Early Modern Philosophy

John Locke

What was Locke’s solution to the Cartesian mind-body problem?

Locke went on to claim that, in the state of nature, there were two provisos against accumulation through labor: that there be “as much and as good” left over; and that there be no waste. The first proviso assumed that natural resources would never run out. The second allowed for the store of unused items in precious objects that could be used as money, thereby allowing surplus production to be stored as wealth without the original producer being wasteful. In Locke’s state of nature there was industry, cooperation, and trade. Human beings were basically peaceful, except for a few criminals. To assure justice in punishment, government was necessary, but it was merely a convenience added to a generally functional and satisfying situation.

Locke held that all of our knowledge comes to us from our ideas and that we do not have a clear idea of either material or immaterial substance. It follows from this that if substance exists, we do not know anything about it, apart from its qualities that adhere in it. For example, Locke pointed out that we can sense the hardness, color, and malleability of gold, but that we do not know what it is in gold that gives rise to these qualities.

He addressed unextended or non-material substance under the subject of personal identity, asking what it is that makes someone the same person. Locke was concerned that when a person was punished on Judgment Day, that the person being punished was the same person who had committed the crimes he or she was charged with. His answer was that in the context of divine reward or punishment “on that great day,” you are the same person if you have memories of yourself in the past, so that you know it is the same “you” who committed the acts for which you are being judged.

Locke’s refusal to posit a form or substance for the soul seemed to contradict the Trinitarian doctrine of three attributes or natures present in one God. Some of his critics, such as British theologian Edward Stillingfleet, accused Locke of denying the possibility of resurrection in the absence of an incorruptible, immaterial soul substance. Locke’s reply to Stillingfleet was to reaffirm his belief in the immortality of the soul, as a matter of faith, rather than a fact that could be proved by reason.

Stillingfleet believed that some substantial form of a person’s body was necessary for there to be a Resurrection of that person. Locke’s response was to make fun of Stillingfleet by interpreting him to claim that the same body literally had to arise from the grave. Locke wrote, “And I think your lordship will not say, that the particles that were separate from the body by perspiration before the point of death were laid up in the grave.”


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