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Lecture 13

PHIL 2160 Lecture Notes - Lecture 13: Moral Agency, Mind, Direct And Indirect Realism

Course Code
PHIL 2160
Patricia Sheridan

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Lecture – John Locke
Considered one of the founding voices of the American Constitution – in Second Treatise he makes
an argument about the inalienable right to private property, which is acquired through personal labour
Well-known as political theorist – founding thinker of liberal theory
My labour makes property mine – tied in with his theory of rights, and inalienable rights over things
that cannot be taken away and only I have a say over how the things of mine are used
Property includes life, liberty and estate; freedom to think, to pursue interests and goods
Locke crystalizes the idea of individual rights as an expression of self-determination – all citizens of a
society, of an age to be rational, should be left free to self-determine (democracy is compatible with
this opinion)
We need a system of government that can best serve these interests – this is contrary to the views
during his time, when people were there to serve the government
In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke focuses on rationality (human beings are
fundamentally rational and exercise this after reaching an age of rationality, when we become
accountable for the things we do) and individual accountability (the two themes of the text)
Being younger than 18 for example means one is not a full moral agent and is thus not responsible for
the things he does
The essay is a text about intellectual accountability – ideas can be dangerous as well, how do we
justify the beliefs we hold and how can we be better at forming reliable and justifiable beliefs?
Locke thinks we are required to sort out what to believe and what not to believe with personal
Locke spends book 1 showing that people are not born with beliefs – innate ideas cannot be
There are many things people at that time took to be certainties that were, in fact, not
What can we be certain about? Immediate sensation? Any conclusions I draw based on immediate
sensations cannot be deemed accurate
Knowledge for Locke includes immediate sensation and mathematics – both don’t require
There are some moments when we are compelled to believe something is true (mathematics and
nothing else) – everything else we take to be true for reasons and are beliefs needing justification (a
rational agent should care about having good reasons for these beliefs)
These reasons we call evidence – the content of my mind are necessarily mental things (mental
content is private and subjective)
Mental content comes from experience (famous blank slate theory)
Where do we get information about ourselves from? Sensation and reflection (when I recognize in my
own mind certain capabilities of my mind)
Ideas about the mind (wills, doubt), ideas about the world (sensory data)
Sensations are thus ideas, so he is picking up on the inherently mental nature of sensation – I don’t
have ideas about my heart pumping right now because I cannot sense it with my hands, ears, etc. so
we are limited in the information we can get so there is something deeply subjective about sensory
I am a passive receptor of information – my mind quickly formulates ideas, and the reception of these
is involuntary
The veil of perception problem – can we get outside of our heads to determine what is really out there
causing these experiences? No, according to Locke, because all we can discuss is the way the world
appears to us
Mental content is personal, subjective, private, and incomplete – what can we know with certainty? I
know that I have mental content, and that’s it
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