Sunday, 19 July 2015

John locke's Style



At a time when the prevailing plain style was growing dull and insipid (John Locke is an example), it was Browne who showed the way to new possibilities of Ciceronian splendor.
(from a cliche infested review of a book on Browne in the NY Times)

Jim Holt’s view of Locke is the received, accepted and established one. I have never felt that it was fair so as a random test I did a sortilege on a lightly used copy of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding bought for the long introduction by A.D. Woozley. Out came the plum Chap.XXVII: 15

§ 15. And thus we may be able, without any difficulty, to conceive the same person at the resurrection, though in a body not exactly in make or parts the same which he had here, the same consciousness going along with the soul that inhabits it. But yet the soul alone, in the change of bodies, would scarce to any one, but to him that makes the soul the man, be enough to [339] make the same man. For should the soul of a prince, carrying with it the consciousness of the prince’s past life, enter and inform the body of a cobbler, as soon as deserted by his own soul, every one sees he would be the same person with the prince, accountable only for the prince’s actions: but who would say it was the same man? The body too goes to the making the man, and would, I guess, to every body determine the man in this case; wherein the soul, with all its princely thoughts about it, would not make another man: but he would be the same cobbler to every one besides himself. I know that, in the ordinary way of speaking, the same person, and the same man, stand for one and the same thing. And indeed every one will always have a liberty to speak as he pleases, and to apply what articulate sounds to what ideas he thinks fit, and change them as often as he pleases. But yet when we will inquire what makes the same spirit, man, or person, we must fix the ideas of spirit, man, or person in our minds; and having resolved with ourselves what we mean by them, it will not be hard to determine in either of them, or the like, when it is the same, and when not.

This a well known early thought experiment which is extensively considered in Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity by Sidney Shoemaker sticking to his last as it were. TE supplies the first two letters of ‘tendentious’. (This is Sunday, I should be resting). My point here is the clarity of the exposition. I have never found clarity to be dull. Dullness is the first stage on the way to Opacity. The dull surface of an exposition obscures its sense and whether you agree with Locke or not his meaning is clear and there is a vigour to - “And indeed every one will always have a liberty to speak as he pleases, and to apply whatever articulate sounds to what ideas he thinks fit, and change them as often as he pleases”.

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