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By Frederick Charles Copleston

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Extra resources for A History of Philosophy [Vol V]

Sample text

But at other times he implies that we know at least some things directly. In other words, he sometimes implies a representationist view of knowledge, while on other occasions he implies the opposite. Again, in what he has to say about universal ideas there are several different strands or tendencies of thought. Sometimes he speaks in a nominalist fashion, but at other times he implies what the Scholastics call 'moderate realism'. And the result of all this is that under the prima facie simplicity and clarity of Locke's writing there is a certain amount of ambiguity and confusion.

For the statement that God is incomprehensible means that the finite mind cannot have an adequate idea of Him, not that it can have no idea of Him at all. We cannot comprehend the divine perfection; but we can have an idea of absolutely perfect Being. This can be shown in various ways. For example, 'that we have an idea or conception of perfection, or a perfect Being, is evident from the notion that we have of imperfection, so familiar to us; perfection being the rule and measure of imperfection, and not imperfection of perfection ...

No doubt, like some other Renaissance and modern philosophers who revolted against Aristotelian Scholasticism, he was more influenced by it than he himseU was aware; but his interest in philosophy was aroused by his private reading of Descartes rather than by what was then being taught at Oxford. This is not to say that Locke was ever a Cartesian. But on certain points he was influenced by Descartes, and in any case the latter's writings showed him that clear and orderly thinking is as possible inside as it is outside the sphere of philosophy.

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