Locke in Halle: A chapter of the 18th-century German reception of John Locke

  • Paola Rumore
Keywords: Christian Wolff, Johann Franz Budde, Georg Friedrich Meier, materialism, skepticism, empiricism


The paper focuses on Locke’s presence in Germany in the central decades of the 18th century, i.e. in the period that goes from the rise to the fall of Wolff ’s philosophy. Halle, one of the most important centers of the Aufklärung, turns out to be the perfect venue of the early stage of his reception. Locke’s ideas played a central role in Wolff ’s opposition to Thomasius, in his controversy with the Pietistic theologians and with the supporters of the Thomasian school, and in his later difficult relation to the cultural environment at the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Wolff ’s opinion on Locke changes over the time, and exerts its influence on a relevant part of the German philosophical world. Locke is described as the inspiration for the degenerated form of Enlightenment promoted at the Prussian court, for atheists, deists, materialists, and skeptics. Short after the fall of Wolff ’s hegemony in Germany, Halle is once again the seat of an important reconsideration of Locke’s image; Meier insists on aspects of his philosophy which will characterize his reception in the later decades, e.g. epistemic modesty, the suspicion about the omnipotence of reason, and a cautious attitude towards metaphysical claims. Certainly, the later and well-known image of Locke as the champion of empiricism, the physiologist of human mind, the refined connoisseur of human nature that can be found in Feder, in Tetens, and in Kant, is the outcome of the ‘rediscovery’ of Locke occurring after the posthumous publication of Leibniz’ Nouveaux Essais, but it shows aspects that reveal the persistent influence of Meier’s view. On this basis, the paper suggests a reconsideration of the still dominant image of 18th-century Germany and its relation to the cultural processes that were going on in the rest of Europe.