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Locke’s conception of God’s manner of being present everywhere is unclear. As Jasper Reid noted in The Metaphysics of Henry More, Locke seemed to agree with the Cambridge Platonist Henry More that God, like spirits, is substantially present in space (a conception which More labelled “anti-Nullibism”); however, it is not clear whether he endorsed More’s idea of God as an infinitely extended being, filling space with His amplitude of presence, or rather the alternative, scholastic conception, which More named “holenmerism” and which affirmed that God is present everywhere as a whole in the whole and a whole in the parts. The paper attempts to explore this question in detail by focusing on an episode in Locke’s later correspondence, which suggests that he voluntarily maintained an ambiguous attitude towards holenmerism. The episode focuses on the dispute which Locke had with Johannes Hudde in 1697 on how to prove God’s uniqueness; the “physical” proof he provided to settle the dispute could support both holenmerism and anti-holenmerism. However, Locke’s proof relied heavily on the analogy between spirits and bodies which he had drawn in the Essay, when he had defined their identity over time in the same way; the paper suggests that this and other evidence coming from the Essay, involving Locke’s reading of Newton’s De gravitatione, seems to indicate that he conceived of anti-holenmerism as the hypothesis to be preferred from an epistemic point of view.
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Locke and Holenmerianism
Locke’s conception of God’s manner of being present everywhere is unclear. He seemed to agree
with the Cambridge Platonist Henry More that spirits were present in space not merely
operationally—a position which More labelled “nullibism”—but substantially; however, it is not
clear whether he endorsed More’s view of God as an infinitely extended being, filling space with
His amplitude of presence or rather the alternative, scholastic conception, which may be called
“holenmerianism” (from More’s “holenmerian”) and which affirmed that God was substantially
present everywhere as a whole in the whole and a whole in each part. The paper attempts to
explore this question in detail by focusing on an episode in Locke’s later correspondence, which
suggested that he was not committed to holenmerianism. The episode focused on the dispute
which Locke had entered into with Johannes Hudde in 1697 on how to prove God’s uniqueness;
the “physical” proof he provided to settle the dispute did not rely on a holenmerian conception of
God’s presence in space. Locke’s proof was based on a principle he had established in the Essay,
which determined the impenetrability of spirits by other spirits; the paper shows that, although
More did not accept this principle, he might have agreed with Locke’s proof. Finally, the paper
suggests that further evidence coming from the Essay, taking into account Locke’s reading of
Newton’s De gravitatione, seems to indicate that he was not committed to holenmerianism.
Keywords: holenmerianism, John Locke, Henry More, spirits, God, nullibism, exclusion
principle, penetrability, Isaac Newton, Johannes Hudde
1. Introduction
Holenmerian was a term coined by the Cambridge Platonist Henry More to indicate a
person who adhered to the theory that spirits were substantially present in the extended
world but in a manner very different to that of bodies. A body was present in a certain
region of space with distinct parts outside parts; a spirit was “whole in the whole and
whole in each part” (totus in toto et totus in qualibet parte).
The Scholastics used this
formula to express this theory, which, as Robert Pasnau noted, was “the standard view
regarding immaterial entitiesGod, angels and rational soulsfrom Plotinus, Augustine,
and Anselm all the way through the scholastic era.”
Plotinus affirmed both that the divine
substance was omnipresent and that created spirits were substantially present within
their bodies, but he did not deem them to be spread out with parts outside parts because
of the essential simplicity he attributed to spiritual substances; to preserve their
incorporeality and indivisibility, he claimed that they were whole in the whole and whole
in each part.
Similarly, Augustine maintained that the whole of the human soul, being
an indivisible substance, was present simultaneously in the place occupied by the whole
of the body and in each of its individual parts, and that the whole of God’s simple
substance was substantially present in each part of the created world. The divine
substance transcended the mode of presence of material bodies and even of finite souls,
being “not only wholly present to the whole universe,” but “equally so to each part of it.”
The Scholastics firmly established this doctrine, basing it on a metaphysical extrapolation
of the physical principle of “no action at a distance”: spirits were substantially present in
the spatial world, otherwise they would not be able to exert their power over spatial things.
They were not distinct from their own power; God was one with His omnipotence, as well
as with His other attributes. Aquinas held this view; he affirmed that God was
omnipresent because of His being everywhere by power, essence, and presence and that
His presence was “whole in all things and in each one” because of His indivisibility.
Francisco Suárez used another argument to support divine holenmerianism: in his view,
God was whole in every part of creation because this kind of presence, being the most
Henry More, Enchiridion metaphysicum (London, 1671), pt. 1, chap. 27, § 1, 351. “Holenmerianism”
is from the Greek for “whole in parts.”
Robert Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes 12741671 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2011), 337; see also 338
Plotinus, Enneads, trans. Arthur Hilary Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984),
IV 9.1, 4:429 and IV 2.1, 4:21; V 5.9, 5:183. Plotinus’s source was Plato’s theory of forms.
Augustine of Hippo to Dardanus, mid 417, in vol. 4 of St. Augustine Letters 165-302, The Fathers of
the Church 30, trans Wilfrid Parson (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1555), 234.
Drawing upon Augustine, both John Damascene and Peter Lombard were influential in disseminating
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. The Fathers of the English Dominican Province. (New
York: Benziger Bros), 194748. Ia, q. 8, a. 2; reply to obj. 3,
Immaterial spirits are in things that have parts, noted Aquinas; unlike bodies, which are in places by
dimensional parts and are thus divisible, spirits are indivisible, being therefore whole in every part.
perfect one, necessarily pertained to the most perfect being.
Holenmerianism had both detractors and followers in the early modern period. Pierre
Gassendi espoused the doctrine in the case of God; Walter Charleton may have well
embraced it too.
By contrast, Thomas Hobbes rejected it because of his materialist
conception of spirits. He ridiculed the scholastic terminology which distinguished the way
bodies exist in a place (circumscriptivè) from the way spirits exist (definitivè)
claimed that it was absurd to imagine that the human soul existed as a whole in the body
and in each of its parts. In Hobbes’s view, everything which was a whole had parts;
have parts was to be actually divisible. This was irreconcilable with the fundamental
premise of holenmerianism, the indivisibility of spirits.
More had initially adhered to holenmerianism, which went hand in hand with his
being averse to “nullibism”—another term of his own devising, which signified the theory
that spiritual substances are not present anywhere in the spatial world.
However, he
later rejected holenmerianism as “profound Nonsense
and in the Enchiridion
metaphysicum advanced several arguments against it.
More claimed that
holenmerianism implied that an immaterial substance might have many different sizes at
the same time, for it could exist in its entirety in some tiny spaces as well as in larger ones,
Francisco Suaréz, Metaphysicarum disputationum (Mainz, 1600), XXX 7.44, 2:75. Suárez conceived
of finite souls and angels as holenmeric; God had necessarily to be holenmeric, being more perfect than His
Pierre Gassendi, “The Reality of Infinite Void according to Aristotle,” in The Concepts of Space and
Time: Their Structure and Their Development, ed. Milič Čapek (Dordrecht: Springer, 1976), 94: “the divine
substance is supremely indivisible and whole at any time at any place.” Regarding Walter Charleton, after
declaring that it is “generally allowed” that an angel’s substance has “Diffusion in place,” he added that it is
“constituted in puncto, as is also generally conceived.” Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charletoniana
(London, 1654), 70.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan: or the Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall
and Civill, ed. Albert R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904), 500. Regarding the
scholastic use of the terms circumscriptivè and definitivè, see Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes, 337n19. God’s
ubiquity was not conceived of either circumscriptively (i.e., as commensurate with a place, with each part
in a part) or definitively (i.e., as existing in a definite place as a whole in the whole and a whole in each part),
but rather as a presentia repletiva filling every place without being contained in it.
Thomas Hobbes, “Elements of Philosophy. The First Section, concerning Body,” The English Works
of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, ed. Sir William Molesworth (London, 1839), 1:97.
Cartesian “nullibism” was criticized by More in Enchiridion metaphysicum, pt. 1, chap. 27, §§ 110,
35067. More’s fullest early exploration of the distinction between nullibism and its contrary (i.e., merely
operational versus substantial presence in space of God and spirits) is to be found in his letters to René
Descartes (1648–49). David Leech has affirmed that More’s opposition to nullibism was logically dependent
on his rejection of holenmerianism; in Leech’s view, More was not committed to holenmerianism when he
corresponded with Descartes, or at least was “in the process of abandoning a holenmeric construal of God.”
The Hammer of the Cartesians. Henry More’s Philosophy of Spirit and the Origins of Modern Atheism
(Leuven, 2013), 13031 and 155–59. I shall return to Leech’s argument in note 49.
Henry More, The Immortality of the Soul (London, 1659), 73.
Henry More, Enchiridion metaphysicum, 36971.
which was impossible. It also implied that the soul could exist “outside its whole self,”
being as a whole in each part of the body; this was possible for universals, which were
notions and not individual things. Finally, More criticized holenmerianism for being
irreverent to the supreme deity, whose amplitude it made “not greater than that physical
point in which it exists;” he endorsed the alternative view, which identified divine
amplitude with space. More described both the deity and space as One, simple, immobile,
eternal, complete, independent, existing for itself, subsisting by itself, incorruptible”;
he construed infinite space as an attribute of God. This had important implications for
the manner of conceiving God’s omnipresence: if space were, as More described it, an
incorporeal extension in which quantitative parts could be mentally distinguished though
they were not separable from one another, then it followed that a divine attribute had
distinguishable, quantitative parts. As a matter of fact, More defined both space and
spiritual substances as penetrable and indiscerpible, i.e., not actually divisible into parts;
they were mentally divisible, in the sense that their parts might be considered separately
by the intellect although they were not really separable from one another. Both space and
spiritual substances were endowed with “notional” or intellectual parts;
this however
was hardly reconcilable with holenmerianism, which could not be predicated on spirits
having quantitative parts.
Some commentators believe that Newton subscribed to More’s rejection of
whereas others differ in opinion.
Like More, Isaac Newton identified
God’s amplitude of presence with space; unlike More, Newton did not articulate a specific
doctrine of incorporeal extension with which to explain divine omnipresence and its
relation to space. Therefore, it is hard to understand what Newton thought in this regard.
In De gravitatione, Newton affirmed that space was not actually divisible although it
could be intellectually divided into parts; More held the same view. However, unlike
More, Newton did not conceive of space as a divine attribute but rather as a real entity
Ibid., pt. 1, chap. 8, § 8, 69. More enumerated more than twenty titles which, he wrote, “the
metaphysicians attribute to God and which fit the immobile extended [entity] or internal place.”
More defined distance as a “notional” or intellectual property: in the Antidote against Atheism, he
claimed that distance might be “no real or Physical property of a thing, but only notional by being “nothing
else but the privation of tactual union.” An Antidote against Atheism, 2nd ed. (London, 1655), 337.
Regarding indiscerpibility, see Jasper Reid, The Metaphysics of Henry More (Dordrecht: Springer 2012),
48, 117, 18894.
See, for instance, Edward Grant, Much Ado about Nothing: Theories of Space and Vacuum from the
Middle Ages to the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 25354 and
Edward Slowik, The Deep Metaphysics of Space: An Alternative History and Ontology beyond
Substantivalism and Relationism (Cham: Springer, 2016), 5052.
See especially Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes, 338; Reid, Metaphysics, 22729; Hylarie Kochiras,
“Spiritual Presence and Dimensional Space beyond the Cosmos,” Intellectual History Review 22, no. 1
(2012): 4168.
existing as a consequence of the existence of an omnipresent substance.
John Locke’s position on holenmerianism seems even more difficult to discern. Like
More, he rejected nullibism and attributed a spatial location to spirits; his description of
the parts of space in the Essay was in accordance with More’s idea of intellectual, notional
parts. However, as Jasper Reid has noted, Locke’s view on God’s manner of being present
everywhere seems not to be sufficiently articulated to affirm that he rejected
holenmerianism; officially, he never took a stand in this regard.
My purpose is to consider this question in detail, by focusing on an episode in Locke’s
later correspondence. The episode centres on the dispute that Locke had with Johannes
Hudde in 1697 on how to prove God’s uniqueness; the “physical” proof Locke provided to
settle the dispute was based on divine omnipresence but did not depend on
holenmerianism. Locke’s proof relied on the analogy between spirits and bodies which he
had drawn in the Essay, where he had defined their identities over time in the same way
(i.e., in terms of the continuity of their spatio-temporal locations); holenmerianism was
not invoked to support this proof. I shall argue that this, together with several similarities
between Locke and More’s positions on the nature of space and spiritual substances,
suggests that Locke was not committed to holenmerianism.
In what follows, I shall first expose Locke’s physical proof (section 2); then, I shall
confront his and More’s views on spiritual substances (section 3). Finally, I shall consider
a passage in the Essay where Locke seemed to enter into dialogue with Newton on God’s
manner of being present in space; I shall argue that this passage seems to confirm that
Locke was not a holenmerian (Conclusion).
2. Locke’s Dispute with Hudde: The “Physical” Proof
In a letter of 8 October 1697, Philip van Limborch, a leading theologian at the
Remonstrants’ seminary in Amsterdam, reported to his close friend John Locke that he
had discussed his treatise The Reasonableness of Christianity at length with some
outstanding men in Amsterdam; the discussion had digressed to other subjects, in
particular “to the arguments with which the unity of God is most solidly proved.”
Limborch also reported that one of the participants in the discussion had shown a
particular interest in these arguments; in his subsequent letter to Locke (28 November
Van Limborch revealed that man to be the “Magnifico” Johannes Hudde, a
renowned mathematician and a disciple of the Cartesian Frans van Shooten.
As was reported by Van Limborch, Hudde “was seeking for some irrefragable
arguments by which it might be proved that an eternal being, whether existing of itself or
See Isaac Newton’s remarks in the preface to Des Maizeaux’s 1720 edition of the Leibniz-Clarke
correspondence in Alexandre Koyré and I. Bernard Cohen, “Newton and the Leibniz-Clarke
Correspondence,” Archives intenationales d’histoire des sciences 15, no. 58 (1962): 63126.
Philippus van Limborch to Locke, 28 September / 8 October 1697, in The Correspondence of John
Locke, ed. Esmond S. de Beer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), no. 2318, 6:207. The correspondence
between Van Limborch and Locke is in Latin; I quote from de Beer’s translation.
Van Limborch to Locke, 18/28 November 1697, Correspondence, no. 2352, 6:257.
in every respect perfect, is only one”;
he hoped that Locke could provide him with these
arguments, which he had not been able to find in An Essay concerning Human
Locke replied to Van Limborch (29 October 1697)
saying that God’s uniqueness
could be demonstrated “with as much evidence as his existence” in his view but declined
Hudde’s invitation because he did not enjoy taking part in disputes. However, in a Latin
postscript added to the letter, which had been written in French,
Locke manifested his
interest in Hudde’s question. He wrote:
I confess that it seems to me, as I take this opportunity to think about it, that the
mind must be raised to a somewhat higher level and separated from the ordinary
manner of philosophizing if anyone wants to prove it [God’s uniqueness]
philosophically or, if I may speak thus, physically; but let this to be to you alone.
Locke thought that Hudde’s question could be answered “physically.” In the Essay he
had affirmed that Physica was concerned not only with matter and body but with “Spirits
also, which have their proper Natures, Constitutions, and Operations”;
theology could
be ably supported by physical investigation, in his opinion.
Hudde’s question
represented an opportunity, in Locke’s view, to demonstrate this: God’s uniqueness could
be proved by leaving aside the “ordinary manner of philosophizing” (traditional
theological argumentation) and engaging the mind in natural philosophy. One of the
arguments Locke devised to comply with Hudde’s request, the one he considered as the
soundest, introduced the notion of pure space that had been treated in the Essay, i.e., the
idea of extension or space as devoid of material bodies; the argument was based on divine
Van Limborch to Locke, 28 September / 8 October 1697, Correspondence, no. 2318, 6:208.
Pierre Coste, who was translating the Essay into French, had shown Hudde the chapter where the
existence of God was demonstrated. Coste had reported to Locke that Hudde had appreciated his
arguments. Pierre Coste to Locke, 6/16 July 1697, Correspondence, no. 2285, 6:156. Hudde had questioned
Spinoza on the same topic in 1666, but his arguments had left him dissatisfied: see Wim Klever, “Hudde’s
Question on God’s Uniqueness. A Reconstruction on the Basis of Van Limborch’s Correspondence with Locke,
Studia Spinozana 5 (1989): 32758. Only later would Locke be informed of the correspondence between
Hudde and Spinoza by Van Limborch. Van Limborch to Locke, 2/12 September 1697, Correspondence, no.
2485, 6:464.
Locke to Van Limborch, 29 October 1697, Correspondence, no. 2340, 6:24344.
The letters which Locke sent to Van Limborch to be shown to Hudde were all written in French; they
had been translated into French, for Hudde, by Pierre Coste. Locke might have written all these letters in
English: the English draft of one was published in the second appendix to volume 6 of Correspondence.
John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1975), IV.xxi.2, 720.
The profound link between theology and natural philosophy underpinning Locke’s work, inspired by
Boyle’s natural theology, has been explored by Victor Nuovo in John Locke: The Philosopher as Christian
Virtuoso (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
We learn of this argument from a French draft of the letter which Locke sent to Van
Limborch in October.
The draft contained a long passage omitted from the letter,
wherein three arguments for God’s uniqueness—respectively an argument based on God’s
omnipotence, a moral argument and the argument based on divine omnipresencewere
laid out. The first acted as a premise to the third; the second was only a digression and
would be set aside by Locke when he resolved to show his arguments to Hudde.
The first argument ran as follows:
Since we cannot help thinking that only an omnipotent Being is able to create a
thinking Being (for at present I do not wish to speak either of the Creation of Matter,
or of the order and beauty of this visible World), I have to conclude that the Being
who made me, is almighty. But once I have come to discover the existence of an
almighty Being, it is contrary to reason to suppose that there could be another
omnipotent Being, since a single almighty Being can do as much as one hundred.
To prove God’s omnipotence, Locke did not rely on the argument he had put forward
in the Essay, based on the Aristotelian causal adequacy principle.
Rather, he referred to
how intuitively certain a man is of his own existence as a thinking being; this was an
argument which a Cartesian could accept, and Locke seemed to be convinced that Hudde
was a Cartesian.
Then he introduced Ockham’s razor to conclude that God must be
The third argument embodied the “physical” proof. The argument ran as follows:
I think it will be agreed that God is present everywhere. If he were not present
everywhere, he would not be able to know what is done in those parts of the universe
different from those in which he is contained, and would not be able to remedy what
may occur in conflict with his interests or that is prejudicial to that part which he
has created and over which he rules, which would give the idea of a very imperfect
Being. Therefore if God is infinitely omnipresent, I think it can be proved almost
demonstratively that there cannot be but one God. Whatever God might be;
whatever his nature is, or his Being or Substance, he is no doubt something real,
Locke, appendix 2 to Correspondence, 6:78387.
“Or si nous ne pouvouns nous empecher de penser q’il n’y a q’un Etre tout puissant qui puisse
produire un Etre pensont, (car je ne veux pas parler presentement de la Création de la Matiére, ni de l’ordre
et de la beauté de ce Monde visible) je dois conclure que l’Etre qui m’a fait, est tout puissant. Que si je suis
parvenue une fois à decouvrir l’existence d’un Etre tout puissant, il est contre la raison de supposer un autre
Etre tout puissant, puis qu’un seul Etre tout puissant peut faire autant que cent.” Locke, appendix 2 to
Correspondence, 6:785.
Locke, Essay, IV.x.4, 620. According to the principle, in order to be adequate a cause must contain
all its effects virtually.
This would be confirmed by Van Limborch in a subsequent letter, as we shall see. Hudde, however,
was not a devout Cartesian: at a later stage in the dispute, Van Limborch informed Locke that Hudde
thought that matter could be God’s rival. Van Limborch to Locke, 6/16 May 1698, Correspondence, no.
2432, 6:388.
and more real than any other Being. Let us suppose therefore that this real Being
exists in whatever physical point of Space one wants to suppose. I say that it follows
on demonstratively from this, that another real Being of the same kind would not
be able to be in the same single point in Space, for in that case there would only be
one being in this point, because where there is no difference either regarding the
kind or the place, there cannot be more than one being. And one cannot imagine
that this reasoning can Be good only for Bodies and parts of Matter, for one can, I
think, apply it to what is called pure space, which is the thing most different to
matter. For two physical points in space, cannot be reduced to one, no more than
two physical atoms of Matter can be reduced to a single atom. The reason why this
is impossible is founded on this, that if two points in space could be reduced to one,
all of space could be reduced to a single physical point, which is as impossible as it
is for all matter to be reduced to a single atom. I do not know what the Substance
of matter is, and even less what the Substance of God is, But I do know nonetheless
that this Substance is something, and that it must exclude all the other substances
of the same kind (if such substances might exist) from where it is. Therefore, if God
is immense and present everywhere, this for me is a demonstration that there is but
one God and there can only be one.
Locke’s argument was complex. He began by arguing in favour of God’s omnipresence,
which he inferred from his perfection; this was not the way in which divine omnipresence
had been proven in the Essay. There Locke had relied on an analogy with God’s
omnipresence in time: GOD, every one easily allows, fills Eternity; and ‘tis hard to find a
Reason, why any one should doubt, that he likewise fills Immensity. His infinite Being is
Je croy qu’on m’accordera que Dieu [est] present par tout. S’il n’est point present par tout il ne
sçauroit connoître ce qui se fait dans d’autres parties de cet Univers differentés de celles ou il est
renfermé, et il ne peut point remedier à ce qui y peut arriver contre ses interest ou au prejudice de
cette partie qu’il a faite et sur laquelle il préside, ce qui donneroit l’idee d’un Etre fort imparfait. Si
donc Dieu a une toute-présence infinite, je croy qu’on peut prouver par là demontrativement, ou peu
s’en faut, qu’il ne peut y avoir qu’un Dieu. Quoy que soit Dieu; quelle que soit sa nature, son Etre, ou
sa Substance, il est certain que c’est quelque chose de réel, et de plus reel que tous les autres Etres.
Supposons donc que cet Etre reel existe dans quelque point physique de l’Espace qu’on voudra
supposer, je dis qu’il s’ensuit demonstrativement de là, qu’un autre Etre reel de la meme espece ne
sçauroit être dans le même point individual de l’Espace, car en ce cas là il n’y a aucune difference ni
à l’égard de l’éspece, ni à l’egard du lieu, il ne peut y avoir qu’un seul etre. Et qu’on ne s’imagine pas
que ce raisonnement ne peut Etre bon qu’à l’egard du Corps et des parties de la Matiére, car ou peut,
je pense, l’appliquer à ce qu’on appelle l’Espace pur, qui est ce qu’il y a de plus éloigné de la matiere.
Car deux points physiques d’espace, ne peuvent pas plûtôt être reduits en un, que deux atoms
physiques de Matiére être reduits à un seul atome. La raison de cette impossibilité est fondée sur ce
que si deux points d’espace pouvoient être reduits en un, tout l’espace pourroit éstre reduit en un
seul point physique, ce qui est aussi impossible, qu’il est impossible que toute la matière pût être
reduite à un seul atome. Pour moy qui ne connois pas ce que c’est que la Substance de la matiére, Je
connois encore moins ce que c’est que la Substance de Dieu, Mais je sçai pourtant que cette
Substance est quelque chose, et qu’elle doit exclure d’où elle est toutes les autres substances de la
même espece (s’il pouvoit y en avoir de telles). Si donc Dieu est immense et present par tout, c’est
pour moy une demonstration qu’il n’y a qu’un Dieu et qu’il n’y en peut avoir qu’un seul. Locke,
appendix 2 to Correspondence, 6:786.
certainly as boundless one way as another.
The eternity of God supported the idea of His omnipresence in space, with space
intended as a real, infinite, and immaterial entity.
The same argument reappeared in a
subsequent passage in the Essay: infinite space was identified with God’s immensity—an
idea which Locke had already contemplated in 1677, as will be argued later.
In the draft, Locke did not use this argument; he affirmed that God’s omnipresence
was necessary for divine perfection, a kind of reasoning which no doubt he disliked but
which could appeal to a Cartesian.
What really mattered to him was what could be
deduced from divine omnipresence, God’s substantial presence in space. He first insisted
that God was something real “whatever his nature is, or his Being or Substance”an
affirmation in line with the Essay, where the divine essence was said to be unknowable
then he affirmed that God might be supposed to exist in whatever physical point of space.
In order to be a real being, God must be somewhere: Locke had affirmed this in a chapter
of the Essay devoted to the ideas of identity and diversity. He had referred to God, spirits,
and bodies and had stated that existence represented the principium individuationis, for
it “determines a Being of any sort to a particular time and place”;
the identity of finite
spirits depended on their having “each its determinate time and place of beginning to
exist,” whereas the identity of God was granted by His being “without beginning, eternal,
unalterable, and every where.”
To demonstrate God’s uniqueness, in the draft Locke introduced a principle which
represented one of the three pillars sustaining the principium individuationis; the
principle has been named as the exclusion principle,
for it established that two things
Locke, Essay, II.xv.3, 197.
Locke claimed that it ascribes a little too much to Matter, to say, where there is no Body, there is
nothing,” clearly referring to Descartes. In the following paragraph, he dwelled on the causes which led men
to doubt the existence of space without matter: “Duration and Extension being used as names of affections
belonging to other Beings, we easily conceive in GOD infinite Duration, and we cannot avoid doing so: but
not attributing to him Extension, but only to Matter, which is finite, we are apter to doubt of the existence
of Expansion without Matter; of which alone we commonly suppose it an Attribute. Ibid., II.xv.4, 198.
Regarding Locke’s anti-Cartesian view of space, see Edward Grant, Much Ado about Nothing, 23940.
Locke affirmed that those who “are of Opinion, That infinite Space is possessed by GOD’s infinite
Omnipresence as well as infinite duration by his eternal existence, must be allowed to have as clear an idea
of infinite space as that of infinite duration.” Essay, II.xvii.20, 222.
In the Essay, Locke criticized any attempt to prove the existence of God based on the idea of the most
perfect being. He affirmed that this argument was ineffectual, for men did not have such an idea in their
minds. IV.x.7, 62122.
Ibid., II.xxviii.35, 315.
Ibid., II.xxvii.3, 330.
Ibid., II.xxvii.2, 329.
See for instance Christopher Hughes Conn, Locke on Essence and Identity (Dordrecht: Kluwer
Academic Publishers, 2003), 6364.
of the same kind could not exist in the same place at the same time.
In the Essay, the
exclusion principle was applied to all kinds of substances, i.e., God, finite spirits, and
bodies. Locke wrote, though these three sorts of Substances, as we term them, do not
exclude one another out of the same place; yet we cannot conceive but that they must
necessarily each of them exclude any of the same kind out of the same place.
The exclusion principle allowed Locke to affirm that two gods (i.e., two beings of the
same kind) could not be in the same place (and time, obviously, for God’s time was
eternity); he could therefore conclude that God must be one. This move however required
a fundamental premise, which he clarified at the end of the proof: the exclusion principle
(“this kind of reasoning”) could be applied not only to “bodies and parts of matter” but
also to “pure space, which is the thing most different from matter.” God could be thought
of as existing in any point of pure space; this space could be conceived of as something
real. In the Essay, Locke had insisted on the possibility of having a clear and distinct idea
of “Space, without anything in it, that resists, or is protruded by Body,”
and on the
undesirable consequences deriving from its negationsuch as an impotent God, unable
to move or annihilate a part of materiality.
Pure space was the alternative to René
Descartes’s idea of extension as a plenum. Descartes’s objection against void in his first
letter to More
seemed to be what Locke intended to reject, for Descartes had affirmed
that a strict void would collapse in upon itself eliminating its own boundaries. Locke
remarked that pure space was something as real as bodily extension: it was as impossible
to reduce different physical points of pure space to a single one just as it was to reduce
different atoms of matter to one. This might be considered as another consequence of the
exclusion principle: to reduce two atoms of matter to one would amount to locating them
in the same place at the same time, which however was impossible for Locke.
The exclusion principle supported anti-nullibism: God, a real being, was to be thought
Locke wrote in the Essay: “For we never finding, nor conceiving it possible, that two things of the
same kind should exist in the same place at the same time, we rightly conclude, that, whatever exists any
where at any time, excludes all of the same kind, and is there it self alone.” II.xxvii.1, 328.
Ibid., II.xxvii.2, 329.
Ibid., II.iv.5, 126.
“Those who assert the impossibility of space existing without matter, must not only make body
infinite, but must also deny a power in God to annihilate any part of matter. No one, I suppose, will deny
that God can put an end to all motion that is in matter, and fix all the bodies of the universe in a perfect
quiet and rest, and continue them so long as he pleases. Whoever then will allow that God can, during such
a general rest, annihilate either this book or the body of him that reads it, must necessarily admit the
possibility of a vacuum.” II.xiii.21, 176.
Descartes to More, 5 February 1649, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. 3 The
Correspondence, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch and Anthony Kenny
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 363.
In the Essay, shortly after having exposed the exclusion principle, Locke stated, “by the same reason
that two particles of Matter may be in one place, all Bodies may be in one place: Which, when it can be
supposed, takes away the distinction of Identity and Diversity.” II.xxvii.2, 329. Regarding the interpretation
of this passage see Conn, Locke on Essence and Identity, 6571 and Matthew Stuart, Locke’s Metaphysics
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 31821.
of as substantially present in space, not just operationally as Descartes had affirmed.
Van Limborch would realize, once he had the opportunity to examine Locke’s arguments,
that this was what Locke was claiming; Van Limborch would advise Locke to set the
“physical” proof aside, because of Hudde’s Cartesianism. He wrote,
The Burgomaster is exceedingly devoted to the Cartesian philosophy; we therefore
question whether an argument drawn from the omnipresence of God will obtain his
approval. We know that for the Cartesians spirit is thought; but thought has no
relation to space, and accordingly the divine essence is not in space; but
omnipresence is attributed to it relatively, with respect to its operations. You
however assert that the divine essence itself is present everywhere; which we
recognize with you; But we doubt whether a man devoted to Descartes’ opinions
will approve of it.
Locke’s proof showed his rejection of nullibism, but not his commitment to
holenmerianism. It did not contain any reference to the doctrine. A holenmerian would
affirm that the whole of God’s substance permeated both space in its entirety and each of
its physical points; More had done this when writing to Descartes, though not in his first
letter. In this, More had expressed himself in general terms: God, he had affirmed,
“intimately occupies both the entire mundane machine and each individual particle
thereof,” for otherwise He would not be able to impress motion on matter.
In his second
letter, however, More had been more precise: he had affirmed that “God, to the extent
that the human mind grasps him, is whole everywhere, and his whole essence is present
in all places or spaces, and in all points of space.”
This was a clear declaration of
Locke, however, did not say this. He did not affirm that God was to be
I shall return to this point in the following paragraph, where it will be argued that the exclusion
principle attributed solidity to finite spirits.
Van Limborch to Locke, 22 March / 1 April 1698, Correspondence, no. 2410, 6:353. In a previous
letter, Van Limborch had informed Locke that he would examine his arguments together with two or three
of his friends, including Jean Le Clerc, with whom Locke was well acquainted. Van Limborch to Locke,
18/28 November 1697, Correspondence, no. 2352, 6:259.
As translated in Reid, Metaphysics, 148. The original is in Latin. See Henry More, Epistola prima ad
R. Cartesium,” 11 December 1648, in A Collection of Several Philosophical Writings of Dr. Henry More
(London, 1662), 62. More used the “no action at a distance” argument to affirm that God had to be present
where He acted. Locke would use the same argument in the Essay with reference to spirits.
As translated in Reid, Metaphysics, 163. The original is from Henry More, Epistola secunda ad R.
Cartesium,” 5 March 1649, A Collection of Several Philosophical Writings, 7677.
Both Reid and Pasnau agree on this. Reid, Metaphysics, 15964 and Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes,
341. Leech, however, insists that we must set against this passage other passages in the correspondence
between More and Descartes, which cast doubt on the former’s adhesion to holenmerianism; in Leech’s
view, More’s aversion to nullibism logically depended on his anti-holenmerianism. Leech argues that, for
More, nullibism was conceptually connected with holenmerianism through the distinction between
essential and contingent (or operational) extension; More rejected holenmerianism for the same reason he
rejected nullibism, because he believed that essential extension was an existence condition and that
holenmerians denied essential extension to spiritual entities when they affirmed that they were whole in
each part. There could not exist a whole without parts. The Hammer of the Cartesians, 13031 and 155
conceived of as a whole in the whole and a whole in each physical point of space; he might
therefore be referring to an infinite being whose extension filled space with his amplitude
of presence.
The exclusion principle could be coherent both with holenmerianism and its
alternative, which identified divine amplitude with space. It did not rule out the possibility
of a thing occupying different places by having its parts in different places;
God might
be conceived of in such a way, provided that His substance had parts. In the Essay, Locke
had affirmed that God’s essence was simple, although the idea of Him was complex: For
though in his own Essence, (which certainly we do not know, not knowing the real Essence
of a Peble, or a Fly, or of our own selves,) God be simple and uncompounded; yet, I think,
I may say we have no other Idea of him, but a complex one of Existence, Knowledge,
Power, Happiness, etc. infinite and eternal.
More as well had affirmed that God’s essence was simple: Locke agreed with him. Did
he conceive of divine substance as made of indiscerpible, notional parts as More did? The
“physical” proof did not clarify this. However, it plainly showed that Locke believed that
God’s omnipresence could be argued without recourse to holemerianism.
The physical” proof would remain unchanged in the letter Locke sent to Van
Limborch on 21 February 1698 to set out his arguments,
yet its premise (i.e., the
arguments for divine omnipotence and omnipresence) would be modified. There is an
English draft of this letter;
it contains all the arguments which were included in the
French draft, with the exception of the moral argument which Locke had decided to leave
out. The “physical” proof had remained unchanged.
As for the first argument, Locke
59. Leech mentions approvingly Igor Agostini’s description of More’s position in the correspondence as
oscillating between Suarezian holenmerianism and spiritual extension; however, Agostini not only
maintains that More endorsed holenmerianism when corresponding with Descartes, but Agostini also
insists that More attributed a fundamental role to this doctrine in those years in order to argue the
indivisibility of the divine essence. Agostini has clearly shown that More took this argument from Julius
Caesar Scaliger; later, rejection of holenmerianism would represent a necessary step in affirming spiritual
extension for More. “Henry More e le fonti della dottrina dell'estensione spirituale,” in Eredità cartesiane
nella cultura britannica, ed. Paola Dessì and Brunello Lotti (Firenze: Le Lettere, 2011), 49–69; “Henry
More e l'olenmerismo,” Nouvelles de la République des lettres, no. 2 (2006): 7–23; “More interprète de
Descartes. L'omniprésence de Dieu,” in Des Cartes et des Lettres, ed. Francesco Marrone (Firenze: Le
Monnier, 2008), 196–212; “Sull'onnipresenza di Dio nel cartesianismo,” in Studi cartesiani: Atti del
seminario Primi lavori cartesiani, incontri e discussioni Lecce, 2728 settembre 1999, ed. Fabio A.
Sulpizio (Lecce, IT: Milella, 2000), 1187.
Regarding this point, see Matthew Stuart, Locke’s Metaphysics, 299.
Locke, Essay, II.xxiii.35, 315.
Locke to Van Limborch, 21 February 1698, Correspondence, no. 2395, 6:32126. The letter is in
Locke, appendix 2 to Correspondence, 6:78891.
Now if god be infinitely omnipresent it seems to me to come near a demonstration that there can
be but one. Wherever god is (let his nature or being or substance be what it will) there certainly is
some real, nay the most real of all beings. Let us therefor suppose this reall being in any one physicall
point of space, I thinke it is demonstration that an other reall being of the same kinde cannot be in
the same individual point of space, for then they would be but one. For where there is noe difference
in kinde nor distance in place that can be but one being. Nor let this way of argueing be thought to
began with the notion of God as “an infinite eternal incorporeal being perfectly perfect,”
and claimed that this being would have to be omnipotent and omniscient in order to
possess all perfections. Then he affirmed that this being would have to be one if it were to
be truly perfect. Clearly Locke was looking for an argument which could appeal to Hudde,
whose concept of God was that of a being “perfect in any respect.” However, he also hinted
at an alternative argument, which could work without assuming God’s perfection;
doubt he was dissatisfied with such reasoning. He considered the “physical” proof as his
best argument;
he was content to allow his adversary to chose whichever argument he
liked in order to establish divine omnipresence, because what really mattered to him was
the proof.
The English draft and the final letter which Locke sent to Van Limborch confirmed
that holenmerianism was not an ingredient in this proof. One might suppose that Locke
was secretly committed to the doctrine but preferred to dismiss it because he was dealing
with a Cartesian, and Descartes’s idea of God did not fit in with holenmerianism;
however, his “physical” proof was plainly directed against Descartes. All matters
considered, Locke’s argument suggested that he was not a holenmerian; his position in
this regard might have been the same as More’s.
There is a problem with this conclusion. The physical proof relied heavily on the
exclusion principle, which was exactly what differentiated Locke’s views on spirits from
reach body alone and the parts of matter: It will be found to hold in that which is the remotest from
it, I meane pure space. For two physical points of space can noe more be brought into one, than two
physical atoms of matter can be brought into one. For if they could, then all space might be brought
into one physical point, which is as impossible as that all matter should be brought into one attome.
I who know not what the substance of matter is, doe much lesse know what the substance of god is.
But some thing I know it is, and must exclude where it is all other substances (could there be any
such) of the same kind. if therefor god be immense and omnipresent it is to me evident beyond doubt
that there is and can be but one god. Ibid., 790.
Ibid. The argument focused on the identity of all those beings of the same kind existing in the same
place; therefore, it might be considered as the converse of the exclusion principle. Locke also used this
strategy to sustain God’s omnipresence: he first affirmed that omnipresence had to be conferred on Him
because of His other perfections, and because of its being a perfection itself, but then introduced another
argument based on the absurdity of the opposite view: if God were not omnipresent, He would have to be
conceived of as “shut up in some little corner of space we know not why, nor how nor by whome nor where.”
We can infer this from what Locke replied to Van Limborch when he advised him to set aside the
“physical” proof: “I have now omitted that argument from omnipresence which I believe is the only a priori
argument by which the unity of the Godhead can be demonstrated. I do not wonder therefore that one so
thoroughly imbued with those principles is seeking what he will always seek in vain, an argument that so
ill-founded a philosophy never will or can provide.” Locke to Van Limborch, 2 and 4 April 1698,
Correspondence, no. 2413, 6:365.
It is more difficult to determine whether Descartes was a holenmerian in reference to the soul; both
Rozemond and Pasnau affirm this. Marleen Rozemond, “Descartes, Mind-Body Union, and Holenmerism,
Philosophical Topics 31, nos. 12 (2003): 34367 and Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes, 33339. Reid has
argued that, when Descartes in the Sixth Replies affirmed that he conceived of the mind as whole in the
whole body and whole in any of its parts, he was ascribing an operational, not substantial presence to the
mind. Reid, Metaphysics, 156. Pasnau, however, offers a plausible argument to support his opinion:
Descartes needed holenmerianism to distinguish between the bare extension he attributed to spirits and
the true extension he attributed to bodies.
More’s. I shall dwell on this point in the following section.
3. Locke and More on God’s Presence in Space
Jasper Reid has claimed that what prevents us from feeling confident about Locke’s
endorsement of holenmerianism is his silence on this topic, as well as some similarities
between Locke’s and More’s views. Locke agreed with More that pure space was
something real (or at least that there needed to be such a thing) and that it was penetrable
and indivisible in contrast to bodies, which were solid and divisible. His opinion on the
parts of space was identical to More’s, although Locke did not use the term
indiscerpible: in the Essay, he described these parts as epistemological artefacts which
could not be separated from one another. He wrote:
‘Tis true, a Man may consider so much of such a Space, as is answerable or
commensurate to a Foot, without considering the rest; which is indeed a partial
Consideration, but not so much as mental Separation, or Division; since a Man can
no more mentally divide, without considering two Superficies, separate one from
the other, than he can actually divide, without making two superficies disjoin’d one
from the other: But a partial consideration is not separating. A Man may consider
Light in the Sun, without its Heat; or Mobility in Body without its Extension,
without thinking of their separation. One is only a partial Consideration,
terminating in one alone; and the other is a Consideration of both, as existing
Even regarding spiritual entities, Locke agreed with More on several points: his
rejection of nullibism was plain when, in the Essay, he affirmed that spirits, like bodies,
“cannot operate, but where they are.”
The “no action at a distance” principle allowed
Locke to attribute mobility to spirits: they must move from one place to another, because
they operated in different places at different times. Not dissimilarly, More insisted that a
spirit’s operation in a certain place required it to be there—a philosophical argument to
which he remained faithful throughout his life.
As for God’s way of being present in space, the similarities between Locke and More’s
views are more uncertain. More conceived of God as infinitely extended in the three
spatial dimensions; the Essay is of difficult interpretation in this regard. In the chapter
devoted to duration and expansion, Locke affirmed that God is present everywhere and
that we cannot even “imagine any Expansion where he is not.
The boundless
invariable Oceans of Duration and Expansion … belong only to the Deity,”
he declared.
He also used the term expansion in reference to finite spirits and their manner of being
Locke, Essay, II.xiii.13, 17273.
Ibid., II.xxiii.19, 306.
Ibid., II.xv.2, 197.
Ibid., II.xv.8, 200.
present in space.
Expansion corresponded to “Space in general, with or without solid
Matter possessing it.”
Locke differentiated between extension, which included the idea
of body, and expansion, which did not.
More too had used this term: in the Divine
Dialogues, he had affirmed that “that inmost Extension or Amplitude which will
necessarily remain after we have imagined all Matter, or whatever else is removeable,
removed or exterminated out of the World is to be look’d upon as the permanent
Expansion or Amplitude of the radical Essentiality of God.”
Here expansion was
synonymous with amplitude;
More used this latter term when he referred to God’s
presence in space. In the Divine Dialogues, he also mentioned “the expansion of the
whereas in his Conjectura Cabbalistica he used the term in a more precise
sense. Speaking of the book of Genesis, he affirmed that God, after having created the
earth, “sets upon the higher parts of the fabric. He commands therefore that there should
be a hollow Expansion, firm and transparent”; in a subsequent passage, More returned
to this point and insisted that “Firmament” was not a suitable name for this part of
creation, for the idea conveyed by the Scriptures and by the Hebrew was that of
diduction, expansion, or spreading out.
This idea of “spreading out” corresponded to More’s notion of amplitude. In the
Enchiridion metaphysicum he affirmed that extension, in its bare and simple sense, did
not include either penetrability, divisibility, and juxtaposition of parts or their contraries,
but only “solid amplitude,” i.e., the idea of being three-dimensionally spread out.
Ibid., II.xv.11, 203.
Ibid., II.xiii.26, 180.
Ibid., II.xv.1, 196.
More, Divine Dialogues containing Disquisitions concerning the Attributes and Providence of God,
4th ed. (Glasgow, 1743), dial. 3, § 40, 448.
In the Divine Dialogues, More affirmed that “Extension or Amplitude is an intrinsecal or essential
Property of Ens quatenus Ens.” Ibid., dial. 1, § 25, 77.
The Thread of time and the expansion of the universe, the same hand drew out the one and spread
out the other.” Ibid., dial. 2, § 28, 339. The first edition of the Dialogues appeared in 1668; the book was
not in Locke’s library, but we may suspect that he knew more works by More than those which were in his
library (perhaps thanks to Boyle, who had a controversy with More in the seventies over the interpretation
of his hydrostatical experiments but seemed to have a good opinion of him as a theologian). Locke’s
friendship with Damaris Cudworth and especially with Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont, who was well
acquainted with More, might have increased his interest in More’s works. See note 97.
More, A Collection of Several Philosophical Writings, 7 and 60. Locke owned this book: see John
Harrison and Peter Laslett, The Library of John Locke, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), no. 2046.
Subsequent citations abbreviated LJL.
More, Enchiridion metaphysicum, 38788. See also the appendix to An Antidote against Atheism,
2nd ed. (London, 1655): If by Extension be meant a Juxta-position of parts, or placing of them one by
another, as it is in Matter, I utterly deny that a Spirit is at all in this sense extended. But if you mean only a
certain Amplitude of presence, that it can be at every part of so much Matter at once, I say it is extended;
but that this kind of Extension does not imply any divisibility in the substance thus extended; for Juxta-
Locke’s notion of extension included the idea of body, whereas his idea of expansion
did not; he conceived of expansion as three-dimensional, for he affirmed that “the Ideas
of Length, which we have of Expansion, are turned every way, and so make Figure, and
Breadth, and Thickness.”
If Locke’s expansion corresponded to More’s amplitude, then
both More and Locke might have conceived of God as a being three-dimensionally
extended in space. A passage in the Essay, in which Locke argued for the possibility of
conceiving space without solidity, seems to confirm this; he wrote,
But whether anyone will take Space to be only a relation resulting from the
Existence of other Beings at a distance; or whether they will think the Words of the
most knowing King Solomon, The Heaven, and the Heaven of Heavens, cannot
contain Thee; or those more emphatical ones of the inspired Philosopher St. Paul,
In Him we live, move, and have our Being, are to be understood in a literal sence,
I leave everyone to consider.
If we are to believe Pierre Coste’s testimony, Locke approved of this way of translating
Saint Paul’s sentence from the Greek because he was in favour of identifying God’s
omnipresence with space.
This suggests that he endorsed More’s position that regarded
space as a divine attribute, or even the divine substance itself. In the appendix to the
Antidote, More had offered this conjecture:
If after the removal of corporeal Matter out of the world, there will be still Space
and Distance in which this very Matter, while it was there was also conceiv’d to lie,
and this distant Space cannot but be something, and yet not corporeal, because
neither impenetrable nor tangible; it must of necessity be a Substance Incorporeal
necessarily and eternally existent of it self: which the clearer Idea of a Being
absolutely perfect will more fully and punctually inform us to be the Self
subsisting God.
The same conjecture was to be found in a journal entry which Locke penned on 16
September 1677:
If it be impossible to suppose pure noe thing or to extend our thoughts where there
position of parts, Impenetrability and Divisibility go together, and therefore where the two former are
wanting, Extension implies not the third.”
Locke, Essay, II.xv.11, 203.
Ibid., II.xiii.26, 179; the quotation of St. Paul is from Acts, 17:28. See More, Divine Dialogues, dial. 1,
§ 17, 85: “In this [divine amplitude] are all things necessarily apprehended to live and move and have their
See Philippe Hamou, “Pierre Coste’s Annotations to the French Translation of Locke’s Essay
concerning Human Understanding,” in The Internationalization of Intellectual Exchange in a Globalizing
Europe, 16361780, ed. Robert Mankin (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2017), 87.
More, appendix to An Antidote against Atheism, 338. Reid remarks that this was an isolated
conjecture and that, later, More was willing to identify space with one of God’s attributes. Metaphysics, 215.
is or we can suppose noe being this space void of body must be something belonging
to the being of the deity, but be it one or tother the Idea we have of it we take from
the extension of bodys which call under our sences and this Idea of extension being
setled in our mindes we are able by repeating that in our thoughts without annexing
body or impenetrability to it, to imagin spaces where there are noe bodys, which
imaginary spaces if we suppose all other manner of being absent are purely
noething but meerly a possibility that body might there exist, or if there be a
necessity to suppose a being there it must be god whose being we thus make i.e.
suppose extended but not impenetrable but be it one or other extension seemes to
me mentally separable from body.
Reid has clearly shown that this entry was inspired by Locke’s reading of the appendix
to More’s Antidote. More first mentioned a view of space intended as a capacity of matter,
then subsequently a view which identified distance, and with it space itself, as a notional
property, and finally the alternative view which equated space with divine extension;
Locke mentioned all these views, and even did so in the same order.
However, Reid maintains that More’s influence on Locke should not be overestimated.
He agrees that Locke conceived of God as substantially present in space but remarks that
there is “at best some vague, circumstantial evidence that he might have inclined to the
Morean position.” He maintains that, officially, Locke never clarified his thought
regarding God’s manner of being present in space: where Locke stopped short was in
spelling out the precise nature of the divine presence in detail. Even if nullibism was ruled
out, was God supposed to be omnipresent in the holenmerian manner, or was he actually
supposed to share the same kinds of indiscerpible parts outside parts that characterized
space itself? Indeed, was this space supposed to be anything distinct from him at all?
Reid notes a “detail” that differentiated More’s views on spirits from Locke’s; this
detail is the exclusion principle, one of the fundamental ingredients of the “physical”
proof. More believed that spirits could penetrate one another, Locke used the exclusion
principle to deny this. More conceived of spirits as able to contract and dilate their
substance, so as to occupy a greater or lesser spatial volume; they could contract if another
spirit moved to occupy their place, without modifying the finite quantity of their
This might suggest that two spirits could occupy the same portion of space;
however, More had found a way of avoiding this so as to grant spirits’ distinctness from
one another. In his view, each spirit possessed a certain amount of “essential spissitude”
or spiritual density, the analogue of the physical density proper to bodies.
The essential
Locke, An Early Draft of Locke’s Essay Together with Excerpts from His Journals, eds. Richard I.
Aaron and Jocelyn Gibb (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), 96.
Reid, Metaphysics, 135–39. Two copies of More’s Antidote were to be found in Locke’s library: LJL,
nos. 2046 and 2047a. In the journal entry, Locke did not take a stand in favour of any of these views.
Reid, Metaphysics, 227.
Regarding these properties of spirits see More, An Antidote against Atheism, 1617 and Reid,
Metaphysics, 2001.
Reid prefers to interpret essential spissitude as physical density or thickness rather than as a fourth
dimension, although textual evidence supports this latter interpretation (especially in the Enchiridion
spissitude of a spirit increased when it contracted and decreased when it dilated.
However, spirits could neither contract nor dilate infinitely, because of their being finite;
their essential spissitude could neither be reduced to zero nor become infinite. The idea
of there being a limit to the spirits’ ability to contract or dilate was expressed in More’s
theory of hylopathia, a quality of spirits analogous to the corporeal quality of
impenetrability. He defined hylopathia as:
A power in a Spirit of offering so near to a corporeal emanation from the Center
of life, that it will so perfectly fill the receptivity of Matter into which it has
penetrated, that it is very difficult or impossible for any other Spirit to possess the
same; and therefore of becoming hereby so firmly and closely united to a Body, as
both to actuate, and to be acted upon, to affect, and be affected thereby.
Thanks to hylopathia, a place could become saturated with spirits and therefore be
unable to admit any further increase in essential spissitude; the strong union of a spirit
with a body could be explained in this way for More. In his terms, the soul filled “the
Receptivity or Capacity of a Body or Matter
in such a way that the latter could not
admit any further penetration by a spiritual substance; as a consequence, the union of the
soul with the body was even stronger than the cohesion between the various parts of
Locke had found another way of granting distinctness to spirits: the exclusion
principle. Thanks to this principle, he could affirm that two substances of the same kind
could not be thought of as occupying the same place at the same time, for otherwise “the
Notions and Names of Identity and Diversity would be in vain, and there could be no such
distinction of Substances, or any thing else from another.”
Two spirits could not
therefore occupy the same place at the same time, for Locke; immaterial spirits were to
be considered as being as impenetrable as bodies, although only in reference to other
spirits. They resisted penetration by co-location, a property which Locke attributed to
those objects filling space i.e., solid objects. In the Essay, he claimed that “the Idea of
which filling of space, is, That where we imagine any space taken up by a solid Substance,
we conceive it so to possess it, that it excludes all other solid Substances;”
he declared
that the idea of solidity, and therefore that of impenetrability that he conceived of as a
consequence of it, “consists in repletion, and so an utter Exclusion of other Bodies out of
metaphysicum). The first interpretation however is much more intuitive, is supported by Van Limborch’s
correspondence with More (for Van Limborch interpreted essential spissitude as density) and seems to
solve some problems which afflict More’s conception of spirits. It is difficult to understand how spirits could
retain their distinctness from one another if essential spissitude is interpreted as a fourth dimension, for
some spirits might share the same location in all the four dimensions. Metaphysics, 2035.
More, appendix to An Antidote Against Atheism, 312.
Ibid., 311.
Locke, Essay, II.xxvii.2, 329.
Ibid., II.iv.2, 123.
the space it possesses.”
It was solidity that prevented two material objects from
occupying the same region of space at the same time.
It would seem therefore that, when
Locke wrote the chapter on identity and diversity,
he thought that solidity could be
applied to material as well as spiritual substances,
although in a previous chapter he
had claimed that solidity was “essential to Body” and was “no where else to be found or
imagin’d, but only in matter.”
The solidity which Locke attributed to spirits in the chapter on identity and diversity
recalled Aquinas’s teaching. Aquinas had affirmed that two angels could not occupy the
same place:
he was committed to the exclusion principle in much the same form as
Locke was, i.e., as a principle which could only be applied to entities of the same kind.
Ibid., II.iv.4, 125. Locke affirmed that he preferred the term solidity to impenetrability because the
first term conveyed the idea of something positive and because impenetrability was a consequence of
solidity. He conceived of solidity as an intrinsic feature of bodies, not one that might be inferred from our
experiences of impenetrability or hardness: we perceive them only by perceiving solidity, in Locke’s view.
Regarding the difference between solidity and hardness, see Essay, II.iv.4, 125.
Matthew Stuart has argued that Locke’s idea of solidity as imperviousness to penetration by co-
location explains his commitment to a “chock-full” conception of material objects, which affirms that they
do not contain the spaces that lie between their constituent atoms. Locke’s Metaphysics, 5565. But what
explains Locke’s idea of solidity? In the Essay he affirmed that, were someone to ask him what solidity was,
he would “send him to his Senses to inform him.” II.iv.6, 126. Locke maintained that, although our senses
perceive solidity only in masses of matters, “the Mind, having once got this Idea from such grosser sensible
Bodies, traces it farther; and considers it, as well as Figure, in the minutest Particle of Matter, that can exist;
and finds it inseparably inherent in Body, where-ever, or however modified.”
The chapter was added to the second edition of the Essay at the urging of William Molyneaux, one of
Locke’s trusted interlocutors and correspondents.
Gary Wedeking has insisted on this point in “Locke’s Metaphysics of Personal Identity,” History of
Philosophy Quarterly, 4, no. 1 (1987): 20. Unlike Wedeking, Conn claims that Locke is not committed to
the view that spirits fill space, for spirits might be located in space without having spatial extent. Conn
claims that Locke thought of spirits as analogous to mathematical points, which have a spatial location
without having a spatial extent. He refers to a passage in the Essay, where Locke affirmed: “if a
Mathematician can consider a certain distance, or a change of that distance between two Points; one may
certainly conceive a distance, and a change of distance between two Spirits; and so conceive their Motion,
their approach, or removal, one from another.” Locke, Essay, II.xxiii.19, 307, as cited in Conn, Locke on
Essence and Identity, 64. However, Wedeking’s interpretation seems to be much more plausible, for it
agrees with Locke’s common-sensical way of looking at the matter. Unlike the Cartesians, who considered
our tendency to think of ourselves as spatially located as a kind of illusion, Locke viewed the connection
between the soul and the body as actually locating the former in the latter.
Locke, Essay, II.iv.1, 123.
There are not two angels in the same place. The reason of this is because it is impossible for two
complete causes to be the causes immediately of one and the same thing. This is evident in every
class of causes: for there is one proximate form of one thing, and there is one proximate mover,
although there may be several remote movers. Nor can it be objected that several individuals may
row a boat, since no one of them is a perfect mover, because no one man's strength is sufficient for
moving the boat; while all together are as one mover, in so far as their united strengths all combine
in producing the one movement. Hence, since the angel is said to be in one place by the fact that his
power touches the place immediately by way of a perfect container, as was said [Article 1], there can
be but one angel in one place. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 52, a. 3.
Like Locke, Aquinas located finite spirits according to their power of acting in space;
unlike Locke, Aquinas provided an argument for the exclusion principle. He claimed that
two spirits could not occupy the same place because they would each be complete causes
of the same activity. Locke did not say this. He seemed to be convinced that, since spirits
were to be conceived of as substantially present in space, they must exclude other spirits
from their spatio-temporal location in the same way bodies did. Arguably, he had come
to think that finite spirits were literally located in bodies and changed their places with
His argument for locating finite spirits was that the place of a spirit’s power to
effect changes in the world varied with the place of the body to which it belonged. Clearly,
this argument could be applied only to those spirits which were connected with bodies;
how could disembodied spirits be located, in Locke’s view?
I suspect that Locke’s answer would be that spirits could never be truly disembodied.
He might have been influenced by More in this regard. More did not believe that a soul
could exist without actually animating a body; even angelic souls were united to bodies,
in his view, although these were subtler than human bodies. For More, it was not only
essential to a spirit that it could act upon a body, but that it should actually do so. Having
defined the essence of the soul in terms of its power to act upon a body, he thought that
such an operation was constantly actual. A soul could not exist without actually animating
a body, for this would amount to failing to do that thing which defined it as a spirit.
a consequence, souls could never become completely disembodied. The human soul could
survive to the body to which it happened to be united, being really distinct from it, but it
would continue to manifest “a very strong propension, natural complacency or essential
aptitude alwaies to join with some Body or other.”
If we assume that Locke agreed with More that spirits could never become completely
disembodied, some of the problems raised by the exclusion principle when applied to
spiritual substances might be solved:
Locke believed that spirits could be located in time
and space because they had always to be joined with a body in order to act. Their
impenetrability derived from this. It is not clear what he thought of spirits after death.
This seems to be confirmed by a passage in the Essay, where Locke wrote:
No Body can imagine, that his Soul can think, or move a Body at Oxford, whilst he is at London; and
cannot but know, that being united to his Body, it constantly changes place all the whole Journey,
between Oxford and London, as the Coach, or Horse does, that carries him; and, I think, may be said
to be truly all that while in motion; Or if that will not be allowed to afford us a clear Idea enough of
its motion, its being separated from the Body in death, I think will: For to consider it as going out of
the Body, or leaving it, and yet to have no Idea of its motion, seems to me impossible. If it be said by
any one, that it cannot change place, because it hath none, for Spirits are not in Loco but Ubi; I
suppose that way of talking, will not now be of much weight to many, in an Age, that is not much
disposed to admire, or suffer themselves to be deceived, by such unintelligible ways of speaking.
Locke, Essay, II.xxiii.2021, 307.
In The Immortality of the Soul, bk. 1, chap. 7, § 1, 42, More affirmed that “what is simply active of it
self, can no more cease to be active than to Be.”
More, An Explanation of the Grand Mystery of Godliness (London, 1660), bk. 6, chap. 5, § 2, 226.
Locke owned this book: LJL, no. 2044.
Regarding these problems see Wedeking, “Locke’s Metaphysics of Personal Identity,” 20–21.
Perhaps he believed that they continued to have a sort of link with the body in which they
had resided and could therefore be spatio-temporally located thanks to it. But we may
also suppose that he agreed with More regarding spirits’ “strong propension to join with
some body”: the “extravagant conjecture” he offered in the Essay seemed to attribute the
power of self-contraction and self-dilation to spirits. Locke affirmed that these might
“assume to themselves Bodies of different Bulk, Figure, and Conformation of Parts” and
be able “to frame and shape to themselves organs of sensation or perception, as to suit
them to their present design and the circumstances of the object they would consider.”
He did not dwell on this conjecture, which in his terms concerned things that “our
Philosophy cannot account for.”
Nonetheless it seemed to be clear that he did not
conceive of it as extravagant.
Leaving this conjecture aside, both Locke and More were no doubt concerned with the
same problem: how to allow spirits to retain their distinctness from one another.
viewed spatio-temporal location as being able to provide a principle of individuation that could
distinguish one spirit from another; More had found his way of reaching the same conclusion.
More might have accepted Locke’s “physical” proof. In his view, God could neither contract
nor dilate because of His perfection: His contracting would imply a lessening of His infinite
presence in space, which would be a sign of His imperfection.
God could be penetrated by
finite spirits as well as bodies; He could not be penetrated by an identical substance.
All things considered, the many similarities between More and Locke’s positions
regarding the nature of space and spiritual substances suggest that the latter was not
committed to holenmerianism, as seems to be confirmed by the “physical” proof.
Locke, Essay, II.xxiii.13, 3034. James Gibson read this passage in this way. Locke’s Theory of
Knowledge and Its Historical Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1917), 254.
Locke, Essay, II.xxiii.13, 3034.
More believed in demonic possessions, which in his view amounted to the penetration of a human
soul by a more wicked and powerful spirit; such an eventuality appeared however to be extremely remote,
because of hylopathia. Locke’s exclusion principle ruled out this possibility. Regarding Locke’s view of evil
spirits, see John W. Yolton, The Two Intellectual Worlds of John Locke: Man, Person, and Spirits in the
Essay (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 10812.
More, The Immortality of the Soul, bk. 1, chap. 7, § 2, 4344; Reid, Metaphysics, 209.
The many divergences between More and Locke should not be overestimated. More believed in the
existence of innate ideas; Locke was averse to this hypothesis. No doubt Locke sided with Boyle, not with
More, in the controversy which led the former to write his Hydrostatical Discourse Occasion’d by Some
Objections of Dr. More in 1672. Boyle criticized More’s notion of a Spirit of Nature and objected to his
physics; Locke’s mechanism, deeply influenced by Boyle, was hardly compatible with More’s theories.
However, Locke’s acquaintance with Newton might have contributed to reconciling him with some of
More’s views: there is a general consensus that More influenced Newton’s manner of conceiving space both
directly and indirectly, as Leech notes. The Hammer of the Cartesians, 179185. See also Andrew Janiak,
Newton as Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 208), 142n20, 14350, 164nn12; etc.
The Kabbalist, theologian, and chemist Franciscus Mercurius Van Helmont, who was well acquainted with
More, might have played an important role as well in reconciling Locke with More’s views. Locke met Van
Helmont in the Netherlands in 1686; later, Van Helmont visited him in England. The latter was a close
collaborator of the Hebraist and Biblical scholar Christian Knorr von Rosenroth in his project to collect a
number of texts, commentaries, and critical essays on the Kabbalah; he was able to involve More (probably
thanks to their common friend Anne Conway) in this project. The two volumes of Knorr von Rosenroth’s
Kabbala denudata were published respectively in 1677 and 1684. More’s contribution to the first volume
might be unwilling to accept this conclusion because he wholeheartedly endorses an
holenmerian interpretation of Newton, whose ontology of space he believes influenced
Locke considerably.
The first argument Reid introduces to sustain this interpretation is
particularly important for the topic of this paper, as I shall argue in the conclusion.
4. Conclusion
To prove Newton’s adhesion to holenmerianism, Reid refers to a passage in De
gravitatione where Newton explained how God could be everywhere without being a body:
Moreover, lest anyone should for this reason imagine God to be like a body,
extended and made of divisible parts, it should be known that spaces themselves
are not actually divisible, and furthermore, that any being has a manner proper to
itself of being present in spaces. For thus the relation of duration to space is very
different from that of body to space. For we do not ascribe different durations to the
different parts of space, but say they all endure simultaneously. The moment of
duration is the same at Rome and at London, on the earth and on the stars, and
throughout the heavens. And just as we conceive any moment of duration to be
diffused through all space, according to its kind, without any conception of its parts,
so it is no more contradictory that the mind can also in its own way be diffused
throughout space without any conception of parts.
Pasnau considers this passage as convincing proof of Newton’s adhesion to
holenmerianism: in his view, Newton intended to affirm that the whole of God’s simple
substance could be simultaneously present in every place in the same manner as a
moment of time was present everywhere, i.e., without having divisible parts.
Reid is
more cautious: he refers to another passage in the 1713 General Scholium, where Newton
was substantial. Locke’s interest in this work is attested by his correspondence and manuscript notes; some
of these notes concerned the Kabbalistic doctrines of the preexistence and transmigration of souls. More
held both views. Locke affirmed his adhesion to mortalism in The Reasonableness of Christianity;
nonetheless, his interest in the Kabbalistic doctrines was apparent. His account of personal identity in
Essay, II.xxvii.629, 31148 was not inconsistent with the theory of the revolution of souls; it first appeared
in the second edition of 1694. As Victor Nuovo has shown, the reference in section 14 to “a Christian
Platonist” might be either to Joseph Glanvill or to More. Christianity, Antiquity and Enlightenment:
Interpretations of Locke (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011), 12762.
Reid, Metaphysics, 136. There is a wide consensus on this, today, although Graham Rogers insists
that “Locke never accepted Newton’s absolutist position on space” because he remained faithful to the
relationist view. “Locke’s Essay and Newton’s Principia,” Journal of the History of Ideas 39, no. 2 (1978):
21732. A similar view may be found in Richard I. Aaron, John Locke (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1971), 156–57. A different position, more sympathetic to Locke’s endorsement of Newton’s absolutist
position on space, is to be found in Gibson, Locke’s Theory of Knowledge, 25054; Michael Ayers, Locke:
Epistemology & Ontology (London: Routledge, 1991), 1:23436; Geoffrey Gorham and Edward Slowik,
“Locke and Newton on Space and Time and Their Sensible Measures,” in Newton and Empiricism, eds. Zvi
Biener and Eric Schliesser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 11937.
Isaac Newton, De gravitatione, in Newton: Philosophical Writings, ed. Andrew Janiak (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2004), 2526 as quoted in Reid, Metaphysics, 228.
Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes, 338.
offered the same analogy with a moment of time,
but insists that neither of these
passages goes quite as far as expressing a firm commitment to holenmerianism.
Only when Newton expanded this section of the General Scholium for the 1726 edition,
would his endorsement of holenmerianism become clearly apparent to Reid.
Edward Slowik has a different opinion in this regard. He insists that numerous
passages in the De gravitatione and in some later works by Newton support a close
analogy between the extension of material beings and God’s extension, which suggests
that Newton sided with More’s rejection of holenmerianism.
Slowik reads the passage
from De gravitatione quoted above as convincing proof of this: like More, Newton would
maintain that space was not actually divisible and that Godconceived as a mind-like
spiritual beingwas the same part-less being throughout all space.
Several arguments support Slowik’s opinion.
First of all, it is not clear whether
Newton viewed both space and God as incorporeal, and whether he followed More in
identifying the incorporeal extension of God with that of space. In the passage from De
gravitatione quoted above, he seemed to draw an analogy between the indivisibility of
space and the indivisibility of God, which might suggest that, like More, Newton viewed
space as indiscerpible; however, neither in De gravitatione nor in an important
manuscript of the early 1690s, entitled Time and Place, did Newton maintain that space
was incorporeal in nature, i.e., that the indivisibility of spatial extension matched the
indivisibility of divine unity just because they both shared the same type of incorporeal
extension. To make these claims, Newton would have had to argue not only that space
was an incorporeal attribute of divine being, but that the divine being itself was
incorporeally extended. He would also have needed to establish that the incorporeal
extension of space was identical to God’s extension. He did neither of these things.
Besides, his conception of body in the De gravitatione did not support holenmerianism.
Newton explained corporeal existence in terms of bodily properties that God posited and
moved through space by the exercise of his will, without the need for a concept of
Newton affirmed that God “endures always and is present everywhere. Since each and every
particle of space is always, and each and every indivisible moment of duration is everywhere, certainly the
maker and lord of all things will not be never or nowhere.” The Principia: Mathematical Principles of
Natural Philosophy, trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press, 1999), 941 as quoted in Reid, Metaphysics, 228. Here Newton also argued that God “is
omnipresent not virtually only, but also substantially.”
Reid, Metaphysics, 228.
“Every sentient soul, at different times and in different organs of senses and motions, is the same
indivisible person. There are parts that are successive in duration and coexistent in space, but neither of
these exist in the person of man or in his thinking principle, and much less in the thinking substance of
God. Every man, insofar as he is a thing that has senses, is one and the same man throughout his lifetime
in each and every organ of his senses. God is one and the same God always and everywhere.” Ibid., as quoted
in Reid, Metaphysics, 229.
Slowik, The Deep Metaphysics of Space, 51.
In what follows, I sum up the arguments which may be found in James E. McGuire and Edward
Slowik, “Newton’s Ontology of Omnipresence and Infinite Space,” Oxford Studies in Early Modern
Philosophy 6, 279308 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
corporeal substance that served to underlie these properties. Since extension, whose
existence was secured by God’s existence, was the subject of bodily accidents, it followed
that God’s extension must fit the corporeal and incorporeal categories; the distinction
between incorporeal and corporeal as regards spatial extension seemed therefore to
vanish, and in fact Newton did not use this dichotomy in his writings. Holenmerianism,
however, depends on a difference between the way God is extended and the way space
and material bodies are extended; since Newton believed that there was only one form of
extension that applied to both the corporeal and incorporeal, it seems more natural to
think that he refuted the approach to God’s extension favoured by holenmerianism.
Geoffrey Gorham and Slowik have highlighted some similarities between De
gravitatione and the Essay, which suggest that Newton might have shown his book to
Locke. One of these similarities concerns the passage in De gravitatione to which both
Reid and Pasnau refer: Gorham and Slowik claim that Locke might refer to Newton’s
analogy with time when he spoke of the way spirits were present in space.
Locke wrote,
For this present moment is common to all things, that are now in being, and equally
comprehends that part of their Existence, as much as if they were all but one single
Being; and we may truly say, they all exist in the same moment of Time. Whether
Angels and Spirits have any Analogy to this, in respect of Expansion, is beyond my
Comprehension: and, perhaps, for us, who have Understandings and
Comprehensions, suited to our Preservation, and the ends of our own Being, but
not to the reality and extent of all other Beings, ‘tis near as hard to conceive any
Existence, or to have an Idea of any real Being, with a perfect Negation of all manner
of Expansion; as it is, to have the Idea of any real Existence, with a perfect Negation
of all manner of Duration: And therefore what Spirits have to do with Space, or how
they communicate in it, we know not. All that we know is, that Bodies do each singly
possess its proper Portion of it, according to the extent of its solid Parts; and thereby
exclude all other Bodies from having any share in that particular portion of Space,
whilst it remains there.
Let us suppose that Reid and Pasnau are right, and that Newton was manifesting his
commitment to holenmerianism in De gravitatione; Locke remained agnostic. He
regarded the question of how spirits were present in space as exceeding his
comprehension: what spirits have to do with space is not something that we can know, he
assessed. He introduced another analogy: it would be as hard to conceive of a being
existing “with a perfect Negation of all manner of Expansion,” as it would to conceive of
something existing “with a perfect Negation of all manner of Duration.” Newton had
spoken of the possibility of conceiving the mind as located in space without having parts;
Locke answered that it was impossible to conceive of something existing nowhere. This
was a timid profession of anti-nullibism: the substantial presence of spirits in space was
therefore the topic of discussion. “All that we know,” Locke continued, “is, that Bodies do
each singly possess its proper Portion of it [space], according to the extent of its solid
Parts.” Since holenmerianism affirmed the opposite regarding spiritual substances, i.e.,
Gorham and Slowik, “Locke and Newton on Space and Time and Their Sensible Measures,” 126.
Locke, Essay, II.xv.11, 204.
that they would be whole in the whole and whole in each part, we may conclude that if
Locke was thinking of it, then he was manifesting his agnosticism. However, it seems
highly improbable that he was referring to holenmerianism: the real problem seemed to
be the penetrability of spirits. Locke might be thinking of Newton’s definition of bodies in
De gravitatione as mutually impenetrable: Newton had affirmed that “a body fills place,
that is, it so completely fills it that it wholly excludes other things of the same kind or
other bodies, as if it were an impenetrable being.”
Then he had added: “Place could be
said, however, to be a part of space into which a thing enters completely; but as only
bodies are here considered and not penetrable things, I have preferred to define [place]
as the part of space that a thing fills.” These “penetrable things” were spirits, which were
to be thought of as occupying a place as well. On the following pages, Newton claimed that
“No being exists or can exist which is not related to space in some way. God is everywhere,
created minds are somewhere, and body is in the space that it occupies; and whatever is
neither everywhere nor anywhere does not exist.”
Then he introduced the analogy
between God’s presence in space and that of a moment of duration. Locke’s issue was
whether this analogy might be applied to spirits: he remarked that whereas one moment
of time was common to all existing things, it was beyond his comprehension whether
angels and spirits had “any Analogy to this, in respect to Expansion.” Could different
spirits occupy the same place at the same time? They could if they were penetrable. This
however amounted to not being distinguished one from another in Locke’s view. He
introduced the exclusion principle but only in reference to material objects: this confirms
that his topic was the penetrability of spirits. He affirmed that the issue was beyond his
comprehension and gave a timid assent to anti-nullibism; however, when the argument came
up again in the Essay, he would boldly affirm that spirits “operate only where they are” and that
they exclude each other from the place they occupy at a given moment in time.
Locke’s comments on Newton’s analogy suggest that Slowik was right: the latter was
not thinking of holenmerianism in De gravitatione. Locke agreed with the content of the
but highlighted the problem it raised when applied to spirits. Their
penetrability was the topic of discussion, not holenmerianism.
To conclude, I think that the “physical” proof represents a convincing argument for
affirming that Locke was not committed to holenmerianism; his disagreement with More
regarding the penetrability of spirits was not such as to invalidate this argument. Locke’s
reading of De gravitatione seems to confirm that he, and perhaps also Newton, were not
Gabriele d'Annunzio University
Newton, De gravitatione, 13. Newton also discussed the principle of individuation: the parts of
duration and space, he affirmed, have no other principle of individuation than their mutual order and
position, which cannot therefore be altered. Ibid., 25.
This may also be inferred from what Locke wrote in the subsequent paragraph of the Essay:
“Expansion and Duration do mutually imbrace, and comprehend each other; every part of Space, being in
every part of Duration; and every part of Duration, in every part of Expansion.” II.xv.12, 204.
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Thus we must say that Place indeed is a quantity, or some extension, that is the space or volume (interval) of three dimensions, length, width and depth, in which a body is contained or through which it can pass. But likewise we must say that its dimensions are incorporeal and thus that place is an incorporeal volume or space, or in other words, an incorporeal quantity. And from the beginning we must distinguish these two sorts of dimensions, of which one may be called corporeal and the others spatial. For the corporeal, for example, are the length, width and depth of water contained in some vessel; but the spatial we conceive as the length, width and depth which would exist within the sides of this vessel, were the water removed and any other body kept out. Evidently, Aristotle denies that there are other than the corporeal ones, or that there is any volume or διάστŋνα as he calls it, other than that of the body contained in the vessel or place. Yet very many of the Ancients thought that there were incorporeal dimensions, namely those of volume, or space, from which we take the term “spatial”. Indeed, rather than cite Epicurus and the others, I will let the following from Nemesius stand for them all: “Every body is endowed with three dimensions. But not everything endowed with three dimensions is a body. For of this sort are Place and Quality, which are incorporeal entities.”
Now that we know what the physical world is made of, we next need to consider how it works. I here look at More’s early commitment (albeit never total) to mechanical physics, and discuss how this can be squared with the vitalistic treatment of body that, as just noted, he was also embracing in the same period. I then discuss his later rejection of mechanism, as well as the responses that people like Boyle and Newton made to that.