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AN EXAMINATION OF P. MALEBRANCHE’S OPINION OF SEEING ALL THINGS IN GOD. - John Locke, The Works, vol. 8 (Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Posthumous Works, Familiar Letters) 
The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 8.
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AN EXAMINATION OF P. MALEBRANCHE’S OPINION OF SEEING ALL THINGS IN GOD.
1. The acute and ingenious author of the Recherche de la Verité, among a great many very fine thoughts, judicious reasonings, and uncommon reflections, has in that treatise started the notion of “seeing all things in God,” as the best way to explain the nature and manner of the ideas in our understanding. The desire I had to have my unaffected ignorance removed, has made it necessary for me to see whether this hypothesis, when examined, and the parts of it put together, can be thought to cure our ignorance, or is intelligible and satisfactory to one who would not deceive himself, take words for things, and think he knows what he knows not.
2. This I observe at the entrance, that P. Malebranchea having enumerated, and in the following chapters showed the difficulties of the other ways, whereby he thinks human understanding may be attempted to be explained, and how insufficient they are to give a satisfactory account of the ideas we have, erects this of “seeing all things in God” upon their ruin, as the true, because, it is impossible to find a better. Which argument, so far being only “argumentum ad ignorantiam,” loses all its force as soon as we consider the weakness of our minds, and the narrowness of our capacities, and have but humility enough to allow, that there may be many things which we cannot fully comprehend, and that God is not bound in all he does to subject his ways of operation to the scrutiny of our thoughts, and confine himself to do nothing but what we must comprehend. And it will very little help to cure my ignorance, that this is the best of four or five hypotheses proposed, which are all defective; if this too has in it what is inconsistent with itself, or unintelligible to me.
3. That P. Malebranche’s Recherche de la Verité, l. 3. p. 2. c. 1, tells us, that whatever the mind perceives “must be actually present and intimately united to it.” That the things that the mind perceives are its own sensations, imaginations, or notions; which, being in the soul the modifications of it, need no ideas to represent them. But all things exterior to the soul we cannot perceive but by the intervention of ideas, supposing that the things themselves cannot be intimately united to the soul. But because spiritual things may possibly be united to the soul, therefore he thinks it probable that they can discover themselves immediately without ideas; though of this he doubts, because he believes not there is any substance purely intelligible but that of God; and that though spirits can possibly unite themselves to our minds; yet at present we cannot entirely know them. But he speaks here principally of material things, which he says certainly cannot unite themselves to our souls in such a manner, as is necessary that it should perceive them; because, being extended, the soul not being so, there is no proportion between them.
4. This is the sum of his doctrine contained in the first chapter of the second part of the third book, as far as I can comprehend it; wherein, I confess, there are many expressions, which carrying with them, to my mind, no clear ideas, are like to remove but little of my ignorance by their sounds. v. g. “What it is to be intimately united to the soul;” what it is for two souls or spirits to be intimately united; for intimate union being an idea taken from bodies when the parts of one get within the surface of the other, and touch their inward parts; what is the idea of intimate union, I must have, between two beings that have neither of them any extension or surface? And if it be not so explained as to give me a clear idea of that union, it will make me understand very little more of the nature of the ideas in my mind, when it is said I see them in God, who being “intimately united to the soul” exhibits them to it; than when it is only said they are by the appointment of God produced in the mind by certain motions of our bodies, to which our minds are united. Which, however imperfect a way of explaining this matter, will still be as good as any other that does not by clear ideas remove my ignorance of the manner of my perception.
5. But he says that “certainly material things cannot unite themselves to our souls.” Our bodies are united to our souls, yes; but, says he, not after “a manner which is necessary that the soul may perceive them.” Explain this manner of union, and show wherein the difference consists betwixt the union necessary and not necessary to perception, and then I shall confess this difficulty removed.
The reason that he gives why “material things cannot be united to our souls after a manner” that is necessary to the soul’s perceiving them, is this, viz. That, “material things being extended, and the soul not, there is no proportion between them.” This, if it shows any thing, shows only that a soul and a body cannot be united, because one has surface to be united by, and the other none. But it shows not why soul, united to a body as ours is, cannot, by that body, have the idea of a triangle excited in it, as well as by being united to God, (between whom and the soul there is as little proportion, as between any creature immaterial or material, and the soul,) see in God the idea of a triangle that is in him, since we cannot conceive a triangle, whether seen in matter, or in God, to be without extension.
6. He says, “There is no substance purely intelligible but that of God.” Here again I must confess myself in the dark, having no notion at all of the substance of God;” nor being able to conceive how his is more intelligible than any other substance.
7. One thing more there is, which, I confess, stumbles me in the very foundation of this hypothesis, which stands thus: we cannot “perceive” anything but what is “intimately united to the soul.” The reason why some things (viz. material) cannot be “intimately united to the soul,” is, because “there is no proportion between the soul and them.” If this be a good reason, it follows, that the greater the proportion there is between the soul and any other being, the better and more intimately they can be united. Now then I ask, whether there be a greater proportion between God, an infinite being, and the soul, or between finite created spirits and the soul? And yet the author says, that “he believes that there is no substance purely intelligible but that of God,” and that “we cannot entirely know created spirits at present.” Make this out upon your principles of “intimate union” and “proportion,” and then they will be of some use to the clearing of your hypothesis, otherwise “intimate union” and “proportion” are only sounds serving to amuse, not instruct us.
8. In the close of this chapter he enumerates the several ways whereby he thinks we come by ideas, and compares them severally with his own way. Which how much more intelligible it is than either of those, the following chapters will show: to which I shall proceed, when I have observed that it seems a bold determination, when he says that it must be one of these ways, and we can see objects no other. Which assertion must be built on this good opinion of our capacities, that God cannot make the creatures operate, but in ways conceivable to us. That we cannot discourse and reason about them farther than we conceive, is a great truth: and it would be well if we would not, but would ingenuously own the shortness of our sight where we do not see. To say there can be no other, because we conceive no other, does not, I confess, much instruct. And if I should say, that it is possible God has made our souls so, and so united them to our bodies, that, upon certain motion made in our bodies by external objects, the soul should have such or such perceptions or ideas, though in a way inconceivable to us; this perhaps would appear as true and as instructive a proposition as what is so positively laid down.
9. Though the peripatetic doctrinea of the species does not at all satisfy me, yet I think it were not hard to show, that it is as easy to account for the difficulties he charges on it, as for those his own hypothesis is laden with. But it being not my business to defend what I do not understand, nor to prefer the learned gibberish of the schools to what is yet unintelligible to me in P. M. I shall only take notice of so much of his objections, as concerns what I guess to be the truth. Though I do not think any material species, carrying the resemblance of things by a continual flux from the body we perceive, bring the perception of them to our senses; yet I think the perception we have of bodies at a distance from ours, may be accounted for, as far as we are capable of understanding it, by the motion of particles of matter coming from them and striking on our organs. In feeling and tasting there is immediate contact. Sound is not unintelligibly explained by a vibrating motion communicated to the medium, and the effluvia of odorous bodies will, without any great difficulties, account for smells. And therefore P. M. makes his objections only against visible species, as the most difficult to be explained by material causes, as indeed they are. But he that shall allow extreme smallness in the particles of light, and exceeding swiftness in their motion; and the great porosity that must be granted in bodies, if we compare gold, which wants them not, with air, the medium wherein the rays of light come to our eyes, and that of a million of rays that rebound from any visible area of any body, perhaps the 1/1000 or 1/10000 part coming to the eye, are enough to move the retina, sufficiently to cause a sensation in the mind, will not find any great difficulty in the objections which are brought from the impenetrability of matter, and these rays ruffling and breaking one another in the medium which is full of them. As to what is said, that from one point we can see a great number of objects, that is no objection against the species, or visible appearances of bodies, being brought into the eye by the rays of light; for the bottom of the eye or retina, which, in regard of these rays, is the place of vision, is far from being a point. Nor is it true, that though the eye be in any one place; yet that the sight is performed in one point, i. e. that the rays that bring those visible species do all meet at a point; for they cause their distinct sensations by striking on distinct parts of the retina, as is plain in optics: and the figure they paint there must be of some considerable bigness, since it takes up on the retina an area whose diameter is at least thirty seconds of a circle, whereof the circumference is in the retina, and the centre somewhere in the crystalline; as a little skill in optics will manifest to any one that considers, that few eyes can perceive an object less than thirty minutes of a circle, whereof the eye is the centre. And he that will but reflect on that seeming odd experiment of seeing only the two outward ones of three bits of paper stuck up against a wall, at about half a foot, or a foot one from another, without seeing the middle one at all, whilst his eye remains fixed in the same posture, must confess that vision is not made in a point, when it is plain, that looking with one eye there is always one part between the extremes of the area that we see, which is not seen at the same time that we perceive the extremes of it; though the looking with two eyes, or the quick turning of the axis of the eye to the part we would distinctly view, when we look but with one, does not let us take notice of it.
10. What I have here said I think sufficient to make intelligible, how by material rays of light visible species may be brought into the eye, notwithstanding any of P. M.’s objections against so much of material causes, as my hypothesis is concerned in. But when by this means an image is made on the retina, how we see it, I conceive no more than when I am told we see it in God. How we see it, is, I confess, what I understand not in the one or in the other, only it appears to me more difficult to conceive a distinct visible image in the uniform invariable essence of God, than in variously modifiable matter; but the manner how I see either, still escapes my comprehension. Impressions made on the retina by rays of light, I think I understand; and motions from thence continued to the brain may be conceived, and that these produce ideas in our minds I am persuaded, but in a manner to me incomprehensible. This I can resolve only into the good pleasure of God, whose ways are past finding out. And I think I know it as well when I am told these are ideas that the motion of the animal spirits by a law established by God, produces in me; as when I am told they are ideas I see in God. The ideas it is certain I have, and God both ways is the original cause of my having them; but the manner how I come by them, how it is that I perceive, I confess I understand not; though it be plain motion has to do in the producing of them: and motion so modified, is appointed to be the cause of our having them; as appears by the curious and artificial structure of the eye, accommodated to all the rules of refraction and dioptrics, that so visible objects might be exactly and regularly painted on the bottom of the eye.
11. The change of bigness in the ideas of visible objects, by distance and optic glasses, which is the next argument he uses against visible species, is a good argument against them, as supposed by the peripatetics; but when considered, would persuade one that we see the figures and magnitudes of things rather in the bottom of our eyes than in God: the idea we have of them and their grandeur being still proportioned to the bigness of the area, on the bottom of our eyes, that is affected by the rays which paint the image there; and we may be said to see the picture in the retina, as, when it is pricked, we are truly said to feel the pain in our finger.
12. In the next place where he says, that when we look on a cube “we see all its sides equal.” This, I think, is a mistake; and I have in another place shown, how the idea we have from a regular solid, is not the true idea of that solid, but such an one as by custom (as the name of it does) serves to excite our judgment to form such an one.
13. What he says of seeing an object several millions of leagues, the very same instant that it is uncovered, I think may be shown to be a mistake in matter of fact. For by observations made on the satellites of Jupiter, it is discovered that light is successively propagated and is about ten minutes coming from the sun to us.
14. By what I have said, I think it may be understood how we may conceive, that from remote objects material causes may reach our senses, and therein produce several motions that may be the causes of ideas in us; notwithstanding what P. M. has said in his second chapter against material species. I confess his arguments are good against those species as usually understood by the peripatetics: but, since my principles have been said to be conformable to the Aristotelian philosophy, I have endeavoured to remove the difficulties it is charged with, as far as my opinion is concerned in them.
15. His third chapter is to confute the “opinion of those who think our minds have a power to produce the ideas of things on which they would think, and that they are excited to produce them by the impressions which objects make on the body.” One who thinks ideas are nothing but perceptions of the mind annexed to certain motions of the body by the will of God, who hath ordered such perceptions always to accompany such motions, though we know not how they are produced; does in effect conceive those ideas or perceptions to be only passions of the mind, when produced in it, whether we will or no, by external objects. But he conceives them to be a mixture of action and passion when the mind attends to them, or revives them in the memory. Whether the soul has such a power as this, we shall perhaps have occasion to consider hereafter; and this power our author does not deny, since in this very chapter he says, “When we conceive a square by pure understanding, we can yet imagine it; i. e. perceive it in ourselves by tracing an image of it on the brain.” Here then he allows the soul power to trace images on the brain, and perceive them. This, to me, is matter of new perplexity in his hypothesis; for if the soul be so united to the brain as to trace images on it, and perceive them, I do not see how this consists with what he says a little before in the first chapter, viz. “that certainly material things cannot be united to our souls after a manner necessary to its perceiving them.”
16. That which is said about objects exciting ideas in us by motion; and our reviving the ideas we have once got in our memories, does not, I confess, fully explain the manner how it is done. In this I frankly avow my ignorance, and should be glad to find in him any thing that would clear it to me; but in his explications I find these difficulties which I cannot get over.
17. The mind cannot produce ideas, says he, because they are “real spiritual beings,” i. e. substances; for so is the conclusion of that paragraph, where he mentions it as an absurdity to think they are “annihilated when they are not present to the mind.” And the whole force of this argument would persuade one to understand him so; though I do not remember that he any-where speaks it out, or in direct terms calls them substances.
18. I shall here only take notice how inconceivable it is to me, that a spiritual, i. e. an unextended substance, should represent to the mind an extended figure, v. g. a triangle of unequal sides, or two triangles of different magnitudes. Next, supposing I could conceive an unextended substance to represent a figure, or be the idea of a figure, the difficulty still remains to conceive how it is my soul sees it. Let this substantial being be ever so sure, and the picture ever so clear; yet how we see it, is to me inconceivable. Intimate union, were it as intelligible of two unextended substances as of two bodies, would not yet reach perception, which is something beyond union. But yet a little lower he agrees, that an idea “is not a substance,” but yet affirms it is “a spiritual thing:” this “spiritual thing” therefore must either be a “spiritual substance,” or a mode of a spiritual substance, or a relation; for besides these I have no conception of any thing. And if any shall tell me it is a “mode,” it must be a mode of the substance of God; which, besides that it will be strange to mention any modes in the simple essence of God; whosoever shall propose any such modes, as a way to explain the nature of our ideas, proposes to me something inconceivable, as a means to conceive what I do not yet know; and so bating a new phrase, teaches me nothing, but leaves me as much in the dark as one can be where he conceives nothing. So that supposing ideas real spiritual things ever so much, if they are neither substances nor modes, let them be what they will, I am no more instructed in their nature, than when I am told they are perceptions such as I find them. And I appeal to my reader, whether that hypothesis be to be preferred for its easiness, to be understood, which is explained by real beings, that are neither substances nor modes.
19. In the fourth chapter he proves, that we do not see objects by ideas that are created with us; because the ideas we have even of one very simple figure, v. g. a triangle, are not infinite, though there may be infinite triangles. What this proves I will not here examine; but the reason he gives being built on his hypothesis, I cannot get over, and that is, that, “it is not for want of ideas, or that infinite is not present to us, but it is only for want of capacity and extension of our souls, because the extension of our spirits is very narrow and limited.” To have a limited extension, is to have some extension which agrees but ill with what is before said of our souls, that they “have no extension.” By what he says here and in other places, one would think he were to be understood, as if the soul, being but a small extension, could not at once receive all the ideas conceivable in infinite space, because but a little part of that infinite space can be applied to the soul at once. To conceive thus of the soul’s intimate union with an infinite being, and by that union receiving of ideas, leads one as naturally into as gross thoughts, as a country maid would have of an infinite butter-print, in which was engraven figures of all sorts and sizes, the several parts whereof being, as there was occasion, applied to her lump of butter, left on it the figure or idea there was present need of. But whether any one would thus explain our ideas, I will not say, only I know not well how to understand what he says here, with what he says before of union, in a better sense.
20. He farther says, that had we a magazine of all ideas that are necessary for seeing things, they would be of no use, since the mind could not know which to choose, and set before itself to see the sun. What he here means by the sun is hard to conceive, and according to his hypothesis of “seeing all things in God,” how can he know that there is any such real being in the world as the sun? Did he ever see the sun? No, but on occasion of the presence of the sun to his eyes, he has seen the idea of the sun in God, which God has exhibited to him; but the sun, because it cannot be united to his soul, he cannot see. How then does he know that there is a sun which he never saw? And since God does all things by the most compendious ways, what need is there that God should make a sun that we might see its idea in him when he pleased to exhibit it, when this might as well be done without any real sun at all.
21. He farther says, that God does not actually produce in us as many new ideas as we every moment perceive different things. Whether he has proved this or no, I will not examine.
22. But he says, that “we have at all times actually in ourselves the ideas of all things.” Then we have always actually in ourselves the ideas of all triangles, which was but now denied, “but we have them confusedly.” If we see them in God, and they are not in him confusedly, I do not understand how we can see them in God confusedly.
23. In the fifth chapter he tells us “all things are in God,” even the most corporeal and earthly, but after “a manner altogether spiritual, and which we cannot comprehend.” Here therefore he and I are alike ignorant of these good words; “material things are in God after a spiritual manner,” signifying nothing to either of us; and “spiritual manner,” signifies no more but this, that material things are in God immaterially. This and the like are ways of speaking, which our vanity has found out to cover, not remove our ignorance. But “material things are in God,” because “their ideas are in God, and those ideas which God had of them before the world was created, are not at all different from himself.” This seems to me to come very near saying, not only that there is variety in God, since we see variety in what “is not different from himself;” but that material things are God, or a part of him; which, though I do not think to be what our author designs; yet thus I fear he must be forced to talk, who thinks he knows God’s understanding so much better than his own, that he will make use of the divine intellect to explain the human.
24. In the sixth chapter he comes more particularly to explain his own doctrine, where first he says, “the ideas of all beings are in God.” Let it be so, God has the idea of a triangle, of a horse, of a river, just as we have; for hitherto this signifies no more, for we see them as they are in him; and so the ideas that are in him, are the ideas we perceive. Thus far I then understand God hath the same ideas we have. This tells indeed that there are ideas, which was agreed before and I think nobody denies, but tells me not yet what they are.
25. Having said that they are in God, the next thing he tells us is, that we “can see them in God.” His proof, that “our souls can see them in God, is because God is most straitly united to our souls by his presence, insomuch that one may say, God is the place of spirits, as spaces are the places of bodies;” in which there is not, I confess, one word that I can understand. For, first, in what sense can he say, that “spaces are the places of bodies;” when he makes body and space, or extension, to be the same thing? So that I do no more understand what he means, when he says, “spaces are the places of bodies,” than if he had said, bodies are the places of bodies. But when this simile is applied to God and spirits, it makes this saying, that “God is the place of spirits,” either to be merely metaphorical, and so signifies literally nothing, or else being literal, makes us conceive that spirits move up and down, and have their distances and intervals in God, as bodies have in space. When I am told in which of these senses he is to be understood, I shall be able to see how far it helps us to understand the nature of ideas. But is not God as straitly united to bodies as to spirits? For he is also present, even where they are, but yet they see not these ideas in him. He therefore adds, “that the soul can see in God the works of God, supposing God would discover to it what there is in him to represent them,” viz. the ideas that are in him. Union therefore is not the cause of this seeing; for the soul may be united to God, and yet not see the ideas are in him, till he “discover” them to it; so that, after all, I am but where I was. I have ideas, that I know; but I would know what they are; and to that I am yet only told, that “I see them in God.” I ask how I see them in God? And it is answered, by my “intimate union” with God, for he is every-where present. I answer, if that were enough, bodies are also intimately united with God, for he is every-where present; besides, if that were enough, I should see all the ideas that are in God. No, but only those that he pleases to “discover.” Tell me wherein this discovery lies, besides barely making me see them, and you explain the manner of my having ideas: otherwise all that has been said amounts to no more but this, that I have those ideas that it pleases God I should have, but by ways that I know not; and of this mind I was before, and am not got one jot farther.
26. In the next paragraph he calls them “beings, representative beings.” But whether these beings are substances, modes, or relations, I am not told; and so by being told they are spiritual beings, I know no more but that they are something, I know not what, and that I knew before.
27. To explain this matter a little farther, he adds, “It must be observed, that it cannot be concluded, that souls see the essence of God, in that they see all things in God; because what they see is very imperfect, and God is very perfect. They see matter divisible, figured, &c. and in God there is nothing divisible and figured: for God is all being, because he is infinite, and comprehends all things; but he is not any being in particular. Whereas what we see is but some one or more beings in particular; and we do not at all comprehend that perfect simplicity of God which contains all beings. Moreover, one may say, that we do not so much see the ideas of things, as the things themselves, which the ideas represent. For when, for example, one sees a square, one says not that one sees the idea of a square, which is united to the soul, but only the square that is without.” I do not pretend to be short-sighted; but if I am not duller than ordinary, this paragraph shows, that P. M. himself is at a stand in this matter, and comprehends not what it is we see in God, or how. Chap. fourth, he says, in express words, that “it is necessary that at all times we should have actually in ourselves the ideas of all things.” And in this very chapter, a little lower, he says, that “all beings are present to our minds,” and that we have “general ideas antecedent to particular.” And, chap. 8th, that we are never without the “general idea of being:” and yet here he says, “that which we see” is but “one or more beings in particular.” And after having taken a great deal of pains to prove, that “we cannot possibly see things in themselves, but only ideas; here he tells us “we do not so much see the ideas of things as the things themselves.” In this uncertainty of the author what it is we see, I am to be excused if my eyes see not more clearly in his hypothesis than he himself does.
28. He farther tells us, in this sixth chapter, that “we see all beings, because God wills that that which is in him that represents them should be discovered to us.” This tells us only, that there are ideas of things in God, and that we see them when he pleases to discover them; but what does this show us more of the nature of those ideas, or of the discovery of them, wherein that consists, than he that says, without pretending to know what they are, or how they are made, that ideas are in our minds when God pleases to produce them there, by such motions as he has appointed to do it? The next argument for our “seeing all things in God,” is in these words; “but the strongest of all the reasons is the manner in which the mind perceives all things: it is evident, and all the world knows it by experience, that when we would think of any thing in particular, we at first cast our view upon all beings, and afterwards we apply ourselves to the consideration of the object which we desire to think on.” This argument has no other effect on me, but to make me doubt the more of the truth of this doctrine. First, because this, which he calls the “strongest reason of all,” is built upon matter of fact, which I cannot find to be so in myself. I do not observe, that when I would think of a triangle, I first think of “all beings;” whether these words “all beings” be to be taken here in their proper sense, or very improperly for “being” in general. Nor do I think my country neighbours do so, when they first wake in the morning, who, I imagine, do not find it impossible to think of a lame horse they have, or their blighted corn, till they have run over in their minds “all beings” that are, and then pitch on dapple; or else begin to think of “being” in general, which is “being” abstracted from all its inferiour species, before they come to think of the fly in their sheep, or the tares in their corn. For I am apt to think that the greatest part of mankind very seldom, if ever at all, think of “being” in general, i. e. abstracted from all its inferiour species and individuals. But taking it to be so, that a carrier when he would think of a remedy for his galled horse, or a foot-boy for an excuse for some fault he has committed, begins with casting his eye upon all things; how does this make out the conclusion? Therefore “we can desire to see all objects, whence it follows that all beings are present to our minds.” Which presence signifies that we see them, or else it signifies nothing at all. They are all actually always seen by us; which, how true, let every one judge.
29. The words wherein he pursues this argument stand thus, “Now it is indubitable that we cannot desire to see any particular object without seeing it already, although confusedly, and in general. So that being able to desire to see all beings sometimes one, sometimes another, it is certain that all beings are present to our spirits; and it seems all beings could not be present to our spirits, but because God is present to them, i. e. he that contains all things in the simplicity of his being.” I must leave it to others to judge how far it is blameable in me; but so it is, that I cannot make to myself the links of this chain to hang together; and methinks if a man would have studied obscurity, he could not have writ more unintelligibly than this. “We can desire to see all beings, sometimes one, sometimes another; therefore we do already see all things, because we cannot desire to see any particular object, but what we see already confusedly and in general.” The discourse here is about ideas, which he says are real things, and we see in God. In taking this along with me, to make it prove any thing to his purpose, the argument must, as it seems to me, stand thus: we can desire to have all ideas, sometimes one, sometimes another; therefore we have already all ideas, because we cannot desire to have any particular idea, but what we have already “confusedly” and “in general.” What can be meant here by having “any particular” idea “confusedly and in general,” I confess I cannot conceive, unless it be a capacity in us to have them; and in that sense the whole argument amounts to no more but this: we have all ideas, because we are capable of having all ideas; and so proves not at all that we actually have them by being united to God, who, “contains them all in the simplicity of his being.” That any thing else is, or can be meant by it, I do not see; for that which we desire to see, being nothing but what we see already, (for if it can be any else, the argument falls and proves nothing,) and that which we desire to see, being, as we are told here, something particular, “sometimes one thing, sometimes another;” that which we do see must be particular too; but how to see a particular thing in general, is past my comprehension. I cannot conceive how a blind man has the particular idea of scarlet confusedly or in general, when he has it not at all; and yet that he might desire to have it, I cannot doubt, no more than I doubt that I can desire to perceive, or to have the ideas of those things that God has prepared for those that love him, “though they be such as eye hath not seen, or ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive,” such as I have yet no idea of. He who desires to know what creatures are in Jupiter, or what God hath prepared for them that love him, hath, it is true, a supposition that there is something in Jupiter, or in the place of the blessed; but if that be to have the particular ideas of things there, enough to say that we see them already, nobody can be ignorant of any thing. He that has seen one thing hath seen all things; for he has got the general ideas of something. But this is not, I confess, sufficient to convince me, that hereby we see all things “in the simplicity of God’s being,” which comprehends all things. For if the ideas I see are all, as our author tells us, real beings in him, it is plain they must be so many real distinct beings in him; and if we see them in him, we must see them as they are, distinct particular things, and so shall not see them confusedly and in general. And what it is to see any idea (to which I do not give a name) confusedly, is what I do not well understand. What I see I see, and the idea I see is distinct from all others that are not the same with it: besides, I see them as they are in God, and as he shows them me. Are they in God confusedly? Or does he show them me confusedly?
30. Secondly, This “seeing of all things,” because we “can desire to see all things,” he makes a proof that “they are present” to our minds; and if they “be present, they can no ways be present but by the presence of God, who contains them all in the simplicity of his being.” This reasoning seems to be founded on this, that the reason of seeing all things, is their being present to our minds; because God, in whom they are, is present. This, though the foundation he seems to build on, is liable to a very natural objection, which is, that then we should actually always see all things, because in God, who is present, they are all actually present to the mind. This he has endeavoured to obviate, by saying we see all the ideas in God, which he is pleased “to discover to us;” which indeed is an answer to this objection; but such an one as overturns his whole hypothesis, and renders it useless, and as unintelligible as any of those he has for that reason laid aside. He pretends to explain to us how we come to perceive any thing, and that is by having the ideas of them present in our minds: for the soul cannot perceive things at a distance, or remote from it. And those ideas are present to the mind, only because God, in whom they are, is present to the mind. This so far hangs together, and is of a piece. But when after this I am told, that their presence is not enough to make them be seen, but God must do something farther to discover them to me, I am as much in the dark as I was at first: and all this talk of their presence in my mind explains nothing of the way wherein I perceive them, nor ever will, till he also makes me understand, what God does more than make them present to my mind, when he discovers them to me. For I think nobody denies, I am sure I affirm, that the ideas we have, are in our minds by the will and power of God, though in a way that we conceive not, nor are able to comprehend. God, says our author, is strictly united to the soul, and so the ideas of things too. But yet that presence or union of theirs is not enough to make them seen, but God must show or exhibit them; and what does God do more than make them present to the mind when he shows them? Of that there is nothing said to help me over this difficulty, but that when God shows them we see them; which in short seems to me to say only thus much, that when we have these ideas we have them, and we owe the having of them to our Maker: which is to say no more than I do with my ignorance. We have the ideas of figures and colours by the operation of exteriour objects on our senses, when the sun shows them us; but how the sun shows them us, or how the light of the sun produces them in us; what, and how the alteration is made in our souls; I know not: nor does it appear, by any thing our author says, that he knows any more what God does when he shows them us, or what it is that is done upon our minds, since the presence of them to our minds, he confesses, does it not.
31. Thirdly, One thing more is incomprehensible to me in this matter, and that is, how the “simplicity of God’s being” should contain in it a variety of real beings, so that the soul can discern them in him distinctly one from another? it being said, chap. 5th. That the ideas in God “are not different from God himself.” This seems to me to express a simplicity made up of variety, a thing I cannot understand. God I believe to be a simple being, that by his wisdom knows all things, and by his power can do all things; but how he does it, I think myself less able to comprehend, than to contain the ocean in my hand, or grasp the universe with my span. “Ideas are real beings,” you say; if so, it is evident they must be distinct “real beings;” for there is nothing more certain than that there are distinct ideas; and they are in God, in whom we see them. There they are then actually distinct, or else we could not see them distinct in him. Now these distinct real beings that are in God, are they either parts, or modifications of the Deity, or comprehended in him as things in a place? For besides these three, I think we can scarce think of another way wherein we can conceive them to be in him, so that we can see them. For to say they are in him “eminenter,” is to say they are not in him actually and really to be seen; but only if they are in him “eminenter,” and we see them only in him, we can be said to see them only “eminenter” too. So that though it cannot be denied that God sees and knows all things; yet when we say we see all things in him, it is but a metaphorical expression to cover our ignorance, in a way that pretends to explain our knowledge; seeing things in God signifying no more than that we perceive them we know not how.
32. He farther adds, That he “does not believe that one can well give an account of the manner wherein the mind knows many abstract and general truths, but by the presence of him who can enlighten the mind after a thousand different fashions.” It is not to be denied that God can enlighten our minds after a thousand different fashions; and it cannot also be denied, that those thousand different fashions may be such, as we comprehend not one of them. The question is, whether this talk of seeing all things in God does make us clearly, or at all, comprehend one of them; if it did so to me, I should gratefully acknowledge that then I was ignorant of nine hundred and ninety-nine of the thousand, whereas I must yet confess myself ignorant of them all.
33. The next paragraph, if it proves any thing, seems to me to prove that the idea we have of God is God himself, it being something, as he says, “uncreated.” The ideas that men have of God are so very different, that it would be very hard to say that it was God himself. Nor does it avail to say they would all have the same, if they would apply their minds to the contemplation of him; for this being brought here to prove that God is present in all men’s minds, and that therefore they see him, it must also, in my apprehension, prove that he being immutably the same, and they seeing him, must needs see him all alike.
34. In the next section we are told that we have “not only the idea of infinite, but before that of finite.” This being a thing of experience, every one must examine himself; and it being my misfortune to find it otherwise in myself, this argument, of course, is like to have the less effect on me, who therefore cannot so easily admit the inference, viz. “That the mind perceives not one thing, but in the idea it has of infinite.” And I cannot but believe many a child can tell twenty, have the idea of a square trencher, or a round plate, and have the distinct clear ideas of two and three, long before he has any idea of “infinite” at all.
35. The last argument which he tells us is a demonstration that we see all things in God, is this: “God has made all things for himself; but if God made a spirit or mind, and gave it the sun for its idea, or the immediate object of its knowledge, God would have made that spirit or mind for the sun, and not for himself.” The natural inference from this argument seems to me to be this, therefore God has given himself for the idea, or immediate object of the knowledge of all human minds. But experience too manifestly contradicting this, our author has made another conclusion, and says thus, “It is necessary then that the light which he gives the mind, should make us know something that is in him,” v. g. Because “all things that come from God cannot be but for God.” Therefore a covetous man sees in God the money, and a Persian the sun that he worships; and thus God is the “immediate object” of the minds, both of the one and the other. I confess this demonstration is lost on me, and I cannot see the force of it. All things, it is true, are made for God, i. e. for his glory; and he will be glorified even by those rational beings, who would not apply their faculties to the knowledge of him.
36. But the next paragraph explains this: “God could not then make a soul for to know his works, were it not that that soul sees God after a fashion in seeing his works:” just “after such a fashion,” that if he never saw more of him, he would never know any thing of a God, nor believe there was any such being. A child, as soon as he is born, sees a candle, or before he can speak, the ball he plays with; these he “sees in God” whom he has yet no notion of. Whether this be enough to make us say that the mind is made for God, and this be the proof of it, other people must judge for themselves. I must own that if this were the knowledge of God, which intelligent beings were made for, I do not see but they might be made for the knowledge of God without knowing any thing of him; and those that deny him, were made for the knowledge of him. Therefore I am not convinced of the truth of what follows, that “we do not see any one thing, but by the natural knowledge which we have of God.” Which seems to me a quite contrary way of arguing to what the apostle uses, where he says, that “the invisible things of God are seen by the visible things he has made.” For it seems to me a quite contrary way of arguing, to say we see the Creator in, or by the creatures, and we see the creatures in the Creator. The apostle begins our knowledge in the creatures, which lead us to the knowledge of God, if we will make use of our reason: our author begins our knowledge in God, and by that leads us to the creatures.
37. But to confirm his argument, he says, “all the particular ideas we have of the creatures are but limitations of the idea of the Creator.” As for example, I have the idea of the solidity of matter, and of the motion of body, what is the idea of God that either of these limits? And, when I think of the number ten, I do not see how that any way concerns or limits the idea of God.
38. The distinction he makes a little lower between “sentiment” and “idea,” does not at all clear to me, but cloud, his doctrine. His words are, “It must be observed, that I do not say that we have the sentiment of material things in God, but that it is from God that acts in us: for God knows sensible things, but feels them not. When we perceive any sensible thing, there is in our perception sentiment and pure idea.” If by “sentiment,” which is the word he uses in French, he means the act of sensation, or the operation of the soul in perceiving: and by “pure idea,” the immediate object of that perception, which is the definition of ideas he gives here in the first chapter; there is some foundation for it, taking ideas for real beings or substances. But, taken thus, I cannot see how it can be avoided, but that we must be said to smell a rose in God, as well as to see a rose in God; and the scent of the rose that we smell, as well as the colour and figure of the rose that we see, must be in God; which seems not to be his sense here, and does not well agree with what he says concerning the ideas we see in God, which I shall consider in its due place. If by “sentiment” here he means something that is neither the act of perception nor the idea perceived, I confess I know not what it is, nor have any conception at all of it. When we see and smell a violet, we perceive the figure, colour, and scent of that flower. Here I cannot but ask whether all these three are “pure ideas,” or all “sentiments?” If they are all “ideas,” then according to his doctrine they are all in God; and then it will follow, that as I see the figure of the violet in God; so also I see the colour of it, and smell the scent of it in God, which way of speaking he does not allow, nor can I blame him. For it shows a little too plainly the absurdity of that doctrine, if he should say we smell a violet, taste wormwood, or feel cold in God; and yet I can find no reason why the action of one of our senses is applied only to God, when we use them all as well as our eyes in receiving ideas. If the figure, colour, and smell are all of them “sentiments,” then they are none of them in God, and so this whole business of seeing in God is out of doors. If (as by what he says in his Eclaircissements it appears to me to be his meaning) the figure of the violet be to be taken for an “idea,” but its “colour” and “smell” for sentiments: I confess it puzzles me to know by what rule it is, that in a violet the purple colour, whereof whilst I write this I seem to have as clear an idea in my mind as of its figure, is not as much an idea as the figure of it; especially, since he tells me in the first chapter here, which is concerning the nature of ideas, that, “by this word idea he understands here nothing else, but what is the immediate or nearest object of the mind when it perceives any thing.”
39. The “sentiment,” says he in the next words, “is a modification of our soul.” This word “modification” here, that comes in for explication, seems to me to signify nothing more than the word to be explained by it; v. g. I see the purple colour of a violet, this, says he, is “sentiment:” I desire to know what “sentiment” is; that, says he, is a “modification of the soul.” I take the word, and desire to see what I can conceive by it concerning my soul; and here, I confess, I can conceive nothing more, but that I have the idea of purple in my mind, which I had not before, without being able to apprehend any thing the mind does or suffers in this, besides barely having the idea of purple: and so the good word “modification” signifies nothing to me more than I knew before; v. g. that I have now the idea of purple in it, which I had not some minutes since. So that though they say sensations are modifications of the mind; yet having no manner of idea what that modification of the mind is, distinct from that very sensation, v. g. the sensation of a red colour or a bitter taste: it is plain this explication amounts to no more than that a sensation is a sensation, and the sensation of red or bitter is the sensation of “red” or “bitter;” for if I have no other idea, when I say it is a modification of the mind, than when I say it is the sensation of “red” or “bitter,” it is plain sensation and modification stand both for the same idea, and so are but two names of one and the same thing. But to examine their doctrine of modification a little farther. Different sentiments are different modifications of the mind. The mind or soul that perceives, is one immaterial indivisible substance. Now I see the white and black on this paper, I hear one singing in the next room, I feel the warmth of the fire I sit by, and I taste an apple I am eating, and all this, at the same time. Now I ask, take “modification” for what you please, can the same unextended indivisible substance have different, nay inconsistent and opposite (as these of white and black must be) modifications at the same time? Or must we suppose distinct parts in an indivisible substance, one for black, another for white, and another for red ideas, and so of the rest of those infinite sensations which we have in sorts and degrees; all which we can distinctly perceive, and so are distinct ideas, some whereof are opposite, as heat and cold, which yet a man may feel at the same time? I was ignorant before how sensation was performed in us, this they call an explanation of it. Must I say now I understand it better? If this be to cure one’s ignorance, it is a very slight disease, and the charm of two or three insignificant words will at any time remove it; “probatum est.” But let it signify what it will, when I recollect the figure of one of the leaves of a violet, is not that a new modification of my soul, as well as when I think of its purple colour? Does my mind do or suffer nothing anew when I see that figure in God?
40. The idea of that figure, you say, is in God; let it be so, but it may be there, and I not see it, that is allowed; when I come to see it, which I did not before, is there no new modification, as you call it, of my mind? If there be, then seeing of figure in God, as well as having the idea of purple, is a “modification of the mind,” and this distinction signifies nothing. If seeing that figure in God now, which a minute or two since I did not see at all, be no new modification or alteration in my mind, no different action or passion from what was before, there is no difference made in my apprehensions between seeing and not seeing. The ideas of figures, our author says, are in God, and are real beings in God; and God being united to the mind, these are also united to it. This all seems to me to have something very obscure and inconceivable in it, when I come to examine particulars; but let it be granted to be as clear as any one would suppose it; yet it reaches not the main difficulty, which is in “seeing.” How after all do I see? The ideas are in God, they are real things, they are intimately united to my mind, because God is so, but yet I do not see them. How at last after all this preparation, which hitherto is ineffectual, do I come to see them? And to that I am told, “when God is pleased to discover them to me.” This in good earnest seems to me to be nothing but going a great way about to come to the same place, and this learned circuit, thus set out, brings me at last no farther than this, that I see or perceive, or have ideas when it pleases God I should, but in a way I cannot comprehend; and this I thought without all this ado.
41. This “sentiment” he tells us in the next words, “it is God causes in us, and he can cause it in us, although he has it not, because he sees in the idea that he has of our soul, that it is capable of them.” This I take to be said to show the difference between “sentiments” and “ideas” in us. V. g. “figures” and “numbers” are ideas, and they are in God. “Colours” and “smells,” &c. are “sentiments” in us, and not ideas in God. First, as to ourselves I ask, why, when I recollect in my memory a violet, the purple colour as well as figure is not an idea in me? The making then the picture of any visible thing in my mind, as of a landscape I have seen, composed of figure and colour, the colour is not an idea, but the figure is an idea, and the colour a “sentiment.” Every one I allow may use his words as he pleases; but if it be to instruct others, he must when be uses two words where others use but one, show some grounds of the distinction. And I do not find but the colour of the marigold I now think of, is as much “the immediate object of my mind,” as its figure? and so according to his definition is an “idea.” Next as to God, I ask, whether, before the creation of the world, the idea of the whole marigold colour as well as figure was not in God? “God,” says he, “can cause those sentiments in us, because he sees in the idea that he has of our soul, that it is capable of them.” God, before he created any soul, knew all that he would make it capable of. He resolved to make it capable of having the perception of the colour as well as figure of a marigold; he had then the idea of that colour that he resolved to make it capable of, or else he made it capable (with reverence let it be spoken) of he knew not what: and if he knew what he should be capable of, he had the idea of what he knew; for before the creation there was nothing but God, and the ideas he had. It is true, the colour of that flower is not actually in God, no more is its figure actually in God; but we that can consider no other understanding, but in analogy to our own, cannot conceive otherwise but as the ideas of the figure, colour, and situation of the leaves of a marigold are in our minds, when we think of that flower in the night when we see it not; so it was in the thoughts of God before he made that flower. And thus we conceive him to have the idea of the smell of a violet, of the taste of sugar, the sound of a lute or trumpet, and of the pain and pleasure that accompany any of these or other sensations which he designed we should feel, though he never felt any of them, as we have the ideas of the taste of a cherry in winter, or of the pain of a burn when it is over. This is what I think we conceive of the ideas of God, which we must allow to have distinctly represented to him all that was to be in time, and consequently the colours, odours, and other ideas they were to produce in us. I cannot be so bold as to pretend to say what those ideas are in God, or to determine that they are real beings; but this I think I may say, that the idea of the colour of a marigold, or the motion of a stone, are as much real beings in God, as the idea of the figure or number of its leaves.
42. The reader must not blame me for making use here all along of the word “sentiment,” which is our author’s own, and I understood it so little, that I knew not how to translate it to any other. He concludes, “that he believes there is no appearance of truth in any other ways of explaining these things, and that this of seeing all things in God, is more than probable.” I have considered with as much indifferency and attention as is possible; and I must own it appears to me as little or less intelligible than any of the rest; and the summary of his doctrine, which he here subjoins, is to me wholly incomprehensible. His words are, “Thus our souls depend on God all manner of ways: for as it is he which makes them feel pleasure and pain, and all other sensations, by the natural union which he has made between them and our bodies, which is nothing else but hid decree and general will: so it is he, who by the natural union which he has made betwixt the will of man and the representation of ideas, which the immensity of the divine being contains, makes them know all that they know; and this natural union is also nothing but his general will.” This phrase of the union of our wills to the ideas contained in God’s immensity, seems to me a very strange one; and what light it gives to his doctrine I truly cannot find. It seemed so unintelligible to me, that I guessed it an errour in the print of the edition I used, which was the 4to printed at Paris, 78, and therefore consulted the 8vo, printed also at Paris, and found it “will” in both of them. Here again the “immensity of the divine being” is mentioned as that which contains in it the ideas to which our wills are united; which ideas being only those of quantity, as I shall show hereafter, seems to me to carry with it a very gross notion of this matter, as we have above remarked. But that which I take notice of principally here, is, that this union of our wills to the ideas contained in God’s immensity does not at all explain our seeing of them. This union of our wills to the ideas, or, as in other places, of our souls to God, is, says he, nothing but the will of God. And, after this union, our seeing them is only when God discovers them, i. e. our having them in our minds, is nothing but the will of God; all which is brought about in a way we comprehend not. And what then does this explain more than when one says, our souls are united to our bodies by the will of God, and by the motion of some parts of our bodies? V. g. the nerves or animal spirits have ideas or perceptions produced in them, and this is the will of God. Why is not this as intelligible and as clear as the other? Here is by the will of God given union and perception in both cases; but how that perception is made in both ways, seems to me equally incomprehensible. In one, God discovers ideas in himself to the soul united to him when he pleases; and in the other, he discovers ideas to the soul, or produces perception in the soul united to the body by motion, according to laws established by the good pleasure of his will: but how it is done in the one or the other I confess my incapacity to comprehend. So that I agree perfectly with him in his conclusion, that “there is nothing but God that can enlighten us:” but a clear comprehension of the manner how he does it, I doubt I shall not have, till I know a great deal more of him and myself, than in this state of darkness and ignorance our souls are capable of.
43. In the next, chap. 7, he tells us, “there are four ways of knowing; the first is to know things by themselves;” and thus, he says, “we know God alone;” and the reason he gives of it is this, because “at present he alone penetrates the mind, and discovers himself to it.”
First, I would know what it is to penetrate a thing that is unextended? These are ways of speaking, which taken from body, when they are applied to spirit, signify nothing, nor show us any thing but our ignorance. To God’s penetrating our spirits, he joins his discovering himself; as if one were the cause of the other, and explained it: but I not conceiving any thing of the penetration of an unextended thing, it is lost upon me. But, next God penetrates our souls, and therefore we “see him by a direct and immediate view,” as he says in the following words. The ideas of all things which are in God, he elsewhere tells us, are not at all different from God himself; and if God’s penetrating our minds be the cause of our direct and immediate seeing God, we have a direct and immediate view of all that we see; for we see nothing but God and ideas; and it is impossible for us to know that there is any thing else in the universe; for since we see, and can see nothing but God and ideas, how can we know there is any thing else which we neither do nor can see? But if there be any thing to be understood by this penetration of our souls, and we have a direct view of God by this penetration, why have we not also a direct and immediate view of other separate spirits besides God? To this he says, that there is none but God alone who at present penetrates our spirits. This he says, but I do not see for what reason, but because it suits with his hypothesis: but he proves it not, nor goes about to do it, unless the direct and immediate view, he says, we have of God, be to be taken as a proof of it. But what is that direct and immediate view we have of God that we have not of a cherubim? The ideas of being, power, knowledge, goodness, duration, make up the complex idea we have of one and of the other; but only that in the one we join the idea of infinite to each simple idea, that makes our complex one; but to the other that of finite. But how have we a more direct or immediate view of the idea of power, knowledge, or duration, when we consider them in God, than when we consider them in an angel? The view of these ideas seems to be the same. Indeed we have a clearer proof of the existence of God than of a cherubim; but the idea of either, when we have it in our minds, seems to me to be there by an equally direct and immediate view. And it is about the ideas which are in our minds that I think our author’s enquiry here is, and not about the real existence of those things whereof we have ideas, which are two very remote things.
44. Perhaps it is God alone, says our author, “who can enlighten our minds by his substance.” When I know what the substance of God is, and what it is to be enlightened by that substance, I shall know what I also shall think of it; but at present I confess myself in the dark as to this matter; nor do these good words of substance and enlightening, in the way they are here used, help me one jot out of it.
45. He goes on, “one cannot conceive, says he, that any thing created can represent what is infinite.” And I cannot conceive that there is any positive comprehensive idea in any finite mind that does represent it fully and clearly as it is. I do not find that the mind of man has infinity positively and fully represented to it, or comprehended by it; which must be, if his argument were true, that therefore God enlightens our minds by his proper substance: because no created thing is big enough to represent what is infinite; and therefore what makes us conceive his infinity, is the presence of his own infinite substance in our minds: which to me manifestly supposes, that we comprehend in our minds God’s infinite substance, which is present to our minds; for if this be not the force of his argument, where he says, “nothing created can represent what is infinite; the being that is without bounds, the being immense, the being universal, cannot be perceived by an idea, i. e. by a particular being, by a being different from the universal infinite being itself.” It seems to me that this argument is founded on a supposition of our comprehending the infinite substance of God in our minds, or else I see not any force in it, as I have already said. I shall take notice of one or two things in it that confound me, and that is, that he calls God here the universal being; which must either signify that being which contains, and is made up as one comprehensive aggregate of all the rest, in which sense the universe may be called the universal being; or else it must mean being in general, which is nothing but the idea of being, abstracted from all inferiour divisions of that general notion, and from all particular existence. But in neither of these senses can I conceive God to be the universal being, since I cannot think the creatures either to be a part or a species of him. Next he calls the ideas that are in God particular beings. I grant whatever exists is particular, it cannot be otherwise; but that which is particular in existence, may be universal in representation, which I take to be all the universal beings we know, or can conceive to be. But let universal or particular beings be what they will, I do not see how our author can say, that God is an universal being, and the ideas we see in him particular beings; since he in another place tells us, that the ideas we see in God, are not at all different from God. But, says he, “as to particular beings it is not hard to conceive that they can be represented by the infinite being which contains them, and contains them after a very spiritual manner, and consequently very intelligible.” It seems as impossible to me, that an infinite simple being, in whom there is no variety, nor shadow of variety, should represent a finite thing, as that a finite thing should represent an infinite; nor do I see how its “containing all things in it after a very spiritual manner, makes it so very intelligible;” since I understand not what it is to contain a material thing spiritually, nor the manner how God contains any thing in himself, but either as an aggregate contains all things which it is made up of; and so indeed that part of him may be seen, which comes within the reach of our view. But this way of containing all things can by no means belong to God, and to make things thus visible in him, is to make the material world a part of him, or else as having a power to produce all things; and in this way, it is true, God contains all things in himself, but in a way not proper to make the being of God a representative of those things to us; for then his being, being the representative of the effects of that power, it must represent to us all that he is capable of producing, which I do not find in myself that it does.
Secondly, “The second way of knowing things, he tells us, is by ideas, that is, by something that is different from them; and thus we know things when they are not intelligible by themselves, either because they are corporeal or because they cannot penetrate the mind, or discover themselves to it; and this is the way we know corporeal things.” This reasoning I do not understand: first, because I do not understand why a line or a triangle is not as intelligible as any thing that can be named; for we must still carry along with us, that the discourse here is about our perception, or what we have any idea or conception of in our own minds. Secondly, because I do not understand what is meant by the penetrating a spirit; and till I can comprehend these, upon which this reasoning is built, this reasoning cannot work on me. But from these reasons he concludes, “thus it is in God, and by their ideas that we see bodies and their properties; and it is for this reason that the knowledge we have of them is most perfect.” Whether others will think that what we see of bodies, is seen in God, by seeing the ideas of them that are in God, must be left to them. Why I cannot think so, I have shown; but the inference he makes here from it, I think, few will assent to, that we know bodies and their properties most perfectly. For who is there that can say, he knows the properties either of body in general, or of any one particular body perfectly? One property of body in general is to have parts cohering and united together; for wherever there is body, there is cohesion of parts; but who is there that perfectly understands that cohesion? And as for particular bodies, who can say that he perfectly understands gold or a loadstone, and all its properties? But to explain himself, he says, “that the idea we have of extension, suffices to make us know all the properties whereof extension is capable, and that we cannot desire to have an idea more distinct, and more fruitful of extension, of figures, and of motions, than that which God has given us of them.” This seems to me a strange proof that we see bodies and their properties in God, and know them perfectly, because God hath given us distinct and fruitful ideas of extension, figure, and motion; for this had been the same, whether God had given these ideas by showing them in himself, or by any other way; and his saying, that God has given us as distinct and fruitful ideas of them as we can desire, seems as if our author himself had some other thoughts of them. If he thought we see them in God, he must think we see them as they are in themselves, and there would be no room for saying, God hath given them us as distinct as we could desire: the calling them fruitful, shows this yet more; for one that thinks he sees the ideas of figures in God, and can see no idea of a figure but in God, with what thought can he call any one of them feconde, which is said only of such things as produce others? Which expression of his seems to proceed only from this thought in him, that when I have once got the idea of extension, I can frame the ideas of what figures, and of what bigness I please. And in this I agree with him, as appears in what I have said, L. 2. C. 13. But then this can by no means proceed from a supposition, that I see these figures only in God; for there they do not produce one another, but there are, as it were, in their first pattern to be seen, just such, and so many as God is pleased to show them to us. But it will be said, our desire to see them is the occasional cause of God’s showing them us, and so we see whatever figure we desire. Let it be so, this does not make any idea feconde, for here is no production of one out of another: but as to the occasional cause, can any one say that it is so? I, or our author, desire to see an angle next in greatness to a right angle; did upon this God ever show him or me such an angle? That God knows, or has in himself the idea of such an angle, I think will not be denied; but that he ever showed it to any man, how much soever he desired it, I think may be doubted. But after all, how comes it by this means that we have a perfect knowledge of bodies and their properties, when several men in the world have not the same idea of body, and this very author and I differ in it? He thinks bare extension to be body, and I think extension alone makes not body, but extension and solidity; thus either he, or I, one of us, has a wrong and imperfect knowledge of bodies and their properties. For if bodies be extension alone, and nothing else, I cannot conceive how they can move and hit one against another, or what can make distinct surfaces in an uniform simple extension. A solid extended thing I can conceive moveable; but then, if I have a clear view of bodies and their properties in God, I must see the idea of solidity in God, which yet I think, by what our author has said in his Eclaircissements, he does not allow that we do. He says farther, “that whereas the ideas of things that are in God contain all their properties, he that sees their ideas may see successively all their properties.” This seems to me not to concern our ideas more, whether we see them in God, or have them otherwise. Any idea that we have, whencesoever we have it, contains in it all the properties it has, which are nothing but the relations it has to other ideas, which are always the same. What he says concerning the properties, that we may successively know them, is equally true, whether we see them in God, or have them by any other means. They that apply them as they ought to the consideration of their ideas, may successively come to the knowledge of some of their properties; but that they may know all their properties, is more than I think the reason proves, which he subjoins in these words, “for when one sees the things as they are in God, one sees them always in a most perfect manner.” We see, for example, in God, the idea of a triangle, or a circle; does it hence follow, that we can know all the properties of either of them? He adds, that the manner of seeing them “would be infinitely perfect, if the mind which sees them in God was infinite.” I confess myself here not well to comprehend his distinction between seeing after a manner “[tres parfait] most perfect and infinitely perfect;” he adds, “that which is wanting to the knowledge that we have of extension, figures, and motion, is not a defect of the idea which represents it, but of our mind which considers it.” If by ideas be meant here the real objects of our knowledge, I easily agree, that the want of knowledge in us is a defect in our minds, and not in the things to be known. But if by ideas be here meant the perception or representation of things in the mind, that I cannot but observe in myself to be very imperfect and defective, as when I desire to perceive what is the substance of body or spirit, the idea thereof fails me. To conclude, I see not what there is in this paragraph that makes any thing for the doctrine of seeing all things in God.
46. “The third way of knowing is by consciousness or interiour sentiments; and thus,” he says “we know our souls; and it is for this reason that the knowledge we have of them is imperfect, we know nothing of our souls but what we feel within ourselves.” This confession of our author brings me back, do what I can, to that original of all our ideas which my thoughts led me to when I writ my book, viz. sensation and reflection; and therefore I am forced to ask any one who is of our author’s principles, whether God had not the idea of mind, or of an human soul, before he created it? Next, whether that idea of an human soul be not as much a real being in God as the idea of a triangle? If so, why does not my soul, being intimately united to God, as well see the idea of my soul which is in him, as the idea of a triangle which is in him? And what reason can there be given, why God shows the idea of a triangle to us, and not the idea of our souls, but this, that God has given us external sensation to perceive the one, and none to perceive the other, but only internal sensation to perceive the operation of the latter? He that pleases may read what our author says in the remainder of this, and the two or three next paragraphs, and see whether it carries him beyond where my ignorance stopped; I must own that me it does not.
47. This, (i. e. the ignorance we are in of our own “souls,) says he, may serve to prove that the ideas that represent any thing to us that is without us are not modifications of our souls; for if the soul saw all things by considering its own proper modifications, it should know more clearly its own essence, or its own nature, than that of bodies; and all the sensations or modifications whereof it is capable, than the figures or modifications of which bodies are capable. In the mean time, it knows not that it is capable of any such sensation by sight, as it has of itself, but only by experience; instead of that it knows that extension is capable of an infinite number of figures by the ideas that it has of extension. There are, moreover, certain sensations, as colours and sounds, which the greatest part of men cannot discover whether they are modifications of the soul; and there are figures which all men do not discover by the idea of extension to the modifications of bodies.” This paragraph is, as he tells us, to prove, “That the ideas that represent to us something without us, are not modifications of the soul;” but instead of that, it seems to prove that figure is the modification of space, and not of our souls. For if this argument had tended to prove, “That the ideas that represent any thing without us were not modifications of the soul,” he should not have put the mind’s not knowing what modifications itself was capable of, and knowing what figures space was capable of, in opposition one to another: but the antithesis must have lain in this, that the mind knew it was capable of the perception of figure or motion without any modification of itself, but was not capable of the perception of sound or colour without a modification of itself. For the question here is not whether space be capable of figure, and the soul not; but whether the soul be capable of perceiving, or having the idea of figure, without a modification of itself, and not capable of having the idea of colour without a modification of itself. I think now of the figure, colour, and hardness, of diamond that I saw some time since: in this case I desire to be informed how my mind knows that the thinking on, or the idea of the figure is not a modification of the mind; but the thinking on, or having an idea of the colour or hardness, is a modification of the mind? It is certain there is some alteration in my mind when I think of a figure which I did not think of before, as well as when I think of a colour that I did not think of before. But one, I am told, is seeing it in God, and the other a modification of my mind. But supposing one is seeing in God, is there no alteration in my mind between seeing and not seeing? And is that to be called a modification or no? For when he says seeing a colour, and hearing a sound, is a modification of the mind, what does it signify but an alteration of the mind from not perceiving to perceiving that sound or colour? And so when the mind sees a triangle, which it did not see before, what is this but an alteration of the mind from not seeing to seeing, whether that figure be seen in God or no? And why is not this alteration of the mind to be called a modification, as well as the other? Or indeed what service does that word do us in the one case or the other, when it is only a new sound brought in without any new conception at all? For my mind, when it sees a colour or figure, is altered, I know, from the not having such or such a perception to the having it; but when, to explain this, I am told that either of these perceptions is a modification of the mind, what do I conceive more than that from not having such a perception my mind is come to have such a perception? Which is what I as well knew before the word modification was made use of, which, by its use, has made me conceive nothing more than what I conceived before.
48. One thing I cannot but take notice of here by the by, that he says, that “the soul knows that extension is capable of an infinite number of figures by the idea it has of extension,” which is true. And afterwards he says, that “there are no figures, which all men do not discover by the idea they have of extension to be modifications of body.” One would wonder why he did not say modifications of extension, rather than as he does modifications of body, they being discovered by the idea of extension; but the truth would not bear such an expression. For it is certain that in pure space or extension, which is not terminated, there is truly no distinction of figures; but in distinct bodies that are terminated there are distinct figures, because simple space or extension, being in itself uniform, inseparable, immoveable, has in it no such modification or distinction of figures. But it is capable, as he says; but of what? Of bodies of all sorts of figures and magnitudes, without which there is no distinction of figures in space. Bodies that are solid, separable, terminated, and moveable, have all sorts of figures, and they are bodies alone that have them: and so figures are properly modifications of bodies, for pure space is not any-where terminated, nor can be; whether there be or be not body in it, it is uniformly continued on. This that he plainly said there, to me plainly shows that body and extension are two things, though much of our author’s doctrine be built upon their being one and the same.
49. The next paragraph is to show us the difference between ideas and sentiments in this, that “sentiments are not tied to words; so that he that never had seen a colour, or felt heat, could never be made to have those sensations by all the definitions one could give him of them.” This is true of what he calls sentiments; and as true also of what he calls ideas. Show me one who has not got by experience, i. e. by seeing or feeling, the idea of space or motion, and I will as soon by words make one, who never felt what heat is, have a conception of heat, as he, that has not by his senses perceived what space or motion is, can by words be made to conceive either of them. The reason why we are apt to think these ideas belonging to extension got another way than other ideas, is because, our bodies being extended, we cannot avoid the distinction of parts in ourselves; and all that is for the support of our lives, being by motion applied to us, it is impossible to find any one who has not by experience got those ideas; and so by the use of language learnt what words stand for them, which by custom came to excite them in his mind; as the names of heat and pleasure do excite in the mind of those who have by experience got them the ideas they are by use annexed to. Not that words or definitions can teach or bring into the mind one more than another of those I call simple ideas; but can by use excite them in those who, having got them by experience, know certain sounds to be by use annexed to them as the signs of them.
50. Fourthly, “The fourth way of knowing, he tells us, is by conjecture, and thus only we know the souls of other men and pure intelligences,” i. e. We know them not at all; but we probably think there are such beings really existing in “rerum naturâ.” But this looks to me beside our author’s business here, which seems to me to examine what ideas we have, and how we came by them. So that the thing here considered, should in my opinion be, not whether there were any souls of men or pure intelligences any-where existing, but what ideas we have of them, and how we came by them. For when he says, we know not angels, either “in themselves, or by their ideas, or by consciousness,” what in that place does angels signify? What idea in him does it stand for? Or is it the sign of no idea at all, and so a bare sound without signification? He that reads this seventh chapter of his with attention, will find that we have simple ideas as far as our experience reaches, and no farther. And beyond that we know nothing at all, no not even what those ideas are that are in us, but only that they are perceptions in the mind, but how made we cannot comprehend.
51. In his Eclaircissements on the nature of ideas, p. 535, of the quarto edition, he says, that “he is certain that the ideas of things are unchangeable.” This I cannot comprehend; for how can I know that the picture of any thing is like that thing, when I never see that which it represents? For if these words do not mean that ideas are true unchangeable representations of things, I know not to what purpose they are. And if that be not their meaning, then they can only signify, that the idea I have once had will be unchangeably the same as long as it recurs the same in my memory; but when another different from that comes into my mind, it will not be that. Thus the idea of an horse, and the idea of a centaur, will, as often as they recur in my mind, be unchangeably the same; which is no more than this, the same idea will be always the same idea; but whether the one or the other be the true representation of any thing that exists, that, upon his principles, neither our author nor any body else can know.
52. What he says here of universal reason, which enlightens every one, whereof all men partake, seems to me nothing else but the power men have to consider the ideas they have one with another, and by this comparing them, find out the relations that are between them; and therefore if an intelligent being at one end of the world, and another at the other end of the world, will consider twice two and four together, he cannot but find them to be equal, i. e. to be the same number. These relations, it is true, are infinite, and God, who knows all things and their relations as they are, knows them all, and so his knowledge is infinite. But men are able to discover more or less of these relations, only as they apply their minds to consider any sort of ideas, and to find out intermediate ones, which can show the relation of those ideas, which cannot be immediately compared by juxta-position. But then what he means by that infinite reason which men consult; I confess myself not well to understand. For if he means that they consider a part of those relations of things which are infinite, that is true; but then this is a very improper way of speaking, and I cannot think that a man of his parts would use it to mean nothing else by it. If he means, as he says, p. 536, that this infinite and universal reason, whereof men partake, and which they consult, is the reason of God himself; I can by no means assent to it. First, because I think we cannot say God reasons at all; for he has at once a view of all things. But reason is very far from such an intuition; it is a laborious and gradual progress in the knowledge of things, by comparing one idea with a second, and a second with a third, and that with a fourth, &c. to find the relation between the first and the last of these in this train, and in search for such intermediate ideas, as may show us the relation we desire to know, which sometimes we find, and sometimes not. This way therefore of finding truth, so painful, uncertain, and limited, is proper only to men of finite understandings, but can by no means be supposed in God; it is therefore in God understanding or knowledge. But then to say that we partake in the knowledge of God, or consult his understanding, is what I cannot receive for true. God has given me an understanding of my own; and I should think it presumption in me to suppose I apprehended any thing by God’s understanding, saw with his eyes, or shared of his knowledge. I think it more possible for me to see with other men’s eyes, and understand with another man’s understanding, than with God’s; there being some proportion between mine and another man’s understanding, but none between mine and God’s. But if this infinite reason which we consult, be at last nothing but those infinite unchangeable relations which are in things, some of which we make a shift to discover; this indeed is true, but seems to me to make little to our author’s purpose of seeing all things in God; and that, “if we see not all things by the natural union of our minds with the universal and infinite reason, we should not have the liberty to think on all things,” as he expresses it, p. 538. To explain himself farther concerning this universal reason, or, as he there calls it by another name, order, p. 539, he says, that “God contains in himself the perfections of all the creatures that he has created, or can create, after an intelligible manner.” Intelligible to himself, it is true; but intelligible to men, at least to me, that I do not find, unless, “by containing in himself the perfections of all the creatures,” be meant, that there is no perfection in any creature, but there is a greater in God, or that there is in God greater perfection than all the perfections of the creatures taken together. And therefore though it be true what follows in the next words, “that it is by these intelligible perfections that God knows the essence of every thing;” yet it will not follow from hence, or from any thing else that he has said, that those perfections in God, which contain in them the perfections of all the creatures, are “the immediate objects of the mind of man;” or that they are so the objects of the mind of man,” that he can in them see the essences of the creatures. For I ask in which of the perfections of God does a man see the essence of an horse or an ass, of a serpent or a dove, of hemlock or parsley? I for my part, I confess, see not the essence of any of these things in any of the perfections of God, which I have any notion of. For indeed I see not the distinct essence either of these things at all, or know wherein it consists. And therefore I cannot comprehend the force of the inference, which follows in these words, “then the intelligible ideas or perfections that are in God, which represent to us what is out of God, are absolutely necessary and unchangeable.” That the perfections that are in God are necessary and unchangeable, I readily grant: but that the ideas that are intelligible to God, or are in the understanding of God (for so we must speak of him whilst we conceive of him after the manner of men) can be seen by us; or, that the perfections that are in God represent to us the essences of things that are out of God, that I cannot conceive. The essence of matter, as much as I can see of it, is extension, solidity, divisibility, and mobility; but in which of the perfections of God do I see this essence? To another man, as to our author perhaps, the essence of body is quite another thing; and when he has told us what to him is the essence of body, it will be then to be considered in which of the perfections of God he sees it. For example, let it be pure extension alone, the idea then that God had in himself of the essence of body, before body was created, was the idea of pure extension; when God then created body he created extension, and then space, which existed not before, began to exist. This, I confess, I cannot conceive; but we see in the perfections of God the necessary and unchangeable essences of things. He sees one essence of body in God, and I another: which is that necessary and unchangeable essence of body which is contained in the perfections of God, his or mine? Or indeed how do or can we know there is any such thing existing as body at all? For we see nothing but the ideas that are in God; but body itself we neither do nor can possibly see at all; and how then can we know that there is any such thing existing as body, since we can by no means see or perceive it by our senses, which is all the way we can have of knowing any corporeal thing to exist? but it is said, God shows us the ideas in himself, on occasion of the presence of those bodies to our senses. This is gratis dictum, and begs the thing in question; and therefore I desire to have it proved to me that they are present. I see the sun, or an horse; no, says our author, that is impossible, they cannot be seen, because being bodies they cannot be united to my mind, and be present to it. But the sun being risen, and the horse brought within convenient distance, and so being present to my eyes, God shows me their ideas in himself: and I say God shows me these ideas when he pleases, without the presence of any such bodies to my eyes. For when I think I see a star at such a distance from me; which truly I do not see, but the idea of it which God shows me; I would have it proved to me that there is such a star existing a million of million of miles from me when I think I see it, more than when I dream of such a star. For until it be proved that there is a candle in the room by which I write this, the supposition of my seeing in God the pyramidical idea of its flame, upon occasion of the candle being there, is begging what is in question. And to prove to me that God exhibits to me that idea, upon occasion of the presence of the candle, it must first be proved to me that there is a candle there, which upon these principles can never be done.
Farther, We see the “necessary and unchangeable essences of things” in the perfections of God. Water, a rose, and a lion, have their distinct essences one from another, and all other things; what I desire to know, are these distinct essences, I confess I neither see them in nor out of God, and in which of the perfections of God do we see each of them?
Page 504, I find these words, “It is evident that the perfections that are in God which represent created or possible beings, are not at all equal: that those for example that represent bodies, are not so noble as those for example that represent spirits; and amongst those themselves which represent nothing but body, or nothing but spirit, there are more perfect one than another to infinity. This is conceivable clearly, and without pain, though one finds some difficulty to reconcile the simplicity of the divine Being with this variety of intelligible ideas which he contains in his wisdom.” This difficulty is to me insurmountable; and I conclude it always shall be so, till I can find a way to make simplicity and variety the same. And this difficulty must always cumber this doctrine, which supposes that the perfections of God are the representatives to us of whatever we perceive of the creatures; for then those perfections must be many, and diverse, and distinct one from another, as those ideas are that represent the different creatures to us. And this seems to me to make God formerly to contain in him all the distinct ideas of all the creatures, and that so, that they might be seen one after another. Which seems to me after all the talk of abstraction to be but a little less gross conception than of the sketches of all the pictures that ever a painter draws, kept by him in his closet, which are there all to be seen one after another as he pleases to show them. But whilst these abstract thoughts produce nothing better than this, I the easier content myself with my ignorance which roundly thinks thus: God is a simple being, omniscient, that knows all things possible; and omnipotent, that can do or make all things possible. But how he knows, or how he makes, I do not conceive: his ways of knowing as well as his ways of creating, are to me incomprehensible; and if they were not so, I should not think him to be God, or to be perfecter in knowledge than I am. To which our author’s thoughts seem in the close of what is above cited somewhat to incline, when he says, “the variety of intelligible ideas, which God contains in his wisdom;” whereby he seems to place this variety of ideas in the mind or thoughts of God, as we may so say, whereby it is hard to conceive how we can see them; and not in the being of God, where they are to be seen as so many distinct things in it.
[a ]Recherche de la Verité, l. 3. p. 2. c. 1.
[a ]Recherche de la Verité, l. 3. pt. 2. c. 2.