The first session on Saturday was titled “Locke on his Friends: Latitudinarians, Arminians, and Socinians”. It featured two talks: a talk by Patrician Sheridan titled “John Locke and the Latitudinarians: Toleration as a Virtue” and a talk by Eilliot Rossiter titled “Natural Religion and the Ambiguity of Locke’s Theological Commitments”.
Patricia discussed the influence of the Latitudinarians – in particular, Tillotson, Barrow, Whichcote, and Fowler – on the development of Locke’s views on toleration. Simply put, she argued that the influence of the Latitudinarians played a role in inspiring Locke’s move away from a purely pragmatic approach to toleration to his later view predicated on the intrinsic value of toleration.
Elliot argued that we ought to exercise caution when tempted to identify Locke as either a Socinian or an Arminian, as the textual and biographical evidence concerning the precise character of Locke’s theological views is ambiguous at best. Elliot suggested that Locke’s religious commitments are best understood as eclectic. All that we can say for sure is that Locke has an explicit commitment to natural religion. Elliot then argued further that Locke’s writings on toleration are best understood in light of that explicit commitment,
Saturday afternoon’s session is titled “Toleration and the Ethics of Belief”. It features talks by Jonathan Walmsley (Independent Scholar) and Elizabeth Pritchard (Bowdoin).
The second session on Saturday – “Toleration and the Ethics of Belief” – began with Jonathan Walmsley’s “John Locke and Toleration: New Manuscript Evidence”. As the title of the talk suggests, Jonathan has uncovered new manuscripts pertaining to Locke’s views on toleration. As Jonathan wrote in the abstract for his talk: “Newly discovered manuscript evidence sheds fresh light on the circumstances, context, and content of Locke’s first articulations of his theory of toleration.” He began, however, with a request that the details of his discovery not be shared in print until the work is published in the near future, so we can’t share any of those details here. But be on the lookout for the new manuscripts to be made public in the very near future!
In the second talk, Elizabeth Pritchard discussed Locke’s ethics of belief, paying special attention to Locke’s views on the variety of subtle harms associated with religious belief in particular. She showed that Locke’s ethics of belief is complex and cannot be adequately understood by focussing just on the epistemological and evidentiary character of belief formation. His arguments, she suggested, focus less on epistemic justification and more on the ethical and political stakes of the content and character of the beliefs, precisely because his arguments are directed at establishing and maintaining toleration.
Most of the conference attendees are off to the nearby Shakespeare festival in Stratford, Ontario tonight. And, of course, a few are staying in town to (presumably) have a drink (or two) at a pub. The final session of the conference will be on Sunday morning and will feature talks by Kathryn Tabb (Columbia), John Wright (Central Michigan), and Western’s Richard Vernon. The title of the last session of the conference is “Toleration, Tempers, and Enthusiasm”. [Alastair Crosby]