Not the real essence, or texture of parts, which we know not. Nor indeed can we rank and sort things, and consequently (which is the end of sorting) denominate them, by their real essences; because we know them not. Our faculties carry us no further towards the knowledge and distinction of substances, than a collection of those sensible ideas which we observe in them; which, however made with the greatest diligence and exactness we are capable of, yet is more remote from the true internal constitution from which those qualities flow, than, as I said, a countryman’s idea is from the inward contrivance of that famous clock at Strasburg, whereof he only sees the outward figure and motions. There is not so contemptible a plant or animal, that does not confound the most enlarged understanding. Though the familiar use of things about us take off our wonder, yet it cures not our ignorance. When we come to examine the stones we tread on, or the iron we daily handle, we presently find we know not their make; and can give no reason of the different qualities we find in them. It is evident the internal constitution, whereon their properties depend, is unknown to us: for to go no further than the grossest and most obvious we can imagine amongst them...The workmanship of the all-wise and powerful God in the great fabric of the universe, and every part thereof, further exceeds the capacity and comprehension of the most inquisitive and intelligent man, than the best contrivance of the most ingenious man doth the conceptions of the most ignorant of rational creatures. Therefore we in vain pretend to range things into sorts, and dispose them into certain classes under names, by their real essences, that are so far from our discovery or comprehension. A blind man may as soon sort things by their colours, and he that has lost his smell as well distinguish a lily and a rose by their odours, as by those internal constitutions which he knows not.--Locke, Essay 3.6.9
Echoing Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes, Locke allows that science begins in wonder. It removes our wonder by way of familiarity with the objects of inquiry and their relations to other objects of inquiry but not, infamously, knowledge of hidden, inner real essences. Here Locke (who, as Alison Peterman has taught me, in turn echoes Spinoza) anticipates the Kantian move in which empirical science becomes knowledge of (the law-governed) relations among the phenomena. This is familiar enough.
In the very same paragraph (3.6.9), Locke also offers a (rather skeptical) version of the prima facie version of the Posidonian argument(recall, here too, here, and yesterday). This argument goes back to Cicero. It contains three elements: (i) a designed, intricate representation of nature; (ii) a savage who grasps the marks of design, and (iii) an argument from human design to God's design:
Our friend Posidonius has recently fashioned a planetarium; each time it revolves, it makes the sun, moon, and planets reproduce the movements which they make over a day and a night in the heavens. Suppose someone carried this to Scythia or to Britain. Surely no one in those barbarous regions would doubt that that planetarium had been constructed by a rational process. Yet our opponents [the Epicureans] here profess uncertainty whether the universe, from which all things take their origin, has come into existence by chance or some necessity, or by divine reason and intelligence.
These three (i-iii) elements are all present in Locke's argument and (as I have shown inspired by Boyle's borrowing from Cicero): (i) the "famous clock at Strasburg," which was also a planetarium; (ii) "the most ignorant of rational creatures;" and (iii) "The workmanship of the all-wise and powerful God." What is unusual about Locke is that here he deploys it not argue for the existence of God; he assumes the validity of the argument in order to suggest that our ignores of hidden workings of nature exceeds the ignorance of the least capable person of the internal mechanism of a complex clock/planetarium. In fact, 3.6.9 repeats the point (with the same tropes) the argument at 3.6.3, where Locke distinguishes real from nominal essences.
As an aside, on the frontispiece of Locke's Essay, an epigraph from Cicero On the Nature of the Gods is coupled with the following passage: As thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God, who maketh all things.— Eccles. 11. 5. So, we can say that Essay 3.6.9 is central to the claims that Locke wishes to convey.
As is well known, Essay 3.6.9 anticipates Newton’s treatment of our lack of knowledge of God’s substance in General Scholium.
A blind man has no idea of colours, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things. He is utterly void of all body and bodily figure, and can therefore neither be seen, nor heard, not touched; nor ought he to be worshipped under the representation of any corporeal thing. We have ideas of his attributes, but what the real substance of anything is, we know not. In bodies we see only their figures and colours, we hear only the sounds, we touch only their outward surfaces, we smell only the smells, and taste the savours; but their inward substances are not to be known, either by our senses, or by any reflex act of our minds; much less then have we any idea of the substance of God.
Newton's example (of the blind man) and doctrine are indebted to Locke. So is the appeal to (Lockean) reflection within the mind. But Newton does not mention the Posidonian argument. He is, however, familiar with it (not just from Locke or Boyle) because does, explicitly appeal to Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods, to claim that the Ancients agree with his claims about God's omnipresence in the General Scholium in the very sentences before the ones I have just quoted.
As I noted yesterday, the transcendental version of the Posidonian argument requires (as its conclusion) a God of order.* Order is not mentioned in the General Scholium. But there is a tantalizing hint that we are meant to discern it in the General Scholium. (What follows is indebted to Yoram Hazony.) Newton is explicit that his God is the Lord of Lords--that is a nod to Deuteronomy 10:17. That is, his God has dominion. What does this have to do with order? Newton goes on to make clear that God's dominion involves, in particular, his temporal and spatialized dominion: "his duration reaches from Eternity to Eternity; his presence from Infinity to Infinity...He is not Eternity and Infinity, but Eternal and Infinite; he is not Duration and Space, but he endures and is present. He endures for ever, and is every where present; and by existing always and every where, he constitutes Duration and Space. Since every particle of Space is always, and every indivisible moment of Duration is every where, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and no where...There are given successive parts in duration, co-existent parts in space." (General Scholium, emphases added.) That is to say, Newton links God's ordered existence with Nature's order.
As is well known, the General Scholium is an epilogue to the Principia Mathematica. We can, thus, summarize Newton's position as follows:
(I) There is a God of order
(II) A condition of the possibility of (an intended) successful scientific representation or concrete model of (a region of) nature is that nature is orderly;
(III) Nature's hidden order (could not be the product of chance [as suggested by Epicureanism] or necessity [as suggested by Spinozism]), can only be constituted by God;
(IV) Science is successful.
(V) ∴ Science gives us some (indirect) access to the constitution of God's order, which is why "to discourse of whom from the appearances of things, does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy."
That is, (I-IV) just presuppose the transcendental version of the Posidonian argument:
(I) A condition of the possibility of (an intended) successful scientific representation or concrete model of (a region of) nature is that (a region of) nature is orderly;
(II) Nature's hidden order could not be the product of chance [as suggested by Epicureanism] or necessity [as suggested by Spinozism], but only by God;
(IV) ∴ There is a God (of order)
(I) A condition of the possibility of (an intended) successful scientific representation or concrete model of (a region of) nature is that (a region of) nature is orderly
(II) Nature's hidden order could not be the product of chance [as suggested by Epicureanism] or necessity [as suggested by Spinozism], but only by God
(IV) ∴ There is a God (of order)- See more at: https://digressionsnimpressions.typepad.com/digressionsimpressions/2016/05/on-order-simplicity.html#sthash.N4mn2csH.dpuf