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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Dr Emily Thomas

Thomas, Emily (2016). On the “Evolution” of Locke’s Space and Time Metaphysics. History of Philosophy Quarterly 33(4): 305-325.

Author(s) from Durham


There is a near-consensus in the literature that John Locke's metaphysics of space and time undergo a radical evolution: in the 1670s, Locke holds relationism; by the first, 1690 edition of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, he has adopted Newtonian absolutism. This paper argues for an alternative reading, on which Locke's Essay is explicitly neutral or noncommittal with regard to the ontology of space and time; and yet there is reason to believe that the Essay implicitly preserves Locke's earlier relationism. In addition to challenging the existing scholarship, this paper excavates a form of pre- Leibnizian relationism, which may be of interest to twenty-first-century relationists looking to uncover the roots of their position; illuminates Locke's views on space and time, highlighting his opposition to Cartesianism on this head; and provides ammunition to non-Newtonian readings of Locke's Essay.