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L’opinion de Locke sur la « matière pensante »

Abstract : This paper aims to show that the « thinking matter » hypothesis, which Locke introduces in the fourth book of the Essay as mere speculation, should not only be considered as an epistemological device employed to point out the limitations of human knowledge, but also tells something important about Locke’s true metaphysical inclinations. Though it is impossible to obtain any knowledge about the true nature of thinking substances, one is nevertheless allowed to frame one’s own opinion about it. Locke always considered the making and regulating of sound belief to be legitimate aims of human reason, especially when knowledge is impossible and when the topic is of great human concern, as the nature and destination of the soul evidently is. Locke scholars generally agree that, despite the thinking matter hypothesis, the author of the Essay was some sort of a Cartesian dualist, holding that the immateriality of the soul is highly probable. This article offers critical examination of the passages in Locke’s works that are usually produced in favor of such a thesis. I show that these texts not only provide no conclusive evidence for the immateriality of the human soul, but could be construed as prudent suggestions supporting the opposite thesis. That Locke believed in the probable materiality of the human soul becomes even more plausible when one considers the doxastic import of the various independent arguments offered in support of the conceivability of the thinking matter hypothesis in the third Letter to Stillingfleet : the hypothesis does not contradict the biblical message; it allows an easier conception of the great chain of beings; it best meets the ontological requirements of identity and existence.
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Philippe Hamou. L’opinion de Locke sur la « matière pensante ». Methodos : savoirs et textes, Savoirs textes langage - UMR 8163, 2004, ⟨10.4000/methodos.123⟩. ⟨hal-02323464⟩



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