Cartesianism vs. Empiricism: Johnson’s Periodical Essays, and Sermons Through the Philosophy of John Locke

Document Type : Original Article


1 English Language and Literature Department, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature, University of Tehran

2 University of Tehran


John Locke (1632-1704) was one of the prominent philosophers of the second half of the seventeenth century and a propagator of Empiricism. He supported the empirical view that one gains knowledge and experience throughout his lifetime, and in the meantime believed in the Cartesian view, also supported by the Libertarians, that humans are genuinely logical beings always succumbing to whatever their reason dictates, and there is no real difference between the human mind, rationality, and the will. For Locke, past gained experiences would assist the mind in pushing forward the will to the desired destination in life. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was influenced by Locke’s Cartesian view of the mind and became one of its followers, but deep inside he was also affected by the scientifically inspired ideological movements of his time and the philosophies stemming from them such as materialism led by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). These philosophers believed the effects and reverberations coming from past experiences affected one’s will and pushed it in their appointed direction. Johnson, affected by both philosophies, developed an idea that although apparently free in its will, the mind is affected by invisible forces rooted deep in the psyche pushing it to their desired destination. The present article would aim at studying the correlation between these opposing philosophies, and their impact on the works and thoughts of Samuel Johnson through a study of his Periodical Essays and Sermons.