Locke rules

Ian Hacking

  • Locke. Vol. I: Epistemology by Michael Ayers
    Routledge, 341 pp, £90.00, September 1991, ISBN 0 415 06406 6
  • Locke. Vol. II: Ontology by Michael Ayers
    Routledge, 341 pp, £90.00, September 1991, ISBN 0 415 06407 4

If it is true, as it seemed to Whitehead, that the whole of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, then it must be equally true that the philosophical writing of the English-speaking peoples consists chiefly of ‘problems from Locke’. Not moral philosophy, for sure, but examinations of what we know, how we think, what there is, what a person is. It is astounding that Locke should have had this power. It is no surprise that philosophers are reread: Plato captivates his readers in any language, and most of the memorable philosophers can get us high on a phrase, a chapter, a book. Hobbes and Descartes had a great deal to do with forming the distinct prose styles of their respective languages, and hence, I imagine, formed our several ideas of what an argument is. But Locke – Locke plods. Aside from Michael Ayers, how many contributors to this issue of the Review, reviewers or reviewees, have read Locke’s Essay, word for word, from beginning to end? Fewer, perhaps, than would like to admit it.

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