another blurb on Locke

Last week’s paper was an early look into Locke, though it should have been on Leibniz. I agree with Angela when she asks if whether or not the “operations” of the mind to reflect upon its own operations is innate. This is one of the criticisms against Locke and his tabula rosa, that a blank piece of paper is passive and not capable of actively reflecting upon itself, whereas the consistency in wiring of brains (there are specific lobes, pathways, functions, etc…) across gender and culture seem to point to some innate characteristics. In fact, the Nature/Nurture debate is now not so much a matter of which one, but of understanding the rich and complex manner by which both influence and shape human behavior. It is difficult for me to unwrap myself from the knowledge of rods and cones while reading of Locke’s color that is and not there (so it is not part of the external stimulus), as well as the subtractive and additive color mixing of light as well as the Trichromatic theory and Opponent-Process theory of color vision.

But there are a few questions that pop into my mind as I re-read Chapter 2.

Does Locke lay seeds of a moral relativism?

For a man may live long, and die at last in ignorance of many truths which his mind was capable of knowing, and that with certainty. So that if the capacity of knowing is the natural impression contended for, all the truths a man ever comes to know will, by this account, be every one of them innate; and this great point will amount to no more, but only to a very improper way of speaking, which, while it pretends to assert the contrary, says nothing different from those who deny innate principles. For nobody, I think, every denied that the mind was capable of knowing several truth. The capacity, they say, is innate, the knowledge acquired. But then to what end such contest for certain innate maxims? If truths can be imprinted on the understanding without being perceived, I can see no difference there can be between any truths of the mind is capable of knowing in respect to their original. (Bk 1 Ch 2. 5)

If there are great truths that a man might never learn, and if there are no innate ideas, then it stands to reason that morality is then viewed with a relativist lens. We might have no innate notion of the heat of fire until we experience it such, but each person’s experiences are different. It doesn’t seem that fire has been branded to have a moral nature about it. But what of a heinous act committed by a person? It doesn’t seem to me to be clearly understood how out of a population of people with no innate ideas between them, a universal morality is achieved. If such a universal consent were reached on something (and I’ve not seen it occur yet), would this not be an innate idea? The conversation here usually runs toward that of mathematics, with the reason of a person understanding the truth of the triangle and that the triangle is external to the mind of the person perceiving it, thus exhibiting the reality of an external thing. Yet the tying together of a triangle on one hand, to the existence of “evil” on the other, as though it were a substance that could be leeched off of a corrupted soul, seems to me a stretch.

All our ideas are of one or the other of these: (Bk 2 Ch 2.5)
It might be worth knowing that, while Locke appears to be incorrect in his “no innate ideas” foundation, he did not have the breadth of understanding of what thoughts are lurking in our brain as we do today, of the autonomous functions of heart rate, arousal, hunger, respiration, nor of the unconscious thoughts that go into our perception (we see what we expect to see) and more. However, it might be rewarding to consider Locke’s statement here within the characteristics of what he imagined the totality of thought to be, as well as a model for trying to understand the brain today, namely that it is the product of evolution, and the factors shaping its formation. A great amount of the primate brain is used for visual stimuli input, encoding, and use. With the organism evolving over time, and its brain evolving as well due to environmental pressure, this would seem to point to something similar to what Locke is saying, that was we are internally is brought about by the influence of external events.

Does Locke give an opposition to a moral relativity? Does he imply a dualism of body/mind (one) and soul (two)? Is the soul then separate from the mind? Is the mind one attribute of the soul?

The soul begins to have ideas when it begins to perceive. To ask at what time a man has first any ideas is to ask when he begins to perceive—having ideas and perception being the same thing. (Bk 2 Ch 2.9)

Our being sensible of it is not necessary to anything but to our thought; and to them it is, and to them it always will be necessary, until we can think without being conscious of it. (Bk 2 Ch 2.10)

Socrates asleep and Socrates awake is not the same person (Bk 2 Ch 2.11)

Which is no impossible supposition for the men I have her to do with, who so liberally allow life without thinking soul to all other animals. (Bk 2 Ch 2.12)

For I suppose nobody will make identity of persons to consist in the soul’s being united to the very same numerical particles of matter. For if that were necessary to identity, it will be impossible, in that constant flux of the particles of our bodies, that any man should be the same person two days or two moments together. (Bk 2 Ch 2.12)

Perception of ideas is to the soul what motion is to the body, not its essence but one of its operations, writes Locke. Yet the soul is not completely bound up in the particles of the body, implying I imagine, that the soul is of a different substance than the body. With incense burning and a “new age” reading of this I might figure thus:


Our souls just are. They are like innocent children before the great awakening and learning. When we enter this realm of earth and trees and water, we begin to learn. Having no clear understanding of our purpose or any innate instructions, we do the best we can and we learn. When we die we return to the great harmony of the Universe.

That was intentionally odd in its “feel”, yet the point is, is the soul different than the mind and is it to this that the moral dimensions of humanity are assigned? Recall the example given in class when Locke writes that the hearts of men are truly unknowable until that great day of Judgment by the Creator.

If the soul contains a moral dimension to it, as given by God, and if perceptions of ideas are an operation of the soul, then would not this operation itself be an innate aspect of the soul?

Does the soul have innate qualities about it?

How does Locke continue to be a good Christian and say that the either;
o The mind has no innate qualities to it, thus morality is relative
o The soul has a moral dimension to it as created by God, yet the mind, an operation of the soul (inseparable) has no innate understanding of these qualities
o The soul has no innate qualities to it, keeping in line with the statements concerning the mind

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