Liberating Judgment: Fanatics, Skeptics, and John Locke's Politics of Probability
By: Douglas John Casson (author)Hardback
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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.
Douglas John Casson is assistant professor of political science at St. Olaf College.
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
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