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25 September, 2015 - 10:53

Scholars disagree on just how Locke means to respond to skepticism. But it certainly looks as if he is invoking God at some crucial points in his defense of the reality of knowledge. What follows is Locke’s sketch of his argument for God’s existence; the details are to be found later in IV.x.

(From IV.x.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 …

(From IV.x.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 … 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.

(From IV.x.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, thanit can be equal to two right angles. [I]t is [thus] an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has beensomething; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else.

(From IV.x.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.

(From IV.x.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.

(From IV.x.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, mostpowerful, and most knowing being; which whether any one will please to call God, it matters not.

  1. Locke’s argument for God’s existence, as presented in these passages, looks pretty weak. What’s wrong with it?