chapter  13
13 Pages

On living in the world

Locke on the contents of the mind

All of the philosophers we have looked at so far have been concerned to tell us what the world is really like: to explain the reality which lies behind our experience. Locke is importantly different, not because he disagrees with his predecessors about the existence and importance of the distinction between appearance and reality, but because he begins from the other side of it. While they all began with what the world is like, and explained how our experience derived from it, Locke begins with what our experience is like, and shows how it connects – and in important respects how it doesn’t connect – to the real world. Locke is therefore much more of a social philosopher than were his predecessors, both in the sense that his social and political writings were at least as influential as his more clearly theoretical ones, and also in the sense that his theoretical works themselves begin not from the objective facts as to how the world is, but from the subjective, engaged perspective of life in the world: not

from metaphysics, but from epistemology – and politics. (See also Box 13.1.)

Box 13.1 Rationalism and Empiricism

The thinkers we are dealing with have traditionally been divided into two opposed camps, the Continental Rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz), versus the British Empiricists (Locke, Berkeley and Hume). The Rationalists are said to base everything on reason and seek to work out the nature of reality by thinking about it; the empiricists base everything on experience and try to discover what’s what by looking around them.