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5. Of seeing all things in God [=An Examination of P. Malebranche’s Opinion] (1693)


MS Locke d.3, pp. 1-86. Extensive discussion of Nicolas Malebranche’s Recherche de la vérité, III.II.i-vii and the ‘Eclaircissements sur la nature des Idées’ (‘=’Eclaircissement X’). Locke used the fourth edition of the Recherche (Paris: A. Pralard, 1698), see LL 1883. ‘Of seeing’ was originally projected as addition to the Essay, but not included. First published as An Examination of P. Malebranche’s Opinion of Seeing All Things In God in PW (1706). Locke’s original section numbers are given in the normalized version in blue, followed by the corrected series of King’s section numbers, also in blue. Marginal references by Locke to Norris and Malebranche are presented in the normalized and diplomatic versions, between the relevant blue symbols. The scribal copy (F) is collated with PW (W) (copy British Library


[1] See [27], [28], [45], [47], [49], [87], [98].


[2] MS Locke d.3, pp. 1-86; see MS Locke d.3 [1]-MS Locke d.3 [10].

Sections - differences with the Posthumous Works

[3] The treatise is devided into 61 sections, each section consisting of one or more paragraphs. Section numbers 1, 2, 3, are entered at the start of the relevant new paragraph, number 4 is entered not only at the start of the relevant new paragraph but also on the left side of the right half of the page on the place corresponding with the start of a new paragraph, while all later number were entered exclusively in the latter way. Section numbers are reproduced in the transcription, followed by a dot by the editors. For a description of the original section numbers see above MS Locke d.3 [7]. Table 7 first gives the original section numbers; then the often erratic numbering in the Posthumous Works; and finally a corrected version of King’s numbering, used in subsequent editions. In the present edition the original section numbers are used, followed by the corrected series of King’s numbers. Differences between the original section numbers and PW have been ignored in the collation. The difference between the first and the second series is caused by King’s suppression of the initial sections. King suppressed the complete first section, the second half of the second section, the complete third and fourth section, and the middle part of the fifth section. King also omitted the following sentence in sect. 29: ‘A certain Gent I know, would have found fault with this want of method in another, and to tell where Ideas were to be seen, before he had told us, what they were would have been an unpardonable fault to him.’ All suppressed fragments contain sarcastic references or allusions to John Norris.

Other differences with King’s edition

[4] The manuscript text of ‘Of seeing’ contains a large number of substantial and accidental changes (substantial: new words; accidental:changes in capitalization and interpunction). Most changes are in the hand of Locke, but there are also numerous corrections in the hand of his scribe. Most changes reappear in King’s edition, but not all. See the collation. There are at least eleven substantial changes, mostly in Locke’s hand, that do not reappear in King’s edition.

In the following three examples, deletions are given between square brackets and additions in italics. (1) ‘as grosse thoughts as a country maid would have of an infinite butterprint in which w[as]ere ingraven figures of all sorts and sizes’ (sect. 23); King prints was rather than were. (2) ‘Therefore God has given him self for the Idea, and immediate object of the knowledg of all humane mindes’ (sect. 40); King prints or rather than and. (3) But then to say that we partake [in] of the knowledge of God or consult his understanding is what I cannot receive for true (sect. 59); King prints in rather than of.

King possessed MS Locke d.3; if Locke’s emendations in this manuscript do not appear in King’s edition, than it is possible that he simply chose to reject Locke’s changes, but there is an alternative scenario that explains the facts. King possibly used an anterior version, if not exclusively then at least partly, probably in Locke’s own hand, that did not yet contain the changes made in the later neat version in the hand of Locke’s scribe. King’s use of this older version would explain why he missed the later changes (1) and (3) and the addition (2) in MS Locke d.3. Confronted with an omission at point (2) in the older manuscript, he supplied or where Locke had added and in MS Locke d.3. However, most changes made in MS Locke d.3 were included in King’s edition. If these changes in MS Locke d.3 were included in King’s edition, how can he have used an earlier version rather than MS Locke d.3 itself?

Consider the following three examples, this time of changes in MS Locke d.3 that can also be found in King’s edition: (4) ‘But it shews not why a soule united to a body as ours is. cannot by that body have the Idea of a triangle Excited in it as well as by being united to God (between whom and the soule there is as little proportion as between any creature immaterial or material & the Soule) see in God the Idea of a triangle that is in him since we cannot conceive a triangle whether seen in matter or in God to be without Extension’ (sect. 9); (5) ‘how can he know that there is any such real being in the world as the sun? Did he ever see the sun?’ (sect. 24). (6) ‘which seemes to me a quite contrary way of argueing to what the Apostle uses, where he says that the invisible things [that] of god are seen by the visible things that he has made’ (sect. 41).

Whereas (1)-(2)-(3) are real changes or additions, resulting in a change of meaning of the text, (4)-(5)-(6) are mere corrections. Without these corrections, each phrase would result in non-grammatical nonsense. Locke usually wrote correct sentences, even in his first drafts. The errors (4)-(5)-(6) are evidently made by Locke’s scribe when he copied an older version of the text. When the scribe had finished his (rather poor) job, he checked the result against the original; and he then handed both original and copy to Locke, who checked the work of his scribe. In this way both the scribe and Locke himself made corrections through which, by and large, the copied text was identical with the original text. In this way, the presence in King’s edition of corrections made in MS Locke d.3, does not militate against a hypothesis concerning King’s use, exclusively or at least partly, of the earlier manuscript.

Relation with ‘Loose thoughts’

[5] In MS Locke d.3, ‘Loose thoughts’ comes after ‘Of seeing’, see above, MS Locke d.3 [6]. When Des Maizeaux published ‘Loose thoughts’ in SP, he assumed that it is was written after ‘Of seeing’. In the ‘Dedication’ to SP he wrote: ‘It is in a manner the sequel of a much larger discourse, printed in the year 1706, among the posthumous Works of Mr. LOCKE. Our Author had resolved to give that subject a thorough examination; and this small piece is but a sketch, containing some cursory reflections, which he had thrown together, in reading some of Mr. NORRIS’S Books. Accordingly, I find these words in his Manuscript, written before those Remarks: Some other Thoughts, which I set down, as they came in my way, in a hasty perusal of some of Mr. NORRIS’S Writings, to be better digested, when I shall have leisure to make an end of this Argument. And at the end of them he hath added these words: The finishing of these hasty thoughts, must be defer’d to another season.’ Des Maizeaux’s assumption that ‘Loose thougths’ was written after ‘Of seeing’, and that the word other in the title of the former was a reference to the latter text has, to the knowledge of the editors, never been challenged. Judged from the contents of the two texts, however, this order seems questionable.

We know that both texts are related to Locke’s disagreement with Norris, occasioned by Robert Pawling’s letter of 22 October 1692 to Locke (see [12]). The two texts were written after the short and angry ‘Answer to Norris, which is a reaction to Norris’s Cursory Reflections (1690). When Locke wrote ‘Of seeing’, he devoted the first sections again to the Cursory Reflections, but in sect. 5 he takes leave of Norris’s text and turns to Malebranche instead: ‘He [Norris] will pardon me if I have recourse for my information to him that is looked on as the author of it [the hypothesis concering the Vision in God]...’ The rest of ‘Of seeing’ consists of a long and thorough discussion of the chapters vi and vii Malebranche’s Recherche, III.II, followed by a discussion of the ‘Éclaircissement X’, which pertain all to the ‘Vision in God’. Locke never regarded ‘Of seeing’ as a finished text:

  1. (1) He ended the text with the words ‘Thus far 1693’, which he added in his own words to the copy produced by his scribe.
  2. (2) He wrote to William Molyneux on 8 March 1693 that he had ‘...examined P. Malbranche’s opinion concerning seeing all things in God, and to my own satisfaction laid open the vanity, and inconsistency, and unintelligibleness of that way of explaining humane understanding. I have gone almost, but not quite, through it, and know not whether I now ever shall finish it, being fully satisfyed my self about writ concerning seeing all things in God’ (see [45]).
  3. (3) On 26 April 1695 he informed Molyneux that he had ‘not quite gone through’ ‘What I have writ concerning all things in God’ (see [49]).
  4. (4) On 21 March 1704 he wrote to Anthony Collins: ‘I know not whether I ever shewd you an occasional scatch of mine about Seeing all things in god if I did not, If it please god I live to see you here again I will shew it you and some other things’ (see [97]).
  5. (5) In his letter of 4 and 25 October 1704 to Peter King he mentions ‘Of seeing’ as one of several items ‘which are very little more than extemporary views, layd down in suddain and imperfect draughts, which though intended to be revised and farther looked into afterwards, yet by the intervention of business, or preferable enquiries happend to be thrust aside and so lay neglected and sometimes quite forgotten’ (see [98]).

Yet although ‘Of seeing’ needed an editorial hand (if only to prune its many redundancies), it gives a complete discussion of the Vision in God. As Locke wrote himself in his letter of 26 April 1695 to Molyneux: ‘What I have writ concerning seeing all things in God, would make a little treatise of it self’ (see [49]).

All but the first five sections of ‘Of seeing’ are devoted to a discussion of Malebranche himself. ‘Loose thoughts’, on the other hand, starts in the same way as ‘Of seeing’: with angry remarks about Norris’s Cursory Reflections. These remarks are then followed not by a discussion of Malebranche himself, but rather with a brief and sketchy discussion of Norris’s Reason and Religion (1689), especially (though not exclusively) Norris’s defense of the Malebranchean ‘Vision in God’. The short discussion in ‘Loose thoughts’ adds very little to what is discussed at great length in ‘Of seeing’. In addition, in ‘Loose thoughts’ Locke (still) discusses Malebranche indirectly, while in ‘Of seeing’ he had come to reject this procedure in favour of a direct discussion of Malebranche himself. Given these considerations of content, it is attractive to regard ‘Loose thoughts’ as a prequel rather than a sequel to ‘Of seeing’.

Although the sizes of the quires of MS Locke d.3 (see MS Locke c.28, fols 107r-112v [2]) suggest that Locke’s scribe copied ‘Loose thoughts’ after ‘Of seeing’, this does not automatically mean that Locke conceived the former text before the latter. It is quite possible that the place of ‘Loose thoughts’ after ‘Of seeing’ merely reflects the order in which the scribe had copied the texts. It should also be noted that the page numbers on the quires of ‘Loose thoughts’ had first been assigned a separate new series (probably) starting with 1. Only later was this series discarded in favour of a continuation of the series that had started in ‘Of seeing’ (see MS Locke d.3 [5]).

But if ‘Loose thoughts’ was conceived before ‘Of seeing’, then the question arises to what the word other refers in its title: ‘Some other loose thoughts’. Des Maizeaux must have assumed that this referred to ‘Of seeing’, but and alternative could be the ‘Answer to Norris’. Another possibility would be that the word other was added later, after the first versions of both ‘Loose thoughts’ and ‘Of seeing’ had already been produced.

Nevertheless it is difficult to decide which work was produced first; we have suggested February-March 1693 as the time of composition of sect. 7 of ‘Loose thoughts’ (see 3. Some other loose thoughts [=Remarks upon some of Mr. Norris’s Books], 1693 [5]), but most of ‘Of seeing’ seems to have been completed in March of the same year (see above (2)).

To summarize: given the content of ‘Loose thoughts’ and ‘Of seeing’, it is attractive to present the former text before the latter, but we have no firm evidence for a verdict on the order in which these texts were produced.


[6] The title of ‘Of seeing’ in the endorsement is followed by 1693. The endorsement is in Locke’s own hand and is preceded by his initials. Most of ‘Of seeing’ was completed by March 1693 (see [5] (2)).


[7] Printed in 1706 in PW, pp. 140-213; the copy-text is collated with this publication.

Yolton, John Locke a Descriptive Bibliography, nr. 249, p. 299.
MS Locke c.24, fol. 285r, letter 3188, Corr. viii, pp. 676-677.
Cf. Greetham, Textual Scholarship, p. 172 and pp. 211-213.
Cf. Locke’s farewell letter to P. King, 4 and 25 October 1704, letter 3647, Corr. viii, p. 416: ‘If my Paraphrase and notes on the Ephesians are not wholy transcribed before I dye (as I fear they will not. For however earnestly I have pressed it again and again I have not been able to prevaile with Will to dispatch the two first Chapters in three months) you must get it to be transcribed out of my filed papers after I am dead, that so it may be in a condition to be in a condition to be printed. Will after all I think be the fitest to transcribe them because he can read my hand and knows my way of writeing with the use of the references.’
Corr. viii, p. 424.
MS Locke c.35, fol. 6v.
Letter 3647, Corr. viii, p. 417, n. 1.
MS Locke f.10, p. 495.
MS Locke c.1, p. 342.
MS Locke f.10, p. 492.
Op. cit. no page number.
This fact confirms the assertion of the editors that MS Locke c.28 did not function as printer’s copy for PW.
For what probably amounts to an internal reference to the Essay that was left unchanged, see par. 64: ‘this essay’.
That pp. 52-56 give a part of the ‘Conduct’ seems to have escaped Long, A Summary Catalogue, although he remarks, p. 30: ‘The draft [containing both the Essay-part and the ‘Conduct’-part] is longer than the printed version [containing only the Essay-part].’
‘Introduction’ to Locke, Conduct, ed. Yolton, p. vii.
For the relation between the paragraph numbers of the ‘Conduct’ in the present edition and the source manuscripts, the Essay and PW see Table 3).
See Milton, ‘Pierre Des Maizeaux’, pp. 274-278.
Alternative dates: see Sargentich, ‘Locke and Ethical Theory’, p. 24: ‘Although the first manuscript piece, “Morality”, is undated, since it is highly hedonistic, it was probably written relatively late in Locke’s life.’ But ‘pleasure’ is a pervasive element in practically all of Locke’s ethical fragments, so its appearance does not contribute much towards dating the fragment. Goldie, p. 267 suggests as dates c. 1677-1678, but does not give a reason for his choice.
The last part of ‘Ethica C’, captioned under ‘Law’, is dated c. 1693 by Goldie, p. 328, but Goldie does not give a reason for his choice.
Cf. Essay, notes on p. 640 and p. 454 respectively.
See Works, 4, p. 184.
‘Liberty’ is included as letter 1798 in Corr. v, 159-160.
Cf. ‘Enthusiasm’, Essay, IV.xix.15, p. 705: ‘These and several the like Instances to be found among the Prophets of old, are enough to shew, that they thought not an inward seeing or perswasion of their own Minds without any other Proof a sufficient Evidence, that it was from GOD, though the Scripture does not every where mention their demanding or having such Proofs.’
See Milton, ‘Manservant as Amanuensis: Sylvester Brounower’, p. 79, note 4.
See Essay,IV.iii.6; see also ‘Ballance’.