John Locke on Inference and Fallacy, A Re-Appraisal

Mark Garrett Longaker


John Locke, long associated with the “standard” approach to fallacies and the “logical” approach to valid inference, had both logical and dialectical reasons for favoring certain proofs and denigrating others. While the logical approach to argumentation stands forth in Locke’s philosophical writings (such as the Essay Concerning Human Understanding), a dialectical approach can be found in his contributions to public controversies regarding religion and toleration. Understanding Locke’s dialectical approach to argumentation not only makes his work more relevant to the contemporary discipline of informal logic, but this understanding also prompts a reconsideration of Locke’s rhetorical purpose. He approached argumentation dialectically (and logically) because he wanted to appeal to a universal audience of free rational subjects, people not unlike the real historical audience whom Locke addressed: radical Whigs, latitudinarian Anglicans, early-Enlightenment philosophes.


Informal Logic; Fallacy; Enlightenment; Rhetoric

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ISSN: 0824-2577