This introductory chapter pleads for a reassessment of Locke’s complex attitude to Descartes. It argues that the anti-Cartesian agenda of the Essay is better understood when Locke’s intellectual debt to Descartes and Cartesian philosophers is fully recognized. It shows that Locke’s engagement with Cartesian philosophy cannot be reduced to his defence of an ‘empiricist’ view of knowledge against a rationalist, Cartesian, one. Such characterizations raise perhaps as many problems as they supposedly solve. Besides, epistemology was not Locke’s unique preoccupation in the Essay. Natural philosophy, metaphysics of bodies and souls, religion were no less crucial, even though, at the surface of the text, Locke’s self-proclaimed agnosticism tended to underplay their importance. On these issues, a pluriform confrontation with Descartes was unavoidable, and clearly a driving force in the conduct of Locke’s arguments.
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