Work in progress

Locke, God, and Materialism. This paper considers Locke’s discussions of materialism, focusing on Essay 4.10. Here Locke – after giving a cosmological argument for the existence of God – argues that God could not be material, that matter alone could never produce thought, and that there could not have been eternal matter. The paper addresses three main questions. The first is about targets. Who, if anyone, is Locke arguing against here? The second question is about reasons. Locke argues against several materialist views here. Is there some central concern driving Locke’s arguments, some connecting theme? The third question is about human minds. What connection is there between the discussions of Essay 4.10 and Locke’s discussion of the possibility that God might superadd thought to matter?

Toland and Locke in the Leibniz-Burnett Correspondence. Leibniz’s correspondence with Thomas Burnett of Kemnay is probably best known for Leibniz’s attempts to communicate with Locke via Burnett. But Burnett was also, more generally a source of English intellectual news for Leibniz. As such, Burnett provided an important part of the context in which Locke was presented to and understood by Leibniz. This paper examines the Leibniz-Burnett correspondence, and argues against Jolley’s suggestion that “the context in which Leibniz learned about Locke was primarily a theological one”. That said, in thinking about Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity, and his subsequent defenses of it, Leibniz does offer an argument against Locke’s book — but not one that’s closely related to Locke’s theological views, or to any accusation of Socinianism. The paper also considers, by way of contrast, the way Leibniz and Burnett talk about the more obviously controversial figure John Toland.

“Hobbes on the Signification of Moral Language”. Hobbes repeatedly expressed concerns about moral and political language, e.g., about the bad consequences of various uses and misuses of language. He did not simply focus on the consequences though. He also attempted to understand the problems, using the central semantic notion in his philosophy of language, signification. Hobbes, in both the Elements of Law and Leviathan, argues that a wide variety of terms – including ‘good’, ‘bad’, and the names of virtues and vices – have a double and inconstant signification. This paper explores and explains that theory of Hobbes’s. (In the course of the discussion, two other interpretations of Hobbes’s claims are discussed: Pettit’s discussion in terms of indexicals, and Alexandra’s in terms of sense and reference.) This phenomenon is, Hobbes thinks, pervasive in our use of moral and political language. Indeed he says his analysis applies to all “names of such things as affect us, that is, which please, and displease us” (Leviathan 4.24), which seems a very broad category indeed. This inconstancy of signification has considerable potential to cause confusion and conflict. Given those practical consequences, it is of some importance for Hobbes to find a solution to this problem. The paper examines several possible Hobbesian solutions to the problem. There is, however, reason to think that these suggested solutions cannot completely solve the problem. The paper concludes, then, by arguing that double and inconstant signification would always be a danger, even in a properly constituted Hobbesian commonwealth.