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John Locke (1632–1704)

The founding figure of British empiricism, John Locke exercised a decisive influence on modern epistemology and liberal political theory. Born the son of a cavalry captain for Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War, Locke pursued his studies at the prestigious Westminster school in London. He pursued further studies, in philosophy, at Christ Church, Oxford, and later obtained a bachelor’s degree in medicine as well. In 1667, Locke became the personal physician to Lord Ashley, the Earl of Shaftsbury, eventually saving the latter’s life through a risky liver operation. Locke’s relations with Shaftsbury put him at the centre of English political debates in the late seventeenth century. A supporter of the Whig movement, founded by Shaftesbury, Locke introduced a decidedly liberal strain into the Whig cause, as evidenced by his missives against Hobbes and other theorists of absolutism in the Two Treatises on Government (1688). Locke’s defence of the autonomous political subject and a primordial equality in the state of nature was grounded in his critique of ‘innatism’ in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, where he argued that, at birth, the mind is a tabula rasa or ‘blank slate’ that receives all its ideas from sense experience. Locke’s empiricism would deeply influence Enlightenment thought in the eighteenth century, e.g., in Condillac’s radicalisation of Locke’s critique of innatism. Locke’s political thinking is contrasted with Hume’s and Rousseau’s, respectively, in volumes six and eight of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse. His model of the genesis of knowledge is compared with Condillac’s in volumes two and four. Despite these discrete engagements with Locke’s thinking throughout the Cahiers, the conception of the subject as self-present and autonomous is one that has its origins in Lockean thought and that is criticized throughout the Cahiers project.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Alain Grosrichard, ‘Une expérience psychologique au 18ème siècle’, CpA 2.3 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Jean Mosconi, ‘Sur la théorie du devenir de l’entendement’, CpA 4.2 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Bernard Pautrat, ‘Du sujet politique et de ses intérêts: Note sur la théorie humienne de l’autorité’, CpA 6.5 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Alain Grosrichard, ‘Gravité de Rousseau (L’Oeuvre en équilibre)’, CpA 8.2 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

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