Sunday, July 3, 2011

Voegelin on Locke

I know about Leo Strauss' secret atheist Locke; but I didn't know Eric Voegelin whom Strauss corresponded with also viewed John Locke as a "modern" philosopher, not an authentic, traditional Christian thinker.

From this article by EV. I've put Locke's words in bold so as not to confuse when Locke is speaking and when EV is commenting on Locke's words:

The last step [of something] is taken by Locke in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding. "Reason is natural revelation, whereby the Father of Light and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties."

This part of the passage sounds comparatively harmless, so harmless that in isolation it could perhaps be taken as Thomistic in meaning.

The sequel is less harmless:

Revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately, which Reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away Reason to make a way for Revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope.

Now, indeed, Reason is made the judge of the truth of Revelation. "Whatsoever God hath revealed is certainly true. No doubt can be made of it. But whether it be a Divine Revelation or no, Reason must judge, which can never permit the mind to reject a greater evidence for that which is less evident, or prefer less certainty to greater."

The bond of faith is broken and the experiences that give meaning to the symbols of myth and religion are lost.

At American Creation we've longed discussed Locke being the philosophical mentor of America's Founders, especially on their political-theological issues. Was it traditional Christianity? Was it Thomism? Was it Enlightenment rationalism? Where does one end and the other begin? EV seems to cite Locke for the proposition of reason trumping revelation or reason determining what is legitimate revelation from God. This differs from Leo Strauss' Locke as a secret atheist, but is consonant with Gregg Frazer's notion of theistic rationalism that posits a partially inspired Bible, one that is errant and fallible and of which man's reason determines the valid parts.


Tom Van Dyke said...

It's not as black-and-white as Voegelin makes it. One must read the whole chapter:

Locke explicitly sets matters of faith apart from reason, that each has its realm.

Revelation in matters where reason cannot judge, or but probably, ought to be hearkened to. First, Whatever proposition is revealed, of whose truth our mind, by its natural faculties and notions, cannot judge, that is purely matter of faith, and above reason.

Therefore all matters of faith are not subject to being "trumped" by reason. Indeed, Locke wrote "A Discourse on Miracles" [1701]

So likewise the number, variety, and greatness of the miracles wrought for the confirmation of the doctrine delivered by Jesus Christ, carry with them such strong marks of an extraordinary divine Dower, that the truth of his mission will stand firm and unquestionable, till any one rising tip in opposition to him shall do greater miracles than he and his apostles did. For any thing less will not be of weight to turn the scales in the opinion of any one, whether of an inferior or more exalted understanding. This is one of those palpable truths and trials, of which all mankind are judges; and there needs no assistance of learning, no deep thought, to come to a certainty in it.

As is becoming clearer to contemporary scholars, there are Two John Lockes. However, the Founders' Locke is the Locke of faith, of revelation, of miracles.

For folks with JStor:

"According to Locke, genuine miracles contain the hallmark of the divine such that pretend revelations become intuitively obvious. This paper argues that serious tensions exist in Locke's position regarding miracles, which impact on the reasonableness of the assent to Christianity which he presumes they provide."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It seems American Creation has gone through every philosophical presupposition as to "faith". Now, are we to suppose that what is "revelation" is what one finds to be real historical fact in scripture? So what, if Jesus was a historical figure, the testimony of people of faith, were creating "the Church"....out of Judiasm. Myth has always served the interests of defining "beauty, justice and truth"....

How can we assess what is "real historical fact" in scripture? These documents were written by those presupposed to "faith commitments", as they were scribes, or monks for the most part....

Thomasism is scholasticism within the Church, as it was a philisophical affirmation of the "Chruch's political aspirations". Jesus, as the 'God/Man" as the image or representative of "God, the Father". Such language games are a means to further political ends...that the Church felt was necessary....

Judiasm was a wisdom tradition that, like other wisdom traditios sought the human or humane, instead of some definition of "God's will" or "God's purposes" that were homogenous...

Jesus, as the "scapegoat" is not a healthy image for "group behavior", as it dismisses the responsibility of individuals within such orgaizatioal structuring...this is why the abuse of power happened within the Church!

Indidivuals are grated the right to define their faith or live in "unbelief" without intervention of those that think they are to impose their belief systems....

Our social order does affirm a "Judeo-Christian" type of social order, as to the family. But, it was never to be a revelation without reason that governs...

Tom Van Dyke said...

The estimable David Gordon also disputes the "secret atheist" Straussian Locke, on the grounds I mention above from the same chapter plus numerous others. Michael Zuckert here is a "Straussian" interpreter of Locke who shares the same general conclusions as Strauss and Voegelin.

"...Strauss and Zuckert incorrectly interpret this passage from Locke as a denial that reason can prove the soul's immortality. "That the dead shall rise and live again: these and the like, being beyond the discovery of reason, are purely matters of faith, with which reason, has, directly, nothing to do."(p.32, quoting Locke) This passage refers to the resurrection of the body, which in standard Christian theology is indeed viewed as a teaching of faith. It need not be read as a denial of reason's power to prove the soul immortal.

Zuckert also endeavors to show that Locke's profession of belief in Christianity did not reflect his real views. In the Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke places great stress on Christ's miracles, as reported in the New Testament. " The miracles, he holds, were so numerous and so public that "they never were, or could be, denied by any of the enemies or opposers of Christianity.'. . Locke focuses the issue by citing the example of the Emperor Julian; even he 'never dared to deny' the miracles."(p.161)

Locke, according to Zuckert, conceals an anti-Christian message behind this seemingly straightforward apologetic point. "Locke continues, however, in a most curious way that entirely undermines the argument for miracles...

Why not take Locke to be saying that the conclusion that Christ is the savior is rationally compelling, given the truth of the miracles? In like fashion, someone who contends that the premises of a syllogism make the conclusion unavoidable means that the premises imply the conclusion. He does not suggest that no one will in fact fail to reason correctly.

I must be fair to our author: one of his arguments seems to have some weight. He notes that Locke reduces Christianity to one essential dogma: the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. But this is exactly the claim that Hobbes, generally taken to be an atheist, made when he professed belief in Christianity."

[TVD: The above fits into Locke-as-unitarian. To take Locke's roundabout denial of the Trinity for a more grave denial of Christianity itself is to misunderstand. Those unfamiliar with the Unitarian Controversy would be expected to miss this context and be tempted to take him for an infidel.

If there is one secret, esoteric message in Locke, it's the avoidance of the Trinity without explicitly denying it. The Trinitarian would gloss over those parts; the unitarian reader would catch the nod and the wink.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

P.S. to the compassionate part....I find that compassion can be aa a means of manipulation by those that are seeking an opportunity to gain a advantage...I am not a social Democrat, or a socialist. I don't believe that "group behavior" or "group think" is healthy, in general, because of the way that groups tend to behave.

Individuals must be allowed the liberty to choose thier "place" and not be pre-determined.

Interventionist, and family system's psychologists understand that group dynamics can be damning to individual that are found within them! So, religion is damaging, as it is not about facing real world problems, or taking responsibility for yourself, within a social system...Our Laws were to protect "groups" from acting in inappropriate this protects individuals in contract agreements...there is no mutuality if there is no recognized social contract!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Now, are we to suppose that what is "revelation" is what one finds to be real historical fact in scripture?

By "revelation," historians or philosophy scholars mean what claims to be the revealed Word of God.

How can we assess what is "real historical fact" in scripture?

We do not assess it, Angie. Not the Bible or the Book of Mormon or the Quran. It's above our pay grade. Indeed, Locke is saying here that matters of faith are "above reason." That is the point of our discussion.

Your characterization of Thomism as a mere tool of control, an ideology, is itself too ideological for this blog. It's the Christianization of Aristotelian philosophy and had a great effect on western Civilization. It may be wrong or right, but it is sincere.

Angie, if you don't want to disrupt this discussion and stay on topic, perhaps this essay on Locke, society, and the family will be more to your liking and interest.

The topic is Locke, and comments should have something to do with Locke. Thx.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I believe that those seeking to understand the science religion debate are seeking to understand identity....Identity is "self ownership" in a healthy person. It is assessing one's personal boundaries, public responsibilities, which correspond to one's personal interests and values..

Jason Pappas said...

Locke of the "2nd Treatise" was clearly an influence on the founders. As to the "Essay Concerning Human Understanding", I know Adams read it when in his teens and it had a great influence on him.

I'm halfway through the "Essay". While I'm not up to the part on religion he does deal with ethical issues early on. I'd have to conclude he took his Christianity seriously. He repeatedly returns to the punishment and rewards in the afterlife as an important incentive in the hedonic calculus of long-term happiness.

There is one interesting paragraph where he compares three motivations: Hobbesian fear of the state's punishment, Christian fear of God's punishment, and Hellenic love of virtue and honor. When I read the paragraph it sounded like the Hellenic motivation was the most noble. However, he drops it from discussion and continually returns to God's punishment.

I'll have to finish the Essay to comment on the above conversation. Happy 4th everyone!