Locke’s Cicero: Between Moral Knowledge and Faith

  • Tim Stuart-Buttle
Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature book series (CKEML, volume 1)


From the fourteenth century onwards, the question of Cicero’s philosophical commitments—was he a Stoic or an academic sceptic?—was considered to carry very real implications for a just understanding of religion, morality, justice and human nature. One reason why the correct interpretation of Cicero’s philosophy was accorded such importance by Christian apologists was because, living shortly before Christ’s coming and summarising the insights gleaned by the heathen (Greek and Roman) philosophical schools, Cicero might show how far reason could ‘get’ in the absence of revelation. For John Locke, as for Erasmus, Cicero’s unique insight was that human reason could not establish man’s true end and purpose—in classical philosophical parlance, the summum bonum—with dogmatic certainty: this showed where Christ’s revelation had enlarged exponentially upon human knowledge. The importance place of Cicero in Locke’s thinking alerts us to his preoccupation with the vexed relationship between reason and revelation as the two sources of our knowledge. Locke, as this chapter indicates, turned to the heathen world in order to evaluate the nature and significance of the Christian revelation for mankind’s grasp of moral truths.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim Stuart-Buttle
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsUniversity of YorkYorkUK

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