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Home Travel Literature, the New World, and Locke on Species

TRAVEL LITERATURE, THE NEW WORLD, AND LOCKE ON SPECIES

Patrick J. CONNOLLY

Abstract. This paper examines the way in which Locke’s deep and longstanding interest in the non-European world contributed to his views on species and their classification. The evidence for Locke’s curiosity about the non-European world, especially his fascination with seventeenth-century travel literature, is presented and evaluated.  I claim that this personal interest of Locke’s almost certainly influenced the metaphysical and epistemological positions he develops in the Essay. I look to Locke’s theory of species taxonomy for proof of this. I argue that Locke uses evidence gathered from the non-European world to (1) show that in taxonomizing objects we rely on their sensible qualities rather than their real essences and to (2) undermine Scholastic Aristotelian views about a mind-independent species/genera structure to the world. 

Keywords: Locke, travel literature, species, natural kinds, taxonomy, classification, Bacon

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