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Summary Locke discusses the ideas of liberty (freedom) and the will in Book II Chapter xxi ('Of Power') of An Essay concerning Human Understanding. In that chapter, he defines liberty in terms of the causal dependence of one's actions upon one's will. He then uses this definition of liberty to reject the notion of free will (liberty of the will). Locke goes on in the chapter to discuss a series of related topics, including: whether we ever possess liberty with respect to the act of willing, the difference between desire and volition, and the power to suspend (the prosecution of) desire.
Key works Recent literature has been shaped significantly by the work of Vere Chappell, especially Chappell 1994 but see also Chappell 1994, Chappell 2000, and Chappell 2007. Perhaps most notably, Chappell argues that Locke is a "volitional determinist," denying that we are ever free with respect to the act of willing, and claims that Locke ultimately took his so-called "doctrine of suspension" to conflict with his volitional determinism. See Rickless 2000 for a response to Chappell. Two more recent major contributions to the literature are Chapter 1 of LoLordo 2012, which emphasizes the role that Locke's epistemic humility and metaphysical agnosticism play in his discussion of liberty, and Chapters 9–10 of Stuart 2013, which emphasize revisions that Locke made to his discussion over subsequent editions of the Essay.
Introductions For a concise and up-to-date introduction to Locke's discussion of liberty and free will, see Rickless 2020. For a longer introduction that situates Locke's discussion within the broader context of Essay II.xxi, see Chappell 2007. For introductions that emphasize Locke's place in early modern discussions of liberty and free will, see Sleigh Jr et al 1998 and Rickless 2013.
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  1. The Active Powers of the Human Mind.Ruth Boeker - 2023 - In Aaron Garrett & James A. Harris (eds.), Scottish Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century, Volume II: Method, Metaphysics, Mind, Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 255–292.
    This essay traces the development of the philosophical debates concerning active powers and human agency in eighteenth-century Scotland. I examine how and why Scottish philosophers such as Francis Hutcheson, George Turnbull, David Hume, and Henry Home, Lord Kames, depart from John Locke’s and other traditional conceptions of the will and how Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart reinstate Locke’s distinction between volition and desire. Moreover, I examine what role desires, passions, and motives play in the writings of these and other Scottish (...)
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  2. Meanings of “Embodied Experience”: A Response to Anik Waldow’s Book.Hynek Janoušek - 2023 - Hume Studies 48 (2):305-317.
    The text first briefly summarizes the contents of Annik Waldow's book and then attempts to highlight the diverse meanings of the concept of bodily experience in eighteenth-century philosophy, especially in the philosophy of David Hume. After a brief distinction between subjective and objective bodily experience in Descartes, I point to six different meanings of this concept in David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. One of these notions, the body as a center of reference, turns out to be important for interpreting (...)
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  3. Locke, Active Power, and a Puzzle about Ascription.Joshua Wood - 2023 - Locke Studies 23:1-23.
    Locke holds that the experience of voluntary action is the sole origin of the concept of causal power. What is it about this experience that compels Locke to draw this conclusion? I think this question should puzzle scholars a great deal more than it has. There are three existing interpretations of Locke’s position. The first explanation holds that Locke appeals to voluntary action because he takes this experience to reveal a necessary connection between volition and action; the second holds that (...)
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  4. Liberty and Suspension in Locke's Essay.Matthew A. Leisinger - 2022 - Locke Studies 21:26–55.
    I argue for two controversial claims about Locke’s account of liberty in Essay 2.21. The first claim is that Locke does not identify liberty with freedom of action. Instead, Locke places further conditions on liberty beyond to the power to perform or forbear an action at will. The second (and closely related) claim is that Locke takes the power to suspend and examine desire to be necessary for liberty—in other words, that possession of the power to suspend and examine desire (...)
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  5. Locke's Moral Psychology.Ruth Boeker - 2021 - In Jessica Gordon-Roth & Shelley Weinberg (eds.), The Lockean Mind. New York, NY: Routledge.
    In this chapter, I discuss Locke’s contributions to moral psychology. I begin by examining how we acquire moral ideas, according to Locke. Next, I ask what explains why we act morally. I address this question by showing how Locke reconciles hedonist views concerning moral motivation with his commitment to divine law theory. Then I turn to Shaftesbury’s criticism that Locke’s moral view is a self-interested moral theory that undermines virtue. In response to the criticism I draw attention to Locke’s Christian (...)
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  6. The Empiricist Origin of Biopolitics: Freedom and Potentiality in John Locke.Haram Lee - 2021 - Philosophia 49 (4):1583-1600.
    This article examines John Locke’s theory of subjectivity to challenge the recent critical tendency to associate biopolitics and empiricism. Michel Foucault, most notably among modern theorists of biopolitics, proposes that the Lockean man, or an interest-seeking animal, constitutes the paradigm of a person that remains subject to biopower. Such understanding of empiricism by biopolitical theorists is, however, reductive because Locke’s view of human subjectivity is fundamentally equivocal. As I demonstrate by analyzing his discussion of freedom, action, and desire in An (...)
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  7. Locke on the Motivation to Suspend Desire.Matthew A. Leisinger - 2021 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 51 (1):48-61.
    This paper takes up two questions regarding Locke’s doctrine of suspension. First, what motivates suspension? Second, what are the conditions under which we are motivated to suspend? In response to the first question, I argue that suspension is motivated by the desire to avoid the possible future evils that might result from acting precipitately upon some desire without suspending. In response to the second question, I argue against the common assumption that the desire motivating suspension must be an agent’s most (...)
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  8. Locke and Limborch.Julie Walsh - 2021 - In Jessica Gordon-Roth & Shelley Weinberg (eds.), The Lockean Mind. New York, NY: Routledge.
    Philippus van Limborch was a friend and correspondent of Locke’s for twenty years. The aspect of their correspondence that interests us here unfolds across 1700–1702 on the topic of human freedom. In Section 1, I outline Limborch’s view of freedom, which is one of indifference. In Section 2, I describe why, despite Limborch’s insistence that their positions were similar, Locke could not agree with Limborch’s view and even modified his account to make the difference more apparent. I conclude in Section (...)
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  9. Locke on Power and Freedom.Julie Walsh - 2021 - In Jessica Gordon-Roth & Shelley Weinberg (eds.), The Lockean Mind. New York, NY: Routledge.
    In this chapter, I make three main points. First, I argue that, on Locke’s view, the power of human freedom is good because it allows us to be determined by the goods we have chosen for ourselves. Under ideal conditions, this power allows intellectual beings to attain happiness. There is, however, ample evidence that many intellectual beings are unhappy. This observation leads me to my second point. For Locke, bad choices are no less freely made than good ones. This is (...)
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  10. Locke’s Diagnosis of Akrasia.Matthew A. Leisinger - 2020 - Journal of Modern Philosophy 2 (1):6.
    I argue for a new interpretation of Locke’s account of akrasia. On this interpretation, akrasia occurs on Locke’s account because certain cognitive biases endemic to the human mind dispose us to privilege present over future happiness. As a result, we end up irrationally pursuing present pleasure and the removal of present pain even as we simultaneously judge that doing so runs contrary to our own greater good. In this sense, I argue that Locke seeks to diagnose akrasia by identifying its (...)
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  11. Locke on Freedom.Samuel Rickless - 2020 - The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition).
    John Locke’s views on the nature of freedom of action and freedom of will have played an influential role in the philosophy of action and in moral psychology. Locke offers distinctive accounts of action and forbearance, of will and willing, of voluntary (as opposed to involuntary) actions and forbearances, and of freedom (as opposed to necessity). These positions lead him to dismiss the traditional question of free will as absurd, but also raise new questions, such as whether we are (or (...)
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  12. John Locke e le inquietudini del presente.Luisa Simonutti - 2020 - Laboratorio Dell'ispf 17.
    Uneasiness is an issue of our time that has strongly resurfaced under the pressure of the pandemic. It is a kind of anxiety which is not caused only by the lack of something: it rather contains a push for change, releasing the power to choose and to act.
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  13. New Perspectives on Agency in Early Modern Philosophy.Ruth Boeker - 2019 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 27 (5):625-630.
    This introductory article outlines the themes and aims of this special issue, which offers new perspectives on early modern debates about agency in two ways: First, it recovers writings on agency and liberty that have been widely neglected or that have received insufficient attention, including writings by Anne Conway, Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, William King, Gabrielle Suchon, Elizabeth Berkeley Burnet, Mary Astell, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury. Second, it reveals the richness of early modern debates about (...)
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  14. Does Locke Have an Akrasia Problem?Leonardo Moauro & Samuel C. Rickless - 2019 - Journal of Modern Philosophy 1 (1):9.
    Starting in the second edition of the Essay, Locke becomes interested in the phenomenon of akrasia, or weakness of will. As he conceives it, akrasia occurs when we will something contrary to what we acknowledge to be our greater good. This commitment represents an important shift from the first edition of the Essay, where Locke argues that the will is always determined by a judgement of our greater good. But traces of the first-edition view are present even in the second (...)
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  15. William King’s Influence on Locke’s Second Edition Change of Mind about Human Action and Freedom.Stefan Storrie - 2019 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 27 (5):668-684.
    ABSTRACTLocke’s influential discussion of agency in the chapter ‘Of Power’ in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding underwent important changes between the first and second edition. He reconside...
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  16. Absential Suspension: Malebranche and Locke on Human Freedom.Julie Walsh & Thomas M. Lennon - 2019 - Journal of Modern Philosophy 1 (1):1-17.
    This paper treats a heretofore-unnoticed concept in the history of the philosophical discussion of human freedom, a kind of freedom that is not defined solely in terms of the causal power of the agent. Instead, the exercise of freedom essentially involves the non-occurrence of something. That being free involves the non-occurrence, that is, the absence, of an act may seem counterintuitive. With the exception of those specifically treated in this paper, philosophers tend to think of freedom as intimately involved with (...)
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  17. La determinación de la libertad, en John Locke.Cecilia Abdo Ferez - 2018 - Scienza and Politica. Per Una Storia Delle Dottrine 30 (58).
    Freedom has no univocal meaning in Locke's work, despite its centrality. It is understood as a duty and right, but also as a power, or, as we will hold here, as a state. The successive modifications of the idea of freedom between An Essay concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises of Government, between the editions and in relation to early or later texts, such as The Reasonableness of Christianity, allow us to think of freedom as a problem, rather than as (...)
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  18. Locke and Descartes on free will : the limits of an Antinomy.Denis Kambouchner - 2018 - In Philippe Hamou & Martine Pécharman (eds.), Locke and Cartesian Philosophy. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
  19. Locke's Last Word on Freedom: Correspondence with Limborch.Julie Walsh - 2018 - Res Philosophica 95 (4):637-661.
    JohnLocke’s 1700–1702 correspondencewith Dutch Arminian Philippus van Limborch has been taken by commentators as the motivation for modifications to the fifth edition of “Of Power,” the chapter in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding that treats freedom. In this paper, I offer the first systematic and chronological study of their correspondence. I argue that the heart of their disagreement is over how they define “freedom of indifference.” Once the importance of the disagreement over indifference is established, it is clear that when (...)
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  20. Consciousness in Locke by Shelley Weinberg. [REVIEW]Ruth Boeker - 2017 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 55 (1):164-165.
    Shelley Weinberg’s Consciousness in Locke builds on her previous journal articles and makes significant contributions to John Locke scholarship by offering the first systematic study of consciousness throughout Locke’s Essay. According to Weinberg, consciousness for Locke is self-referential, non-evaluative awareness internal to every thought or perception. She argues that once we realize the complexity of any perception—namely that every perception involves, “at the very least, an act of perception, an idea perceived, and consciousness ” —we can see that Locke’s conception (...)
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  21. Locke’s arguments against the freedom to will.Matthew A. Leisinger - 2017 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (4):642-662.
    In sections 2.21.23-25 of An Essay concerning Human Understanding, John Locke considers and rejects two ways in which we might be “free to will”, which correspond to the Thomistic distinction between freedom of exercise and freedom of specification. In this paper, I examine Locke’s arguments in detail. In the first part, I argue for a non-developmental reading of Locke’s argument against freedom of exercise. Locke’s view throughout all five editions of the Essay is that we do not possess freedom of (...)
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  22. Why Locke’s “Of Power” Is Not a Metaphysical Pronouncement.Jonathan S. Marko - 2017 - Philosophy and Theology 29 (1):41-68.
    It is my contention here that the chapter “Of Power,” in John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, is not a metaphysical pronouncement upon the liberty-necessity debates but more along the lines of what those like James Harris portray it to be: a description of our experience of freedom of the will. It is also prescriptive since it is descriptive of the right use of the will. My claims are based upon two key pieces of evidence that are responses to (...)
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  23. Why Locke’s “Of Power” Is Not a Metaphysical Pronouncement.Jonathan S. Marko - 2017 - Philosophy and Theology 29 (1):41-68.
    It is my contention here that the chapter “Of Power,” in John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, is not a metaphysical pronouncement upon the liberty-necessity debates but more along the lines of what those like James Harris portray it to be: a description of our experience of freedom of the will. It is also prescriptive since it is descriptive of the right use of the will. My claims are based upon two key pieces of evidence that are responses to (...)
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  24. Locke and Leibniz on Freedom and Necessity.Idan Shimony & Yekutiel Shoham - 2016 - In Wenchao Li (ed.), Für Unser Glück Oder Das Glück Anderer, X. Internationaler Leibniz-Kongress. Hildesheim: Georg Olms. pp. Vol. 1, 573-588.
    Locke and Leibniz are often classified as proponents of compatibilist theories of human freedom, since both maintain that freedom is consistent with determinism and that the difference between being and not being free turns on how one is determined. However, we will argue in this paper that their versions of compatibilism are essentially different and that they have significantly distinct commitments to compatibilism. To this end, we will first analyze the definitions and examples for freedom and necessity that Locke and (...)
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  25. Liberty and Suspension in Locke's Theory of the Will.Don Garrett - 2015 - In Matthew Stuart (ed.), A Companion to Locke. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley. pp. 260–278.
    The nature and consistency of John Locke's views about liberty and suspension, as well as their bearing on what is now called determinism, remain matters of controversy and sometimes, despair. This chapter explains what it is that "determines the will" according to John Locke. It begins by explaining the central terms Locke employs and the meanings he assigns them. Next, the chapter cites and discusses some of the main doctrines that he formulates using that terminology. In light of these explanations, (...)
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  26. Locke and Wilkins on Inner Sense and Volition.Patrick J. Connolly - 2014 - Locke Studies 14:239-259.
    The purpose of this paper is to elucidate two interesting parallels between views discussed in John Wilkins’ Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion and positions developed by John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The first parallel pertains to a faculty of inner sense. Both authors carve out a central role for this introspective perceptual modality. The second parallel pertains to volition and free will. Both authors employ an investigative methodology which privileges first-personal experiences of choosing and (...)
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  27. Locke on the Power to Suspend.Julie Walsh - 2014 - Locke Studies 14:121-157.
    My aim in this paper is to determine how Locke understands suspension and the role it plays in his view of human liberty. To this end I, 1) discuss the deficiencies of the first edition version of ‘Of Power’ and why Locke needed to include the ability to suspend in the second edition, then 2) analyze Locke’s definitions of the power to suspend with a focus on his use of the terms ‘source’, ‘hinge’, and ‘inlet’ to describe the power. I (...)
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  28. John Locke: Identity, Persons, and Personal Identity.Ruth Boeker - 2013 - Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy.
    John Locke offered a very rich and influential account of persons and personal identity in “Of Identity and Diversity,” which is chapter 27 of Book 2 of his An Essay concerning Human Understanding. He added it to the second edition in 1694 upon the recommendation of his friend William Molyneux. Locke’s theory was soon after its publication discussed by his contemporaries and has influenced many present-day discussions of personal identity. Distinctive about Locke’s theory is that he argues that the notion (...)
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  29. Reply to Rickless.Antonia LoLordo - 2013 - Locke Studies 13:53-62.
  30. The Concept of Freedom in Locke.Vladimir Manda - 2013 - Filozofia 68 (2):105-113.
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  31. Locke on Active Power, Freedom, and Moral Agency.Samuel C. Rickless - 2013 - Locke Studies 13:31-52.
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  32. Locke's moral man.Antonia LoLordo - 2012 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Antonia Lolordo presents an original interpretation of John Locke's metaphysics of moral agency, in which to be a moral agent is simply to be free, rational, and a person.
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  33. Odmiany wolności w ujęciu Johna Locke’a.Justyna Trzepizur - 2012 - Roczniki Filozoficzne 60 (2):25-43.
  34. Liberating Judgment: Fanatics, Skeptics, and John Locke's Politics of Probability.Douglas John Casson - 2011 - Princeton University Press.
    Examining the social and political upheavals that characterized the collapse of public judgment in early modern Europe, Liberating Judgment offers a unique account of the achievement of liberal democracy and self-government. The book argues that the work of John Locke instills a civic judgment that avoids the excesses of corrosive skepticism and dogmatic fanaticism, which lead to either political acquiescence or irresolvable conflict. Locke changes the way political power is assessed by replacing deteriorating vocabularies of legitimacy with a new language (...)
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  35. To Choose or Not to Choose: Locke and Lowe On the Nature and Powers of the Self.Barbara Hannan - 2011 - Philosophy 86 (1):59-73.
    I compare Locke's views on the nature and powers of the self with E. J. Lowe's view, ‘non-Cartesian substance dualism’. Lowe agrees with Locke that persons have a power to choose or not to choose. Lowe takes this power to be non-causal. I argue that this move does not obviously succeed in evading the notorious interaction problem that arises for all forms of substance dualism, including those of Locke and Descartes. However, I am sympathetic to Lowe's attempt to give a (...)
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  36. Estudos de Filosofia Moderna.Lia Levy & Ethel Rocha (eds.) - 2011 - Porto Alegre: Linus Editora.
    Aristotle, Master Eckhart, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant are among the authors exegetically challenged in this collection of fifteen investigations on classical philosophical themes (rational justification, theory of judgment, analysis of duty and moral principles, doctrine of the subject, freedom, substance and property, necessity and contingency, existence and causality). The choice of the logical geography of these themes relies on the conviction that philosophical understanding and historical inquiry are intrinsically connected.
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  37. Action, Ethics and Responsibility.Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & Harry Silverstein (eds.) - 2010 - MIT Press.
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  38. Reconciling human freedom and sin: A note on Locke's paraphrase.Jk Numao - 2010 - Locke Studies 10:95-112.
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  39. 'Things for Actions': Locke's Mistake in 'Of Power'.Julie Walsh - 2010 - Locke Studies 10:85-94.
    In a letter to William Molyneux John Locke states that in reviewing his chapter 'Of Power' for the second edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding he noticed that he had made one mistake which, now corrected, has put him "into a new view of things" which will clarify his account of human freedom. Locke says the mistake was putting “things for actions” on p.123 of the first edition, a page on which the word 'things' does not appear (The Correspondence (...)
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  40. Locke’s compatibilism: Suspension of desire or suspension of determinism?Charles T. Wolfe - 2010 - In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O.’Rourke & Harry Silverstein (eds.), Action, Ethics and Responsibility. MIT Press.
    In Book II, chapter xxi of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, on ‘Power’, Locke presents a radical critique of free will. This is the longest chapter in the Essay, and it is a difficult one, not least since Locke revised it four times without always taking care to ensure that every part cohered with the rest. My interest is to work out a coherent statement of what would today be termed ‘compatibilism’ from this text – namely, a doctrine which seeks (...)
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  41. Liberdade e vontade em Locke.Marília Ferraz - 2009 - Filosofia Unisinos 10 (3):291-301.
    ABSTRACT: This article aims to discuss Locke’s compatibilism, that is, the lokean thesis that freedom is compatible with the natural necessity. To this end, it is analized the chapter Of The Power (XXI, book II of the An Essay concerning Human Understanding), in which Locke clarifi es the concepts of freedom and will. Although Locke, at times, involves himself with the incongruent thesis on compatibilism, he is a compatibilist. The impression that Locke would defend incompatibilists’ theories ends up being abandoned (...)
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  42. Freedom, compatabilism and agnosticism in Locke's works.Richard Glauser - 2009 - Revue Philosophique De Louvain 107 (4):675-697.
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  43. Liberté, compatibilisme et agnosticisme chez Locke.Richard Glauser - 2009 - Revue Philosophique De Louvain 107 (4):675-697.
  44. Of liberty and necessity: The free will debate in eighteenth-century British philosophy. [REVIEW]Benjamin Hill - 2008 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 46 (4):pp. 646-647.
    Early modern historians and philosophers interested in human freedom can profitably read this book, which provides a synoptic view of the eighteenth-century British free will debate from Locke through Dugald Stewart. Scholars have not ignored the debate, but as they have tended to focus on canonical figures , the author’s inclusion of lesser-known yet significant thinkers such as Lord Kames, Jonathan Edwards, and James Beattie is especially welcome. The main thesis of James Harris’s book is that the eighteenth-century British debate (...)
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  45. Locke's desire.Jonathan Brody Kramnick - 2008 - In Alexander John Dick & Christina Lupton (eds.), Theory and Practice in the Eighteenth Century: Writing Between Philosophy and Literature. Pickering & Chatto.
  46. The Grounds of Moral Agency: Locke's Account of Personal Identity.Jessica Spector - 2008 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 5 (2):256-281.
    For Locke, the personal identity problem was a moral problem from the beginning, an attempt to pin down the conditions for responsibility and accountability. This article discusses the implications of Locke's consciousness theory of personal identity for thought about the continuity of moral agency, arguing that Locke's treatment of personal identity is best understood in connection with his expanded discussion of liberty in the Essay and with his interest in the proper grounds for assessing responsibility for action. By grounding personal (...)
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  47. Power in Locke's Essay.Vere Chappell - 2007 - In Lex Newman (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding". Cambridge University Press.
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  48. Of liberty and necessity: The free will debate in eighteenth-century british philosophy – James A. Harris. [REVIEW]P. J. E. Kail - 2007 - Philosophical Quarterly 57 (228):484–487.
    This is a very informative and lucid account of the career of a central philosophical topic in eighteenth‐century Britain, the debate between libertarians and necessitarians, from Locke to Dugald Stewart. The work has many strengths, and I learnt much from it. It will be of great interest to historians of the period, but the readership should be wider than that. Those working on the debate today should also read this book. Harris (quite legitimately) does not see his task as that (...)
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  49. Of liberty and necessity: the free will debate in eighteenth-century British philosophy.James A. Harris - 2005 - New York: Oxford University Press.
    The eighteenth century was a time of brilliant philosophical innovation in Britain. In Of Liberty and Necessity James A. Harris presents the first comprehensive account of the period's discussion of what remains a central problem of philosophy, the question of the freedom of the will. He offers new interpretations of contributions to the free will debate made by canonical figures such as Locke, Hume, Edwards, and Reid, and also discusses in detail the arguments of some less familiar writers. Harris puts (...)
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  50. Locke on the locked room.Paul Hoffman - 2005 - Locke Studies 5:57-73.
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