John Clarke

(1687—1734) schoolmaster and educational reformer

Related Overviews

Samuel Clarke (1675—1729) theologian and philosopher

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moral sense

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John Clarke was born in York and died in Gloucester on 29 April 1734. He was educated at St John's College, Cambridge (BA, 1707; MA, 1710. He was appointed master of the grammar school at Hull in 1720, later of the grammar school in Gloucester. He published several books on learning Latin, several on methods of study, and two important pamphlets on moral philosophy. One of these, The Foundations of Morality (1730?), discusses Samuel Clarke's account of moral obligation in his Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God (1705), as well as Francis Hutcheson's Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725). In this work John Clarke attacked the notion of the agreement and disagreement of actions, and the talk of the ‘fittingness’ of actions. His critique of the theory of action is expanded in his best work, An Examination of the Notion of Moral Good and Evil (1725), a reply to William Wollaston's The Religion of Nature Delineated. Wollaston drew out the similarities between doing and saying, between action and speech, arguing that actions often make assertions or denials implying propositions with truth value. Clarke took Wollaston to task for locating the meaning in the act, rather than with the agent. He went on to sketch an interesting theory of action, recognizing the role of intention and knowledge in acting. If my action excites in someone else's mind meanings which I did not intend, I have not affirmed what that person understands from my action. Similarly, if I, knowing no Greek, pronounce ‘in the hearing of others, Words in the Greek tongue’ which I do not understand but which say ‘there is no God’, I have not asserted that there is no God. Clarke also distinguished spectator's meaning from speaker's meaning, and came very close to identifying what we know as ‘performatives’.

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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