is to protect civil goods. Against Jeremy Waldron, Jolley advances the view that when the argument in Epistola is understood in contractualist terms, an argument for toleration from the function of the state becomes clear, revealing how Epistola is related to the Second Treatise. This allows Jolley to suggest that Locke’s strategy on this point is analogous to that of John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (108).

When it comes to the Essay, however, the role of religious toleration as a central principle is harder to demonstrate. Jolley acknowledges this difficulty, saying that it is easy to come away from the Essay with the impression that Locke is interested in promoting toleration in the sense that, because many of our beliefs fall short of knowledge, we ought to be tolerant of differences of belief. But Jolley argues further that the Proast letters advance a position beyond the general goal—they show that the epistemological theories of the Essay “support the case for religious toleration on the part of the state” and that as “a result of reading these later letters we can come to understand Locke’s central project in the Essay in a completely new way” (38). It is not obvious that Jolley is successful in defending this point. What he does show is that Locke remains committed to arguments from the Essay in his exchange with Proast, in particular the argument that articulates the demarcation between knowledge and belief. But it is not clear that this commitment throws new light on Locke’s central project in the Essay.

Jolley also appeals to the treatment of belief and will in the Essay to draw a connection between it and the Epistola, where Locke’s anti-voluntarism about belief is clearly articulated. Jolley rightly points out that there is no explicit statement of Locke’s anti-voluntarism about belief in the Essay, and he notes that there are passages in the Essay that seem both to support and to be inconsistent with such a view (75). Jolley’s discussion of both belief and the will is greatly attenuated. Indeed, Locke’s view of the will...


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pp. 374-375
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