Tuesday, April 21, 2009

E. J. Lowe's Locke

I have finished reading my fourth book from the Routledge Philosophers series: E. J. Lowe's Locke. This particular book felt denser than the others I have read so far (Hobbes, Leibniz, and Schopenhauer), but I don't mind that. I am very impressed with this whole series, and look forward to working through the rest of it.

One thing I like about Lowe is that he is cautious about recognizing the temptation to read our own views about the answers to philosophical problems back into historical figures we admire. Sometimes we see a philosopher saying something that strikes us as absurd, so we assume that he couldn't have meant that. Lowe suggests, on the contrary, that much of the value of studying the great philosophers of the past come from precisely the fact that they have their unique answers to offer, which force us to reconsider the evidential status of our own. On the other hand, Lowe also thinks many of Locke's positions have been caricatured, and thus unjustly dismissed. The trick is to navigate a course between these two distorting poles, and arrive at the most charitable interpretation that fits into Locke's texts with no violence. Lowe believes that when one does so, the historical Locke turns out to be in very good shape, despite (or perhaps by virtue of) contradicting a number of views that pass for truisms in today's academy.

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