This book, a reevaluation of a major issue in modern philosophy, explores the controversy that grew out of John Locke's suggestion, in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), that God could give to matter the power of thought.
I want to discuss a doctrine and a concept in theory of knowledge which has various manifestations from at least the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. The concept is that of direct or immediate cognition, the doctrine says that only what is like mind can be directly or immediately present to mind. This doctrine raises the question of how we can know things other than ourselves and our experiences: the concept of direct presence most usually had the consequence of (...) making our knowledge of the world indirect, uncertain, or impossible. The directly present must in some way inform us about the indirectly present. (shrink)
This book tells for the first time the long and complex story of the involvement of Locke's suggestion that God could add to matter the power of thought in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding in the growth of French materialism. There is a discussion of the 'affaire de Prades', in which Locke's name was linked with a censored thesis at the Faculty of Theology in Paris. The similarities and differences between English "thinking matter" and the French "matiere pensante" of the (...) philosophes are also discussed. (shrink)
In 1984, John W. Yolton published Perceptual Acquaintance from Descartes to Reid. His most recent book builds on that seminal work and greatly extends its relevance to issues in current philosophical debate. Perception and Reality examines the theories of perception implicit in the work of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers which centered on the question: How is knowledge of the body possible? That question raises issues of mind-body relation, the way that mentality links with physicality, and the nature of the known (...) world. In contrast to commonsense realism, which suggests that the world is as it appears to be, a more complex theory developed throughout this period. Yolton traces its evolution from Descartes to Kant, via Arnauld, Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Yolton explains that the new theory postulated two interactive relations between perceivers and the physical world, one physical and causal, the other cognitive. An understanding of this double relation is important for an accurate construction of the history of philosophy. It is also important for contemporary thought because it suggests a way to account for representation (cognitivity) and realism at the same time. (shrink)
The Essay Concerning Human Understanding is John Locke's most important work, and through this selective commentary, first published in 1970, Professor Yolton concentrates our attention on the more interesting and controversial of the doctrines in it. His method of interpretation is to ask very specific questions of the text in order to test the propriety of the philosophical labels traditionally applied to Locke, an approach which he believes yields surprising results. He looks afresh at the various discussions of essence, perception, (...) scientific method, ethics and meaning, and argues that throughout his epistemology Locke is more concerned with problems of description and analysis than with those of justification. This historical perspective is extended by the discussion of issues in the Essay, which retain an independent and philosophical interest. (shrink)
This book addresses one of the fundamental topics in philosophy: the relation between appearance and reality. John Yolton draws on a rich combination of historical and contemporary material, ranging from the early modern period to present-day debates, to examine this central philosophical preoccupation, which he presents in terms of distinctions between phenomena and causes, causes and meaning, and persons and man. He explores in detail how Locke, Berkeley and Hume talk of appearances and their relation to reality, and offers illuminating (...) connections and comparisons with the work of contemporary philosophers such as Paul Churchland and John McDowell. He concludes by offering his own proposal for a 'realism of appearances', which incorporates elements of both Humean and Kantian thinking. His important study will be of interest to a wide range of readers in the history of philosophy, the history of ideas, and contemporary philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics. (shrink)
Philosophy as a separate discipline is a rather new phenomenon. This presents problems for our understanding of what constitutes the history of philosophy. Past writers often approached their concerns from a multi-disciplinary perspective; thus to understand them we have to do more than answer a contemporary set of issues. To that end, I suggest we attend to Locke's advice on how to read a text. Following this advice may permit us to avoid several puzzles which result from misreading a text.
It is important for our purposes to notice that in this first reduction of Theætetus' definition of knowledge as perception, Plato has introduced the distinction between sense object and physical object, for he has specifically said, "when the same wind is blowing, one of us feels chilly, the other does not." In using this example. Plato has, as Cornford observes, raised the question of how the several sense objects are related to the single physical object. This question is one of (...) the two major questions with which this paper will deal, since it is, as I have remarked, the more important question concerning the ontological status of sense-data. Cornford feels that Protagoras probably held that the physical object is both hot and cold, different observers perceiving different aspects of the same object. That is, Cornford suggests that Protagoras' own answer to this question of the relation between sense-data and physical objects is one of complete identification in every case. We will see that this theory is similar in many ways to the one worked out by Plato in the Theætetus, but the distinction between the physical object and the sense object, between the wind which feels hot and cold to different people, makes certain characteristic differences between Plato's and Protagoras' theory. Before going on to examine these differences, it is necessary to follow the further development of Plato's general theory of perception. (shrink)
This book does several things, and it does them all well. Yolton firmly contextualizes the debates about perception within the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while showing how these debates are often repeated in contemporary philosophy of mind. Along the way, he provides novel interpretations of Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant that are clearly and convincingly presented. Perhaps the most important feature of his treatment is that it so vividly shows the Moderns grappling with issues about perception that continue to (...) plague us. The uniting theme of the work is Yolton’s insistence that direct realism and representationalism are compatible. Yolton’s defense of direct realism is largely motivated by the thesis that many philosophers incorrectly take a representational theory of mind to necessitate indirect realism. This mistake arises, according to Yolton, because they suppose that the representations themselves become the objects of perception and therefore stand between the perceiver and the world of objects. Yolton’s argument that the philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were struggling to establish two interactive relations between perceivers and the physical world underlies his compatibility thesis: There is a physical and causal relationship and, more importantly, there is what Yolton calls a “cognitive” or “semantic” relationship. The latter relationship holds the key to the compatibility of representationalism with direct realism. (shrink)
In politics, religion, and in , came to stand, in the minds of most men, for all that was bad and harmful to past tra- dition. The attempted reduction of knowledge and into matter and motion alarmed many men who were concerned to estab- lish the.
John Yolton seeks to allow readers of Locke to have accessible in one volume sections from a wide range of Locke's books, structured so that some of the interconnections of his thought can be seen and traced. Although Locke did not write from a system of philosophy, he did have in mind an overall division of human knowledge. The readings begin with Locke's essay on Hermeneutics and the portions of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding on how to read a text. (...) The reset of the selections are organized around Locke's division of human knowledge into natural science, ethics, and the theory of signs. Yolton's introduction and commentary explicate Locke's doctrines and provide the reader with the general background knowledge of other seventeenth-century writers and their works necessary to an understanding of Locke and his time. (shrink)
En 1956, l' Academie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences couronnait, a Bruxeiles, 1'etude de M. Yolton, intitulee The Phi losophy o/Science 0/ Arthur S. Eddington, etude dont le present ouvrage est la reprise. Pourquoi la personne, 1'oeuvre et les idees de l'illustre physicien anglais avaient-elles ete designees a l'atten tion des candidats a ce Prix? Quels enseignements l'Academie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences en attendait-eile? N'esperait-elle pas que le rapport de la recherche philosophique a la recherche scientifique pourrait en etre (...) eclaire? M. Yolton offre a l'un des membres de son jury l'occasion de s'en expliquer a cet endroit. Je m'en vais donc le faire pour ce qui me concerne personnellement, conformement aux vues que je defends moi-meme depuis assez longtemps. La vision du monde et de l'homme, du philosophe et celle du savant s'accordent-elles ou s'opposent-elles? Pour ma part, je ne mets pas en doute qu'il existe entre la science et la philosophie une relation qu'il importe de mettre en evidence, mais j'insiste en meme temps sur le fait que cette relation est ambivalente. A la fois, elles les unit, elle les separe. Elle les fait tour a tour se rapprocher et s'eloigner 1'une de l'autre. La science et la philoso phie sont necessaires l'une a 1'autre, mais cette necessite est par fois ceile de leur alliance et parfois celle de leur antagonisme. (shrink)