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Locke is our first central figure in the early modern tale, for it is with him that many advocates of the early modern tale believe that we can see the start of the “abandonment” of ontology with respect to ideas. In particular, I engage such scholars as Thomas Lennon and John Yolton, who argue that Locke has an exclusively epistemological understanding of ideas. In the fourth chapter I argue that although Locke did want to set aside certain questions of ontology, he nonetheless had an underlying implicit ontology of ideas. There are formidable textual and philosophical reasons for thinking that Locke reasoned within the confines of a substance/mode ontology even as he consciously preferred to explore issues more connected with epistemology than ontology. My analysis places considerable emphasis on the much-neglected “An Examination of P. Malebranche’s Opinion of Seeing All Things in God,” where Locke engages Malebranche and John Norris. I conclude that Locke does not abandon ontology with respect to ideas and thus cannot play the role allotted to him in the early modern tale.
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Traditional metaphysics has not fared well since its glory days in the early modern period. Gone is the fascination with developing an ontology that can account for our experiences in the world. Cartesian dualism, Leibnizian monads, Berkeleian immaterialism, and similar metaphysical investigations have been replaced by discussions of language, confident assertions that epistemology alone is first philosophy, and pronouncements that ontology is dead. Hilary Putnam has even delivered a talk in a distinguished lecture series entitled “Ontology: An Obituary” (2004, 71–88). It is not that metaphysics is no longer studied or held in historical esteem; rather the guiding assumption today seems to be that we have advanced far enough to recognize that ontology is an exhausted—perhaps useless—enterprise. It seems we have nothing left to learn from ontological speculation and metaphysical system building.
What, then, was the early modern conception of ideas that our key figures—philosophers such as Descartes, Arnauld, Malebranche, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Hume—inherited, and how did it contribute to the destabilization of the substance/property (mode) ontology without leading to its abandonment? What were the effects of this interplay between ideas and the traditional ontology? These questions frame this project and lead to its conclusion. I discuss this “breakdown,” first by exploring the nature of the traditional ontology and then by examining how select philosophers, emphasizing Berkeley, struggled to place ideas within it. In the end, I conclude that the moderns did not abandon the substance/mode ontology for ideas. The radicalization of early modern metaphysical systems (the adoption of more unusual metaphysical positions, like immaterialism and Humean skepticism) is attributable primarily to the poor fit between the epistemological roles played by ideas and the substance/mode ontology. This radicalization, however, is evidence of how the moderns sought to retain the traditional ontological categories, even if their attempts were not always successful. Hume’s work demonstrates the point, since he embraced much of Berkeley’s thinking about the nature of ideas but could not avail himself of Berkeley’s unusual solution. The moral is clear: insofar as one wants to understand early modern thinking, especially about ideas, one needs to use the traditional ontological distinctions as a framework. The lesson is especially true for Berkeley, who will correspondingly take center stage in this study; it is also true, to a lesser extent, for Hume, with whom this study will conclude.
Existentialism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The famous immaterialist George Berkeley is the key to the early modern tale. He denies that we can have any reasonable conception of material substance and his own ontology of ideas allegedly reveals either that the way of ideas reduces to epistemology alone or that the modern penchant for ontology is sadly, if imaginatively, misguided. Some ascribe roles to other philosophers (most notably Hume), but once Berkeley is folded into the tale the story is essentially complete. Hume’s primary contribution in this context is that he continues the story already implicit in Berkeley’s system. To use Yolton’s expression, ideas in the early modern period are “deontologized” by the time we reach Berkeley.
is still central to modern metaphysical discourse.
In order for this endeavor to make sense, we first need to explore the basic concepts and categories I employ. I start with an analysis of substance and mode as used by the moderns. Created substances (God is a special case) have to satisfy two key requirements: endurance and independence. Any entity that endures and underlies change without requiring any other kind of thing to exist is itself a substance. Modes are dependent modifications of substances. The analysis in the first chapter is important not only because it frames the discussion of subsequent chapters but also because it helps identify clues that will reveal whether a given philosopher treats ideas as substances or as modes. The issue is not always clear. Many historians of philosophy have sought to replace the language of substance and mode with talk about reification. Although the concept of reification is perhaps useful for some contemporary discussions, I argue that it is not when one is seeking to determine the ontological commitments of early modern philosophers.
Early Modern Philosophy Essay Example | Topics and …
The main part of the book offers a careful discussion of a select history of the ontology of ideas in the early modern period. This select history in turn is divided into two large sections. The first, mainly exegetical, part engages the perceptual theories and theories of ideas of Descartes and the early Cartesians. They are foundational figures in the development of the ontology of ideas and are not generally alleged to have abandoned ontology with respect to them; instead, they did important work in this area, work with which later philosophers were familiar. The inconclusive confrontation between Malebranche and Arnauld over the ontology of ideas led Locke and even contemporary commentators today to take the unusual step of sidestepping questions about ontology with respect to ideas. My task in these chapters is only to be clear about what these theories of ideas were and what sorts of problems confronted them; the aim is to provide a context for our more pressing analyses of later theories of ideas. Therefore it is not my intention to give a systematic history of the philosophy of ideas but only a history relevant to the development of the ontology of ideas.