Thinking Matter in Locke's Proof of God's Existence

Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 9:105-130 (2019)
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Abstract

Commentators almost universally agree that Locke denies the possibility of thinking matter in Book IV Chapter 10 of the Essay. Further, they argue that Locke must do this in order for his proof of God’s existence in the chapter to be successful. This paper disputes these claims and develops an interpretation according to which Locke allows for the possibility that a system of matter could think (even prior to any act of superaddition on God’s part). In addition, the paper argues that this does not destroy Locke’s argument in the chapter, instead it helps to illuminate the nature of it. The paper proceeds in two main stages. First, Locke denies that matter can produce thought. A distinction between two senses of “production” shows that this claim is compatible with the existence of thinking matter. Second, Locke denies that God could be a system of randomly moving particles. Most commentators take this to mean that such a system could not think. But Locke is better interpreted as denying that such a system could have the wisdom and knowledge of God.

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Patrick J. Connolly
Johns Hopkins University

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