Freedom, God, and empiricism in Locke

Eric Andrew Manchester, Marquette University


In his Epistle to the Reader in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , John Locke declares moral philosophy and divinity studies to be the two most important areas of human inquiry. However, while he clearly affirms the existence of God in this work, and, debatably, presupposes libertarian freedom in his account of human will and moral responsibility, he never offers a philosophical reconciliation of human freedom and God's existence. Indeed, Locke bemoans his inability to provide such a reconciliation, and admits to accepting the compatibility of human freedom and God's existence only as a matter of faith. This is startling given the importance of both his account of human action and God's existence to his broader views on ethics and political theory; thus, this reconciliation is critical to Locke's philosophy as a whole. My work demonstrates that a philosophical reconciliation of these views is possible within Lockean empiricism, accommodating the development of my own unique defense of libertarianism as a revision of Locke's theory of action in the process. My project incorporates four stages. First, Locke's ideas of reflection are investigated in respect to his representationalism. This leads secondly to defending a libertarian reading of Locke that shows that while freedom and determinism are compatible in the case of God, human freedom requires libertarian choice. Thirdly, I develop an original libertarianism that improves Locke's view by showing that the essential characteristic of freedom is the opportunity to attain a final good, and not choice per se . Here, I elucidate three principles of action that demonstrate that inasmuch as experience provides only probabilistic evidence concerning the effects of our actions on attaining this end, human choice is informed by experience but cannot be determined by it. Libertarian freedom is consequently revealed to be the product of both finite rationality and an existentially basic choice to believe, or disbelieve, in the connection of our experience and actions to a final good. Finally, my account is reconciled with God's existence in a way that meets Locke's criteria for rational, and not just faith-based, belief.

Recommended Citation

Manchester, Eric Andrew, "Freedom, God, and empiricism in Locke" (1999). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9929166.