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Between Empiricism and Platonism: The Concept of Reason in Locke’s Philosophy

Thorsson , Elisabeth Maria Louise (2018) Between Empiricism and Platonism: The Concept of Reason in Locke’s Philosophy. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

Locke has long been read in the light of the ideas of Hobbes, that is, as a materialist philosopher, endorsing a conventional view of morality. Hobbes does this through an instrumentalist interpretation of the human reason and Epicurean naturalism (i.e. the hypothesis that everything is made of atoms). Even though Locke’s writings are replete with expressions of his Christian thought, scholars have suggested that Locke is committed to an empirical stance underwritten by these ultimately Epicurean commitments. There is, therefore, a tension in Locke’s philosophy between three divergent thought complexes: his empiricism, his commitment to Christianity, and what seems to be a form of scepticism. This tension poses an interpretative problem, especially concerning Locke’s claims about morality and theology, and the sincerity of his commitment to God. The Hobbist interpretation of Locke has gained ground in recent years, and as a result, Locke’s religious philosophy has been criticised for being either irrelevant or inconsistent. The purpose of this thesis is to engage in and refute that line of criticism by demonstrating that it is possible to give an alternative and richer account of Locke’s intellectual background. By focusing on Locke’s conception of reason, I trace new sources through an overlooked history of ideas from the ancient Platonic tradition, the Stoics, and the Jewish Neo-Platonist philosopher Philo of Alexandria, to the so-called Cambridge Platonists. In particular, I reinterpret Locke’s definition of reason in the light of the Platonist tradition, as containing certain metaphysical and universal traits that are inherently Platonist, and not as something instrumental. The Cambridge Platonists were prominently engaged in a debate against Hobbes, aiming to refute his materialism and arguing for the retainment of a classical understanding of the concept of reason in order to save Christian ethics from Epicureanism and atheism. With this thesis, I show that this debate was very much alive and present to Locke, which he also crucially partook in, and that he in fact sides with the Platonists more so than with Hobbes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > Philosophy (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.745795
Depositing User: Miss Elisabeth Maria Louise Thorsson
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2018 09:51
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2018 15:24
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/20476

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