Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor James Noxon
In the fourth book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, particularly in the chapters entitled "Of Maxims" (IV:VII), "Of Trifling Propositions" (IV:VIII), "Of the Improvement of our Knowledge" (IV:XII), and "Of Reason" (IV:XVII), John Locke deals mainly with propositions, maxims, syllogisms, demonstration, and disputation. In the second book of the Essay he discusses mainly Ideas. There seems to be a connection between the manner he characterizes Ideas, the significatory role he assigns to them (IV:XXI), and his discussion of the above mentioned topics in the fourth book. Together they constitute a critique of certain logico-epistemological doctrines and tendencies. These doctrines and tendencies, which are in this dissertation collectively labelled as "Formalism," fall within a context where Logic was considered as providing the method to obtain knowledge. They involve certain senses of "form" in the characterization of the traditional parts of logic, namely, terms, propositions, and discourse, as instruments of knowledge, warranting the use of the label "Formalism". John Sergeant's presentation of the method to knowledge exhibits the employment of senses of "form" in the characterization of the three parts of logic for epistemological purposes. Hence, Sergeant is selected to represent this "Formalism".
John Locke (1632-1704) is well known but John Sergeant (1622-1707) has not been given due recognition. His philosophical enterprise is of significance to Lockean scholarship, not only because his views manifest to a considerable extent the logico-epistemological doctrines which Locke attacks, but also because Locke seems to have responded to Sergeant's critical response. Sergeant's views, though anticipated in his earlier religious works, become pronounced in his subsequent philosophical works, particularly in Solid Philosophy Asserted...(1697), which is a chapter by chapter critical response to Locke's Essay. Locke had in his possession a copy of this book and had made 118 marginal comments in it. This copy is now kept at St. John's College Library, Cambridge, England. Some of the marginal comments anticipate Locke's additions to the fourth edition of the Essay. Certain additions appear to have been made in response to Sergeant's criticisms. An examination of Locke's critical views in the light of Sergeant's doctrines helps one to understand Locke's logico-epistemological views, determine with assurance the target of his attack, appreciate more fully the manner in which he organizes and develops his critique, and sense the motives behind some of the additions to the fourth edition of the Essay. Such an examination reveals the "anti-formalism" entrenched in his logico-epistemological position.
Kulathungam, Lyman C.D., "John Locke's Attack on Formalism - A Comparison of Locke and Sergeant" (1978). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 686.