Authors
Geoffrey Gorham
Macalester College
Abstract
Locke is famed for his caution in speculative matters: “Men, extending their enquiries beyond their capacities and letting their thoughts wander into those depths where they can find no sure footing; ‘tis no wonder that they raise questions and multiply disputes”. And he is skeptical about the pretensions of natural philosophy, which he says is “not capable of being made a science”. And yet Locke is confident that “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 anyone will please to call God it matters not”. His certainty about the existence and attributes of God, I will argue, led him to surprisingly strong convictions about a deep and disputed problem at the intersection of seventeenth century metaphysics and natural philosophy: the absolute reality of space and time. Specifically, he based his absolutist conceptions of space and time on God’s literal omnipresence and eternity. Leibniz probably had Locke in mind when he inveighed in 1716 against “real absolute space, the idol of some modern Englishmen”. And Leibniz was right a decade earlier to voice through his mouthpiece Theophilus the suspicion that, despite Locke’s claim to know nothing about the substance of void space, “there are grounds for thinking you know more about it than you say or believe that you do. Some people have thought that God is the place of objects”.
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DOI 10.3998/ergo.12405314.0007.007
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