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2005 | 53 | 1 | 99-123

Article title

Jak se stal Locke málem deistou?



Title variants

How did Locke nearly come to be a Deist?

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1. The outer frame of our question Questions have been inherited, together with various responses to them. But, in the ripeness of time, both the standpoints and prerequisites for their solution have changed. The „Moderns“ of the 17th century cannot have suspected much how, and in what way, their age was „new“. Between the tercentenaries of Locke’s birth and death the prerequisites for a solution of Locke’s problems and the possibilities of becoming acquainted with his heritage have substantially changed. 2. Three watersheds One stormy time was around Locke ’s birth (1632). God was then intimately close to people. And the emerging science offered new attributes to God rather than doubts about his existence and his role in the world. The „soul“ was an elusive concept. The credibility of the Bible was not doubted; but attempts to give it a new explanation, independent of any authority, could not be ignored. Towards 1932 (the tercentenary of Locke’s birth) the colonial system still existed. In science, neither relativity theory, quantum mechanics, nor the Darwinian theory of evolution were yet assimilated. Psychology found itself being as if „without soul“. On the other hand, Cartesian dualism was not doubted in any way. Deism remained a „theoretical“ system only. Tendencies that doubted Jesus’ godhood had not yet had a greater influence among the broader layers of citizens. The world was still conceived statically and without adequate time limits. By 2004 (the tercentenary of Locke’s death), the situation for a potential analyst of the processes, meanings and values of these things has become totally different. During the last 50 years, life has ceased to be a mere keepsake of metaphysics owing to the discoveries of DNA and microbiology, achievements in the area of AI, and in the brand-new imaging techniques (fMRI, PET). The formerly popular conceptions of an absolute division between man and other creatures have collapsed. Science has reached unimaginable goals, both in miniaturization, and in the discoveries on the boundaries of our space-time. Notwithstanding all this, the spiritualization of human life still appears to be necessary and nor have certain Lockean problems lost their topicality. 3. What is objectively disclosed by Locke’s life and the chain of his works? Locke’s work does not present a simple „bridge“ between epochs. Neither is it a mere „empiricism“ (in epistemology) or „liberalism“ (in political science). A drift towards „empiricism“ in Locke was verifiably framed within a „rationalistic“ scheme. Locke came from an independently-oriented family. From the winter of 1670-1671 on he thought intensively about the fundamentals of a true religion. He came into direct contact with politics. He was sure not only about faith as such, but also that reason, though limited, leads to religion. His contacts with the Arminians were important. Locke as an active follower of the so-called „Glorious Revolution“ of 1689 issued three of his works at this juncture. The considerable effort he later dedicated to a vindication of „rational“ Christianity and an analysis of St. Paul’s Epistles cannot be ignored. 4. Why Locke has never been a „deist“? Generally, Locke’s Essay has been considered as a treatise in epistemology. It should not escape our notice, however, how often Locke reflects on God in it. This interest is already palpable in his original drafts of the Essay from 1671. A reliable source of Locke’s faith is the Bible and, in it, the references to a godly revelation. It must be striking that Locke ascribes a messianic role to Jesus, but avoids defining him as a prospective „godly person“. A „Trinitarian“ confession of God cannot be found in Locke. Though Locke inspired Toland in his „Christianity not Mysterious“, he was not so sceptical as Toland. Locke understood the Supernatural as a necessary guarantor both socially (to maintain morality in society) and individually (to secure hope for eternal salvation). He refused to recognize the extra-Biblical dogmas as binding (e.g. transubstantiation). In his Christian creed, he allowed truths „above reason“, but at the same time he declared that they were, from the start, intelligible to common people. Locke’s „God“ intervened in his world in an active way. The „Son“ was less than the „Father“ for Locke and lacked the Trinitarian company (known from the „Apostolic“ creed). Locke’s discomfort concerning the character of the after-life can be attested. He never formally parted with the Anglican Church. If he was (surely) not a „Deist“, it may perhaps be appropriate to describe him as a „Latitudinarian“.









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  • Filosofický časopis, redakce, Filosofický ústav AV ČR, v.v.i., Jilská 1, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic


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