THE BRITISH EMPIRICISTS - Higher Intellect | Content .2012-10-01  CONTENTS Preface xi Abbreviations

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  • The Empiricists represent the central tradition in British philosophyas well as some of the most important and influential thinkers in human history. Their ideas paved the way for modern thoughtfrom politics to science, ethics to religion. The British Empiricists isa wonderfully clear and concise introduction to the lives, careers andviews of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Mill, Russell and Ayer.

    Stephen Priest examines each philosopher and their views on awide range of topics including mind and matter, ethics and emotions,freedom and the physical world, language, truth and logic. The bookis usefully arranged so that it can be read by thinker or by topic,or as a history of key philosophical problems. By the end of thebook the reader will be equipped to:

    recognise and practise philosophical thinking understand the methods of solving philosophical problems used

    by the British Empiricists appreciate the role of empiricism in the history of Western


    For any student new to philosophy, Western philosophy or the British Empiricists, this masterly survey offers an accessible, engagingintroduction.

    Stephen Priest is Senior Research Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford,a member of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Oxfordand a member of Wolfson College, Oxford. His books have beentranslated into six languages.







    T H E B R IT I S H E M P I R I C I S T S

  • Stephen Pr ies t







    T H E B R IT I S H E M P I R I C I S T S

    Second edition

  • First published 1990by Penguin Books

    Second edition published by Routledge2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

    Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016

    Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

    1990, 2007 Stephen Priest

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted orreproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical,or other means, now known or hereafter invented, includingphotocopying and recording, or in any information storage orretrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataPriest, Stephen.

    The British empiricists/Stephen Priest. 2nd ed.p. cm.

    Includes bibliographical references and index.1. Empiricism History. 2. Philosophy, British. I. Title.B816.P75 2007146.440941 dc22 2007009898

    ISBN10: 0415356288 (hbk)ISBN10: 0415356296 (pbk)ISBN10: 0203002628 (ebk)

    ISBN13: 9780415357234 (hbk)ISBN13: 9780415357241 (pbk)ISBN13: 9780203003107 (ebk)

    This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2007.

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    Preface xi

    Abbreviations xv

    1 What is empiricism? 1

    Doing philosophy and doing history 1

    Defining empiricism 5

    Ants and spiders 7

    Ancient Greek empiricism and rationalism 14

    Empiricism and rationalism in medieval philosophy 17

    The flight of the bee 19

    Empiricism and American pragmatism 25

    The logic of empiricism 29

    2 Hobbes 32

    Hobbes in history 32

    Mind 38

    Language 42

    Reason 46

    Science 48

    Freedom 49

    Emotion 51

    Religion 54

    Nature 56

    Ethics 58

    Politics 59







  • 3 Locke 64

    Locke in history 64

    Innate ideas 67

    Sensation and reflection 75

    Physical objects 86

    Minds 93

    Personal identity 95

    Space and time 101

    Numbers 105

    Language 107

    Causation 109

    God 111

    Politics 112

    4 Berkeley 116

    Berkeley in history 116

    Matter 120

    Abstract ideas 127

    The self 131

    God and other minds 134

    Space and time 136

    Numbers 138

    Language 139

    5 Hume 144

    Hume in history 144

    Impressions and ideas 146

    Physical objects 149

    Space and time 152

    Knowledge 154

    Causation 157

    Personal identity 160

    Mind and body 163

    Freedom 165

    Induction 168

    Memory and imagination 170

    Religion 171

    Ethics 177

    Politics 179


  • 6 Mill 183

    Mill in history 183

    Language 185

    Causation 189

    Induction 191

    Deduction 193

    Knowledge 194

    Freedom 196

    Mind 198

    Ethics 198

    Politics 203

    7 Russell 209

    Russell in history 209

    Perception 213

    Knowledge 215

    Induction 217

    Universals 218

    Mind and matter 220

    Logical atomism 221

    Meaning and truth 225

    Mathematics 228

    Causation 230

    Religion 231

    8 Ayer 236

    Ayer in history 236

    Meaning and metaphysics 239

    Philosophical analysis 242

    Perception 244

    Causation 245

    Induction 246

    Mind and body 248

    Personal identity 249

    Religion 250

    Ethics 252

    Notes 255

    Bibliography 293

    Index 320

    Contents ix







  • 11







    What exists? Is there anything beyond experience? If so, can weknow it? What are minds? What are physical objects? Am I a physicalobject? Is there free will? Do numbers exist? If so, what are they?Are moral questions merely matters of subjective opinion or aresome things right and some things wrong? Why should we obeythe state? Are there limits to our knowledge; things we could neverknow? If so, can we know that?

    Philosophy is about philosophical problems and nothing else.British empiricists have always understood this well and I havepresented their ideas as attempts to solve problems about minds,language, physical objects, freedom, emotions, science, reason,numbers, causation, ethics, politics and many other subjects.

    Philosophical problems lie in the basement of commonsense andevery intellectual inquiry. Often they go unnoticed for years oreven centuries as some way of living or some pattern of explanationor criticism proceeds with unexamined assumptions. Then suddenlyit is realised that the procedure requires people to be causallydetermined, or free; or it requires matter to exist, or minds; or itpresupposes the existence of the past or remote events in spacetime,or meaningful language, or a society, or the state, or the existenceof God. Notions like these are taken for granted as the unquestionedtools and assumptions of other intellectual disciplines and common-sense. Philosophy calls them into question. Where other subjectsand everyday life continue with more and more explanations, moreand more information, more and more criticism, philosophy invites

  • us to halt abruptly and ask what we are assuming. Other subjectsbuild higher and ever more complex buildings. Philosophy takes usdown to the basement to examine the foundations. There sometimeswe find God, sometimes matter, sometimes societies, sometimesnatural laws. Commonsense is one building among the others.

    This book is an introduction to the approaches to philosophicalproblems of a group of philosophers with enough in common to becalled the British Empiricists. As we shall see, on some of theproblems they agree, on others they disagree violently. I shall bewell satisfied if the reader unearths some unquestioned philosophicalassumptions from his or her own basement. We all have them.

    The history of ideas is also a fundamentally important subject.There are few things more educative than the attempt to suspendones own beliefs and imaginatively to enter the perceptions andvalues of alternative mentalities. As historians we do this all thebetter if we understand the social, political and economic climate inwhich a philosopher wrote, as well as the parental and educativeinfluences on that philosopher. I have therefore opened each chapterwith a short historical introduction to the empiricist concerned. Thesesections should not be confused with philosophy; philosophicalproblem-solving being always and everywhere independent of biog-raphy. Although this is a philosophy book, in What is Empiricism?I have entered into the interesting historical question of whetherthere is a clear distinction between rationalist and empiricist phil-osophers and offer a sharper distinction between rationalism andempiricism than the view that rationalism is the doctrine that theintellect is the best guide to the nature of reality, and empiricism isthe view that experience is the best guide to the nature of reality.

    I have had to omit some British empiricists because of the wordlimit: Thomas Reid, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and G. E. Moore.Ideally, William of Ockham and Duns Scotus (arguably the greatestScottish philosopher) would be treated. I should also have liked toinclude Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, even though they are naturalscientists first and philosophers second. Newton is particularlyimportant because so many assumptions in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy are Newtonian, and quite possibly false. SirIsaiah Berlin told me that J. L. Austin should be in the book, andone empiricist deleted. However, I am convinced I have includedthose British empiricists most studied in universities and I have