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Is it possible that old philosophical writings don't follow our modern grammar rules? Thus, we have to get the meaning of a sentence following the context, not the structure of that sentence?

For example, I was reading following lines, written by John Locke :

"Though the odd opinions and extravagant actions enthusiasm has run men into, were enough to warn them against this wrong principle, so apt to misguide them both in their belief and conduct ; "

Which one is the main clause with main verb? What is the subject of were enough ? (Please note the semicolon)

The odd opinions and extravagant actions can't be the subject of were enough as the meaning would be contradictory.

  • I'd like to see more context: the sentences before and after this sentence. – Zan700 Feb 26 '18 at 19:24
  • The odd opinions and extravagant actions are the subject, though it’s perfectly unclear what the text is talking about from just that one (half) sentence. Everything quoted here is a subordinate clause (unless though means although here); the main clause will presumably be what follows the semicolon. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 26 '18 at 19:28
  • ... especially after the semicolon – AmI Feb 26 '18 at 19:28
  • The grammar certainly seems different from that considered acceptable nowadays. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 26 '18 at 22:29
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This comes from Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 4, Chaper XIX. The full paragraph is:

  1. Enthusiasm accepts its supposed illumination without search and proof. Though the odd opinions and extravagant actions enthusiasm has run men into were enough to warn them against this wrong principle, so apt to misguide them both in their belief and conduct: yet the love of something extraordinary, the ease and glory it is to be inspired, and be above the common and natural ways of knowledge, so flatters many men's laziness, ignorance, and vanity, that, when once they are got into this way of immediate revelation, of illumination without search, and of certainty without proof and without examination, it is a hard matter to get them out of it. Reason is lost upon them, they are above it: they see the light infused into their understandings, and cannot be mistaken; it is clear and visible there, like the light of bright sunshine; shows itself, and needs no other proof but its own evidence: they feel the hand of God moving them within, and the impulses of the Spirit, and cannot be mistaken in what they feel. Thus they support themselves, and are sure reasoning hath nothing to do with what they see and feel in themselves: what they have a sensible experience of admits no doubt, needs no probation. Would he not be ridiculous, who should require to have it proved to him that the light shines, and that he sees it? It is its own proof, and can have no other. When the Spirit brings light into our minds, it dispels darkness. We see it as we do that of the sun at noon, and need not the twilight of reason to show it us. This light from heaven is strong, clear, and pure; carries its own demonstration with it: and we may as naturally take a glow-worm to assist us to discover the sun, as to examine the celestial ray by our dim candle, reason.

In the phrase you quote, I would say the main clause was the odd opinions and extravagant actions were enough to warn them against this wrong principle, but the main clause of the whole sentence might be the love of something extraordinary ... so flatters many men's laziness, ignorance, and vanity

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  • 'Though the odd opinions ...' is the clause and can't be a main clause. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 26 '18 at 22:28
  • @EdwinAshworth - There are several clauses and sub-clauses in that sentence. In my view the main clause of the whole sentence was after the colon. But it is possible to consider the part before the colon, and to determine which was the main clause of that part. Both enthusiasm has run men into and so apt to misguide them both in their belief and conduct are sub-clauses of that first part – Henry Feb 27 '18 at 0:25
  • A main clause cannot be part of a subordinate clause in the way you suggest here. 'If we have to attack the castle – well, all right.' doesn't have a main clause. 'If we have to attack the castle' isn't one, and you can't argue that 'we have to attack the castle' is because it looks like one when you've carefully disposed of the 'if' and what remains would be a main clause in other contexts. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '18 at 10:49
  • @EdwinAshworth You are using main as a absolute term, while I am using it as a relative term. With 'If we have to attack the castle we can see in the distance, then we will suffer casualties which we cannot afford' the half before the comma is subordinate to the later half, but the main part of the first half is 'we have to attack' – Henry Feb 27 '18 at 11:33
  • 'Main clause' has a precise meaning which is obviously mandated on a site dedicated to linguists. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '18 at 11:35

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