2011 South Central Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy Abstracts
Andreea Mihali (Wilfrid Laurier University)
“Toward a Cartesian Epistemic Rule Consequentialism”
In Providence Lost (2008), Genevieve Lloyd claims that Descartes' view of free will "had a profound
and lasting influence on modern ways of thinking about freedom and necessity." Lloyd reads Descartes as a libertarian. He assumes
a sharp distinction (on her reading) between the effects of free human actions and the effects of natural causes. The latter
effects are necessitated by divine providence; but the former are not. Thus Descartes reconciles freedom and necessity by
demarcating a sphere of autonomous action for the human soul that is somehow isolated from an otherwise deterministic universe.
[A similar reading is implicit in Bernard Williams (1978) - who argues that Descartes' laws of physics cannot be deterministic,
because Descartes thinks that human actions are free - and is suggested by Daniel Garber (1993).] I am suspicious of this
characterization. In this paper, I examine the influence of Descartes' view on freedom of the will by looking at how Malebranche
develops this view.
This paper proposes a reading of the Meditations as the tortuous trajectory toward a rule consequentialist
epistemology (but one not connected with Alvin Goldmann’s use of the term). As I use the term, the Meditations tell the story of
the meditator's passage from an unreflective to a reflective stance which contains three levels: rule-extraction--especially the
clarity and distinctness (C&D) rule, rule-adoption, 2nd nature rule-compliance.
The view defended in this paper stands in opposition to the deontological reading of Descartes proposed by
Noa Naaman-Zauderer in her recent book, Descartes’ Deontological Turn (2010). According to Naaman-Zauderer the C&D rule is
binding not because of the value of a further goal but because it is experienced as stemming solely from us. The experience of
perfect freedom resulting from feeling our intellect perfectly unified with our will binds us to act by refraining our assent from
ideas that are perceived less than clearly and distinctly. To support her position Naaman-Zauderer holds that, if blame were about
results, it would be inappropriate when true judgments are formed. But blame is not inappropriate when true judgments are formed
accidentally (CSM 2:41). So, claims Naaman-Zauderer, blame is not about results.
In my view, this conclusion is too strong and a more moderate one is more in keeping with Descartes’
overall thought. I contend that for Descartes blame is about improperly arrived at results; that at least part of the bindingness
of the rule stems from the value of the goal (i.e. truth). To substantiate my claims I propose an alternative account of the C&D rule,
account which brings to light Descartes' reliance and emphasis on results. On my interpretation, results have both a methodological
as well as an adaptive feedback function. Descartes needs results in order to discover the C&D rule; once this rule is in place,
results serve to buttress the rule’s bindingness and to confirm compliance with it. Only once the meditator has become versed in
applying the C&D rule can he dispense with the double-checking of the outcomes of his acts of assent and move into something
resembling Naaman-Zauderer's "deontological" phase.
The guiding thread of my account will be Descartes’ distinction between acts of will before and after they
are elicited (CSM 2:41). A careful survey of the Meditations, the two letters to Mesland (2 May 1644 and 9 Feb 1645 respectively),
the Principles and the Passions leads to the following systematic reconstruction of Descartes’ views of the will: starting from an
unreflective, instinctive use of his free will the agent eventually comes to reflect on completed acts of will. This happens after
having accepted certain beliefs and is possible due to the ability to attentively consider things which is part of the agent's
rational nature. Once this reflective stance is taken, the agent goes from after (i.e. completed acts of will) to before (to
preconditions of willing and, at a later stage, to freedom markers (see below) to after (results). Then, the reflective agent
moves from the new after (from dissected results) to before (preconditions of correct results, i.e. rules for getting to the truth)
to after (double-checking the efficiency of applying the rules). From a broad application of the before/after criterion to acts of
will in general (without attempting to track any specific features) we are led to a more specific application of this distinction,
narrowing it down to identifying freedom before/after acts of will are elicited. Part III of this paper contains an analysis of
The before/after distinction is, first, a way of distinguishing between a "prima facie" and an "all things
considered" perspective on the freedom of our acts of will. All before evaluations are prima facie but not conversely since we
can take into account only the results of our acts of will: both first-person before and third-person after appraisals are prima
facie. Prima facie appraisals are incomplete and employing them exclusively leads to taxonomy mistakes which I will call "inauthentic
freedoms." Second, to arrive at an all-things-considered perspective, our acts of will must be assessed in both procedural and
results-based terms. The importance of procedural considerations for Descartes is clear from his emphasis on the right order of
steps of inquiry, in both the Discourse (CSM 1:120) and the Meditations (CSM 2:110-112). From a Cartesian procedural standpoint,
we are always to blame for beliefs and actions arrived at accidentally. Furthermore, an all things considered, procedural as well
as results-based, assessment reveals that we can also be praised or blamed for the truth/falsity and rightness/wrongness of our
beliefs and actions (CSM 2:41). When both the procedural and the proper results conditions are met, all things considered assessments
yield "authentic freedoms."
The authentic varieties of spontaneity and perversity refer, respectively, to acts of assent and refraining
from assenting to clear and distinct ideas insofar as these ideas were reflectively and deliberately evaluated by the agent.
Authentic indifference consists of rendering no judgment when reasons on both sides are balanced. Authentic spontaneity and
indifference warrant praise while inauthentic indifference and authentic perversity result in blame ascriptions. In the theoretical
sphere, praise is appropriate for: (1) refraining from formulating any judgment in situations of epistemic balance; and (2) true
judgments arrived at after making sure that the ideas that prompt our will are indeed clear and distinct. Blame comes in degrees;
agents are: (i) blameworthy for (both true and false) judgments arrived at starting from a situation of epistemic balance; and (ii)
even more to blame for refraining from assenting to clear and distinct ideas which withstood scrutiny.
I conclude, contra Naaman-Zauderer, that the analysis of the before/after (acts of will are elicited)
criterion culminating in the authentic/inauthentic freedoms distinction lends support to a rule-consequentialist interpretation
of Descartes' epistemology.
Colin Chamberlain (Harvard University)
"You’ve Changed: Descartes on the Mind-Body Union
Although Descartes argues for a real distinction between mind and body, he also claims that in the case of
human beings, these two heterogenous substances are somehow united. In her book Descartes’s Dualism (1998), Marleen Rozemond argues
that the mind-body union changes the nature of the mind, such that the mind acquires capacities for sensation, imagination, and
passion. But that is only one side of the story. As Deborah Brown argues in "Is Descartes’s body a mode of mind?"
[in Forming the Mind, ed. Lagerlund & Yrjonsuuri (2007), 263-82], the mind-body union changes the nature of the body as well.
[Paul Hoffman argues for a similar claim in his paper "The Unity of Descartes’s Man" (Phil Rev 1986, 339-70) but within the context
of his larger argument for the conclusion that Descartes’s man is a hylomorphic substance. My view differs from Hoffman’s to the
extent that I argue that the relation between mind and body is symmetrical. According to my account, both the human mind and the
human body depend on the union to be the kinds of things that they are. In contrast, Hoffman’s view is that the dependency only
goes in one direction, namely, only the human body depends on the mind. Notice that this asymmetry is essential to his claim that
the mind is related to the human body as form to matter.]
Andrew Platt, Central Michigan University
In this paper, I shall propose an account of the mind-body union that incorporates both these insights.
On my reading of Descartes, both the nature of the mind and the nature of the body change as a result of their union. A pure mind
is transformed into a human mind, and, similarly, a body in general is changed into a human body. From this it follows that the
human mind and human body are metaphysically interdependent, in the sense that each depends on the other to be the kind of thing
that it is. At one point, Rozemond describes her view by saying that "corporeity is, so to speak, mixed into the mind" (188).
My proposal is that mind is mixed into the body as well.
My discussion occurs in three stages. First, drawing on Rozemond’s work, I argue that a pure intellect
only becomes a human mind in virtue of its union with the body; it acquires capacities for sensation, imagination, and passion.
My proposal is that it is essential to human minds to have these capacities: it is what sets our minds apart from angelic minds.
Descartes endorses this claim in the January 1642 letter to Regius, when he writes: "[f]or if an angel were in a human body he
would not have sensations as we do, but would simply perceive the motions which are caused by external objects, and in this way
would differ from a real man" (AT III 493, CSM III 206).
Second, drawing on Brown and Hoffman’s work, I argue that an appropriately organized body only becomes a
human body in virtue of its relation with a mind. The key text for this claim occurs in the 9 February 1645 letter to Mesland, in
which Descartes maintains that the identity conditions for a body in general differ from the identity conditions for a human body
(AT IV 166, CSM III 242-243). More specifically, Descartes claims that a portion of matter becomes a human body in virtue of its
union with a soul. But how does the union with the soul transform a body in general into a human body? I argue that as a result of
its union with a mind, the human body acquires three important types of properties that set it apart from all other bodies,
including animal bodies. The union imbues the human body with evaluative properties, a special kind of indivisibility, and the capacity
for dynamic (rather than merely mechanical) responses to its environment. Just as the capacity for sensation is essential to the
human mind, these three types of properties are essential to the human body.
Third, on my reading there is a tighter connection between the human mind and the human body than is
immediately apparent. If the mind and body only become a human mind and a human body when they are united, it follows that the
union is essential to both. Neither could exist without the other as the kinds of things that they presently are, and thus there
is a sense in which they are inseparable, at least qua human mind and human body. This is arguably sufficient for them to compose
an ens per se, since it is no accident that the human mind and human body always exist together. That being said, the human mind
and body do not compose a third kind of substance, so that my interpretation is consistent with Descartes's dualism with regard
to created substances.
Somewhat paradoxically, it turns out that although mind and body are really distinct, the human mind and
the human body are not. The intellect, the angelic core of the human mind, is really distinct from the body, but the human mind,
a mind infused with impure mental states, is not. Similarly, the animal machine is really distinct from the mind, but the human body,
with its distinctive properties, is not really distinct from the mind. My mind, which is presently a human mind, can exist apart
from my body; but when it is separate from my body, it ceases to be a human mind and exists instead as a pure intelligence. Thus
we might say that the human mind and body are related like a key and lock, assuming that it is essential to a key to be able to open
a lock, and to a lock that there is a key that opens it. Although the two lumps of metal from which they are made can exist apart
from one another, the key and lock cannot.
Descartes' comments on human freedom are short, fragmented and prima facie inconsistent with one another.
And there is, predictably, significant debate over how to understand his views on this topic. Étienne Gilson (1913) and Vere Chappell
(1994) argue for a "compatibilist" reading, on which Descartes thinks that human actions are free in a way that is compatible with
their effects being determined by God. C.P. Ragland (2005, 2006) and Lex Neuman (forthcoming) defend a "libertarian" reading, on
which Descartes thinks that the outcomes of human actions must be undetermined to count as free. And Michelle Bayssade (1994) and
Tad Schmaltz (1994, 2008) argue that Descartes' views on human freedom changed over time, with Descartes holding something like
the compatibilist position at the first publication of the Meditations in 1641, but the libertarian position by perhaps the time
of the Principles in 1644. Given this combination of different plausible interpretations and a paucity of texts, it seems appropriate
to look to the work of other Cartesian thinkers to see how Descartes' position might be developed more fully.
Unlike Descartes, Malebranche discuss human freedom at length in several texts, including Elucidation I
(1678) and Réflexion sur la prémotion physique (1715), and in his responses to Arnauld (1684-94). As I read them, both Descartes
and Malebranche understand divine providence to entail that God directly causes every effect in the created world - including those
effects that result from free human actions. Malebranche explicitly argues for Occasionalism, or the thesis that God alone is the
cause of every effect, and no finite, created substance is a true efficient cause. Yet (like Descartes) he also endorses an
Augustinian solution to the problem of evil: he holds that God is not morally responsible for sin, because sinful acts result from
human free will.
This poses an obvious dilemma for Malebranche. On one horn of the dilemma, Malebranche thinks Occasionalism
entails that finite creatures (including humans) are not causes, and hence are not causes of sin. But if God causes every effect,
and humans are not causes of sin, then God is solely responsible for sin. On the other horn, Malebranche thinks that humans are
responsible for sin, because sinful acts involve some act of the human will. It follows that there is some effect not caused by God,
and hence that Occasionalism is false. Tad Schmaltz (1996) and Andrew Pessin (2000) think that Malebranche responds by trying to
blunt the second horn. On their reading, Malebranche thinks - or eventually comes to think - human free actions are an exception to his
Occasionalism. Andrew Pyle (2003) argues that Malebranche's position is simply inconsistent here. In this paper, I argue that
Malebranche's approach, throughout his writings, is to blunt the first horn of this dilemma by trying to articulate the position
that divine providence is compatible with human freedom.
Jeffrey McDonough, Harvard University
“Leibniz on Monadic Teleology and Optimal Form”
Leibniz maintains that every immaterial substance, every “monad,” must will what it
perceives to be the best. He also maintains, however, that every monad must unfold in such a manner as to
contribute in its own distinctive way to the perfection of the world. How are these two commitments to be
reconciled? In this essay, I suggest that Leibniz’s solution is to be found in his understanding of optimal
form. The first section introduces that notion through Leibniz’s application of it to the technical problem of
determining the shape of catenaries, that is, the shape of freely hanging cords suspended at two ends.
The second section argues that Leibniz’s “optimal form” model of the will provides him with an especially elegant
way of reconciling his commitment to two kinds of monadic teleology. The third section argues that the same model
enables him to account for apparently involuntary actions in general, and to respond to Bayle’s famous “dog
objection” in particular. Finally, the fourth section argues that Leibniz’s “optimal form” model of the will
provides him with ingenious accounts of both the relationship between petite appetites and “long distance”
teleology, as well as between appetite and reason in rational agents.
Jeremy Dunham, University of the West of England
“Leibniz, Nominalism and Plato’s Beard”
In this paper I shall examine the nominalist and realist readings of Leibniz's metaphysics and the
consequences of such readings for the interpretation of a Leibnizian simple substance or monad in his final metaphysics.
Since Benson Mates' (1986) influential work The Philosophy of Leibniz, it has become popular, with some justification, to refer to
Leibniz's metaphysics as 'nominalist'. Despite the important evidence that supports this view, I shall argue that such an
interpretation is fundamentally flawed and, if taken seriously, offers a conception of Leibniz's simple substances that is
ultimately lacking in content. Hermann Lotze (1868) was perhaps the first, but certainly not the last, to argue that Leibniz's
metaphysics is "content free" - all monads perceive, but from where, he asked, do monads receive the content for these perceptions?
I shall argue that the key problem with the nominalist reading is that it leaves Lotze's question unanswerable. This is
problematic because one of Leibniz's main criticisms of the Cartesian theory of extension is that from extension alone one cannot
explain the heterogeneous variety present in the world. Leibniz's simple substances were posited as bearers of primitive qualities
capable of explaining our varied phenomenal world unaccountable for by extension alone. If these substances end up lacking in
content too, then his solution would fare no better than the Cartesian alternative.
The reading I shall present in this paper argues that Leibniz is fundamentally a Platonic realist, i.e., a
phenomenal being possesses reality iff it borrows that reality from a (Platonic) form. I shall show that when we examine the evidence
for and against Leibniz's realism we find an unusual pattern. In the passages where Leibniz seems most clearly to adopt a nominalist
position, he openly rejects "abstract universals" or the Scholastic "abstract entities." However, in the passages where Leibniz seems
to adopt a realist position, and these are numerous, he applauds the "Platonic Ideas" or "forms." As far as I am aware there are no
exceptions to this rule. Leibniz never attempts to praise the abstract entities of the Scholastics, and he never attempts to condemn
the theory of the Platonic Ideas. This suggests that Leibniz makes an unusual distinction between the two. I shall argue that by
making such a distinction Leibniz separates himself from the mediaeval realists and creates the possibility of defending some theses
broadly definable as "nominalist," whilst also defending strong realist theses. Finally, I shall argue that the other philosopher who,
Leibniz believed, made this same distinction is Malebranche, and I shall contrast the theory of Ideas in both philosophers in order
further to support my case that Leibniz is a Platonic realist. This contrast will help to untangle Leibniz's various broadly
nominalist theses from his realist theses in order to demonstrate the importance of the latter for a correct understanding of the
constitution of a Leibnizian simple substance.
In his "Leibniz's Nominalism" (1990), Massimo Mugnai argues that Leibniz defends a theory of Platonic
Ideas throughout his philosophical career in mente Dei. The role of this region idearum is to act as a "soft solution" to
guarantee "the objectivity of human knowledge." I agree with Mugnai that Leibniz combines broadly nominalist claims with the
reality of the Ideas in the mind of God. However, I shall take a different approach and disagree with his claim that Leibniz's
theory is a "soft solution" for three reasons: (1) I shall argue that the region idearum is not the exclusive property of God and
that the understanding of each and every substance consists in its own set of forms, albeit passive to a certain degree of intensity.
(2) I shall emphasize, not merely the epistemic role that the Platonic Ideas play in anchoring objective knowledge, but also the
causal role that forms play in the production of qualities. The causal element of Platonic Ideas is often overlooked in favor of
the epistemological element, especially in the context of contemporary debates regarding nominalism and realism. It is important
that we recognize the importance of both roles of the Ideas for Leibniz's philosophy. It is the causal role of the Platonic Ideas
that, for Leibniz, differentiates them from the abstract entities of the Scholastics, which were posited as acausal individual
substances. 3) Finally, I shall show that the Ideas play an essential role in providing content for a monad's perceptions and,
therefore, that the Platonic realist interpretation defended in this paper avoids the problem of the "content free monad"
presented by Lotze. I conclude that this, as well as the textual evidence in my favor, gives us good reason to prefer this
reading to either the nominalist or the "soft solution" readings.
Greg Brown, University of Houston
“Leibniz on the Possibility of a Spatial Vacuum”
The authors of two recent works focused on the debates in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence have argued that
despite some appearances to the contrary, Leibniz was committed to the possibility of a vacuum, even though he held that there was
no space devoid of matter in the actual world. One well-known appearance to the contrary occurs in Leibniz's Fifth Paper for Clarke,
in which he declared: "I don't say that matter and space are the same thing. I only say, there is no space, where there is no matter;
and that space in itself is not an absolute reality" [HGA, 77].
In commenting on this passage in his book, Leibniz and Clarke: A Study of their Correspondence (1996), Ezio
Vailati has argued that "Leibniz is best understood as saying that space is given only if matter is given (the construction of
space requires spatial relations among objects), not that space and matter must be, as it were, coextended;" for according to
Vailati, "Leibniz did hold that a vacuum is metaphysically possible" and "was also committed to the possibility of extramundane
space" (117). Writing in a similar vein, Edward Khamara has made the following observation concerning the passage
from Leibniz's Fifth Paper:
This crucial passage may be read in two different ways, yielding what I would call an extreme and a moderate version of
Leibniz's theory. (i) On the extreme version, Leibniz rules out the possibility of unoccupied places. The word 'where' is to be
given a literal, locational reading as indicating a spatial position; and what Leibniz is saying here is that there is no spatial
position unless it is occupied by some material object. (ii) On the moderate version, Leibniz does not rule out the possibility
of unoccupied places; what he does rule out is the possibility of a spatial world containing no material objects at all. The word
'where' in the . . . passage [from Leibniz's Fifth Paper] is to be taken non-spatially as a mere logical 'if'; and what Leibniz is
saying here is that if there are no material objects at all then there is no space, but if there are material objects then it is
possible to have unoccupied as well as occupied places. . . . I believe the moderate version to be true to the Leibniz of the
Clarke Correspondence when we take the totality of his views of space into account." (40)
On Khamara's interpretation of Leibniz, all that is required is an actual frame of reference: "The frame of
reference must consist of actual physical objects; and this is enough to bestow reality on a whole space with every place in it.
For a real space, according to this theory, is a set of places, a set of locational possibilities relatively to an actual frame of
reference; and given an actual frame, all the possibilities of being situated relatively to that frame are also given" (42).
More recently, Michael Futch has responded to both Vailati and Khamara. Futch distinguishes between what he
calls a "modal" and a "non-modal" reduction of space and time. For our purposes, the most important feature of the distinction
between modal and non-modal reductionism is, to use Futch's words, "that the former allows for times without events or changes and
locations unoccupied by bodies, whereas the latter does not" (Futch 2007, 31). Thus in Futch's terminology, what Khamara calls
the "moderate version of Leibniz's theory" of space amounts to modal reductionism. While acknowledging that he thinks that "no
definitive answer can be given here, and that there are good reasons for seeing Leibniz as adopting [modal reductionism with
respect to space and non-modal reductionism with respect to time]," Futch undertakes to show that "the weight of evidence . . . tips
the scales in favor of [Leibniz's having adopted] non-modal reductionism with respect to space and time" (48), which implies that on
Leibniz's view it is not only the case that there is no vacuum in the actual world, but also that a vacuum is metaphysically
Futch concedes that Leibniz holds that the possibility of spatial vacua cannot be ruled out on verificationist
grounds (see New Essays II, 15, 11) and that Leibniz "often denies the actual existence of a vacuum based on the principle of the best"
(ibid., p. 49). But since neither arguments based on the principle of the best nor appeals to verificationism can rule out possible
worlds with spatial vacua, Futch acknowledges that "were these the only arguments Leibniz submitted against vacua, we would be left
with the conclusion that there are possible worlds with empty space" (ibid.). However, Futch argues that Leibniz had other arguments
against empty space. In particular, Futch argues that Leibniz sometimes deployed an argument that made use of the Principle of the
Identity of Indiscernibles to show, not just that Newtonian absolute space does not exist, but also that empty space does not exist.
According to this argument, since the parts of empty space would be indiscernible from each other, they would differ only in number,
which is absurd by the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. Hence, all empty space, not just Newtonian absolute space, is
In this paper I will argue that the textual evidence that Futch cites to defend his position argues only
against the possibility of empty space in the Newtonian, absolutist sense of space. The arguments that appeal to the Principle
of Identity of Indiscernibles are only designed to show that space is not a thing, and are thus compatible with there being a
possible world with unoccupied spatial locations, that is, a world in which there are spatial relations that a body might bear to
some reference frame consisting of other bodies at some time t in that world but that nobody does, in fact, bear to that
reference frame at other time t´ in that world. This seems to be in line with Leibniz's claim, in his Third Paper for Clarke,
that "space is nothing else but [the] order or relation [of bodies among themselves]; and is nothing at all without bodies, but
the possibility of placing them" (HGA, 26).
Ruth Boeker, University of St Andrews /
“The Role of Appropriation in Locke’s Account of Persons and Personal Identity”
Kenneth Winkler's interpretation of Locke's self or person in terms of appropriation or
subjective constitution has shaped the subsequent discussion of appropriation interpretations of Locke's theory
of persons and personal identity [JHP 29 (1991), 201-26]. In this paper I propose to revisit the role which
appropriation plays in Locke's theory. This will allow to critically evaluate the problem which Winkler raises
at the end of his paper, namely, that a self's appropriations seem to conflict with divine rectification.
(Shelley Weinberg regards this problem in her forthcoming paper "The Metaphysical Fact of Consciousness in
Locke's Theory of Personal Identity" as a reason to reject appropriation interpretations.)
In this paper I argue for three claims: (1) Appropriation plays an important role in
Locke's theory; it is relevant with respect to the constitution of a person at a time. (2) Despite the fact
that appropriation plays an important role in Locke's theory, it does not give a new self-standing criterion
of personal identity over time. (3) If the role of appropriation is properly understood, it does not have to
conflict with the possibility of divine rectification.
In order to argue for (1) and (2), it is important to separate the question of what
constitutes a person at a time from the question of what personal identity consists in. I propose that the
appropriation of present actions should be considered separately from the appropriation of past actions.
With regard to present actions, I argue that the act of appropriating an action goes beyond mere consciousness
of the action: To appropriate an action means to make the action one's own and in performing the action one
makes it one's own. This provides the basis for establishing (1), namely, that appropriation is important with
respect to the constitution of a person at a time. [In order to establish (1) the following circularity worry
has to be answered: The worry is that in order to make an action my own a distinction between my self and other
persons is presupposed. This worry can be answered by showing that it is unproblematic to assume the existence
of a subject at the time when an action is performed, since there cannot be an action in the absence of a
subject that performs it. The existence of an intimate link between this subject and the action helps to
distinguish my actions from the actions of others in a non-circular way.]
However, when a past action is appropriated, no new act of appropriation takes place,
but rather one makes a past action one's own by remembering the previous act of appropriation. To argue for this
result I draw attention to the fact that memory for Locke is episodic memory. This means in remembering an action,
I remember having done the action and not merely that I did it. To remember an action in this sense, involves
remembering the previous act of appropriation. The fact that no new act of appropriation takes place when a
person regards a past action as his or her own, establishes that appropriation is not suitable to provide a
self-standing criterion of personal identity over time - this is my claim (2). In sum, I defend the view that
appropriation plays an important role with respect to the constitution of a person at a time, but Locke's
criterion of personal identity over time is best understood in terms of sameness of consciousness.
To argue for (3), I draw attention to the fact that memory, according to Locke, is not
merely phenomenal memory, but requires previous awareness of the relevant thought or action. [See Garrett,
"Locke on Personal Identity, Consciousness, and 'Fatal Errors'," Philosophical Topics 31 (2003): 95-125.
Flew was one of the first interpreters who discussed Locke's theory in the light of the distinction between
genuine and phenomenal memory and argued that Locke's view faces a dilemma; see his "Locke and the Problem of
Personal Identity," Philosophy 26 (1951): 53-68. See also Mackie, Problems from Locke, ch. 6.] In particular,
it involves awareness of a previous act of appropriation. If one accepts that appropriation plays an important
role at the time when an action is performed, the act of appropriation is something objective for God to appeal
to and helps distinguishing imaginary memory from genuine memory. Understood in this way, appropriation is not
a problem for divine rectification. The price for reconciling appropriation and divine rectification is
diminishing the subjective role of the self at a later time when past actions are remembered in favor of making
room for the possibility of divine corrections. Whether Locke would be willing to diminish the subjective role
of the self, is hard to decide on the basis of the textual evidence.
However, I will conclude by drawing attention to the strengths of my interpretation.
Firstly, it acknowledges the importance which appropriation plays in Locke's theory. Secondly, it shows how
appropriation can be integrated into an account of divine rectification. Thirdly, my interpretation can answer
problems which have puzzled other interpreters.
Lewis Powell, Wayne State University
“Locke’s Problem with Privations”
In Essay II.8, John Locke tells us that positive ideas can have privative causes. In
III.1, he tells us that privative terms do not signify any ideas, but rather are related to positive ideas,
and signify their absence. When these two passages are taken together, it is hard not conclude that Locke was
careful to avoid a commitment to privative ideas: after all, reality contains privative causes, language
contains privative terms, why should the mind lack privative ideas? In this paper, I explore how Locke's
avoidance of privative ideas generates substantive problems for his views on language, and investigate a
potential source for Locke's reluctance to embrace privative ideas.
Locke was one of the few figures in the early modern period to explicitly offer a
systematic theory of language. The central thought driving his theory is that the purpose of language is to
provide an outward manifestation of our otherwise undisclosed mental life. To this end, Locke deploys the
resources of his theory of ideas, in order to offer a psychologistic account of the signification of words and
sentences. In general, for Locke, words signify ideas in the mind of the speaker, and the linguistic category
of a term is typically inherited from the classification of the idea it signifies (e.g. abstract terms are
those which signify abstract ideas).
Locke makes three exceptions to this general rule, two of which are given in III.7
("Of Particles"). First is the copula, which we may take to include the inflection of the verb in sentences
that lack an explicit copula. These are said to be "the general marks of the mind, affirming or denying," so that
in the sentence "Susan is tall," "is" signifies the speaker's act of affirming the idea of tallness of the idea
of Susan. Second are particles proper, such as "but" or "therefore." Like the copula, these terms signify not an
idea, but some act of mind: "The Words, whereby [the mind] signifies what connection it gives to the several
Affirmations and Negations, that it unites into one continued Reasoning or Narration, are generally call'd
Particles." Thus, in uttering "Susan is happy, but Jack is sad," the term "but" signifies the mind's act of
contrasting the former affirmation with the latter.
The third exception, which is my focus in this paper, concerns privative terms. In
III.1.4, Locke tells us that, "Besides these Names which stand for Ideas, there be other words which men
make use of, not to signify any Idea, but the want or absence of some Ideas simple or complex, or all Ideas
together; such as are nihil in Latin, and in English, Ignorance and Barrenness. All which negative or privative
Words, cannot be said properly to belong to, or signify no Ideas, for then they would be perfectly Insignificant
Sounds; but they relate to positive Ideas, and signify their absence."
There are two issues arising from this view. The first is that this account of the
signification of negative terms is at odds with Locke's additional claim that verbal affirmations of privative
terms are equivalent to verbal denials of their correspondent positive terms. In other words, Locke tells us
that sentences like "Jack is ignorant" and "Jack has no knowledge" co-signify, but his account of the
signification of "Jack is ignorant" is incompatible with his account of the signification of "Jack has no
knowledge." Since this puzzle could be avoided by retreating from the claim of co-signification (and retreating
to a weaker sort of equivalence), it makes sense for us to focus on the second problem: no extant account of
signification in Locke's theory can make sense of signifying an absence from the speaker's mind, and still
retain a correct account of the mental state expressed and/or the truth-conditions of the utterance. One way to
draw out this puzzle is with a sentence like "Silence and melodic sounds both please me." On Locke's account,
"silence" signifies the absence of sound ideas from the mind, while "melodic sounds" signifies certain sound
ideas in the mind. It is impossible for the subject terms in that sentence to both signify correctly, and yet,
it seems possible for someone to sincerely and correctly utter the sentence.
It is an unsurprising occurrence that there is a decidedly non-empiricist story for
the acquisition of privative ideas in Descartes. In the third meditation discussion of the innate idea of God,
Descartes goes through an argument to the conclusion that we must have an innate idea of God because we are
aware that we are imperfect. Descartes reasons that the only way we could acquire such an idea is by
possessing the idea of a perfect being with which to compare ourselves (and discover that we are lacking).
Thus, the source of privative ideas for Descartes is (at least in part) the innate idea of God. In view of this,
one might take Locke's studied avoidance of privative ideas to be motivated by agreement with Descartes that
no such ideas could be had absent an innate idea of a perfect being. I support this speculation with some evidence
from Locke's discussion of our idea of infinity, and conclude with a discussion of the prospects for giving an
empiricist reply to this Cartesian challenge about the source of privative ideas.
Shelley Weinberg, University of
“Locke’s Reply to the Skeptic”
It is uncontroversial to say that Locke's treatment of the skeptical problem is considered
by most to be inadequate. What is often called Locke's "insouciant" attitude toward the problem is even more
puzzling given his textual commitments to a representational theory of perception with the ensuing "veil of
ideas." [Not everyone attributes to Locke a representational theory of perception, but most do.] Moreover, he
claims that we have "sensitive knowledge" of the existence of an external world. Equally enigmatic is that
although Locke claims that sensitive knowledge counts as a species of knowledge, rather than a species of
judgment, he also seems to offer a series of probabilistic arguments in defense of sensitive knowledge.
But the proper role for probabilistic arguments in Locke's scheme of things is to support judgment, not knowledge.
If Locke really thinks that we have some degree of knowledge of the external world, then what work does he see
the probabilistic arguments doing? And if he intends the probabilistic arguments as epistemic justification for
sensitive knowledge, then why does he consider it knowledge and why doesn't he take the skeptic more seriously?
We can, fortunately, answer these questions and, indeed, show that Locke's theory of
knowledge allows for a consistent, interesting, and philosophically satisfactory reply to the skeptic. I will
argue that Locke's reply to the skeptic is found in an analysis of the different degrees of knowledge (intuitive,
demonstrative, and sensitive). This is not to say that Locke considers himself (or I consider Locke) to have a
full-fledged solution to the skeptical problem, but only that his conception of sensitive knowledge is not so
obviously a target for the skeptic as traditionally conceived. The reason is that the skeptical question for
any representational theory of perception is generally thought to be a challenge to existential knowledge as
inferential knowledge. To the contrary, I will argue that Locke understands sensitive knowledge, like
intuitive knowledge, to be non-inferential. Thus, Locke sees the skeptical question traditionally conceived as
less pressing and the probabilistic arguments not as defense of the claim that sensitive knowledge counts as
knowledge, but rather as he describes them - as "concurrent" reasons to shore up what we already sensitively know.
[It is unusual, I admit, to speak of buttressing knowledge with probabilistic arguments. But it is also unusual,
as Locke has it, for knowledge to come in degrees according to certainty and for one of those degrees to fall
somewhere in between probability and knowledge proper.]
I will argue that the degree of certainty we have in the different forms of
knowledge depends on how well each "degree" of knowledge meets both psychological and rational conditions.
In drawing out Locke's own implicit analogy between intuitive and sensitive knowledge and by comparing the way
in which each one meets both of these conditions, we will see that although intuitive and sensitive knowledge
meet the same psychological conditions, they do not meet the same rational or normative conditions.
Both sensitive and intuitive knowledge are the immediate (non-inferential) perception of an agreement of ideas
in which we cannot but accept what is presented to us as true. But, unlike intuitive knowledge, sensitive
knowledge does not meet a higher rational or normative condition. Should I step back from my sensitive knowledge
and reflectively ask whether I should accept what I immediately perceive, I can generate a reason for doubt.
[Of course this is not to say that I would be irrational to accept my sensitive knowledge, but only that
the skeptical possibility presents itself.] Hence, sensitive knowledge is a lesser degree of certainty of
knowledge. But it is still knowledge - at least for Locke. Therefore, not all knowledge, for Locke, must
necessarily meet the same epistemic conditions. I suggest that the similarities and differences in the degrees
of knowledge and the ways in which they meet these conditions constitute Locke's reply to the skeptic.
[Although the bulk of the paper addresses only intuitive and sensitive knowledge, I will also show why Locke's
understanding of demonstrative knowledge is consistent with the interpretation.]
Remy Debes, University of Memphis
“The Peculiar Ethics of David Hume”
Hume’s ethics turns on the idea of moral sentiment. However, existing scholarly effort
to understand Hume’s account of moral sentiment is critically underdeveloped. The problem stems from a failure
to address seriously the fact that Hume lays at the heart of his ethical argument in A Treatise of Human Nature
not just any sentiment, but a peculiar sentiment. Although most commentators notice the peculiar sentiment
argument, no one has yet tried to determine exhaustively what this argument amounts to for Hume.
There is no dedicated and systematic study of the nature of this “peculiarity”; the import of the argument for
Hume’s general ethical theory; the consistency of that argument with his greater philosophical system; and
the supposed source of the peculiar sentiment in the human psyche. This paper takes the first steps towards
correcting this oversight.