Elizabeth R. Napier (Middlebury College) has reviewed for us Christopher Borsing’s Daniel Defoe and the Representation of Personal Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 2017). Borsing’s thesis is that Defoe represents personal identity as privileged subjectivity within a common or shared world. This modern account of personal identity is unsurprising, but in the wake of Locke’s influential psychologizing the metaphysics of personal identity, Borsing seems most interested in the tensions between a figure’s internal self-identification and their public persona that Defoe presents. Napier credits Borsing with bringing more attention to relatively neglected works such as Captain Singleton and The Family Instructor but is largely critical of Borsing’s treatment of this important topic. A keener focus on the issues relevant to analyzing Defoe’s account of personal identity and deeper development of particularly salient points (Napier singles out the notion of decomposed, deleted, and recycled identity in Robinson Crusoe as an example) would have greatly increased the book’s impact and contribution, Napier argues.
Patrick J. Connolly (Lehigh University) reviewed two books for us. The first is Victor Nuovo’s John Locke: The Philosopher as Christian Virtuoso (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Nuovo seeks to reconcile Locke’s disparate intellectual interests and activities by classify Locke as a Christian virtuoso. The Christian virtuosi were seventeenth-century figures who believe that Baconian and mechanistic philosophy coherently merged with Christian morality and theology to form a Weltanschauung. The challenge for the British Christian virtuosi was to balance the mechanistic natural philosophy with their Christian moral philosophy, Nuovo argues. Connolly is generally positive of Nuovo’s approach and accomplishment, “the book is in many ways excellent, and nearly all readers will find a great deal of value” (4) in it. But he is critical of, or at least hesitant to endorse, some central features of it. Connolly flags Nuovo’s conjectural reconstruction of the Essay’s ur-text as “controversial” (3) and raises worries with Nuovo’s unnuanced presumption of a direct or rich Bacon-Locke connection (4-5). More significantly, Connolly throws some cold water onto Nuovo’s central claim, that the Essay and the Reasonableness are part of a unified, life-long intellectual project, and suggests that more scholarly worked is needed here (5).
The second book Connolly reviewed for us was David Sytsma’s Richard Baxter and the Mechanical Philosophers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Although not about Locke or Locke’s thought, Sytsma’s book ought to be of concern to Lockeans interested in the context of Locke’s thinking about natural philosophy and Christian religion. Baxter was a contemporary (1615–92), a correspondent of Boyle and Glanville (among others), and Locke’ owned some of his books (LL 226–28). Sytsma aims to present to readers Baxter’s systematic thinking in natural philosophy. Connolly is impressed with Sytsma’s achievement in presenting such a difficult and eclectic philosopher as Baxter, describing the book as “spectacularly well-researched…. Sytsma has left very few stones unturned” (4). Even so Sytsma’s presentation has not uncovered “what ‘makes [Baxter] tick’ as a thinker,” since it is “nearly always clear what Baxter thought… [but] more difficult to see why he thought this” (4) Connolly claims. Although Connolly lays this criticism not against Sytsma but rather at “Baxter himself” (4). Nevertheless, as difficult as Baxter’s thought might be, Connolly recommends that scholars interested in seventeenth-century natural philosophy or any thinker working on it (Cavendish, Conway, Cudworth, Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes, Leibniz, Locke, More, etc.) should pay attention to this book (5).
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