Thursday, April 6, 2017

Freud: The Pleasure Principle

Sigmund Freud
Civilization and Its Discontents
Translated by James Strachey
WW Norton and Company, NY, 1961

We will therefore turn to the less ambitious question of what men themselves show by their behavior to be the purpose and intention of their lives.  What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it?  The answer to this can hardly be in doubt.  They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so . . . As we see, what decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle.  this principle dominates the operation of the mental apparatus from the start.  There can be no doubt about its efficacy, and yet its programme is at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as the microcosm.  There is no possibility at all of its being carried through; all the regulations of the universe run counter to it.  One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be 'happy' is not included in the plan of 'Creation.'  What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon.  When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, i only produces a feeling of mild contentment.  We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only form a contrast and a very little from a state of things. (25)

Religion restricts this play of choice and adaptation, since it imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering.  Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the picture of the real world in a delusional manner--which presupposes an intimidation of the intelligence.  At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantalism and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. (36)

Study questions:
1.  For Freud, what is happiness?  What is the pleasure principle?
2.  What must be true about human nature for Freud's view of pleasure and happiness to also be true?
3.  Why does Freud think there is suffering?  What other explanations could account for suffering?
4.  What role does religion play in the pleasure principle? Is this true of all religion, some religion, the best examples, superficial examples?
5.  What is the distinction between the real world, delusion, and otherworldliness, in Freud's thought?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reading #37: Darwin: The Origin of Species

The Origin of Species
Species, Uniformity, Naturalism, Secondary Causes, God the Creator

I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to  man's power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.

Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult — at least, I have found it so — than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that, though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all  seasons of each recurring year. 

A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers  would quickly become so inordinately great that no country  could support the product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them.   There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair.

It has been said that I speak of natural selection as an active power or Deity; but who objects to an author speaking of the attraction of gravity as ruling the movements of the planets? Every one knows what is meant and is implied by such metaphorical expressions; and they are almost necessary for brevity. So again it is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by Nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us.

It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past geological ages, that we see only that the forms of life  are now different from what they formerly were.


It may be asked how far I extend the doctrine of the modification of species. The question is difficult to answer because the more distinct the forms are which we consider, by  so much the arguments in favour of community of descent  become fewer in number and less in force. But some  arguments of the greatest weight extend very far. All  the members of whole classes are connected together by  a chain of affinities, and all can be classed on the same  principle, in groups subordinate to groups. Fossil remains  sometimes tend to fill up very wide intervals between existing orders.


When the views advanced by me in this volume, and by  Mr. Wallace, or when analogous views on the origin of species are generally admitted, we can dimly foresee that there  will be a considerable revolution in natural history. Systematists will be able to pursue their labours as at present;  but they will not be incessantly haunted by the shadowy  doubt whether this or that form be a true species. This, I  feel sure and I speak after experience, will be no slight re-  lief. The endless disputes whether or not some fifty species  of British brambles are good species will cease. Systematists  will have only to decide (not that this will be easy) whether  any form be sufficiently constant and distinct from other  forms, to be capable of definition; and if definable, whether  the differences be sufficiently important to deserve a specific  name. This latter point will become a far more essential consideration than it is at present; for differences, however  slight, between any two forms, if not blended by intermediate gradations, are looked at by most naturalists as sufficient to raise both forms to the rank of species.   

Hereafter we shall be compelled to acknowledge that the  only distinction between species and well-marked varieties is,  that the latter are known, or believed, to be connected at the  present day by intermediate gradations whereas species were  formerly thus connected. Hence, without rejecting the consideration of the present existence of intermediate gradations between any two forms, we shall be led to weigh more  carefully and to value higher the actual amount of difference  between them. It is quite possible that forms now generally  acknowledged to be merely varieties may hereafter be  thought worthy of specific names; and in this case scientific  and common language will come into accordance. In short,  we shall have to treat species in the same manner as those  naturalists treat genera, who admit that genera are merely  artificial combinations made for convenience. This may not  be a cheering prospect; but we shall at least be freed from  the vain search for the undiscovered and undiscoverable  essence of the term species.   

The other and more general departments of natural history  will rise greatly in interest. The terms used by naturalists,  of affinity, relationship, community of type, paternity, morphology, adaptive characters, rudimentary and aborted  organs, &c., will cease to be metaphorical, and will have a  plain signification. When we no longer look at an organic  being as a savage looks at a ship, as something wholly beyond his comprehension ; when we regard every production  of nature as one which has had a long history; when we  contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the  summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, in the same way as any great mechanical invention  is the summing up of the labour, the experience, the reason,  and even the blunders of numerous workmen ; when we  thus view each organic being, how far more interesting — I  speak from experience — does the study of natural history  become 

A grand and almost untrodden field of inquiry will be opened, on the causes and laws of variation, on correlation,  on the effects of use and disuse, on the direct action of external conditions, and so forth. The study of domestic productions will rise immensely in value. A new variety raised  by man will be a more important and interesting subject for  study than one more species added to the infinitude of already  recorded species. Our classifications will come to be, as far  as they can be so made, genealogies ; and will then truly give  what may be called the plan of creation. The rules for  classifying will no doubt become simpler when we have a  definite object in view. We possess no pedigrees or armorial  bearings; and we have to discover and trace the many diverging lines of descent in our natural genealogies, by characters of any kind which have long been inherited. Rudimentary organs will speak infallibly with respect to the  nature of long-lost structures. Species and groups of species  which are called aberrant, and which may fancifully be  called having fossils, will aid us in forming a picture of the  ancient forms of life. Embryology will often reveal to us  the structure, in some degree obscured, of the prototypes of  each great class.   

When we can feel assured that all the individuals of the  same species, and all the closely allied species of most genera,  have within a not very remote period descended from one  parent, and have migrated from some one birth-place; and  when we better know the many means of migration, then, by  the light which geology now throws, and will continue to  throw, on former changes of climate and of the level of the  land, we shall surely be enabled to trace in an admirable  manner the former migrations of the inhabitants of the whole  world. Even at present, by comparing the differences be-  tween the inhabitants of the sea on the opposite sides of a  continent, and the nature of the various inhabitants on that  continent in relation to their apparent means of immigration,  some light can be thrown on ancient geography.   

The noble science of Geology loses glory from the extreme  imperfection of the record. The crust of the earth with its  imbedded remains must not be looked at as a well-filled  museum, but as a poor collection made at hazard and at rare  intervals. The accumulation of each great fossiliferous formation will be recognised as having depended on an unusual concurrence of favourable circumstances, and the blank intervals between the successive stages as having been of vast  duration. But we shall be able to gauge with some security  the duration of these intervals by a comparison of the preceding and succeeding organic forms. We must be cautious  in attempting to correlate as strictly contemporaneous two  formations, which do not include many identical species, by  the general succession of the forms of life. As species are  produced and exterminated by slowly acting and still exist-  ing causes, and not by miraculous acts of creation; and as  the most important of all causes of organic change is one  which is almost independent of altered and perhaps suddenly altered physical conditions, namely, the mutual relation of organism to organism, — the improvement of one  organism entailing the improvement or the extermination  of others ; it follows, that the amount of organic change in  the fossils of consecutive formations probably serves as a  fair measure of the relative, though not actual lapse of  time. A number of species, however, keeping in a body  might remain for a long period unchanged, whilst within  the same period, several of these' species by migrating into  new countries and coming into competition with foreign  associates, might become modified; so that we must not  overrate the accuracy of organic change as a measure of  time.   

In the future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already well laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that of the  necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by  gradation. Much light will be thrown on the origin of man  and his history.   

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied  with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of  the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants  of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like  those determining the birth and death of the individual.  When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited,  they seem to me to become ennobled. Judging from the past,  we may safely infer that not one living species will transmit  its unaltered likeness to a distant futurity. And of the  species now living very few will transmit progeny of any  kind to a far distant futurity; for the manner in which all  organic beings are grouped, shows that the greater number  of species in each genus, and all the species in many genera,  have left no descendants, but have become utterly extinct.  We can so far take a prophetic glance into futurity as to  foretell that it will be the common and widely-spread species,  belonging to the larger and dominant groups within each  class, which will ultimately prevail and procreate new and  dominant species. As all the living forms of life are the  lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Cambrian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no  cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may  look with some confidence to a secure future of great length.  And as natural selection works solely by and for the good  of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend  to progress towards perfection.

Study Questions:
1.     Has there always been struggle and suffering?  How can we know?
2.     Does natural selection require natural evil?
3.     Can variation occur without natural evil?
4.     When does variation lead to a new species as opposed to continued variation within a species?
5.     What does it mean for the Creator to impose laws on nature?
6.     What are secondary causes?  What is the primary cause?
7.     Has the Creator acted to change creation after the beginning?
8.     Why is there natural evil and struggle for life?
9.     What did Malthus say about the growth of populations?  Must this be true?
10. What is uniformity (uniformitarianism) and how does it apply to explaining origins? (Charles Lyell)
11. What methods are used to explain the age of the earth?
12. Do these dating methods have philosophical presuppositions?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hume: The Problem of Evil

David Hume
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
The Problem of Evil
Parts 10 and 11

1.  What is the problem of evil?  Why is this a particular problem for theism?
2.  Why does Demea think people turn to religion?
3.  Explain: the world is full of misery and wickedness

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kant: Reason and Transcendental Freedom

by Immanuel Kant
translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott


This work is called the Critique of Practical Reason, not of the pure practical reason, although its parallelism with the speculative critique would seem to require the latter term. The reason of this appears sufficiently from the treatise itself. Its business is to show that there is pure practical reason, and for this purpose it criticizes the entire practical faculty of reason. If it succeeds in this, it has no need to criticize the pure faculty itself in order to see whether reason in making such a claim does not presumptuously overstep itself (as is the case with the speculative reason). For if, as pure reason, it is actually practical, it proves its own reality and that of its concepts by fact, and all disputation against the possibility of its being real is futile.

With this faculty, transcendental freedom is also established; freedom, namely, in that absolute sense in which speculative reason required it in its use of the concept of causality in order to escape the antinomy into which it inevitably falls, when in the chain of cause and effect it tries to think the unconditioned. Speculative reason could only exhibit this concept (of freedom) problematically as not impossible to thought, without assuring it any objective reality, and merely lest the supposed impossibility of what it must at least allow to be thinkable should endanger its very being and plunge it into an abyss of scepticism.

Inasmuch as the reality of the concept of freedom is proved by an apodeictic law of practical reason, it is the keystone of the whole system of pure reason, even the speculative, and all other concepts (those of God and immortality) which, as being mere ideas, remain in it unsupported, now attach themselves to this concept, and by it obtain consistence and objective reality; that is to say, their possibility is proved by the fact that freedom actually exists, for this idea is revealed by the moral law.

Freedom, however, is the only one of all the ideas of the speculative reason of which we know the possibility a priori (without, however, understanding it), because it is the condition of the moral law which we know. * The ideas of God and immortality, however, are not conditions of the moral law, but only conditions of the necessary object of a will determined by this law; that is to say, conditions of the practical use of our pure reason. Hence, with respect to these ideas, we cannot affirm that we know and understand, I will not say the actuality, but even the possibility of them. However they are the conditions of the application of the morally determined will to its object, which is given to it a priori, viz., the summum bonum. Consequently in this practical point of view their possibility must be assumed, although we cannot theoretically know and understand it. To justify this assumption it is sufficient, in a practical point of view, that they contain no intrinsic impossibility (contradiction). Here we have what, as far as speculative reason is concerned, is a merely subjective principle of assent, which, however, is objectively valid for a reason equally pure but practical, and this principle, by means of the concept of freedom, assures objective reality and authority to the ideas of God and immortality. Nay, there is a subjective necessity (a need of pure reason) to assume them. Nevertheless the theoretical knowledge of reason is not hereby enlarged, but only the possibility is given, which heretofore was merely a problem and now becomes assertion, and thus the practical use of reason is connected with the elements of theoretical reason. And this need is not a merely hypothetical one for the arbitrary purposes of speculation, that we must assume something if we wish in speculation to carry reason to its utmost limits, but it is a need which has the force of law to assume something without which that cannot be which we must inevitably set before us as the aim of our action.


By this also I can understand why the most considerable objections which I have as yet met with against the Critique turn about these two points, namely, on the one side, the objective reality of the categories as applied to noumena, which is in the theoretical department of knowledge denied, in the practical affirmed; and on the other side, the paradoxical demand to regard oneself qua subject of freedom as a noumenon, and at the same time from the point of view of physical nature as a phenomenon in one's own empirical consciousness; for as long as one has formed no definite notions of morality and freedom, one could not conjecture on the one side what was intended to be the noumenon, the basis of the alleged phenomenon, and on the other side it seemed doubtful whether it was at all possible to form any notion of it, seeing that we had previously assigned all the notions of the pure understanding in its theoretical use exclusively to phenomena. Nothing but a detailed criticism of the practical reason can remove all this misapprehension and set in a clear light the consistency which constitutes its greatest merit.


Of the Idea of a Critique of Practical Reason.
The theoretical use of reason was concerned with objects of the cognitive faculty only, and a critical examination of it with reference to this use applied properly only to the pure faculty of cognition; because this raised the suspicion, which was afterwards confirmed, that it might easily pass beyond its limits, and be lost among unattainable objects, or even contradictory notions. It is quite different with the practical use of reason. In this, reason is concerned with the grounds of determination of the will, which is a faculty either to produce objects corresponding to ideas, or to determine ourselves to the effecting of such objects (whether the physical power is sufficient or not); that is, to determine our causality. For here, reason can at least attain so far as to determine the will, and has always objective reality in so far as it is the volition only that is in question. The first question here then is whether pure reason of itself alone suffices to determine the will, or whether it can be a ground of determination only as dependent on empirical conditions. Now, here there comes in a notion of causality justified by the critique of the pure reason, although not capable of being presented empirically, viz., that of freedom; and if we can now discover means of proving that this property does in fact belong to the human will (and so to the will of all rational beings), then it will not only be shown that pure reason can be practical, but that it alone, and not reason empirically limited, is indubitably practical; consequently, we shall have to make a critical examination, not of pure practical reason, but only of practical reason generally. For when once pure reason is shown to exist, it needs no critical examination. For reason itself contains the standard for the critical examination of every use of it. The critique, then, of practical reason generally is bound to prevent the empirically conditioned reason from claiming exclusively to furnish the ground of determination of the will. If it is proved that there is a [practical] reason, its employment is alone immanent; the empirically conditioned use, which claims supremacy, is on the contrary transcendent and expresses itself in demands and precepts which go quite beyond its sphere. This is just the opposite of what might be said of pure reason in its speculative employment.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Louis Pojman and Non-contradiction

The principle of non-contradiction is necessary for the very possibility of thought, including the thought of the principle itself.  Its denial is self-refuting since to deny the principle depends on the very principle itself.  For if the principle of non-contradiction is not true, then the denial of its denial is just as valid as the denial itself.

Louis P. Pojman
Philosophical Traditions 2nd edition
Pg 194

1.  What is the form of argument Pojman is using?
2.  Contrast this with Hume on causation.
3.  How does Pojman link the principle of non-contradiction and thought/belief?
4.  What is a law of thought?  How can we know there are laws of thought?

Reading #37: Hume on Causation

SECTION III.: Why a cause is always necessary.

To begin with the first question concerning the necessity of a cause: ’Tis a general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence. This is commonly taken for granted in all reasonings, without any proof given or demanded. ’Tis suppos’d to be founded on intuition, and to be one of those maxims, which tho’ they may be deny’d with the lips, ’tis impossible for men in their hearts really to doubt of. But if we examine this maxim by the idea of knowledge above-explain’d, we shall discover in it no mark of any such intuitive certainty; but on the contrary shall find, that ’tis of a nature quite foreign to that species of conviction.

All certainty arises from the comparison of ideas, and from the discovery of such relations as are unalterable, so long as the ideas continue the same. These relations are resemblance, proportions in quantity and number, degrees of any quality, and contrariety; none of which are imply’d in this proposition, Whatever has a beginning has also a cause of existence. That proposition therefore is not intuitively certain. At least any one, who wou’d assert it to be intuitively certain, must deny these to be the only infallible relations, and must find some other relation of that kind to be imply’d in it; which it will then be time enough to examine.

But here is an argument, which proves at once, that the foregoing proposition is neither intuitively nor demonstrably certain. We can never demonstrate the necessity of a cause to every new existence, or new modification of existence, without shewing at the same time the impossibility there is, that any thing can ever begin to exist without some productive principle; and where the latter proposition cannot be prov’d, we must despair of ever being able to prove the former. Now that the latter proposition is utterly incapable of a demonstrative proof, we may satisfy ourselves by considering, that as all distinct ideas are separable from each other, and as the ideas of cause and effect are evidently distinct, ’twill be easy for us to conceive any object to be non-existent this moment, and existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause or productive principle. The separation, therefore, of the idea of a cause from that of a beginning of existence, is plainly possible for the imagination; and consequently the actual separation of these objects is so far possible, that it implies no contradiction nor absurdity; and is therefore incapable of being refuted by any reasoning from mere ideas; without which ’tis impossible to demonstrate the necessity of a cause.
Accordingly we shall find upon examination, that every demonstration, which has been produc’d for the necessity of a cause, is fallacious and sophistical. All the points of time and place,1 say some philosophers, in which we can suppose any object to begin to exist, are in themselves equal; and unless there be some cause, which is peculiar to one time and to one place, and which by that means determines and fixes the existence, it must remain in eternal suspence; and the object can never begin to be, for want of something to fix its beginning. But I ask; Is there any more difficulty in supposing the time and place to be fix’d without a cause, than to suppose the existence to be determin’d in that manner? The first question that occurs on this subject is always, whether the object shall exist or not: The next, when and where it shall begin to exist. If the removal of a cause be intuitively absurd in the one case, it must be so in the other: And if that absurdity be not clear without a proof in the one case, it will equally require one in the other. The absurdity, then, of the one supposition can never be a proof of that of the other; since they are both upon the same footing, and must stand or fall by the same reasoning.

The second argument, which I find us’d on this head, labours under an equal difficulty. Every thing, ’tis said, must have a cause; for if any thing wanted a cause, it wou’d produce itself; that is, exist before it existed; which is impossible. But this reasoning is plainly unconclusive; because it supposes, that in our denial of a cause we still grant what we expressly deny, viz. that there must be a cause; which therefore is taken to be the object itself; and that, no doubt, is an evident contradiction. But to say that any thing is produc’d, or to express myself more properly, comes into existence, without a cause, is not to affirm, that ’tis itself its own cause; but on the contrary in excluding all external causes, excludes a fortiori the thing itself which is created. An object, that exists absolutely without any cause, certainly is not its own cause; and when you assert, that the one follows from the other, you suppose the very point in question, and take it for granted, that ’tis utterly impossible any thing can ever begin to exist without a cause, but that upon the exclusion of one productive principle, we must still have recourse to another.

’Tis exactly the same case with the third argument, which has been employ’d to demonstrate the necessity of a cause. Whatever is produc’d without any cause, is produc’d by nothing; or in other words, has nothing for its cause. But nothing can never be a cause, no more than it can be something, or equal to two right angles. By the same intuition, that we perceive nothing not to be equal to two right angles, or not to be something, we perceive, that it can never be a cause; and consequently must perceive, that every object has a real cause of its existence.

I believe it will not be necessary to employ many words in shewing the weakness of this argument, after what I have said of the foregoing. They are all of them founded on the same fallacy, and are deriv’d from the same turn of thought. ’Tis sufficient only to observe, that when we exclude all causes we really do exclude them, and neither suppose nothing nor the object itself to be the causes of the existence; and consequently can draw no argument from the absurdity of these suppositions to prove the absurdity of that exclusion. If every thing must have a cause, it follows, that upon the exclusion of other causes we must accept of the object itself or of nothing as causes. But ’tis the very point in question, whether every thing must have a cause or not; and therefore, according to all just reasoning, it ought never to be taken for granted.

They are still more frivolous, who say, that every effect must have a cause, because ’tis imply’d in the very idea of effect. Every effect necessarily pre-supposes a cause; effect being a relative term, of which cause is the correlative. But this does not prove, that every being must be preceded by a cause; no more than it follows, because every husband must have a wife, that therefore every man must be marry’d. The true state of the question is, whether every object, which begins to exist, must owe its existence to a cause; and this I assert neither to be intuitively nor demonstratively certain, and hope to have prov’d it sufficiently by the foregoing arguments.

Since it is not from knowledge or any scientific reasoning, that we derive the opinion of the necessity of a cause to every new production, that opinion must necessarily arise from observation and experience. The next question, then, shou’d naturally be, how experience gives rise to such a principle? But as I find it will be more convenient to sink this question in the following, Why we conclude, that such particular causes must necessarily have such particular effects, and why we form an inference from one to another? we shall make that the subject of our future enquiry. ’Twill, perhaps, be found in the end, that the same answer will serve for both questions.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Reading #36: John Locke: Knowledge of the Nature of God

John Locke
Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Book IV 
Chapter X

Of our Knowledge of the Existence of a God
1. We are capable of knowing certainly that there is a God. Though God has given us no innate ideas of himself; though he has stamped no original characters on our minds, wherein we may read his being; yet having furnished us with those faculties our minds are endowed with, he hath not left himself without witness: since we have sense, perception, and reason, and cannot want a clear proof of him, as long as we carry ourselves about us. Nor can we justly complain of our ignorance in this great point; since he has so plentifully provided us with the means to discover and know him; so far as is necessary to the end of our being, and the great concernment of our happiness. But, though this be the most obvious truth that reason discovers, and though its evidence be (if I mistake not) equal to mathematical certainty: yet it requires thought and attention; and the mind must apply itself to a regular deduction of it from some part of our intuitive knowledge, or else we shall be as uncertain and ignorant of this as of other propositions, which are in themselves capable of clear demonstration. To show, therefore, that we are capable of knowing, i.e. being certain that there is a God, and how we may come by this certainty, I think we need go no further than ourselves, and that undoubted knowledge we have of our own existence.
2. For man knows that he himself exists. I think it is beyond question, that man has a clear idea of his own being; he knows certainly he exists, and that he is something. He that can doubt whether he be anything or no, I speak not to; no more than I would argue with pure nothing, or endeavour to convince nonentity that it were something. If any one pretends to be so sceptical as to deny his own existence, (for really to doubt of it is manifestly impossible,) let him for me enjoy his beloved happiness of being nothing, until hunger or some other pain convince him of the contrary. This, then, I think I may take for a truth, which every one's certain knowledge assures him of, beyond the liberty of doubting, viz. that he is something that actually exists.
3 He knows also that nothing cannot produce a being; therefore something must have existed from eternity. In the next place, man knows, by an intuitive certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real being, than it can be equal to two right angles. If a man knows not that nonentity, or the absence of all being, cannot be equal to two right angles, it is impossible he should know any demonstration in Euclid. If, therefore, we know there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else.
4. And that eternal Being must be most powerful. Next, it is evident, that what had its being and beginning from another, must also have all that which is in and belongs to its being from another too. All the powers it has must be owing to and received from the same source. This eternal source, then, of all being must also be the source and original of all power; and so this eternal Being must be also the most powerful.
5. And most knowing. Again, a man finds in himself perception and knowledge. We have then got one step further; and we are certain now that there is not only some being, but some knowing, intelligent being in the world. There was a time, then, when there was no knowing being, and when knowledge began to be; or else there has been also a knowing being from eternity. If it be said, there was a time when no being had any knowledge, when that eternal being was void of all understanding; I reply, that then it was impossible there should ever have been any knowledge: it being as impossible that things wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without any perception, should produce a knowing being, as it is impossible that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones. For it is as repugnant to the idea of senseless matter, that it should put into itself sense, perception, and knowledge, as it is repugnant to the idea of a triangle, that it should put into itself greater angles than two right ones.
6. And therefore God. Thus, from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth,- That there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing Being; which whether any one will please to call God, it matters not. The thing is evident; and from this idea duly considered, will easily be deduced all those other attributes, which we ought to ascribe to this eternal Being. If, nevertheless, any one should be found so senselessly arrogant, as to suppose man alone knowing and wise, but yet the product of mere ignorance and chance; and that all the rest of the universe acted only by that blind haphazard; I shall leave with him that very rational and emphatical rebuke of Tully (I. ii. De Leg.), to be considered at his leisure: "What can be more sillily arrogant and misbecoming, than for a man to think that he has a mind and understanding in him, but yet in all the universe beside there is no such thing? Or that those things, which with the utmost stretch of his reason he can scarce comprehend, should be moved and managed without any reason at all?" Quid est enim verius, quam neminem esse oportere tam stulte arrogantem, ut in se mentem et rationem putet inesse, in caelo mundoque non putet? Aut ea quae vix summa ingenii ratione comprehendat, nulla ratione moveri putet?
From what has been said, it is plain to me we have a more certain knowledge of the existence of a God, than of anything our senses have not immediately discovered to us. Nay, I presume I may say, that we more certainly know that there is a God, than that there is anything else without us. When I say we know, I mean there is such a knowledge within our reach which we cannot miss, if we will but apply our minds to that, as we do to several other inquiries.
7. Our idea of a most perfect Being, not the sole proof of a God. How far the idea of a most perfect being, which a man may frame in his mind, does or does not prove the existence of a God, I will not here examine. For in the different make of men's tempers and application of their thoughts, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another, for the confirmation of the same truth. But yet, I think, this I may say, that it is an ill way of establishing this truth, and silencing atheists, to lay the whole stress of so important a point as this upon that sole foundation: and take some men's having that idea of God in their minds, (for it is evident some men have none, and some worse than none, and the most very different,) for the only proof of a Deity; and out of an over fondness of that darling invention, cashier, or at least endeavour to invalidate all other arguments; and forbid us to hearken to those proofs, as being weak or fallacious, which our own existence, and the sensible parts of the universe offer so clearly and cogently to our thoughts, that I deem it impossible for a considering man to withstand them. For I judge it as certain and clear a truth as can anywhere be delivered, that "the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." Though our own being furnishes us, as I have shown, with an evident and incontestable proof of a Deity; and I believe nobody can avoid the cogency of it, who will but as carefully attend to it, as to any other demonstration of so many parts: yet this being so fundamental a truth, and of that consequence, that all religion and genuine morality depend thereon, I doubt not but I shall be forgiven by my reader if I go over some parts of this argument again, and enlarge a little more upon them.
8. Recapitulation- something from eternity. There is no truth more evident than that something must be from eternity. I never yet heard of any one so unreasonable, or that could suppose so manifest a contradiction, as a time wherein there was perfectly nothing. This being of all absurdities the greatest, to imagine that pure nothing, the perfect negation and absence of all beings, should ever produce any real existence.
It being, then, unavoidable for all rational creatures to conclude, that something has existed from eternity; let us next see what kind of thing that must be.
9. Two sorts of beings, cogitative and incogitative. There are but two sorts of beings in the world that man knows or conceives.
First, such as are purely material, without sense, perception, or thought, as the clippings of our beards, and parings of our nails.
Secondly, sensible, thinking, perceiving beings, such as we find ourselves to be. Which, if you please, we will hereafter call cogitative and incogitative beings; which to our present purpose, if for nothing else, are perhaps better terms than material and immaterial.
10. Incogitative being cannot produce a cogitative being. If, then, there must be something eternal, let us see what sort of being it must be. And to that it is very obvious to reason, that it must necessarily be a cogitative being. For it is as impossible to conceive that ever bare incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent being, as that nothing should of itself produce matter. Let us suppose any parcel of matter eternal, great or small, we shall find it, in itself, able to produce nothing. For example: let us suppose the matter of the next pebble we meet with eternal, closely united, and the parts firmly at rest together; if there were no other being in the world, must it not eternally remain so, a dead inactive lump? Is it possible to conceive it can add motion to itself, being purely matter, or produce anything? Matter, then, by its own strength, cannot produce in itself so much as motion: the motion it has must also be from eternity, or else be produced, and added to matter by some other being more powerful than matter; matter, as is evident, having not power to produce motion in itself. But let us suppose motion eternal too: yet matter, incogitative matter and motion, whatever changes it might produce of figure and bulk, could never produce thought: knowledge will still be as far beyond the power of motion and matter to produce, as matter is beyond the power of nothing or nonentity to produce. And I appeal to every one's own thoughts, whether he cannot as easily conceive matter produced by nothing, as thought to be produced by pure matter, when, before, there was no such thing as thought or an intelligent being existing? Divide matter into as many parts as you will, (which we are apt to imagine a sort of spiritualizing, or making a thinking thing of it,) vary the figure and motion of it as much as you please- a globe, cube, cone, prism, cylinder, &c., whose diameters are but 100,000th part of a gry, will operate no otherwise upon other bodies of proportionable bulk, than those of an inch or foot diameter; and you may as rationally expect to produce sense, thought, and knowledge, by putting together, in a certain figure and motion, gross particles of matter, as by those that are the very minutest that do anywhere exist. They knock, impel, and resist one another, just as the greater do; and that is all they can do. So that, if we will suppose nothing first or eternal, matter can never begin to be: if we suppose bare matter without motion, eternal, motion can never begin to be: if we suppose only matter and motion first, or eternal, thought can never begin to be. For it is impossible to conceive that matter, either with or without motion, could have, originally, in and from itself, sense, perception, and knowledge; as is evident from hence, that then sense, perception, and knowledge, must be a property eternally inseparable from matter and every particle of it. Not to add, that, though our general or specific conception of matter makes us speak of it as one thing, yet really all matter is not one individual thing, neither is there any such thing existing as one material being, or one single body that we know or can conceive. And therefore, if matter were the eternal first cogitative being, there would not be one eternal, infinite, cogitative being, but an infinite number of eternal, finite, cogitative beings, independent one of another, of limited force, and distinct thoughts, which could never produce that order, harmony, and beauty which are to be found in nature. Since, therefore, whatsoever is the first eternal being must necessarily be cogitative; and whatsoever is first of all things must necessarily contain in it, and actually have, at least, all the perfections that can ever after exist; nor can it ever give to another any perfection that it hath not either actually in itself, or, at least, in a higher degree; it necessarily follows, that the first eternal being cannot be matter.
11. Therefore, there has been an eternal cogitative Being. If, therefore, it be evident, that something necessarily must exist from eternity, it is also as evident, that that something must necessarily be a cogitative being: for it is as impossible that incogitative matter should produce a cogitative being, as that nothing, or the negation of all being, should produce a positive being or matter.
12. The attributes of the eternal cogitative Being. Though this discovery of the necessary existence of an eternal Mind does sufficiently lead us into the knowledge of God; since it will hence follow, that all other knowing beings that have a beginning must depend on him, and have no other ways of knowledge or extent of power than what he gives them; and therefore, if he made those, he made also the less excellent pieces of this universe,- all inanimate beings, whereby his omniscience, power, and providence will be established, and all his other attributes necessarily follow: yet, to clear up this a little further, we will see what doubts can be raised against it.
13. Whether the eternal Mind may he also material or no. First, Perhaps it will be said, that, though it be as clear as demonstration can make it, that there must be an eternal Being, and that Being must also be knowing: yet it does not follow but that thinking Being may also be material. Let it be so, it equally still follows that there is a God. For if there be an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent Being, it is certain that there is a God, whether you imagine that Being to be material or no. But herein, I suppose, lies the danger and deceit of that supposition:- there being no way to avoid the demonstration, that there is an eternal knowing Being, men, devoted to matter, would willingly have it granted, that this knowing Being is material; and then, letting slide out of their minds, or the discourse, the demonstration whereby an eternal knowing Being was proved necessarily to exist, would argue all to be matter, and so deny a God, that is, an eternal cogitative Being: whereby they are so far from establishing, that they destroy their own hypothesis. For, if there can be, in their opinion, eternal matter, without any eternal cogitative Being, they manifestly separate matter and thinking, and suppose no necessary connexion of the one with the other, and so establish the necessity of an eternal Spirit, but not of matter; since it has been proved already, that an eternal cogitative Being is unavoidably to be granted. Now, if thinking and matter may be separated, the eternal existence of matter will not follow from the eternal existence of a cogitative Being, and they suppose it to no purpose.
14. Not material: first, because each particle of matter is not cogitative. But now let us see how they can satisfy themselves, or others, that this eternal thinking Being is material.
I. I would ask them, whether they imagine that all matter, every particle of matter, thinks? This, I suppose, they will scarce say; since then there would be as many eternal thinking beings as there are particles of matter, and so an infinity of gods. And yet, if they will not allow matter as matter, that is, every particle of matter, to be as well cogitative as extended, they will have as hard a task to make out to their own reasons a cogitative being out of incogitative particles, as an extended being out of unextended parts, if I may so speak.
15. II. Secondly, because one particle alone of matter cannot be cogitative. If all matter does not think, I next ask, Whether it be only one atom that does so? This has as many absurdities as the other; for then this atom of matter must be alone eternal or not. If this alone be eternal, then this alone, by its powerful thought or will, made all the rest of matter. And so we have the creation of matter by a powerful thought, which is that the materialists stick at; for if they suppose one single thinking atom to have produced all the rest of matter, they cannot ascribe that pre-eminency to it upon any other account than that of its thinking, the only supposed difference. But allow it to be by some other way which is above our conception, it must still be creation; and these men must give up their great maxim, Ex nihilo nil fit. If it be said, that all the rest of matter is equally eternal as that thinking atom, it will be to say anything at pleasure, though ever so absurd. For to suppose all matter eternal, and yet one small particle in knowledge and power infinitely above all the rest, is without any the least appearance of reason to frame an hypothesis. Every particle of matter, as matter, is capable of all the same figures and motions of any other; and I challenge any one, in his thoughts, to add anything else to one above another.
16. III. Thirdly, because a system of incogitative matter cannot be cogitative. If then neither one peculiar atom alone can be this eternal thinking being; nor all matter, as matter, i.e. every particle of matter, can be it; it only remains, that it is some certain system of matter, duly put together, that is this thinking eternal Being. This is that which, I imagine, is that notion which men are aptest to have of God; who would have him a material being, as most readily suggested to them by the ordinary conceit they have of themselves and other men, which they take to be material thinking beings. But this imagination, however more natural, is no less absurd than the other: for to suppose the eternal thinking Being to be nothing else but a composition of particles of matter, each whereof is incogitative, is to ascribe all the wisdom and knowledge of that eternal Being only to the juxta-position of parts; than which nothing can be more absurd. For unthinking particles of matter, however put together, can have nothing thereby added to them, but a new relation of position, which it is impossible should give thought and knowledge to them.
17. And that whether this corporeal system is in motion or at rest. But further: this corporeal system either has all its parts at rest, or it is a certain motion of the parts wherein its thinking consists. If it be perfectly at rest, it is but one lump, and so can have no privileges above one atom.
If it be the motion of its parts on which its thinking depends, all the thoughts there must be unavoidably accidental and limited; since all the particles that by motion cause thought, being each of them in itself without any thought, cannot regulate its own motions, much less be regulated by the thought of the whole; since that thought is not the cause of motion, (for then it must be antecedent to it, and so without it,) but the consequence of it; whereby freedom, power, choice, and all rational and wise thinking or acting, will be quite taken away: so that such a thinking being will be no better nor wiser than pure blind matter; since to resolve all into the accidental unguided motions of blind matter, or into thought depending on unguided motions of blind matter, is the same thing: not to mention the narrowness of such thoughts and knowledge that must depend on the motion of such parts. But there needs no enumeration of any more absurdities and impossibilities in this hypothesis (however full of them it be) than that before mentioned; since, let this thinking system be all or a part of the matter of the universe, it is impossible that any one particle should either know its own, or the motion of any other particle, or the whole know the motion of every particle; and so regulate its own thoughts or motions, or indeed have any thought resulting from such motion.
18. Matter not co-eternal with an eternal Mind. Secondly, Others would have Matter to be eternal, notwithstanding that they allow an eternal, cogitative, immaterial Being. This, though it take not away the being of a God, yet, since it denies one and the first great piece of his workmanship, the creation, let us consider it a little. Matter must be allowed eternal: Why? because you cannot conceive how it can be made out of nothing: why do you not also think yourself eternal? You will answer, perhaps, Because, about twenty or forty years since, you began to be. But if I ask you, what that you is, which began then to be, you can scarce tell me. The matter whereof you are made began not then to be: for if it did, then it is not eternal: but it began to be put together in such a fashion and frame as makes up your body; but yet that frame of particles is not you, it makes not that thinking thing you are; (for I have now to do with one who allows an eternal, immaterial, thinking Being, but would have unthinking Matter eternal too;) therefore, when did that thinking thing begin to be? If it did never begin to be, then have you always been a thinking thing from eternity; the absurdity whereof I need not confute, till I meet with one who is so void of understanding as to own it. If, therefore, you can allow a thinking thing to be made out of nothing, (as all things that are not eternal must be,) why also can you not allow it possible for a material being to be made out of nothing by an equal power, but that you have the experience of the one in view, and not of the other? Though, when well considered, creation of a spirit will be found to require no less power than the creation of matter. Nay, possibly, if we would emancipate ourselves from vulgar notions, and raise our thoughts, as far as they would reach, to a closer contemplation of things, we might be able to aim at some dim and seeming conception how matter might at first be made, and begin to exist, by the power of that eternal first Being: but to give beginning and being to a spirit would be found a more inconceivable effect of omnipotent power. But this being what would perhaps lead us too far from the notions on which the philosophy now in the world is built, it would not be pardonable to deviate so far from them; or to inquire, so far as grammar itself would authorize, if the common settled opinion opposes it: especially in this place, where the received doctrine serves well enough to our present purpose, and leaves this past doubt, that the creation or beginning of any one SUBSTANCE out of nothing being once admitted, the creation of all other but the CREATOR himself, may, with the same ease, be supposed.

Study Questions:
1.  Why does Locke think we can know God with certainty?
2.  What is the argument Locke gives to show that something must be eternal?
3.  What is the argument that Locke gives to show that material being is not eternal?
4.  What is the argument to show that God is immaterial?
5.  What is the argument to show that incogitative being cannot produce cogitative being?
6.  How does Locke show that there are two kinds of being, cogitative and incogitative?
7.  How does Locke deduce the nature of God?
8.  How does Locke show that the material world is not co-eternal with God?
9.  In Locke's view is there any excuse for not knowing God?