John Sergeant and the 'New' Empiricism

Agee, Mary Marshall, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Jorge, Secada, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

In this dissertation I examine the transition in the seventeenth century from the outmoded hylomorphist empiricism espoused by the Scholastic Aristotelians to the atomistic empiricism embraced by such 'new' philosophers as Thomas Hobbes, Pierre Gassendi, and John Locke. I focus on the philosophical writings of a British reformer of Aristotle, John Sergeant, who opposed the Cartesians and wrote a commentary on Locke's An Essay concerning Human Understanding called Solid Philosophy Asserted Against the Fancies of the Ideists. Given the well-documented problems that have arisen out of modern empiricism, it would be interesting to take a more careful look at the critical juncture between the 'old' and 'new' forms of empiricism to see if the former might have had in it the seeds of a viable alternative to the latter.
I consider Sergeant's views on scientific knowledge and methodology, the
relationship between sense and intellect in perception, the nature of the self and selfknowledge, and the nature of substance, substantial change, and the individuation and identity of substances. With regard to each of these, I first consider his views, where appropriate, in relation to the Scholastic Aristotelians St. Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suárez, in order to see which aspects of Scholastic philosophy he discarded and which aspects he chose to retain as compatible with seventeenth-century scientific developments. Then, I examine Sergeant's relationship to Descartes and some of his contemporaries in the new empiricist tradition, such as Hobbes, Gassendi, and Locke, in order to see (1) how well Sergeant understands the moderns, (2) whether he finds any interesting philosophical problems arising out of modern empiricism, and (3) whether he is able to retain what was valuable in Aristotelianism, apart from its discredited scientific framework, or whether his exposure to and acceptance of certain modern doctrines might have subverted his Aristotelianism to the point that it could be of little value as an alternative to the new empiricism.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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