John Wright tries to establish that psychological and social pressures prevent people from accepting rationalism in religion, but he is not satisfied with the case he is making today. He seemed to indicate some difficulty uncovering substantial connections between enthusiasm and toleration within Locke’s thinking. Wright focused on Locke’s struggles with religious experience as shown in his journals (1681 April — ) and his focus on natural reason bringing us toward God. Religious experience cannot bring knowledge is the crux of Locke’s criticism of religious experience, Wright argues. Many religious ritualistic techniques disrupt reason and incite the imagination. Enthusiasm and the association of ideas are pathological, then, and involves a recognition by Locke that there are limits on reason and rational acceptance of religion.
Kathryn Tabb argues for two thesis centered around the relationship between enthusiansm and the association of ideas. Toleration motivated Locke’s concerns to include them and the two chapters are united by the topic of madness. And Tabb sees this as pyrrhonian skepticism. She sets up the paper around looking at Locke’s as a methodological, medical skeptic. Locke rejects physisological accounts of the mind’s operations (because of his skeptical methodology) in favor of an ideist account. She develops the idea of “mad errors” which are judgments that are false despite being formulated on the basis of proper reasoning. For enthusiasts, they feel certainty because of their “mad error” and they attribute that certainty to the proposition’s being directly revealed to them by God. This fits in with Locke’s argument for toleration because we cannot change their ideas and beliefs when they are in the throes of such “mad errors”.
Richard Vernon is looking at the role that tempers, understood in a traditional humoral sense, affects our ability to make judgments and assent to religious doctrines. Vernon connects the issue of tempers to Locke’s writings on education, which I personally find very interesting and exciting. I was hoping that education and the possibility of educating peoples will be brought into to discussion, especially given Locke’s argument from the involuntariness of belief in the Letter on Toleration. Certainly, through education and teaching we can alter and even cause or engender beliefs, so that they are not completely involuntary and it is in not clear why the state cannot structure or control access to information in ways that will avoid false religious beliefs and/or engender true religious beliefs. The theme about the nature and limits of the state’s “coercive” force has come up several times during the workshop and I hope that tempers and the educational literature can illuminate that topic. Vernon believes that this connection with tempers suggests that we should approach Locke’s political philosophy through personal equality rather than through Locke’s epistemology. This also suggests that we ought to be skepticial of the hyper-individualistic reading that, according to Vernon, has dominated Canadian political theory. Locke is better approached through his focus on groups of individuals. Vernon also wanted to raise a question about the compatibility of an empiricists epistemology with a nativist account of tempers and suggested that Tabb’s work might be a good and fruitful way of understanding the gap.
Discussion began with comments about the similarity between Sheridan’s more communally based understanding of virtues and Vernon’s anti-individualistic approach to Locke’s political philosophy. Next was a question for Tabb about the moral implications of everyone being a bit mad in having the association of ideas and Locke’s commitment to the ethics of belief. Tabb emphasized that she was pessimistic about the ethic of belief as a possible or legitimate solution. A follow-up was raised about Locke’s authoring of the massive chapter On the Conduct of the Understanding toward the end of his life. Tabb acknowledged a connection between the Conduct and the Association and the Conduct is really more about preventing pathological associations rather than curing them. Another question was about Locke’s focus on the things that can “go wrong” in reasoning, especially in the errors and misuses of language. Tabb acknoweldged that Locke was broadly interested in error and especially the errors of language, but emphasized that association must be pre-linguistic. Next was a question for Vernon about the suggestion that Locke is not best seen as individualistic, basically a challenge that he was often strongly individualistic. Vernon acknowledged that individualism is present, but that he is attacking hyper-individualism, which is to suggest that much of what we do is group based. But a rejoinder was that Locke was attempting to emphasis that salvation was not a “corporate project” and that salvation in particular was individualistic. A question was raised for Tabb about the physiology of enthusiasm and Tabb’s two-stage model for the fixing or establishing an association, namely that the phenomenological disparity between enthusiasm and their appeal to the certainty coming from God and the intuitive perception of identical ideas or other cases of certainty generated by intuitive perception. A question was raised about the connection between Tabb’s thesis that enthusiasm is a madness and the arguments Locke given for toleration and Tabb responded by emphasizing the morally troubling nature of determining which of the various Church’s ought to be allowed to “cure” the other given that Locke believes we are all enthusiasts and mad. Another question was raised about Tabb’s attribution of pyrrhonianism to Locke focused on the fundamental differences between Locke’s rationalist basis for religious belief and Bayle’s seemingly skeptically based fideism. Tabb allows that perhaps she understands skeptical differently because she is focused on Boyle’s use and basis of skepticism. There was substantial disagreement about Locke’s acceptable of knowledge and whether probability and probable belief is a rejection of pyrrhonianism or an acceptance of it. There was further discussion about the nature of skepticism during this period, which the suggestion that Academic skepticism rather than pyrrhonian might be in play and the related idea that there were skeptical positions floating around during this period without skeptics and what constituted someone being a skeptic should focus on the nature of evidence. This exchange led to extended discussion and disagreement about what constitutes knowledge (in general) for Locke and it was a fundamental divide between Wright (and others) and Tabb. The distinction between certainty of knowledge and certainty of belief was being lost in the conversation, another suggested, especially in the exchange between Locke and Proust. A different topic was raised after extended discussion about the really objectionable feature of enthusiasm, according to Wright and Tabb who suggested that enthusiasm was a kind of pathology. An alternative reading saying that what’s objectionable about the enthusiast was that they imposed their fancies onto themselves and onto others and demanded that others accept their fancies was pushed and that they must have known at some level that they were imposing on themselves are do not accept the truth for truth’s sake. There was resistance to this suggested alternative reading and an emphasis on the mechanism for this imposition being fundamentally pathological and unconscious. The role of the acceptance or denial of the thesis of the transparency of the mental was noted and acknowledged by both sides on this discussion. The issue of zeal was brought up and the role of it in discussions of enthusiasm and association was raised and whether there are conceptual interested between these three theses. Another question was raised about the harm that the enthusiast threatens and that Locke is disturbed by the enthusiast’s refusal to enter into discussion about the basis for their religious belief. A different topic on the context of discussions about imposition and religious belief was raised and it was suggested that there were considerable historical debates and discussions worrying about the idea of imposition of belief. The topic of innate vs acquired faculties and tempers that Richard raised was considered and the possibility of exploring the tempers as mediating between innate faculties and acquired ideas was floated.