Research Article

Locke on the Irrelevance of the Soul

Anik Waldowa1 c1

a1 University of Sydney


Commentators usually agree that Locke's discussion of thinking matter is intended to undermine the plausibility of the belief in the existence of the soul. In this paper I argue that, instead of trying to reveal the implausibility of this belief, Locke seeks to rid the concept of the soul of its traditional cognitive and moral functions in order to render references to the soul redundant in philosophical explanations of the nature of human beings and their place in the world. On this reading, the driving force behind Locke's discussion is not a sceptical problem posed by the impossibility of proving the existence of the soul, but the wish to maximize the ability of limited creatures such as ourselves to engage positively with their lives in the here and now. Locke's experience-focused philosophy will here present itself as a position with significant moral implications.

Anik Waldow is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Her interests are centred on early modern philosophy, especially Hume. She has contributed to The British Journal for the History of Philosophy, History of Philosophy Quarterly, Hume Studies, and other journals.