chapter  14
12 Pages

The Reputation of Locke’s General Philosophy in Britain in the Twentieth Century

ByMICHAEL AYERS

Given the profound effect on philosophical thought that Locke’s general philosophy had throughout the eighteenth century, not only on what we now consider to be ‘philosophy’,1 the question arises of why so many twentieth-century British philosophers seem to have settled for a view of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding in particular as the work of a second-rate, coarse and muddled intellect, lucky in having his ideas developed or criticised by subtler minds. Such a disparaging estimate, encapsulated some years ago in the introduction to a popular presentation of his philosophy by the remark that ‘no other philosopher has had as great an infl uence in proportion to his merits’,2 is by no means dead. Given the reasonable assumption that it would be virtually impossible for anybody but a fi rst-rate thinker to produce such a varied and broadly infl uential oeuvre as Locke’s, not to speak of his distinguished role in government, some explanation would seem called for.