Newton And Locke
Beaufort Hotel Room
I think I understand better now what Dr. Gill was
aiming at when he told the class he didn’t believe in common sense.
Back then, however, I didn’t understand him at all. To me, back then,
he even sounded like a space alien. What he was trying to get into our
heads was that a large part of what was being taught in school was
wrong. In particular, the “common sense” notion that John Locke
popularized was wrong.
Locke, who was a member of Sir Isaac Newton’s inner circle of friends,
popularized the work of astronomers and physicists of his day.
Newton’s discoveries showed that the planets moved by mechanical
principles. And, since mechanics characterized the objective world at
the time, Locke was able to make the distinction between the “real
empirical world of objective reality” and that much more
individualistic world of our subjective impressions. Locke turned this
empirical worldview into his theory of knowledge. Not only did Locke’s
theory account for the celestial mechanics of his time, it also
produced enlightened ideas on religion and politics—the same ideas
that later served as the foundation for the American Republic.
Locke could not be faulted for his conclusions, especially the ones
that followed directly from his conception of a deterministic
universe. After all, he was only drawing conclusions from the science
of his time. Religion, for Locke, became a personal, individual,
subjective matter, while science dealt with objective fact. The
science of mechanical determinism weeded out all teleological
explanations of purpose in nature. Any explanation that had anything
to do with purpose became bad science. Following up on this reasoning,
Locke developed his theory of knowledge.