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PHIL 4406

4. Locke’s Proof of God In this paper, I will argue that Locke’s cosmological argument for the existence of God, although fraught with objections, must be taken as both sound and valid. First, I will attempt to reconstruct Locke’s argument, detailing each premise and conclusion. Next, I will detail several possible objections to premises one, three, eight, and nine of the proof and juxtapose them with Locke’s rebuttal for each. Finally, I will review and explain why, even after all of the objections, the argument must be considered sound and valid with only a minor addendum to the final conclusion. Using excerpts from his essay, I will now reconstruct Locke’s argument for the existence of God. The argument begins with the simple statement:Aman knows that he exists. Locke assumes that this statement should be obvious to everyone, saying, “I think it is beyond question that man has a clear idea of his own being; he knows he certainly exists and that he is something”(99). Although it is quite obvious to Locke that this statement is true, he still justifies its validity by saying that when we experience feelings like hunger and pain, we know for certain that we exist. Locke jokes that for any man who refuses to acknowledge his existence, “Let him enjoy his beloved happiness of being nothing until hunger or some other pain convinces him of the contrary” (99). The second premise of the proof states:Aman exists. This is really just an amendment to the first premise. Locke relates that a man knows he exists, but how do we go from knowing something exists to something actually existing? We get there through the simple definition of the word ‘know’. To know something, by definition, means that it has to be true. When we get a math question wrong we say, “I thought I was right” or “I believed I was right”. Only when we are correct, can we say “I knew I was right!” Going back to Locke’s proof, because a man knows he exists from his own experience, he does in fact exist. The third premise of the proof claims that something cannot exist from nothing. Locke says in Essay IV.10 that “nothing cannot produce a being”(99) meaning that a being cannot just appear in empty space, it needs to come from something. Locke’s justification for this statement is mainly just that experience tell us this. After this statement, premise number four transforms it into a conditional form: If something exists, then it comes from something else. Logic and common sense allow us to go from premise three to premise four: if a being exists then it cannot come from nothing, therefore it has to come from something. Following from premise two and three, the fourth premise reasons that a man must come from something else. In premise two Locke showed us how “a man does not know nonentity” (99) and therefore must exist. If we plug ‘a man’into the conditional statement of premise four we get:Aman exists, therefore, a man comes from something else. After this premise, the proof makes a gigantic leap from the existence of a man to the existence of an eternal being with no beginning. Locke asserts that, “There is no truth more evident than that something must be from eternity” (100). Locke deduces this sixth premise as follows: Because there exists something that produced the man, the thing from which the man came must also come from something else (premise 4). This pattern (of needing a being to exist in order to produce the following being) continues towards eternity, suggesting that “from eternity there has been something since what was not from eternity had a beginning and what had a beginning was produced by something else”(99). Everything that has a beginning “was produced by something else,” according to Locke, therefore there must be a being with no beginning. Then, by the definition of having no beginning, this being must be eternal. Premise seven of the proof makes the simple claim that man can think and hold passive and active powers. Power, to Locke simply “references the ability to change perceivable ideas” (42). According to Locke, experience illustrates to us that man can hold powers and can think. As I sit here writing this paper, I am thinking about the ideas that I want to express on the page. I exert the power to do so because of language and the keyboard on my computer. Next, the eighth premise states that an “Incognitive being cannot produce a cognitive being” (100) or rather, a non-thinking thing cannot produce a thinking thing. Similarly, power works this way as well:Abeing without power cannot produce a powerful being. Locke justifies this statement by relying on experience. He claims that because our experience has never shown us that an incognitive object can produce a cognitive one, the statement must be true. If this statement is valid, the origin of evolution in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (life developing from non-life) has to be rejected which makes this an extremely controversial claim. I will touch on this more when we look at objections to Locke’s proof. Finally, the conclusion of the entire proof declares that the eternal being, whose existence we proved in premise six, must be all powerful and omniscient. The reasoning for this statement is hinted at in premises six, seven and eight, but it goes something like this: Because a man has the ability to think and hold power, that thing that produced the man must also hold those attributes (premise eight). Since the eternal being begot the first non-eternal thing and is therefore related to everything that has ever existed, the eternal being must have all the possible power and knowledge available in the universe. Now that I have fully described the argument Locke uses to prove the existence of God, I will now offer objections to premises one, three, eight, and nine. Each objection will be immediately followed by how Locke would argue against them. The first objection questions the validity of the statement in premise one. In premise one, Locke states that a man knows that he exists. My first response to this is how do we know that? How do we know others exist or that others know th
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