Liberating Judgment: Fanatics, Skeptics, and John Locke's Politics of Probability

Liberating Judgment: Fanatics, Skeptics, and John Locke's Politics of Probability

by Douglas John Casson

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Overview

Examining the social and political upheavals that characterized the collapse of public judgment in early modern Europe, Liberating Judgment offers a unique account of the achievement of liberal democracy and self-government. The book argues that the work of John Locke instills a civic judgment that avoids the excesses of corrosive skepticism and dogmatic fanaticism, which lead to either political acquiescence or irresolvable conflict. Locke changes the way political power is assessed by replacing deteriorating vocabularies of legitimacy with a new language of justification informed by a conception of probability. For Locke, the coherence and viability of liberal self-government rests not on unassailable principles or institutions, but on the capacity of citizens to embrace probable judgment.

The book explores the breakdown of the medieval understanding of knowledge and opinion, and considers how Montaigne's skepticism and Descartes' rationalism—interconnected responses to the crisis—involved a pragmatic submission to absolute rule. Locke endorses this response early on, but moves away from it when he encounters a notion of reasonableness based on probable judgment. In his mature writings, Locke instructs his readers to govern their faculties and intellectual yearnings in accordance with this new standard as well as a vocabulary of justification that might cultivate a self-government of free and equal individuals. The success of Locke's arguments depends upon citizens' willingness to take up the labor of judgment in situations where absolute certainty cannot be achieved.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691144740
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 01/23/2011
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Douglas John Casson is assistant professor of political science at St. Olaf College.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The Great Recoinage 1





Chapter I: Unsettling Judgment: Knowledge, Belief, and the Crisis of Authority 23

Certain Knowledge and Probable Belief 25

Unsettling Knowledge 34

Unsettling Belief 41





Chapter II: Abandoning Judgment: Montaignian Skeptics and Cartesian Fanatics 53

Montaigne and the Politics of Skepticism 54

Descartes and the Rationalist Dream 63

Young Locke as Skeptic and Absolutist 75





Chapter III: Reworking Reasonableness: The Authoritative Testimony of Nature 92

The Transformation of a Skeptic 97

Precursors to Lockean Reasonableness 103

From Lecture Halls to Laboratories 114





Chapter IV: Forming Judgment: The Transformation of Knowledge and Belief 126

Locke's Political Pedagogy 129

Fanatics and Philosophizers 136

Defining and Redefining Knowledge and Belief 143





Chapter V: Liberating Judgment: Freedom, Happiness, and the Reasonable Self 159

Unrestrained and Restrained Freedoms 160

The Pursuit of True and Solid Happiness 168

The Formation of the Reasonable Self 178





Chapter VI: Enacting Judgment: Dismantling the Divine Certainty of Sir Robert Filmer 185

Preaching Patriarcha from the Pulpit 188

Probable Judgment and the Authority of Scripture 192

The Slavishness of Systems 205





Chapter VII: Authorizing Judgment: Consensual Government and the Politics of Probability 219

The State of Nature as a Realm of Virtue and Convenience 223

From Moral Clarity to Epistemological Confusion 233

Entrusting Judgment to a Shared Authority 238

Prerogative, Public Good, and the Judgment of the People 244





Conclusion: The Great Recoinage Revisited 253

References 263

Index 279


What People are Saying About This

Alex Tuckness

Liberating Judgment is a welcome addition to the literature on Locke. More clearly and powerfully than any previous book, it traces the importance of the theme of probable judgment across several aspects of Locke's work, including his writings on medicine, epistemology, metaphysics, economics, and politics.
Alex Tuckness, Iowa State University

From the Publisher

"Liberating Judgment is a welcome addition to the literature on Locke. More clearly and powerfully than any previous book, it traces the importance of the theme of probable judgment across several aspects of Locke's work, including his writings on medicine, epistemology, metaphysics, economics, and politics."—Alex Tuckness, Iowa State University

Barbara Shapiro

This innovative treatment of Locke emphasizes the role of probable judgment in early modern political thought. Casson clearly demonstrates that Locke, like several of his contemporaries, was searching for a middle way between the skepticism and dogmatism that characterized so much of the early modern era, and that he was able to apply a probabilistic solution to the political sphere.
Barbara Shapiro, University of California, Berkeley

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