John Locke's natural philosophy (1632-1671)
The thesis concentrates upon John Locke's early development in the field of natural philosophy. This can be divided up into several distinct stages. Locke's first serious engagement with natural philosophy was in 1658 to 1664 when he embarked upon an extensive programme of medical reading. In this period he became acquainted with many notable figures, including Robert Boyle. Boyle introduced Locke to the mechanical philosophy and the work of Descartes. From 1664 to 1667 Locke became interested in formulating his own views on medical topics, writing short essays on disease and respiration, in addition to his continued study of medical texts. Through a very detailed analysis of these early medical writings it is shown that Locke was not committed to the mechanical philosophy at this point. In 1667, Locke moved to London and met Thomas Sydenham. This encounter had a huge impact on Locke's thinking. Locke collaborated with Sydenham and came to share his mentor's methodological precepts. There is manuscript evidence of this collaboration, which is carefully examined. As a consequence of their working together, Locke eschewed all theorising about aetiology and chose instead to rely upon clinical experience. Locke and Sydenham worked in concert until at least 1671. In 1671 Locke began work on the Essay. In the earliest Draft we can see that Locke was still under the influence of Sydenham, and repeated their shared assumptions. He was not a committed mechanist. Rather, he was agnostic on the question of how nature operates at the unobservable level. In the second Draft of the Essay, however, Locke provided his own variations on Sydenham's themes. It was at this point that Locke became a mechanical philosopher.