This is the first comprehensive interpretation of John Locke's solution to one of philosophy's most enduring problems: free will and the nature of human agency. Many assume that Locke defines freedom as merely the dependency of conduct on our wills. And much contemporary philosophical literature on free agency regards freedom as a form of self-expression in action. Here, Gideon Yaffe shows us that Locke conceived free agency not just as the freedom to express oneself, but as including also the freedom to transcend oneself and act in accordance with "the good." For Locke, exercising liberty involves making choices guided by what is good, valuable, and important. Thus, Locke's view is part of a tradition that finds freedom in the imitation of God's agency. Locke's free agent is the ideal agent.
Yaffe also examines Locke's understanding of volition and voluntary action. For Locke, choices always involve self-consciousness. The kind of self-consciousness to which Locke appeals is intertwined with his conception of personal identity. And it is precisely this connection between the will and personal identity that reveals the special sense in which our voluntary actions can be attributed to us and the special sense in which we are active with respect to them. Deftly written and tightly focused, Liberty Worth the Name will find readers far beyond Locke studies and early modern British philosophy, including scholars interested in free will, action theory, and ethics.
"Liberty Worth the Name uses Locke's texts as a means of exploring with great acuity the various ways in which human selfhood and agency depend upon each other."--James A. Harris, Times Literary Supplement
"Liberty Worth the Name is an excellent book which displays great subtlety and sophistication in its analyses of the issues. Yaffe is a master of the contemporary literature in the philosophy of action; his book is informed throughout by a deep knowledge of the current positions and debates. . . . [His] study will surely stimulate a revival of interest in a largely neglected and undervalued area of Locke's thought."--Nicholas Jolley, Philosophy in Review
"This is, quite simply, the best work on Locke's theory of agency; it is a significant contribution both to Locke studies and to the theory of action. It is clearly and elegantly written, the arguments are set out in clear and cogent fashion, and the discussion of the details of Locke's texts is always conducted with an eye squarely fixed on the general philosophical import of the basic issues which those texts are addressing. It is an excellent piece of work."--Edwin McCann, University of Southern California
"This is a first-rate piece of work. Yaffe's discussion is engaging, lucid, and almost entirely persuasive throughout. The issue of free will remains a lively one in both philosophical research and teaching."--Paul Guyer, University of Pennsylvania, author of Kant and the Experience of Freedom
Table of Contents