Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Popularization of Toleration [ii]

As a matter of messaging, Addison does present himself as the agent of a transfer of a possession from one place to another. Commentators often quote the passage from Spectator No. 10 in which Addison writes,
“It was said of Socrates that he brought Philosophy down from heaven, to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me, that I have brought Philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses.”
What was once the exclusive possession of the educated upper class, Addison strives to make publicly available (with a particular eye to the rising middle-class frequenters of the establishments to which philosophy is to be delivered). The metaphor of transference indicates that the task is to bring an idea into the reach of minds which have not received it before.

This ambition of liberating philosophy from the inaccessible regions in which it lies hidden follows—or perhaps more accurately, initiates—the general democratizing tendency of the Lockean tradition. As Kenneth Maclean argues in John Locke and English Literature of the Eighteenth Century, the project of intellectual equalization becomes conceivable (though not necessarily possible) on the basis of the rejection of innate ideas. According to Maclean, the “new stress on the education of the young apparent in the literature and life of the Eighteenth Century may well have been the result of Locke's philosophy which had cast aside innate ideas and made experience requisite for all knowledge.” The enthusiasm of a Richardson or a Chesterfield for Lockean education shows “the truth that this philosophy was a leveling force and fostered intellectual democracy. The process of equalization begins, it appears, with the denial of innate ideas.”

Yet, when it comes to delivery, the ideas of modern philosophy (which for Addison means above all Locke) come across not entirely in the same form. It would indeed be no exaggeration to say that in some cases they come across completely inverted. The case of wit and judgment is exemplary. Aside from the fact that the eighteenth century intellectual tradition of distinguishing wit and judgment regards Locke as its founder, the concept of wit itself crystallizes the essential difference in approach between philosophy and the popularization of philosophy.